Tempus fugit! Time flies. Where does it go? Why do we seem to have so little of it? Does it ever seem like we have enough to go around for our families and for the ministry to which God has called us? Why does it seem like we are jugglers, feverishly trying to keep all the balls in the air without dropping any of them to the ground?
One of the problems of ministry in the 90s is the increasing strain of time pressures that pull at us daily. In his very practical book, Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson highlights a major stressor of this generation which does not honor the Lord, namely, marginless living. Our schedules are maxed out, not at 100%, but at 120%!
As a skillful doctor diagnosing his patient's illness, Swenson pinpoints the pain we experience for what it is, the result of overloaded lives. We make choices in work and relationships that leave no room for margin, which is that critical space needed between ourselves and our limits. If that is the case for Mr. and Mrs. Average American, what must be the normal situation for pastors who are constantly trying to achieve the delicate balance of prioritizing time for family and ministry?
In the divine scheme of relationships, the God of Heaven intended for the pastor's first ministry to be his family, not the church. The pastor is a family man, as evidenced by the qualifications laid out in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. His family either qualifies or disqualifies him from his calling to be one who models Truth to the Lord's people. If being a pastor involved no more than telling people what to do, any gifted orator or expositor could handle that. However, the Lord of the Church expects pastors to "flesh out" the Truth in their family lives by being human analogues of Himself, the loving, nurturing Bridegroom.
How does a pastor make time for those whom he loves? The first crucial area of time should be for the pastor's wife. As a special gift from the Lord, she is 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." Pastors' wives endure unique stresses in the ministry, and they need to know that we cherish them. The Mosaic command for husbands to cheer up or bring happiness to their wives (Deuteronomy 24:5) can be carried out only as we spend time with them and as we demonstrate that we are committed to pleasing them. (See I Corinthians 7:33.)
As simple a matter as taking time to go for a walk with his wife can provide a pastor's wife with the awareness that she is important to her husband amidst his pastoral duties. A pastor must be committed to the ongoing courtship of his wife by spending time on dates with her regularly and by setting aside time to talk. Since our bodies belong to our spouses, it's important that we give our wives our ears and not just our mouths (I Corinthians 7:4). 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.
The other crucial area for which a pastor must carve out time in his schedule involves his children. How many pastors' kids have struggled with wondering where they are on Dad's priority list! I know that mine have at times. In the same way, how many pastors have struggled with guilt, knowing they're not spending time with their children because of ministry demands. As a father who has been blessed with nine children, I struggle with slicing the time "pie" in sufficient quantities to provide for our children.
Yet, we keep working at it. We've tried to create memories together from places we've been and things we've done, capturing 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 of our children can call us with excitement to come look at a beautiful sunset or to notice a particular tree whose leaves are resplendent in fall colors.
An obvious, but sometimes neglected, priority is family devotions. Children need to see Dad taking time to read and explain instruction from God's Word in order to instill core values into their lives. While another obvious "time together" activity is for Dad to take them with him on preaching trips, a pastor also needs to do leisure activities with his children. Whether it's involvement in sports, a hobby, working in the yard, or a stimulating game of chess, a pastor's kids need to know that Dad enjoys being a regular guy with his children.
The pastor must also be available for his children when they fail, when there's a fracture in character. Just as he would leave the office to go to the side of his child who 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 in terms of Dad's willingness to make time to minister specifically to his own family.
I pray that God helps me to stay focused on my calling as a family man. As pastors, 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).
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