by Neal Pollard
I think about those men in the Bible who excelled in their work for the Lord, but whose home life was in shambles, men like Eli, Samuel, or David. Or I think about Saul, who raised a great son, but who failed in his service to God. You may have read the Associated Press story about the company employee who sent a dirty joke to 6,000 people. The perpetrator, who accidentally sent this beyond his inner circle of friends, was an Federal Communications Commission employee. The FCC is charged with setting decency limits on various media outlets, and one of their own was guilty of doing what he was paid to prevent. The old joke is that plumbers have the worst pipes, and many and various are the anecdotes and clichés about preacher's kids. I have seen too many preachers who did well in their profession, but failed in their personal lives.
Aristotle said, “The character of the speaker is the cause of persuasion when the speech is so uttered as to make him worthy of belief. In fact, we might affirm that his character is the most potent of all the means to persuasion.” I hope that everyone who is in ministry spends generous amounts of time in prayer concerning all three areas of their lives. A married man with children who serves the Lord in some full-time capacity cannot afford to fail in any one of them. If your prayer life and personal relationship with God is weak, you are heading for failure in one or more of these areas (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 3:10). You absolutely cannot succeed in any arena of life without the proper relationship with God!
What are some ingredients for success in the preacher's personal life?
Do Not Overextend or Overcommit Yourself
Have built in schedule limitations. There must exist a balance in budgeting time for ministry, your marriage, and investing in your home and family life. Have a set time with your family, your wife, and your weekly and annual calendar and be as inflexible with it as possible. Have an agreement with the church's leadership about how much time you can take away from home for preaching and vacation time. Stick with those limitations. Take at least one day off every week to recharge and spend time with family.
Do not try and keep up with the Jones’ kids’ social activity schedule. Parents can push their children to build college resumes or live vicariously through their child's participation in sports or similar pursuits or trying to save face with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Preachers are not immune from this "rat race" approach to life, but it can easily cause something to suffer. Do not allow others to pressure you with the expectations that they have for your children.
Combine activities where you can. You can take your family or at least one child with you to attend lectures, seminars, or speaking somewhere. You can take your children with you to make a hospital visit on his or her way to ball practice or piano lessons. Involve your wife and children in your ministry life and through this try to minimize resentment and friction over your obligations.
It is difficult to see the line where being an involved, active minister becomes workaholism, gross negligence or dereliction of home duties. But we cross it too often to our grief and regret!
Remember Why You Are Here
We can get easily distracted by matters and diversions that are not part of our spiritual purpose and actually detract from it. The internet, your hobbies, riding a hobby horse, worry, bitterness and hurt, difficult, adversarial people, and more can cause us to lose sight of why we are here. We can get so busy putting out fires and addressing the urgent and the immediate that we lose our effectiveness in preaching or at home.
When you wake up each morning, give some thought to the role you play in all three areas of your life. You will very likely be giving thought to what you want or need to preach or teach, where you are in your personal study, who you need to go visit, that Bible study or counseling session you are having. All of that is good and positive. But also think about ways you can encourage and be involved in the lives of your children, focusing on their particular personalities and need. Think about your role as a husband, considering the particular needs of your wife and how you can meet and exceed her expectations for you. Since you decided you did not want to be alone and you pursued and conquered the heart of your wife, be a good husband. Since the two of you wanted the joys of parenthood and were blessed by the ability to have them, cherish them and nourish their souls.
Watch Your Relationships
We are social creatures and we need the relationships to sustain us and to be effective in helping people go to heaven. Let me preface this point by saying that it is necessary and healthy for the minister, his wife, and children to build good relationships both in the congregation where they are, and beyond that border, both in the brotherhood and the community. Thankfully, in many places, elderships and congregations understand better today this need than they once did.
However, the preacher and his family must watch those associations and relationships that can be harmful.
There are relationships with the minority that cause us to neglect or ignore the majority. We can and should have close friends for our own good, but taken to excess this will undermine our effectiveness. If we have close friends, let us not spend every moment with them after every service from the last “Amen” until we leave the building. Ask yourself, “Am I talking to the same people every time? Are there people to whom I rarely or never speak?” Jesus spent special times with Peter, Andrew, James, and John, but we have record of his conversations with Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, the other Judas, and Matthew, not to mention literally dozens of others who were not apostles. We must be careful not to cordon ourselves off with one or two families to the exclusion of an entire congregation with whom our effectiveness is determined by our becoming a meaningful part of their lives.
There are relationships with confidantes that betray our confidence. We need confidantes (cf. Prov. 27:9). We need our Jonathans, Silases, Lukes, and Timothys, our Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos. But disaster awaits if we choose to confide in those unworthy of such (Prov. 11:13; 20:19). How many have "let their hair down" with a "friend" only to get scalped by a big mouth?
There are relationships with the negative that negate your influence. Do not allow your inner circle of counselors or confidantes be those who are constantly focused on what's wrong with the congregation, "our terrible elders," "worthless deacons," and "awful members." The next thing you know, you and your family will be discouraged and disappointed; it will show up in your preaching and your dealings with others.
There are relationships with the opposite sex that oppose our souls. A great and governing principle that includes our interaction with the opposite sex is not to ever do anything in our spouse's absence we would not do if she was present. That will help with our conversations, emails, chats, letters, and whatever you do with your eyes, hands, and otherwise. Men, our preaching, teaching, and counseling can easily cause women with troubled marriages or the unmarried to transfer or develop attractions. If we give into that or do not actively resist it, we will wreak havoc and devastation upon our marriage, children, and ministry (Prov. 6:25-29).
There are relationships with friends that supplant or sabotage the family. Never forget that your spouse and children come before any other earthly relationship, in terms of time, passion, and energy.
Healthy relationships will aid and enrich your ministry and encourage your family. You can enjoy life and victories together, share sorrows, and receive needed comfort. You can stockpile precious memories. But keep relationships healthy: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Watch Your Time
Just like it is hard for us to say "no," most of us constantly struggle with being more efficient time managers. What can help your ministry succeed by watching your time?
- Write down your daily, weekly and monthly tasks and use that as a checklist, marking them off as you accomplish them.
- When made aware of phone messages, correspondence, or important visits, do them immediately if possible.
- Develop and stick to a daily routine and schedule as much as possible, allotting regular timeframes for recurring tasks.
- Get in to work as early as you can and leave at a reasonable rather than a late hour.
What can help your family life be a success by watching your time?
- Take your days off and your vacations; do not neglect this. Take your wife on a romantic getaway.
- Enjoy life together; watch a wholesome movie, do things your kids like to do, and date your mate.
- Take your children with you on foreign mission trips or to speaking engagements and make it special for them!
Please avoid making your brotherhood reputation your chief aim. You do this to your own personal peril, as well as to the damage and danger of your family. Remember that your work includes your wife and family as well as your ministry, and all three areas of life can be a success to the glory of God (cf. Col. 3:23-24)!
Neal Pollard preaches for the Bear Valley Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado where he also teaches in the Bear Valley School of Preaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.