If I may borrow from Charles Dickens’s famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times, and the worst of times.” As pastors, we have them both, don’t we?
Who hasn’t cringed in September as stores drag out and display the artificial Christmas trees? Who hasn’t felt uneasy about the obligatory exchange of gifts with individuals you hardly know?
Something about those annual experiences can make them seem like “the worst of times.”
But they don’t need to be.
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If some ministry position is the god of your life, then something terrible occurs within when it is no longer a future possibility. If your ministry, however, is simply a part of God’s plan and you keep it in proper perspective, you can handle an unwanted dismissal just as well as you can handle a promotion.
It all depends on who’s first and what’s first.
Breaking the magnet that draws things ahead of God is a lengthy and sometimes painful process. But God loves us enough to wrench from our hands everything we love more than Him.
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Sin has a ripple effect in families. Even in pastor’s families. Propensity to prolong one particular sin might be handed from father to son genetically. One day science may prove or disprove this notion. However, we know for sure sins are passed from one generation to the next by example.
We don’t have to look any further than the first book of the Bible to see it.
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Do you feel the tightening squeeze this time of year brings?
On top of an already demanding schedule of preaching, teaching, counseling, and calling, you have had to add Christmas parties and programs, a creative Christmas series that you’ve never preached before—and still another eloquent sermon is coming up for the Christmas Eve service.
Such a schedule has a tendency to turn us into Scrooge-like characters, doesn’t it? (We secretly think: Humbug!) Work, work, work . . . nothing and no one will get in our way.
May I assume the role of one of old Scrooge’s ghosts for you? Let me escort you to your home. Peer into the window. Look closely. Is your chair empty at the dinner table?
Okay, that was a cheap shot.
We in ministry don’t like to talk about it, but too many of us sanctify workaholism. And the holidays can be the busiest time! We can allow ourselves to be so involved in “the Lord’s work” that our family is neglected. And I do mean “we.”
This may sound like heresy, but we have to learn to adopt the attitude: “I’m more committed to my home than I am to my ministry.” Try saying that out loud. I doubt any pastor’s final words will be—and I know mine won’t be—”I should have put more time into studying supralapsarianism for that sermon on election.” No way! But I will regret not spending more time loving and laughing with my wife, children, and grandchildren.
Are you feeling adequately guilty yet? Me too. So let me suggest some positive things for us to consider. Here are six rewards that represent huge dividends for yourself, your family, and even your ministry if you make your home your priority. You will enjoy:
- the sustained cultivation of a great character
- the continued relief a clear conscience brings
- the increasing personal delight of knowing God intimately
- the rare privilege of becoming a mentor
- the priceless treasure of leaving an unforgettable legacy
- the crowning reward of finishing strong
It took three ghosts and a sleepless night to convince old Ebenezer Scrooge that work without regard for others amounts to foolishness—and a wasted life.
I have a pastor-friend whose wife often tells him, “I don’t want your presents as much as your presence.” Let’s give ourselves to our families this week, okay?
As a follow-up from last week’s post, let me urge you to use this spring as an opportunity to get next to your children.
- To come to grips with the barriers that are blocking the flow of your love and affection (and theirs).
- To face the facts before the bruise leads to a permanent, domestic fracture.
We’re not Immune
Three biblical cases come to my mind:
- Rebekah—who favored Jacob over Esau . . . and used him to deceive his father, Isaac, which led to a severe family breakdown (Genesis 27).
- Eli—who was judged by God because of his lack of discipline and failure to stand firm when his boys began to run wild (1 Samuel 3:11–14). Eli especially stands out for us as pastors, because he was in the ministry!
- David—who committed the same sin against his son, Adonijah, by never restraining him or crossing him throughout his early training (1 Kings 1:5–6).
You see, no one is immune . . . not even Bible characters . . . not even pastors!
So then, let’s move ahead. Let’s refuse to pamper our parental negligence any longer.
Okay, let’s be honest. How’s it going with you and the kids? Maybe that question doesn’t even apply to you. You may have already raised your brood and had them leave the nest. But I have a hunch that many of you pastors are still in the process of training and rearing.
