A young pastor/evangelist wrote me the following letter from a Central American country:
"I am a pastor and frequently hold evangelistic crusades in various countries in Central America. Every time I leave home, my wife turns into a hermit. She spends most days at her mother's house with our two children, watches too much TV and has even stopped going to church until I return. She resents my being away from home! What can I do, short of giving up my true love, which is itinerant evangelism?"
Some preachers, while away from home, have gotten involved in pornography through movies on TV or in extreme cases even in immorality. No wonder Paul's warns us in 1 Corinthians 7, "Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (7:5 NLT).
In my 50 years with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association I have averaged between 30- 50% of the year away from my family. During that time, I have learned some principles on how to maintain a good family life and still fulfill your ministry which calls you away from them. The purpose of this article is to suggest some principles that will help a minister fulfill his calling, while still maintaining a godly family life.
Calling is Crucial. Firstly, it is important that both husband and wife have God's call on their lives. If both husband and wife do not sense that same call, difficulties will be magnified when the evangelist is away from his family. This may lead to resentment, which the writer of Hebrews says is contagious (Hebrews 12:15) often spreading to the children as well.
Planning and informing is preventative. Secondly, it is important to prepare the family for each trip. During the first few years of our ministry, I learned what a profound difference there was in my family when I did and did not properly prepare them for my leaving. Children should also be properly informed and encouraged to pray for each upcoming ministry trip.
Listening is laudable. After returning from a trip, prioritize your wife. "Husbands…treat your wife with understanding as you live together…" (1 Peter 3:7). Be creative with ways to help and show the family support. Don’t rush back to the office too early after a trip.
For every weekend day we are away working, our staff allows me to take a weekday off. It took me a long time to realize that I am not indispensable and that I actually should take those days off to catch up with my family. One of the advantages of working for an evangelistic association is that we do not have to punch a time clock. Make the most of the flexible schedule, being intentional with your time.
Friends are formidable. We always had close friends who wouldn't even think about going some place special without stopping by and picking up Joel and Gail while I was away. The reverse was true for their families when the husband was on the road. Our son is now 26, married to a wonderful Christian girl, but still keeps in contact with several of the men that stood in for me while I was away, to consult with them on certain issues. I am eternally grateful for the number of godly men who helped build into Joel's life. Build into those sincere friendships.
Purity is primary. The importance of keeping oneself pure cannot be over emphasized in any context, but the temptation is double for the traveling minister. I have found several things to help.
- Don't travel unless it is absolutely necessary. Consider forming a group of godly elders, friends, mentors or colleagues to give input regarding accepting travel invitations.
- Be spiritually prepared for each trip. Too often we are too rushed to lay each trip at the feet of God and trust him with the outcome.
- As much as possible, be in a family atmosphere while away from home.
- Avoid traveling alone. The fellowship and company of fellow Christians is of inestimable value in overcoming loneliness and temptation.
- A practice that I have followed for years is to take out photos of my family and put them by the bedside the moment I arrive.
- Be careful of the TV at night when you are tired. Sometimes removing the TV from the room entirely is the safest option.
- Each trip is a new adventure, and how you handle the first temptation will set a pattern for the rest of the trip.
Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of the local church even and especially for those of us who travel frequently. There is a tendency to think because we are in the Lord's service that our ministry (or group) is our church. Notice how Paul actually sought out fellowship when he arrived at Ptolemais in Acts 21:7 after his missionary journey.
In answer to our question, does the evangelist from Central America have to give up? Not at all, but he does have to rethink how to be an itinerant evangelist and at the same time maintain a healthy family life.