What about the Preacher’s Family?

08_Bratton_JNBy Dennis Bratton

Fifty percent of preachers’ marriages will end in divorce. Eighty percent of preachers believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Thirty-three percent say being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.

Local churches can change this picture. Here are some simple ideas any congregation can follow to make sure their preacher’s family is an example for every family.

Preachers live in a continuum of unfinished tasks. At the end of nearly every day, the preacher can think of calls he needs to return, a sermon or lesson he needs to write, someone who requires a personal visit, and a problem set aside today that must be faced tomorrow. Even when a task is completed, there are new ones just waiting for his attention. Add to this mix the continual challenge of prioritizing between artificial urgencies and legitimate ministry needs.

George Barna wrote, “Our studies show that churchgoers expect their preachers to juggle an average of 16 major tasks” on a regular basis. He is trained in theology, but is also expected to master leadership, finance, politics, management, psychology, and conflict resolution. Sometimes a preacher feels like he’s trying to hold a pyramid of marbles together; if something is left undone, he fears all the marbles will tumble down.

There is an abundance of data available about the impact of vocational ministry on the life of the preacher. Some of it is encouraging. The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center claims that clergy ranked highest in job satisfaction and “general happiness.”

Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research found in 2011 that 93 percent of respondents said it is “a privilege to be a pastor.” Yet more than half (55 percent) of the preachers in Stetzer’s study agreed with the statement, “I find that it is easy to get discouraged,” and 55 percent said being in pastoral ministry makes them “feel lonely at times.” Preachers feel privileged, but clearly the reality of constant service can take its toll.

Consider statistics compiled from research by such sources as Fuller Institute of Church Growth, Leadership Journal, Barna Research, and Focus on the Family, which confirm there is stress in ministry. Seventy-five percent of preachers report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry. Forty percent report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

Preachers deal with a sense of inadequacy and low self-worth. Fifty percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job. Ninety percent believe they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands. Seventy percent of preachers say they have a lower self-image now than when they started in ministry. One study indicates 1,500 preachers leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. Another survey found that 80 percent of seminary and Bible college graduates who enter ministry leave it within their first five years!

What is the truth? Are preachers the happiest and most satisfied people in the world, or the least happy and least satisfied? Do preachers overstate the hardships of ministry as a sneaky way of making them feel more noble and courageous for sticking with it? Or is the job of being your preacher really that tough?

The statistics at the head of this article are even more alarming: Fifty percent of preachers’ marriages will end in divorce. Eighty percent of preachers believe that pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Thirty-three percent say being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.

If these numbers are even half right, the church must pay attention. And if your congregation becomes aware that your preacher and his family face these or other challenges, you must act in their best interest.

Have you heard about the “time movement”? It is a secular initiative to encourage families to spend more time together! Perhaps your church should begin a “time movement” on behalf of your preacher. In fact, use the acronym TIME as a guide for enabling your preacher to do his most important task, ministry to his own family.

 

T—Time

There is no substitute for usable family time. Every preacher knows it takes lots of self-sacrificing, quality, relationship-building time to lead a church. Make sure you require your preacher to spend lots of self-sacrificing, quality, relationship-building time leading his family.

Thom Rainer made a list of his seven greatest regrets as a pastor. Number four on his list is “Not enough time with family.” He wrote that “church busyness” in his ministry became his “mistress,” stealing time from his family.

Tell your preacher you expect him to put his family first. Help him avoid regrets later in life because of a lack of usable family time when he’s ministering with your congregation. Accept without complaint his attempts to prioritize the important over the urgent. Make it clear to him the most important and memorable ministry he will ever have with you is how he models his own marriage and parenting commitment to the members of your congregation.

 

I—Influence

Living under the shadow of the pressures of the ministry can be incredibly discouraging for the preacher’s wife and children, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s a flipside that can more than make up for the tough stuff.

The preacher’s family has a unique opportunity to get front-row seats to see God at work. There is nothing more exciting than watching God connect the dots right before your eyes. And nothing matches seeing your husband or father right in the middle of something God is doing.

In your church, commit to living lives God can honor and following paths where God can move. The consequence of your church at peace, enjoying ministry health, with God-honoring leadership and a supportive membership working in harmony with your preacher will bear immeasurably positive influence on the preacher’s family.

In an early ministry, I served a small church that held its annual congregational meeting the first Sunday night of December. Nothing unusual about that. What I didn’t know was these meetings were approached with an unusual relish each year. There were planning meetings held in the parking lot by groups with varying opinions. Certain camps claimed sections of pews for their side.

The meeting itself was more the precursor of civil war than setting forth a vision for ministry. And the highlight of the evening was the budget “discussions,” particularly the public, hotly contested matter of the preacher’s salary! I’ll never forget that first meeting, not because it was uncomfortable for me. I remember it because my wife and three young children were seated with me watching the spectacle, hearing every word.

Contrast that with periods of ministry when we watched God do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine, or with the times when our congregation sacrificed and pulled together to achieve a goal that was beyond our reach!

