by Ron Edmondson
If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of the pastor’s immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter.
How many pastors do we know who have adult children that don’t even attend church anymore? Lots. I’ve heard from many who resent the church that stole their family time.
There have been seasons of my ministry where this was the case, especially on abnormally stressful days. It should be the exception, however, not the rule.
I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of nonprofit boards, that my busyness would never detract from my family life on a long-term basis.
Cheryl and I are in a different season now. It’s easier to protect our time. My heart, however, goes out to the young families in ministry. Please heed my advice.
Here are seven ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry:
1. Down time.
Saturday for me is a protected day. I normally work six long (up to 10 hours and more) days a week. (I’m wired to work and to take a true “Sabbath.” According to Exodus 16:26 at least, it seems one would have to work six days—just saying!) This also means I agree to do fewer weddings or attend other social events on Saturdays. There are only a few Saturdays a year I allow this part of my calendar to be interrupted. We are blessed with a large, qualified staff. Pastors, it doesn’t have to be Saturday for you, but there should be at least one day in your week like this. If you are wired for two—take two!
2. Cheryl and the boys trump everything on my calendar.
I always interrupt meetings for their phone calls. If they are on my schedule for something we have planned together, it takes precedence over everything and everyone else. There are always emergencies, but this is extremely rare for me—extremely!
3. Scheduled time with my family.
If I’m going to protect time with my family then they must be a part of my calendar. I’ve been told this seems cold and calculated, and maybe it is, but when the boys were young and into activities with school, those times went on my calendar as appointments first. I was at every ballgame and most practices, unless I was out of town, because it was protected by my calendar. It was easy for me to decline other offers, because my schedule was already planned.
4. I don’t work many nights.
Now it’s just a habit and my boys are grown, but when my boys were young, I also wrote on my schedule nights at home. The bottom line is, I’m a professional. You wouldn’t want my time if I weren’t. Have you ever tried to meet with your attorney or banker at night? Of course, there are exceptions—I have some monthly meetings where I have to work at night—and life has seasons that alter this somewhat—but in a normal week I work six full day-time hours a week and that’s enough to fulfill my calling.
5. I’m not everyone’s pastor.
This is hard for members of my extended family or friends to understand sometimes, but I pastor a large church, so if someone is already in a church elsewhere I’m not their pastor. I am simply their brother, son or friend. Obviously, if someone doesn’t have a church at all then this is a different story, especially since my heart is to reach unchurched people.
6. I delegate well.
We have a great staff. If something is better for them to do, I let them do it. Every event doesn’t require me to be there, nor my wife. I try to support the activities of the church as much as possible, but not at the detriment of my family. I realize smaller church pastors struggle here, but part of your leading may be to raise up volunteer people and entrust them with responsibilities and leadership. It also may be to lead people to understand your family remaining strong is just as important as other families in the church, and part of having a healthy church is having a healthy pastor and family.
7. I try to stay spiritually, physically and mentally healthy.
It’s hard to lead my family well and engage them when I’m always stressed by ministry. This is a constant battle, and requires great cooperation and understanding by my family, but I recognize it as a value worth striving to attain.
Pastors, I hear from you—and sometimes your spouse. Some of you are drowning in your ministry and your family is suffering. Many are going to say they have no staff or a small staff, but I encourage this same approach to ministry for every person on our staff. I would expect no less of a commitment to their family than I have to mine. Ask yourself this question: How healthy is your family? What are you doing to protect them?
Help me help other pastors. Share how you protect your family.
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he’s been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.