May 7, 2012

Why Family Time is a Pastor’s Job Description

by Clint Archer

 

As a pastor I find it helpful to think of my family time, not as competing with my ministry, but as part of fulfilling my job description.

I don’t mean that family time feels like work to me! And I realize that  everyone with a family wants more time with them, but their job interferes. Why should it be any different for those in ministry?

The reason is that pastors’ schedules come with hybrid categories that are unique.

On most Christians’ calendars there are activities which fall into at least four categories: Work, Family, Church, Personal. What is unique about the pastor’s schedule is that his activities are more tightly interwoven than most. Every work activity is also a church activity. The pastor’s personal devotional time is very closely linked to his ability to be effective in his work and his church ministry.

In the same way that a travel writer doesn’t consider touring abroad to be a relaxing vacation, a pastor doesn’t always consider it recreation to “hang out” with the flock.

Most pastors have a circle of friends that overlaps greatly with their congregation– as it should. But hence social time with buddies frequently intersects with ad hoc marriage counseling, “quick” discussions about the budget, the odd theological question, and occasional dispensing of help for the ubiquitous “I have this friend who…” type scenario. And usually pastors love this interaction. It’s why they went into the ministry. The result is that they eventually have a sense that everything they do is work.

It’s hard to unwind.

 

I find that when I go on vacation, I spend much time reading books related to my calling, listening to sermon MP3s in preparation for my series coming up, working on book ideas that I don’t get time for in the milieu of ministry.

When I swim with my kids, my mind is often still on church issues. When I am enjoying a walk with my wife, I find myself steering the conversation toward her role in the children’s ministry.

It’s an obsession of sorts. The result: I return from vacation feeling like I need a break.

I came to a turning point one day when someone called to ask me for an “urgent” counseling appointment that day. (Footnote: Many of these are actually “urgent” in the sense that they are important to the person making the request, not truly time sensitive, which is what the word used to mean). I explained that it was my day off, there was another pastor who could help them that day, or I could see them first thing the next morning. They agreed in a disappointed tone.
Then the guilt set in. I felt rotten.

So here I was, playing catch with my kid and his oversized mitt, on the one day of the week I have off, and I’m feeling like a bad pastor. That’s when it hit me like baseball on the nose.

This is exactly what that counsellee needed to experience. Their “urgent” issue was a marriage tension which had been brewing over several years of neglecting family time. The best example I could offer was, “No, I can’t see you about the family issues you have because of your misplaced priorities, because it’s my day off and I spend it with my family.”

J.C. Ryle once said,

A bishop’s first diocese is his own family.

All Christians need to consider family time important, but for the pastor there is more at stake. Churches should recognize this and should never allow leaders to neglect family for the sake of the ministry.

I have more to say, but my kids just woke up. I’ve got more important people to talk to 🙂

What about you other pastors; got any tips for the rest of  us?

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • drew sparks

    I appreciated your article very much. I am currently serving as a youth director and often have that “guilt” you spoke of.

    My father is a pastor and just two weeks ago someone asked him to meet on his day off and he told them that he doesn’t counsel people on his day off and then offered other times that they would be able to meet.

    He explains that Friday is his day to practice what he teaches on Sundays (obviously he seeks to practice what he preaches all the time, but the emphasis with his family is on Friday). As a young person in the ministry, it is hard to justify saying no to someone on your day off.

    Thank you for reminding me and others where our priorities are and the importance of family life.

    • Your father’s example was spot on. Thanks for sharing.

  • Charlie Frederico

    By definition, if a pastor does not (or will not) teach the Scripture to his family, he is on his way to becoming disqualified for ministry. Why? Paul said that a man needs to manage his own home well, and that level of management/leadership demands bibilical instruction, and that instruction has to be taught, and teaching is teaching and not a kind of osmosis. Therefore, a man has to develop the conviction that whatever is expected of him in the puplit is what is expected of him in his household…first. A daily, or bi-daily, time of a man and his family together coming under the instruction from the Word of God is as simple as scheduling that time, and organizing the rest of the day around it (we do this for little league games don’t we?). That prioritizes God’s Word in the minds of everyone in the family.

    • Good point about how we organize our day around what really matters to us. Thanks for your input.

  • Hey, just an FYI, but two of the images in the blog didn’t load, and one did, but overlapped some of the text.

    And an excellent post: I’ve known quite a few of the stereotyped “pastors kids” who could have greatly benefited from more personal time with their fathers…

    • Mmm. Th epics turned out ok on my Mac. Anyone else see that problem?

    • Ok, I think I found the pic problem, and fixed it. I hope.

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  • Azekveld

    That title of yours is a motto to live by in busy ministry!

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