Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives-Boundaries (Time)

The last post on boundaries was about relationships and how important it is to have boundaries with other people to prevent affairs. Likewise it is important to have boundaries about time. Ministry will suck time away from family and the very marrow from one's bones. Here's the trick about vocational ministry--when do you say no? Where do you draw the line? All ministry is good and God wants us to serve and minister to others, right? Not so fast...

Fortunately for us, every church we ever served in made family a priority over work. And as great as ministry is, when you are a pastor,at the end of the day it is a job. It's a job with a calling. A job with eternal consequences, but a job nonetheless. I remember one education pastor telling us during the interview process, "If you don't put your family first and if you can't keep it together at home, you will never be an effective minister. Family has to come first." Those are wise words and have served us well. Our take in the priority line-up is this: God/Jesus, family, church/ministry.

I think it's easy for pastors to get sucked up into busyness=ministry mindset, especially earlier in their careers. Also, many pastors are workaholics, which I personally think is a sin issue in that work and accomplishment at work become an idol. Even good stuff like ministry can become an idol if the focus is on that instead of God. I have heard many PWs complain that their husbands are never home. Sundays, esp. if a church has a morning service (or multiple ones!) and an evening service, are a total wash as far as family time goes. A PW's husband has about two hours at home max on a full Sunday. Wednesdays in a traditional church are the same. Then sometimes there are meetings, small group, deacon/elder meetings, counseling, wedding rehearsals, weddings, funerals, Rotary/Kiwanis stuff, denominational meetings, youth events, senior adult events, choir/orchestra/worship team practice, etc. Many pastors are gone every night during the week. That's simply ridiculous and frankly, unnecessary.

God said it best through His Word--one of the roles of a pastor is to equip and prepare the church members, God's people, for ministry. If the pastor isn't delegating and is trying to do everything himself, then he is forfeiting one of his responsibilities.
Ephesians 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So if a pastor feels compelled to be at church every time the door is open, he is first and foremost neglecting his calling as a husband and father. Furthermore, he is not upholding his biblical calling to "equip the saints." I get it. I like to be in control too. However, people don't learn how to do ministry without being mentored and then thrust into it. Church members can run meetings and whole ministries, do visitation, organize, plan, etc. It just involves the pastor doing some teaching and then stepping back. I know that when Robert was out of town as a youth minister and I stayed home and attended Wednesday night youth worship, we both were thrilled when the youth and youth workers could run the sound system and powerpoint, lead the worship band, speak, and the clean-up without any assistance from us. I got to see it happen! I didn't help much because I was coming off of work and getting my kids situated. I would just arrive and it all happened because Robert had taken the time to teach them how to do it. Similar things have happened with our church plant. We have to set up from scratch in an elementary school gym each Sunday. Our core group of people move and work together like a fine oil machine even when Robert is gone. It is a thing of beauty!!

In addition to equipping others to minister, pastors need to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritual and be available to their families. There are plenty of biblical precedents for this, but I'll share two.

Moses' father-in-law was a wise man, no?

Exodus 18: 13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?" 15 Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws." 17 Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."

And modern day pastors think they are busy? Jesus was preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, etc., but even He knew that He couldn't do it all and that He was worthless if He didn't spend time refueling through communion with His Father and rest.

Luke 5: 15Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Scandalous! Jesus walked away from ministry to meet with His Daddy and talk. There is always one more good, noble, godly thing that any of us could be doing. However, sometimes God wants us to rest. Sometimes He wants us to say NO because He wants someone else to assume the responsibility. Sometimes He wants us to teach someone else to take over the task. If we don't talk to Him, and more importantly, listen to Him, we'll never know.

If you are a church member reading this, check in with your pastor. Make sure that he isn't at the church more than 1-2 evenings a week and that he is making rest and family a priority. Find ways to encourage him to do so, including helping to hook his family up with a babysitter so he can date his wife. Make him REALLY take 2 days off a week in which he doesn't darken the door of the church and in which he only responds to emergency phone calls. (FYI, needing keys to the church, wondering if a certain book is in the church library, and complaining about another church member aren't emergencies).

Pastors and wives, guard and covet time off. Make it non-negotiable. Write it in the planner and consider it as a meeting or event that can't be rescheduled. Spend time playing together as a family, riding bikes, playing a board game, going to a movie. Take naps. Go fishing. Date each other without the kids (you should be able to find great babysitters through your youth group or college ministry) and go on a weekend trip without the kids at least once a year. Use up all of your vacation time. If you can't afford to go somewhere, then do a staycation and visit another church in a neighboring town on Sunday so that you don't sucked into working. Hint: Pastors, it is a big thrill for your wives to actually get to sit next to you in church because it never happens in "real life." Bonus--you get some new ideas and get to see how different places do church.

Guard time for your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and make family a priority. You'll last a whole lot longer that way than if you are running on the church hamster wheel.

1 comment:

  1. So often it is easy for pastors to get wrapped up in their work because they are so passionate about what they do. For my own husband, he purposely writes "Pastor's Family Day" instead of Pastor's Day Off on the calender. He wants the church to know that is his intentional day he is making to spend with us.

    Do emergencies happen? Of course! But when they do, he also tries to make it a point to find another time during the week to make up for that.

    I have found that when my husband spends the rigth amount of time with us (and I don't know there is a "right" amount of time) but you know, balanced in his mind, he is a much better pastor to the people in the pew.