When was the last time you and your spouse went on a marriage retreat? I’m not talking about one that you might have been conducting or at which you were speaking. I mean a genuine marriage retreat at which you were a participating couple. (I hope that you are not someone who thinks attending such a retreat is a sign of weakness or trouble in your marriage, because that is simply not so. A little marriage check is good for all of us every once in a while.)
As you celebrated Valentine’s Day this week, I do hope you made your spouse feel special. And, while your spouse is your primary concern on this holiday, it wouldn’t hurt to include your children in that expression of love. Love your family — because, sometimes in the heat and busyness of ministry, they are forgotten, left out, left alone.
A strong family requires more than a comfortable bank account, expensive house, respectable neighborhood, or top-notch schools. It exists only on a minister’s wish list until it is a lived-out relationship, characterized by love and hard work among those who occupy the same household. The primary impediments to a strong ministerial family are not church politics or other environmental disadvantages. Instead, impediments arise from the lack of lived-out love in the couple for each other and for their children.
Strengthening clergy families demands an intentional commitment to the abiding values of the home. Whatever the minister’s family has is contagious in the church, either good or bad. Society will be strengthened when the homes of spiritual leaders are improved. Here are some guidelines:
- Consider the advantages of being a ministry family.
- Strive to please the people who matter most.
- Get your family in tune with God.
- Feed faith to your children.
- Refuse to blame common problems on the ministry.
- View your family as a gift you give yourself.
You know how hectic our schedules as pastors can be. Several years ago, a leadership survey reported that 81 percent of ministers said insufficient time with their spouses was a major problem, by far the most common concern. Likewise, when I was serving in the Pastoral Ministries Department at Focus on the Family, we would ask ministers about the greatest danger facing them and their families. The overwhelming answer was lack of time.
What would happen if you asked your spouse and children how they feel about your schedule? Do they ever feel they take second place to your profession? Find out whether your children think being a PK is a positive or negative experience.
Do you engage in activities that strengthen the bonds between you, your spouse, and your children? Why not surprise them when your brood gets home from school today with a special activity together. Or, if your kids are grown, just give them a call and tell them how much they mean to you. Or, if you and your children have been at odds over something, use this day as an opportunity to clear the air.
Does your family know how you feel? I pray that, without a doubt, they realize you love them more than anything. And I pray they know it because of your actions, not just your words.
Many years ago, my dad passed away. He had grown old and, suddenly one day, he just died. It was a pivotal moment for me. As an only child, I had to step up and assume the role as head of the family.
I still think about my dad just about every day. He was a part of a generation of clergy who, for some reason, thought the church was more important than family. He was a great dad in that he gave me everything I ever wanted, but he failed as a father because, as I was growing up, he didn’t have time for me. Maybe you had the same experience — whether your dad was a pastor or not.
The reason I tell you this is to remind you of your role as husband, father (or wife, mother), and spiritual leader of your home and family. I don’t want you to have any regrets. I know it’s trite, but the most important people in your congregation, in your life, are your spouse and children.
At home, talk about things other than the church. (Unfortunately, we never did that.) Take time to establish memories aside from church activity. (I don’t remember many of those times.) And, whatever you do, model love before your children for your spouse.
Tell your family members often how much you love them — even your adolescent and grown children. Praise each other regularly. Be patient with one another. Hesitate before you express a negative opinion. Take time for one another. In big and small ways, honor each other as the people that God created you to be.
“Now, the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect” (1 Timothy 3:2-5). In other words, if anyone does not know how to manage (and enjoy) his own family, how can he take care of (and enjoy) God’s church?
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).