By Mark A. Taylor
Ministry can be hard on a minister’s family life. The demands of the congregation don’t stop when the church office closes. Needs and opportunities to serve abound in the evenings, threatening to take the minister away from conversations with a spouse or attendance at children’s ballgames and concerts. Phone calls can come night and day. And the minister may feel he has no one to talk to about disappointments and difficulties except a spouse, who then becomes overwhelmed with information and worries that cannot be shared with anyone else.
We can be encouraged that 70 percent of ministers recently polled by Barna say, “My marriage is excellent.” But when confronted with this statement, “My current church tenure has been difficult on my family,” 8 percent of ministers said that’s “completely true,” and 40 percent said it was “somewhat true.” Only 19 percent said the statement was “not at all true.” Bottom line: ministry is causing at least some family stress for more than half of minister’s families, and that may include yours.
Both the minister and the congregation can take steps to speak to this.
A book excerpt recently posted at CT Pastors offers insight for the minister. Among the advice there: Beware of viewing ministry as a lifestyle: establish healthy boundaries, be willing to disappoint others with demands on your time or attention, and develop interests and hobbies outside your ministry role. Find confidants and advisers besides your spouse, but agree on positive ways your spouse can be a ministry partner. Be careful about discussing difficult situations in front of your kids (even the preschoolers).
The congregation’s role in this may well be determined by the actions and attitudes of its leaders. If the elders view the minister as a hireling, subject to their whims and demands, church members will feel the same. If church leaders nitpick and find fault, church members will have little respect for the minister’s private life or his professional accomplishments. If church boards are stingy with the pay or days off they grant the minister, church members won’t understand the minister’s needs for personal time.
It’s true that some ministers need more accountability than they’re receiving. But many more sacrifice their personal and their family’s emotional health for the sake of ministry. As one of the CT authors said, “The phrase ‘dying to self’ has covered a lot of sin.”
Posts at this website this month highlight difficult family situations present in every community and facing every congregation today. While your church addresses these, remember a family whose needs are easy to overlook. You can take steps to help make your minister’s family one of the healthiest in town.