I asked Dean to respond earlier, and he did – here it is. Dean Stewart pastors Vaiden Baptist Church and blogs at pastordeanstewart.com.
Earlier Dave Miller wrote a post that as a minister your family cannot always come first. My feathers were not ruffled by Dave’s post and I agree with most of what he says. I disagree with his thesis,
“If family is always going to come first, then you should pick another line of work. If you insist on always putting FAMILY FIRST you cannot be an effective servant of God! Pastoral ministry is NOT for you.”
My disagreement is twofold with Dave. First of all, just because you put something ahead of your family does not mean that thing is a greater priority than your family. I am a grown man with responsibilities because of the ministry and those responsibilities require I disappoint my family, be gone from family and maybe even neglect my family at times. However, my family is still more important to me and a greater priority to me than the ministry. If my ministerial responsibilities were going to cause me to destroy my family I would quit the ministry. It has been said often that if you lose your family then you will lose your ministry. The truth is if you lose your family you will at least limit your ministry. Dave sees priorities as what comes first. I argue that what comes first for a person may change from day to day but a person’s priorities will not. I may have a dentist appointment and miss our monthly senior adult fellowship. That does not mean my teeth are a greater priority than my senior adults but it does mean that appointment came first that day.
Secondly, Dave states a person who always puts his family first cannot be an effective servant of God. If this means a person who refuses to put daily responsibilities ahead of his family when necessary can’t be an effective minister then I agree. If this means my family has to be less of a priority than ministry for me to be effective as a minister then I disagree. My question is who is defining “effective,” is it church members or God? Bro. Miller quotes Luke 14:26 where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children…. even his own life he cannot be my disciple.” A.T. Robertson says this is the language of exaggerated contrast. Dave equates discipleship with ministry. I disagree. Jesus who has called us to be disciples and to be ministers has also called us to be Godly parents and husbands. We cannot say I am pleasing Jesus by being a great minister while at the same time being a lousy husband and father. The Pharisees cried corban in Mark 7 dedicating earnings to God and neglecting their parents. God was not pleased then and I do not believe He is pleased when pastors put ministry as a greater priority than the family. Some pastors today may be guilty of crying corban with their time while neglecting their wife and children. I would argue that a minister who has an unhappy family cannot be an effective minister. Dave has it right when he says, “Let’s boil it all down, folks. It’s all about balance. Biblical, Spirit-led, balance.” I want to give some practical advice for helping keep the balance between being a good pastor and a good husband/dad.
1. Be honest before you become the pastor.
I made it clear before I became the pastor of Vaiden Baptist Church that my family would be a greater priority than my ministry. I shared my typical work schedule with the committee including times I had set aside for my family. For example, I made a commitment when my oldest son started school that unless providentially hindered I would drive him to school every day until he got his license. Everyone knew through the years this was special to me and only serious matters would infringe on this practice. When serious matters did arise and I could not drive Micah to school this did not mean he was less of a priority. He was still a greater priority but on those particular days I had to put responsibilities ahead of this special time.
2. Teach your people after you become their pastor.
I think James is a great book to teach through whenever you are ready to leave a church for most folk will be ready for a new pastor after you deal with faith without works being dead and the wickedness of the tongue. However, it is a great book to teach through early in your ministry somewhere. One reason I love teaching from James is because James 5:14 says if anyone is sick let him call for the elders… I believe it was more difficult in the first century than in the twenty-first century to call for the elders. Be clear the Bible gives two responsibilities in this passage. The sick have the responsibility to call and pastors have the responsibility to go and pray. Let your people know you believe in prayer, you love them and want to be there when they need you but you need the call in order to know when to come. If this practice is followed we will find that much of the time we are not as indispensable as we believe. Also as you are teaching please destroy, blow-up, get rid of the pastor/layman US vs. THEM mentality. It is us for them and them for us and together us for Christ.
3. Teach your family all along the way.
The Bible both New Testament and Old instruct the father/husband to teach his family. Before the crisis of a new church comes and your kids are devastated teach your family the truth of the ministry. The night I proposed to Cheryl she actually said yes. Who would have thought it? I then shared with her God had called me to pastor and that my calling would always take precedence over her vocation. Through the years teach your kids what ministry might mean one day. We may have to move. We may have to make difficult stands that will hurt and anger others. Try to instill in your children how special it is to be part of a local body of believers. Share with them how special the church family is. I am running to the hospital in the middle of the night not because I have to but because I love my brother and sister who are there. Teach them they are a part of your ministry as well.
4. Make your family your priority and your church will know it.
It is my experience that church members on the whole are proud of pastors who are great family men. When we have the balance Dave speaks of they see all the sacrifices made and will not mind when a sacrifice is not made for your family’s sake. Dave asks how much time do you spend with your family? I can’t answer that question in hours and minutes. I do know I spend more time “working” every week than I do at home with my family. I will say we eat supper together every night at the table. We have four television shows we watch together every week. We play cards and dominos together on an extremely regular basis. During hunting season I take my youngest son hunting every evening that is possible. We all fish together and cook together. My church family seems to love all of these things and they seem to be a source of pride.
Conclusion: I think Dave and I agree on most every point except maybe what constitutes one’s priorities. Dave sees what you spend the most hours doing as your biggest priority. For me, if I come to the end of my life and have been successful at only one or the other I would prefer that it be said of me he was a good husband and father. That seems to make family be my priority over ministry.