Can A Pastor Be A Family Man?

Imagine you are a pastor. You schedule an appointment to see a parishioner for an early meeting, requiring you to miss breakfast with your family. You rush through Sunday dinner to put the finishing touches on the evening Bible teaching—which calls for more uninterrupted time with the family. You leave a sick spouse at home to teach a premarital seminar. You cancel a family day at the beach to officiate a funeral, where you praise the deceased as a man who never let his business interfere with obligations to family.

This is one of many paradoxes pastors face: They are called to preach and teach and pastor a congregation to adopt, among other things, family values, and the better they do that, the less time and energy they have for their own families.

We are becoming increasingly aware of what this reality can do to pastors’ marriages (estrangement, infidelity, and divorce seem to be more common these days), to their children (the resentful PK is a stereotype for a reason), and to themselves (burnout from ministry has become a cliché).

To help douse the flames of this three-alarm fire, a spate of books and articles has come out in the last few years. Most are aimed at pastors, to help them deal with the pressures of ministry, but we laypeople, who have an enlightened self-interest in the spiritual and psychological health of our pastors, do well to listen in.

The problem, of course, is complex. But one key to pastoral health seems to be the ability to set boundaries between work and home. That entails a certain perspective that, for instance, the church isn’t the Alpha and Omega.

B. John Hagedorn, in an essay, “Clergy Families: The Struggle to Be Free,” from Surviving in Ministry, edited by Robert ...

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