Is the Church Hazardous to Your Family?
WARNING: Ministry can be hazardous to your health! We have all seen a similar warning on a pack of cigarettes. I am thinking a sentence like that should be on each diploma issued by a Bible college or seminary. Possibly, add a slide on the screen at each church growth or leadership conference that says, WARNING: The material you will receive at this conference can be hazardous to your family, your marriage, and your soul.
After 53 years of ministry I believe I can honestly say, “Pastoring is not a job; it is a lifestyle.” It is never a nine-to-five job. We don’t punch out and go home, forgetting the work until we show up the next morning. We might leave the office at 5:00 PM, but the truth is we are not off the clock in our minds and evidently not in the minds of our congregations. The phone still rings into the evening. The emails still wait. The next elder meeting is looming, the church budget is still behind, and Sunday’s message still waits. Emergencies always seem to happen after hours. The congregation’s expectations are always higher than one human being can meet. The expectations pour over onto your wife and children, who, by the way, are not church employees.
Jesus fought the same battle during His ministry. I am reminded in Mark 1 of what could have been a normal day for Him. He starts it in the synagogue, teaching. As He is teaching, a man with an unclean spirit interrupts Him. Jesus enters a spiritual battle with the demonic world. Jesus casts out the unclean spirit. From a human perspective, this was a taxing, emotional, and physical experience for Jesus. He leaves the synagogue and goes to Peter’s house. He enters Peter’s house for a quiet dinner and evening. However, He is called upon to heal Peter’s mother-in-law. As dinner is served and the sun begins to set, a large crowd of sick people and the demon oppressed gather outside the house. He spends the evening ministering to them. I’m sure it was late into the evening when He finally pulled away from the crowd.
The next day He tells His disciples that they must move to the other towns to preach. An interesting phrase is included. Jesus said, “…for that is why I came out.” His call to minister surrounded Him every day. I am not sure Jesus had the balanced life we all desire. I would like to tell pastors that there is such a life. However, the truth is that we live with the reality that most likely there will always be a sense of imperfect balance. Yet, I believe we can learn to not accept the hazardous life.
As Billie and I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of ministry couples over the years, it is clear that ministry takes a toll on the family. Good intentions of being home on time or having that quiet evening often seem to be illusive. However, I have learned from my own life that I have brought my own issues into the mix. Self-identity, unbiblical priorities, and pressures to minister to people override our responsibility to minister to our own families. We have had many cold dinners due to my getting home late. Postponed dates with children or my wife at one time became the norm. I have written about that in my book Clean Up on Aisle 2. Daniel, my brother, wrote about my situation in his book Defying Gravity. Unfortunately, I spent my first 28 years in ministry living with priorities that were far from what God had ordered. Finally, I answered the alarm call and slowly began to rearrange my time, patterns, and responsibilities.
Looking closely at the Mark 1 story, we see that Jesus rose early in the morning and spent time with His Father in prayer and solitude. He made time for His own soul. We have heard about soul and family care, but often fail to do anything about it until the train wrecks. As we have shared our story with ministry couples and listened to theirs, I will share with you a few things that we strongly suggest.
- Make sure that it is an indisputable emergency. When the call comes to your phone after office hours, figure out whether it is truly an emergency or just a desire to have you solve their problems. If it is a marriage argument, I ask if there is physical violence going on. If so, call 911 and talk to whoever is not in jail the next day. My calling is not being a referee. Or I ask, how long have you all been dealing with this or whatever issue? The answer is usually x amount of years. My going over will not solve their problem that night. Make an appointment for the next day.
- Do not attend every graduation, sports game, family reunion, musical, or whatever event your congregation requests. I realize that in different-sized churches people have various expectations. However, even in a small church there is a limit. Thus, you need to be very selective. There will be some disappointed people. Just make sure they are not your wife and children.
- Figure out biblical priorities. In our ministry couples’ retreats, Billie and I teach from Ephesians 5 and 6 on the outlined priorities Paul gives. Let me give the first three in order: God (not church), Mate, Children. Ministry is down the line from these. The problem is that many of us have made Church God. Mark your priorities and let them be the filter of your time and activities.
- Do the stuff you know and teach. Have regular date nights with your wife and afternoon Cokes with your kids. Attend their activities before you even think of attending some other kid’s activities. Coach or be involved with your kid’s sports. Be a band sponsor or field trip chaperone.
- No more than two night meetings a week. This would include a small group meeting as one of those nights. Thus, you have one more night on the table. The rest belong to your family and neighborhood fun.
- Do a 24-hour fast one to two times a month. What kind of fast? I implore you to fast from your technology. Turn your phone off, your computer, iPads, television, and all outside communication for 24 hours. I suggest you do this twice a month at minimum. I promise you the world and the church will not end. However, the speed of your life will slow down. You can begin to be truly quiet. Hear from God. Hear from your soul and respond.
I could give you a number of other ideas, but my space is limited. Let me wrap it up with a verse Billie and I use often in soul and family care with ministry people:
“My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!” Song of Solomon 1:6b
Final word: “Take care of your own vineyard.”
Copyright © 2019 Dennis Henderson. All rights reserved.
Dennis and Billie Henderson have been married 54 years. They have four children ranging from 44 to 51, and nine grandchildren. Dennis is the older brother of Daniel. He currently is the pastor of Fusion Bible Church in Durant, OK. He serves as a regional resource director with the 6:4 Fellowship. Dennis and Billie have ministered to hundreds of ministry couples in 10 countries. They will be leading a 30-Day Ministry Couples’ Coaching in October of this year through the 6:4 Fellowship.