Pastoral ministry can be extremely busy. It’s hard to call it a nine to five job. Though I do keep office hours, most days are never structured quite the same and a lot of things happen or are required outside of office hours. So how does a busy pastor not only keep up with the fast pace of ministry, but also include his family in that pace, as well as make time for them when nothing concerned with ministry is going on?
Let me make a few suggestions:
1. Be Purposeful in Involving Your Family in Pastoral Ministry
Please don’t be naive enough to believe that your wife and kids don’t feel the weight of ministry. They see and hear things that others don’t. They should be a part of how you serve the body. They want to know what’s going on with their husband and dad. By this, I don’t mean bring home all the baggage of ministry and dump it all over them; that would not be wise. What I do mean is share with them the things they can be praying for and pray together about them. Invite people into your home and let your family interact with them. Never let your family appear to be out of step with the ministries of the church (eg. Don’t make your son’s basketball team more important than his Student Ministry attendance). Ultimately what you need to know is, ministry is life. Your family must be included in the ebb and flow of your life as a pastor.
2. Be Purposeful in Making Time with Your Wife
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. So make it a thousand and one. Pastors, date your wives! It doesn’t have to be fancy every week, but it should be every week or at least very regularly! She needs this focused time of attention from you. Amber and I seek to get out on Thursday or Friday night and if it’s not dinner (because, quite frankly, we can’t afford that every week) it’s coffee or dessert.
In regard to this, have a plan. Seek to ask her questions that will help her be able to express how things are going in your marriage, with the kids and life in ministry. Be ready for criticism and be ready to make changes to your week to accommodate what your wife is seeing and sensing in your family and ministry.
3. Be Purposeful in Making Time with Your Kids
Something I have sought to do beyond dating my wife, is "dating" my kids. For the last several years I have sought to set aside the morning of my day off to take my kids to breakfast. I want my kids to know that I care about spending time with them and them alone. I rotate through my kids so that each week I take a different one out for breakfast. Obviously, you can make up your own traditions, but this has worked well for us.
Here too, I would recommend making a plan. I look at this as a time of informal discipleship. I want to ask my kids questions about what’s going on in their life, what they think about things going on at the church and make sure that they understand that they are a vital part of the ministry to our people. As well, I like to hear about who it is from our assembly that is speaking into their lives.
4. Be Purposeful in Making Time with Your Whole Family
Even the secular world recognizes how important this is. How many studies have been done about families who eat around the dinner table together and how important it is to structure a family game night? We seek to as often as we can have supper together. Sometimes, it is a rushed dinner (Wednesday nights at our house are short dinners with AWANA, Student Ministry and prayer meeting), but most nights when we eat together, we also take the time to go through some Scripture, pray and sometimes sing. In regard to “Family Devotions,” I know we are pastors, but our families already get one if not two sermons from us every week. Make this time interactive, ask questions and let them ask questions of you!
You should also plan out and execute purposeful and meaningful family vacations. Going to see the grandparents is great, but what will you do while you are there? Make it memorable and make it relaxing. Constantly being on the run while you’re on vacation can make you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation.
5. Don’t Be Discouraged
With all of this said, let me make sure and say, don’t live in yesterday. I know when I am presented with ideas like the ones above, I am often first faced with regret at how much time I’ve lost. I am the first to admit that I fail regularly at doing any of these things well. Don’t be downcast! The Lord is good. Start or restart now!