Pastors have two primary responsibilities involving two families. One involves his congregation, the other, his wife and children.
As I write this, I am taken back to a conversation I had with a friend, and pastor, several years ago. Let me ask you to grab a chair and listen in to our conversation.
My friend is very honest with me about this tension between pastoring his family and pastoring his church. He admits to spending most of his disciplined energy on his church family, but gives the leftover to his immediate family. I love asking this question; “how long do you think you’ll pastor your church family?” While he longs to pastor a good number of years, he acknowledges a day will come when he will move on to pastor another church family. I then ask this mind-waking question. “Okay, how long do you plan on pastoring your immediate family, your wife and your children?” There is little hesitation, “Forever, of course.”
This answer comes easily.
For a few seconds, I say little. The silence is not uncomfortable, but certainly probing. To give time for the point to settle even deeper, I find a spot on the table to look at. My own mind stays busy. I wonder what he is thinking right now. I know he spends fifteen hours on his sermon, but he just admitted he spends maybe twenty minutes a month having devotions with his wife and two children. The spot hasn’t moved from the table, so I keep looking at it, hoping my friend is isolating some of his own issues to focus on. My mind begins to review this tension between the two allegiances, two families, in my own life. Married for 31 years, raising five children, I have yet to move on to another family. I am still married to Elaine, and I love her as much now as I did the first day I met her. Even more. My children love me, and now as adults we have a friendship that excites me. (My daughter and her husband recently accompanied Elaine and me to Europe to help in our ministry.) They love Jesus, and I know when we meet together soon for Thanksgiving and Christmas we will speak of years that have passed and the blessings we have all enjoyed together. Many of those blessings have been handed to us out of the fires of sorrow, and we are close because of it.
I love my family. It’s the only family I want and I assume the only one I will ever have.
My friend remains comfortable with the silence between us, so my eyes shift to another spot on the round table that separates us. I am no longer considering what he is thinking. My own thoughts begin to occupy me. Thirty-one years, one family, one wife and great memories, but during those thirty-one years I have pastored six different churches. Some for just three years, a couple for five or more. One church, just one year. I strain to remember the names of the elders I spent hours with in the early years. The members I counseled, discipled, walked and hunted with can only be remembered through the mist of memory. It saddens me how during many of those years I blocked out time in my office for sermon preparation and gave myself wholeheartedly to loving and helping others, at times at the expense of my family. One time, I actually told the secretary I would call Elaine back when she was trying to reach me. I had to finish that third point in my finally honed sermon. I never failed to show up for a Sunday sermon because I forgot about it, but I did on many occasions forget or neglect to pray with my wife, or take that time to read the Bible with my son, or pray with my daughter. What if I had put as much dedication into pastoring my family as I had my church? By the grace of Jesus, I believe I did put my family first, but against the demands of many people whose names I forget and many I’m sure would strain to remember mine.
My friend and I look up at each other almost at the same time. We say little more. It seemed we knew what the other was thinking. I am excited to see how he will begin to pastor his family as well as he has pastored his church.