So—how’s it going?
At a recent pastors conference hosted by Insight for Living, one pastor’s wife asked me an insightful question. I’ll share her question with you, as well as my thoughts on it, so that you might pass it along to your wife, if appropriate. This woman asked, “What is the greatest contribution a wife can make to a man in ministry?”
Wonderful question. Let me respond directly . . . to your wife.
I don’t want to intensify your guilt—not at all. But let me go ahead and say that it’s probably true that some of you are neglecting the home, and the ministry has become your mistress. Believe me; I understand how that can happen. I confess that there were periods in my own life when that occurred, which I have shared with you before.
Having been there, I’m telling you: it isn’t worth it.
My word to you is to learn the difference between being engaged in ministry and being controlled by it.
As committed as you are to your church, there are others. You are not indispensable there. God can lead you to another church . . . and some day He will. But you cannot get another family . . . and they cannot get another you.
Your family members are the people who love you and need you the most—I mean that in a healthy way. Your wife and children want to be with you. They want as much time as possible to enjoy you. If you’re an empty nester, even your grown children still need you. So do those grandkids. Mine do too. They don’t want to lose us just because we are engaged in ministry.
If your ministry enlarges and begins to include other orbits (as mine has)—perhaps a radio ministry, a broader speaking ministry, a music ministry, or a publishing ministry—keep in mind that all of those things have voracious appetites. Just as Sunday comes every week (even during holidays) and you have to stand and deliver whether you’re ready or not, so your other commitments can suck the life out of you. Every publisher wants the next book, every blog or podcast audience wants the next post. My wife, Cynthia, reminds me often, “Radio never takes a holiday.” Those trains keep on moving, and they are hard to stop.
Now, I’m not saying don’t ever write, or speak elsewhere, or expand your ministry. I’m saying to think first and evaluate if it’s really God who is leading you. Needs will always outrun your energy. Even Jesus didn’t heal everybody. He purposely limited His ministry (Mark 1:35–38). The Judgment Seat of Christ will be about quality not quantity (1 Corinthians 3:13). Think before you add to your plate.
Practice saying, “No.”
See also A Pastor’s Relationships–His Family, Part 2
I’ve been in ministry more than five decades. During that time I have discovered what might sound basic and obvious—but believe me, it took years to learn. In fact, I’m still growing into the reality of what it means. I have learned that relationships come just below one’s walk with God.
Even Jesus illustrated this principle by the relationships in His life, didn’t He?
- The Lord ministered to the multitudes.
- Within that crowd He had His followers.
- That group narrowed further to the Twelve, then to the three (Peter, James, and John).
- Finally, Jesus had John, the beloved disciple.
I have found that a minister of the gospel has at least four key areas of relationships.
4 Key Relationships for the Pastor
Picture these people as concentric circles around you—somewhat like those whom Jesus had around Him. Let’s start with those closest to you and work our way out.
- Your immediate circle is your family. Obviously, if you are married, I’m referring to your relationship with your wife. But prior to marriage, and now in tandem with it, you may have a continuing relationship with your parents. And then you and your wife have a relationship with your children, your grandchildren, your in-laws, and even further relationships within the family.
- The next circle out would be those who serve with you on a pastoral staff. You may serve in a church with a multiple-staff, or perhaps you are the only staff person. Maybe you employ someone on a part-time basis, or you may have volunteers. All of us have those like these who serve faithfully and consistently. Those relationships are unique.
- The third circle would be fellow leaders in the church. Perhaps they are elders and deacons, or you may have other titles in your denomination. These would be those leaders who serve alongside us.
- Finally, the fourth and largest circle represents those in our local congregation. And I’ve divided those into five categories: the attendees, the friends, the attractive, the troubled, and finally—the most difficult of all—the troublemakers.
A pastor’s relationships are essential.
I want to take my time in addressing these with you over the weeks ahead. We’re in no hurry. Relationships take time to develop . . . and talking about them does as well. These are the lives that touch us, shape us, minister to us, mean the world to us, or drive us nuts if they could.
Relationships come just below one’s walk with God. So easy to say . . . but so challenging to live.