Finding Family Time
- 2005 22 Apr
Life in the 21st century presents us with a wide array of options for how to spend our time. The way we allocate our time largely determines what we accomplish. For those of us in ministry, the stakes are even higher because our choices affect so many people. In his book Balancing Life’s Demands, J. Grant Howard sets forth what he calls “Howard’s law”:
Requests will always exceed resources. Doing good is
imperative. Doing everything is impossible.
Every conscientious man in the ministry struggles with where to draw the line on fulfilling others’ requests and how to make time to minister to his own family. The ministry’s demands can be overwhelming. There is no shortage of disconsolate people who need biblical solutions. We must not forget that our own family members have the very same needs.
In the divine scheme of relationships, our Lord intended for the pastor’s family, not the church, to be his priority ministry. The pastor is a family man, as evidenced by the qualifications laid out in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In part, his family either qualifies him for or disqualifies him from being one who can model Truth to the Lord’s people. If being a pastor simply involved telling people what to do, any gifted orator could handle that. However, the Lord expects pastors to flesh out the Truth in their family lives by being incarnational examples.
No pastor can hope to be a good example if he does not make time for those he loves. And at the top of his list must be his wife, his partner in love, in parenting, and in ministry. I have a plaque in my study that reads: “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Our wives endure the unique stresses of the “parsonage,” and they need to know that we cherish them as our best friends. The early biblical command for husbands to “cheer up” or “bring happiness” to their wives (Deuteronomy 24:5) can only be carried out as we spend time with them and demonstrate that we are committed to pleasing them. (See I Corinthians 7:33.) Doing simple things, such as taking time to go for a walk, can tell your wife that she is important.
A pastor must be committed to the ongoing courtship of his wife, by spending time to go out on dates with her regularly and by providing “chat” time to find out how her day has gone. Since our bodies belong to our spouses (I Corinthians 7:4), it’s important that we give our ears to our wives, not just our mouths! The pastor as a family man must be willing to listen to his wife when she shares concerns that he is becoming too busy with ministry responsibilities and not spending enough time at home.
Next, a pastor also must carve out time in his schedule for his children. How many pastors’ kids have wondered where they are on their dad’s priority list! I know that mine have at times. How many pastors have felt the pangs of guilt from knowing they’re not spending enough time with their children! I still struggle with slicing the time “pie” into sufficient quantities to provide for each of our nine children. Yet, my wife and I keep working at it!
We’ve tried to create outstanding family times together by going to unusual places and doing special things. We have captured many of those memories on film and video. We have worked at slowing down to enjoy the simple things by instilling in our children a love for God’s creation. Any one of our children might call us with excitement to come look at a beautiful sunset or to notice a particular tree whose leaves are resplendent with autumn colors.
An obvious—but sometimes neglected—priority is family devotions. Children need to see their dad taking time for instruction from God’s Word. His example encourages them to seek to know and please the Lord.
You might take your children with you on preaching trips, but you also need to do leisure activities with your children. Whether it’s competing in sports, pursuing a hobby, working in the yard, or playing a stimulating game of chess, you need to spend time. A pastor’s child needs to know that his dad enjoys being a regular guy with him.
The pastor must also be available for his children when they fail, when there’s a fracture in their character. Just as he would leave the office to go to the side of a child who had suffered a broken bone, he must also be willing to change plans to tend to a character fracture. That speaks volumes to the son or daughter about dad’s willingness to make time to minister to his own family.
Pray that God will help you stay focused on your calling as a family man. As men in ministry, we dare not find ourselves echoing the apologetic statement of Solomon’s bride, the Shulamite woman, who lamented: “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song of Solomon 1:6).
John Hutcheson pastored one church in Georgia for 23 years. He and his wife are the parents of nine children.
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