Every church has choices. Some choose to be problem oriented. Some choose to be possibility people. Consider which choice offers the best influence on the preacher’s family. There are countless simple, thoughtful ways to be a positive influence.

 

M—Memories

The old saying puts it well: “To remember is good. To remember good is better. To enjoy remembering good is best of all.”

One of the challenges preachers continually face is the dilemma of when to put family or church first. Many within the church never face this dilemma. When there is a church event or function that conflicts with a family event, family always comes first. For the preacher, this dilemma is a constant, particularly as his kids get involved in school and sporting events.

We’ve all heard about “teachable moments.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the Magna Carta of the Christian home. Parents are to love God with all their hearts, and then look for a variety of opportunities to talk to their children about God’s love.

Make sure your preacher is consistently planning “memory moments” for his wife and children. He knows that’s a good idea. Expect him to make it a priority. Pay him a salary that enables him to be creative. Make sure that at the end of his ministry he and his family don’t regret the lack of enjoyable good memories they’ve made together.

 

E—Encourage

The surveys report that a high percentage of preachers and their wives feel unqualified and discouraged, fight depression, and are weary of problem people. Half of the couples said they’ve at times been so discouraged that they would have left ministry if they’d had another way of making a living. On more than one vacation, I confess, I would find a job opening in a local newspaper and interview for the job just to prove to myself I had options.

The emotional wear and tear of ministry is a reality to the preacher and his family. Burnout and family neglect are too high a price to pay to be counted a faithful servant. Encourage your preacher, his wife, and his kids. Do it often. Let them know you pray for them. Tell them you love them. Be their friend.

There are many beautiful “encourage one another” verses in the Bible. First Thessalonians 5:11 seems appropriate to our topic: “Encourage one another and build each other up.” And so does Hebrews 10:24, which calls for us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” But an application of Hebrews 3:13, 14 would seem to be the perfect pledge for your church to consider: “But encourage one another daily.”

Encourage your preacher, his wife, and their children daily. “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” Do all within your ability to encourage the family that has come to share Christ with you, so that one day, looking back, they are better people and stronger in faith as a result of having been your preacher.

 

Dennis Bratton is executive director and founder of KORE Foundation and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee. 

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3 Comments

  1. Suzanne Haidri
    October 15, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    As a PK I feel my dad absolutely put ministry (“It’s the Lord’s Work”) first. Wish he had read this article years ago.

  2. Juanita Long
    October 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    The hazards of ministry are great. Weather paying taxes (teachers, fireman, police – ie. any public servant) or paying our ministers, we, somehow, take ownership of those who serve us. Each of us looks through our own lens and projects onto others what we see (often our own weaknesses). It is easy to do but so destructive and discouraging to those who are seeking to fulfill the great commission. What will Jesus say when we have to account for our lives? Change criticism to prayer and one will see the world, needy and broken, through God’s lens and it will drive us to our knees.

  3. Anne
    November 2, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for writing this. I hope it goes viral! This is so important for pastors, missionaries and any one in ministry to remember and take hold of. And for the people we serve alongside to embrace, too.

    If we feel called to ministry, and want that ministry to consume our whole focus, then it would be better to remain single, in order to devote that time and effort to the Lord.

    If we choose to get married, then we need to remember that our spouses and families always come first. God has ordained marriage and family – so if we are married, that is the most important ministry we have! All else comes second to that first ministry. If we fail in our ministry to our family, then we have failed in all that we have put our hands to. Look at the model of the Israelites – they were to teach their families first – write the law on their hearts, houses, garments, talk about it all day long (remember), then they were to take the message to the surrounding nations (blessed to be a blessing). They did not teach their families and understand the mandate God gave them, so they wandered away.

    My husband and I are missionaries, we have two children. Our complete devotion goes to God First. My first ministry is to my Husband and then to our children. My husband’s first ministry is to me, and then our children. All other ministry obligations come after this. If the ministry is taking a toll on our physical bodies, our emotions or our relationships, then we must step back to take time to put that right. I am thankful that my husbands parent’s modeled this to my husband (they were also missionaries – true trail blazers in a time when children were sent away to boarding school so the parents could ‘do the Lord’s work’).

    We’ve been dropped from support by churches because of our commitment to this model: God, Family, Ministry. Somehow, the family has been seen as ‘secular’ while the ministry is ‘sacred’. NO. Family is the most sacred institution that God has given us, and we need to do all that we can to protect what God has given us and what we have chosen!

    Also, my husband and I did not and will not give ourselves an escape clause! We will not even consider the ‘D’ word. We must work at our relationship, communicate with each other, confess sins, humble ourselves daily, choose each other daily, die to self daily in order to keep this marriage alive. Love is sacrificial. I offer myself to God as a living sacrifice in love each day – by laying my life, my wants and desires and expectations and attitudes and flesh down – and choose to Love my husband and children with the power and love of Christ. This is Marriage. I can’t do this on my own. I can only do it by the Grace of God and the Power of Christ living in me.

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