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?
Eli was a great preacher, a seasoned priest. As the high priest, he was responsible, once each year, for entering the Most Holy Place and offering an atoning sacrifice on behalf of the nation. No one else had that privilege. He judged, he instructed the people in matters of worship, he gave counsel, and he devoted his entire life to serving in the tabernacle of God, ministering to the needs of His people. But he was also a passive, inactive father who indulged his sons (1 Samuel 3:1–18). Those boys of his were reprobates!
According to the law of Moses, priests were to burn the fat as an offering and take whatever didn’t burn from the altar. In this way, they were to receive only what the Lord provided. But Eli’s worthless sons defied God’s instructions and reserved the choicest cuts of meat for their dinner table.
Along with their audacious disrespect for the sacrifices of God, they were perverse men who took sexual advantage of the women who came to worship. And they did so without shame, within the sacred spaces of the house of God. And Eli knew it!
You would think that a genuine man of God like Eli would be outraged. Remember, he also served as Israel’s judge, meaning that his responsibility was to carry out justice on behalf of God. These rebellious sons of shameless lust should have been carried to the edge of town and stoned to death. Instead, they receive a mild scolding. How pathetic is that?
God has preserved these stories to leave us with enduring lessons. Fathers, listen up! Take heed! It has been my observation that Eli’s paralysis of parenthood is not uncommon . . . even among those in ministry. As a father whose vocation is service to the Lord, I have intentionally sought to avoid the failure of Eli. I’ve often reminded myself: passivity is an enemy. I urge you to do the same.
Each one of us today must recognize that our family could very easily end up like Eli’s. Let’s face it: any family can come unraveled—an elder’s family, a pastor’s family, an evangelist’s family, a missionary’s family—even one whose father walks with God and faithfully pours his heart into a congregation. And that includes your family.
Please, my friend, do not be passive. It is an enemy.
Good leaders are enthusiastically affirming. Paul writes,
You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:10–11)
Ever spent a Friday night on hard bleachers, in front of the father of the high school quarterback? He’s his own cheering section. Why? He’s a dad! The kid on the field is thinking, “Dad, come on, knock it off.” But his old man is standing up there, yelling at top volume, loving every minute of it. There’s no question who he’s pulling for.
Perhaps you’ve longed for more affirmation from your father. Let’s face it; encouragement goes a long way in preparing a child for life. No one should be getting more encouragement from us than our own children.
Pretty convicting stuff, isn’t it?
Good leadership balances the tender nurturing of a mother with the loving affirmation of a father. Encouragement is like an oasis in a hot, barren desert. It brings needed refreshment to weary individuals whose souls are parched from time spent in the desert of self-doubt. There’s the desert of failure when we’ve tried so hard to succeed. There’s also the desert of no progress when we so want something to happen but it doesn’t. And there’s the desert of family rejection, abuse, and a thousand other arid, monotonous landscapes of life.
In those desert experiences, we all long for an oasis where we’re able to get a cool drink of water. Though it may not have come from your father, determine it will come from you. Give the affirming words of a father, who, in speaking, dips his ladle deep in ice water, and as he pours them out, they cool the spirit and refresh the soul.
Affirming leaders create loyal followers . . . in the church and in the home.
Like the set of a television show, behind the scenes, where the camera doesn’t go, life can be a messy network of plastic, metal, and wood—a flimsy façade—held together with cheap material and duct tape. Phony living could happen in your house or my house or any house . . . even the White House. Phoniness can find a way in. Rehoboam proves it.
Behind the scenes, Rehoboam did as his father and grandfather did, building a harem, while maintaining a public perception that he held steadfast devotion to the Lord (see 2 Chronicles 11:18–23). He nurtured an impressive public image while he passed on a dark legacy to his sons. Rehoboam polished his image as he appeared to seek wise counsel while formulating his domestic policy. But as soon as he felt secure, the real Rehoboam burst forth. Rehoboam rejected the counsel of elders in favor of the counsel of his peers. He didn’t seek advice; he sought justification. Ever done that?
In the final stage of his life, Rehoboam’s façade crumbled to reveal the hypocrisy that propped up his phony public image. When the kingdom’s wealth was pilfered by Egypt because of his apostasy, Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze, polished to shine like gold, but worthless in comparison. The image-conscious king hid them in secret so nobody would know the truth—a third-class substitute after a first-class blunder by a second-rate king.
Throughout the Old Testament we see that “like produces like”—a lust for sensuality produced children with lust in their hearts. And within a generation or two, a tiny seed of compromise grew to shameless rebellion in full bloom. I call it the domino effect. David’s compromise weakened Solomon. Solomon’s carnality impacted Rehoboam. In the end, the sin that Mom loved and Dad permitted entangled the son. Hypocrisy, rather than a love for the truth, defined the life of Rehoboam. How tragic.
