How much does the “happiness” of the family determine where and how long a pastor should serve?

I cringed as I recently read this question in an email.  Not because it is not a good question, but because I feel so much for the burdens of the pastor asking it.  A pastor asking this question is carrying with him not just the regular burdens to care for souls in his family and church (which is plenty already), but probably wrapped up in this question is the additional and painful burdens of a very hard, discouraging church that has and is affecting his family in concerning ways.

Of course, I cannot articulate where that balance is found; when to continue to sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his church and when the sacrifice harms a pastor’s family so much it now threatens a pastor’s qualification for the office (1 Tim. 3:4-5) or their long-term well-being.  Nevertheless, here are 3 factors to keep in mind to help you make a decision if you find yourself asking this question:

1)  Always another ministry, only one wife and family.  Some of the best advice I ever received was, “You can always have another ministry, you only get one wife.”  This is not to give a pastor a license to bail prematurely from ministry because his wife and kids are struggling.  It is, however, to jolt the pastor consistently back to his primary priority to shepherd his family first before anything else.  A wise discerning decision to this question cannot be made if a pastor is neglecting his wife and kids in the shepherding task.

2)  Pastoral ministry is a call to suffer and sacrifice.  When our families struggle in ministry, we are quick to assume that is the “sign” to leave and go somewhere else, when what a pastor and his family may really be experiencing is just ministry.  The call to follow Jesus is a call to suffer (Mark 8:34, Heb. 13:12-13, Phil. 1:29).  How much more is that calling for the ones called to shepherd those who follow Jesus?  The call to the ministry is a call for suffering and sacrifice for not just the pastor, but his wife and children.  Make sure the common suffering and difficulties faced as a part of this noble, divine calling, is not misunderstood as abnormal, thus a message to leave.

3)  Discern what your ministry idols are.  The pastor needs to make sure the unhappiness of his family is not the result of unrealistic expectations and idols the pastor and his family can develop about ministry.  Are you unhappy because your church is not growing in numbers?  Is your wife unhappy because she has not found that deep friendship in the church she longs for.  Are your children unhappy because they want a different style of music than your church has?  Our families can want, even covet things that are not bad in themselves, but can lead to a place of idolatry in our hearts and quickly make us discontent.  Pastors, if you cannot identify where your wife and children are tempted to covet the things that breed discontentment, I suggest you get back to the task of shepherding your family with diligence to identify the root of their unhappiness before you make the difficult decision some have to make.  Namely, that this ministry is too much for my family.

There are many good legitimate reasons for a pastor to leave a ministry or even leave the ministry all together for the sake of his family.  Yet, make sure the reasons are good and right, for an unhappy family as a result of idols and a desire for a suffer free life will not go away once you leave the ministry.

Posted in Home and Family, The Pastor's Soul
6 comments on “How much does the “happiness” of the family determine where and how long a pastor should serve?
  1. Luke says:

    Brian, we often feel is the desire to be near my wife’s family, especially as we raise our kids. They are a godly family that would be tremendous to have around, and are surely my wife’s closest friends. At the same time, we have a thriving ministry across the country from them. We often wonder whether it would ever be okay to leave this just to be near her family or if there would need to be a more “spiritual” or obvious ministry reason. In the meantime, we haven’t felt released from our current role and are enjoying it significantly. Would be curious to hear your thoughts on this particular kind of situation.

    • briancroft says:

      Great question, Luke. I don’t think it is a black and white issue. I understand the pull you all are feeling. However, it sounds like the Lord has you exactly where He wants you and is blessing your ministry. It would be tough for me to encourage you to leave for that reason, but that doesn’t mean God would not work in that way. Certainly, if her parent’s health began to fade and would need care-givers, that would be one reason to consider God’s call to go. Either way, enjoy the Lord’s blessing in your current ministry. So many would love to say that about their ministry and would move half way across the world away from family to have it. Enjoy until the Lord makes it clear moving is what you should do. I hope that helps in some way.

  2. jch says:

    I have taken on the responsibility as a lay-elder at a young church plant, serving alongside a elder in a paid ministry position. Needless to say, I am very busy serving my various vocations: husband, father (of three children under the age of 4), elder, small-business owner. I feel a low-grade guilt that vacillates from different sources, depending on which of my vocations I feel I am neglecting at any given time. In the middle of all of this, my wife is in a spiritually dry season of her life and she feels at least some of this stems from deficiencies in the local church. All this to say, any advice on sorting through this type of thing? I feel like your first two criteria in the post, apply to me and my situation but those seem to cancel each other out.

  3. Collin says:

    My family and I are in a cross-cultural ministry in Asia overseas. We have been here for 4 years. I have learned the language, while my wife hasn’t due to the fact that we have 2 small kids. We had tried planting a church and then really felt the Lord calling us to step out of it. We are a part of a missions organization, but really feel called to work with the church/pastor. We recently decided to leave the place we are at to pursue this calling that we believe God has on us. We knew that God was moving us out of this season of working with this organization, but didn’t know where. My question is this: we have been here for 4 years, and throughout this time my wife has had spurts of “happiness’ but has been faithful to stay as long as the Lord called us to be here. We feel now that it is a time of transition, and as hard as it is leaving the mission field, I feel that my family needs a bit of a “cross-cultural’ break(?) To get back to health spiritually. I understand that “places” don’t offer this only Jesus does. I want to be sure to make clear our expectations are in Him and not in any certain level of comfort, or even expectation of relationships with others. So in this period of transition there was never a clear “stay here and lead your family here” from the Lord, I simply looked at the leading I had of transition that wasn’t “place-specific’ but rather “calling-specific’ and made a decision based upon my family’s needs in regards to those things. I guess it’s my heart to be faithful to the Lord and to my family, but it’s a hard balance. Just thought I would share this and see if there is any comment you have. Thanks for your honesty and challenging words. Totally biblical and a great call for all of us.Blessings

  4. Kevin says:

    I really appreciate this post. I am two years into my first pastorate and I don’t know how much longer my family can take it.

    My wife is so depressed she does not want to get out of bed. I don’t want my children spending time with the children in the church because they are bad influences on my children’s behavior and attitudes. I have serious conflicts with the deacons and can not work with them. The church is so critical of everything we do that no one (including me) wants to spend any time around them. We are trying, but it is so hard to love these people. We are thousands of miles from family and anyone who cares a thing about us. We are lonely. We are hurting.

    We we came here I felt God’s calling to preach the gospel every week to this church because all they have heard is legalism. I’m told that they appreciate my preaching but I don’t see it bearing fruit. We are not growing — in numbers or in maturity.

    I am crying out to God to show me His will. I am willing to suffer for Him — but watching my ministry destroy my wife and family feels like more than I can bear.

  5. Gib Wood says:

    In the ups and downs of ministry (and there have been plenty of both) in Europe, I have found much encouragement in Psalm 37:4. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” There have been times when our family has suffered, but our desire has remained the same and has carried us through to better days. In those times when we have considered leaving, we have submitted our desires to the Lord, trusting Him to give us the desire to desire the same thing He desires for us. And here we are … still. Joyful in the Lord, even through the struggles.

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