For the first ten years of my ministry, I was a terrific pastor and a terrible husband. I neglected my wife. I passed on the responsibility of raising my kids to babysitters. I led my church well, and it grew at a rate of 100 people per year, yet I was not present as a leader in my own home.
My ministry got in the way of my marriage. This was my story. Learn from my terrible mistakes.
I remember a rainy Friday night, around ten o'clock, when my daughter was five years old. My wife had left to take some teens home after a small group that met in our house. A church elder was scheduled to pick me up and take me to a church retreat. When he arrived, my wife was not home yet. He asked me to go because people were waiting for me. I was needed at the camp. So, I could wait for my wife to get home, or I could leave my daughter by herself for a short while.
I chose wrong. I gave Vanessa her "blankie," put on a VCR tape of VeggieTales, kissed her, and left. Shortly after, a thunderstorm struck. Lightning, thunder, trees moving, wind howling, sideways rain hitting the windows. My wife was stuck on a road with a fallen tree in front of her for an hour. My daughter was at home alone. To complicate matters, the lights went out. Instead of being held by her father and being told everything would be all right that night, she was alone in a big, empty, scary house. Meanwhile, her father was fulfilling his "ministry responsibilities."
Ministry is hard enough, without the added stress of issues at home. Many leaders and pastors have real trouble in their families that gets ignored, relegated, or forgotten. Private problems almost always come back to affect public performance, usually at the worst possible moment. Secret monsters damage public ministry. Here are some practical solutions that have helped me; perhaps they can help you too.
Pastoring My Home First
One of the mistakes I made was using my family to achieve personal ministry goals. It was more about me and what I was trying to do in the church than it was about them. Now, I believe in involving the family in ministry according to their gifts, but I had to learn to be encouraging without being demanding. Plug in your family according to their gifts, not your personal hobbyhorse. Respect the "No's."
When I was installed in a new church, I made sure I reviewed expectations regarding my children. I told the board something like this: "Pastor's kids are just that, kids. They possess no supernatural powers and should not be expected to perform as super-Christians. Give them a break. Love them. Nurture them. Make them want to be Christians when they grow up by the way you treat their parents." I was blessed by having churches that loved and affirmed my children and that created a picture of grace and acceptance that remains to this day. This, sadly, is not always the case, but you can make a lot of headway by having that conversation early and often with your church.
These are three principles that guide me regarding my children:
- Children are books to be read, not written. My job includes discovering how God has wired them and bringing out the best that is already inside of them, not forcing them into something they are not. I can do this only by spending significant time with them. This does not mean I accept mediocrity or do not encourage them to be all they can be. This does mean that they know we expect great things from them but will love them even if they do not reach their full potential. That, to me, is what God does with us. It is called grace.