Now here’s the tough question: Have you fooled yourself into thinking you can manage the consequences of sin? Have you considered the effect of your sin on the people you influence? I don’t mean just your flock—in particular, I mean your spouse . . . your children. What does your family see behind the pulpit?
If we were to set up the cameras behind the scenes of your private life, what would everyone see?
Do you feel the tightening squeeze this time of year brings?
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)
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?
My love affair with Thanksgiving takes me all the way back to my boyhood days. I had just turned 10 years of age and was in fifth grade at Southmayd Elementary School in East Houston.
(Image from Unsplash)
As I recall, I was still going barefoot to school—and I combed my hair, maybe three times a week. Girls didn’t matter a lot to me when I was 10! It was on a Wednesday, the day before our Thanksgiving holidays began.
The year was 1944. Our nation was at war across the Atlantic into Europe as well as in the Pacific and far beyond.
Times were simple back then but they were also rugged. Everything was rationed. Framed stars hung proudly in neighborhood windows—and sometimes they were quietly changed to crosses.
Everyone I knew was patriotic to the core. Without television, we relied on “newsreels” that were shown at the movies, bold newspaper headlines, and LIFE magazine, which carried photos and moving stories of courage in battle and deaths at sea. Signs were posted inside most stores and on street corners, all of them with the same four words:
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.
Be Secure in Who You Are
One of the greatest contributions you can make to your husband is that you be very secure in who you are. Pastors’ wives often feel they need to be something everyone else wants them to be. Some of that responsibility falls on us, as pastors, and I understand that. But it’s so important that you know who you are . . . and then be who you are.
Be a Person of Objective Support
From that place of security, it’s important that you be for your husband a person of objective support.
Notice how I said that. Objective support. You’re neither a shadow nor a doormat. Furthermore, you’re not there to agree with everything. Some of the things you don’t agree with will be very helpful to him. But how you go about expressing your disagreement is very important.
Remember, the goal is objective support. Both terms are essential.
Cynthia has learned how and when to question something I said in a sermon. But she has cultivated the ability to do it in a way that I feel supported by her. Younger wives tend to talk about it on the way home from church . . . not a good time! We pastors feel pretty fragile, even defensive, on Sunday afternoons. So it’s important that you learn how to say what you have to say.
Remember the wives of leaders in the Bible? They had great influence . . . for good or evil. If you can remind your husband that you support him (even when you may disagree with him), he can face any challenge the ministry hurls his way. But if he doesn’t have your support—if he doubts that you believe in him—he may eventually quit the ministry in a pit of depression.
I’ve seen it happen.
Be a Trusted Confidant
Finally, it’s important to keep his confidences. There are some issues I deal with that Cynthia does not know about—but they are very few. If I say to an individual, “No one will ever know this,” then I really mean no one will ever know it. But I’m careful when I say that. I usually add the caveat: “I may tell my wife about this, but she’ll make a burial of the information in her mind.”
It is helpful for me to confide in my wife. Your husband needs that too. Assure him of your confidentiality.
Be very secure in who you are. Be a person of objective support. And be a trusted confidant.
He has so very few.
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.
May I Say the Obvious?
You still have a family!
- They still long to have lunch with you.
- They still love to get a phone call.
- They want to know wisdom from you outside the pulpit.
- They still yearn to have an arm around their shoulders.
- They still want you to make time to sit on the back porch and kick back and listen.
- They want you to attend their ball games and go to their performance and see you relax . . . really relax!
- They still want to know that you can do more in your spare time than study.
- And they really want to hear you laugh!
They are the ones you will leave in your legacy—the only ones who have your blood and your name. They need you. They want you.
After all, they’re the ones who could write the unauthorized biography. Oh, what a thought! I won’t go there.
Words Worth Pondering
Let me end this entry by quoting from a book you should get if you don’t have it. Ken Gire, in his little volume A Father’s Gift: The Legacy of Memories, closes with these reflective words.
What pictures will my son remember
when he comes to the plain granite marker
over his father’s grave?
What will my daughters remember?
Or my wife? . . .
. . . I’ve resolved to give fewer lectures,
to send fewer platitudes rolling their way,
to give less criticism,
to offer fewer opinions. . . .
. . . From now on, I will give them pictures they can live by,
pictures that can comfort them,
and keep them warm
in my absence.
Because when I’m gone, there will only be silence.
And memories. . . .
. . . Of all
I could give
to make their lives a little fuller,
a little richer,
a little more prepared
for the journey ahead of them,
nothing compares to the gift of remembrance—
pictures that show they are special
and that they are loved.
Pictures that will be there
when I am not.
Pictures that have within them
a redemption all their own.
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.”