Why Family Time is a Pastor’s Job Description
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 realize it is counter-intuitive to think of family time as part of the pastor’s job. Everyone with a family wants more family time, 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. (We discussed this in “Under the Whip: What Pastors do with the other 167 hours a week.”)
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 vacation, the 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 church flock– 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 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