The tug-of-war between ministry and family will be a constant reality for those who are called into the Lord’s service. The Scriptures inform ministers to rightly divide the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15), to study their life and teachings (I Timothy 4:16), and to be an example to others (I Timothy 4:12). The public ministry of preaching, teaching, and counseling (among other activities), must flow from a life well lived for God in the private times of the minister’s life. The critical component of ministry – both public and private – is gaining and maintaining balance and focus. The example of the mountain goat serves as a natural illustration of such determination. As the mountain goat walks along the steep, craggy rocks of the high places, he must ensure that he maintains balance and focus. He must balance himself to prevent him from falling even when the rocks give way, and he must focus his eyes straight ahead as he navigates the dangerous steeps. In Habakkuk 3:19, the Lord encourages His people by promising that they can be like the mountain goat. Through the grace of God, ministers can find both balance and focus to their life and ministry.
Due to a ministerial calling, a primary duty is to assist others at their point of need. However, the family of the minister is not to be neglected, but rather embraced by the man of God. Providing physical support alone is not sufficient; one must also enable them emotionally and spiritually if the family is to be happy and healthy. Any isolation of the wife or children will cause them to become hard-hearted toward the minister as well as the Gospel. Bickering, numbness, solitude, and bitterness will fester inevitably.
The consequences for failure in this area of balance are catastrophic. A sorrowful example is found in David’s life. Without a doubt, David was a great king. Sadly, he was also a poor father. One of his most glaring failures was with his son, Absalom. Among the many things that David did wrong, one of the primary catalysts to the downfall of his family was due to David’s distraction regarding his assignments (II Samuel 13:1-3). His desire to show honor to Jonathan, David’s greatly beloved friend, resulted in the heartfelt and gracious treatment of Mephibosheth, the only remaining son of Jonathan. David was affectionate with Mephibosheth, but not with his own children. He prioritized his ministry over his family and, as a result, division was created within his home. David failed to realize that despite his success in the kingdom the misdeeds within his home would wound him deeply and enduringly. From David one must learn that the family must become a top priority.
A minister who takes his role as the loving leader in the home will be sure to emphasize the reality that the true center of Christianity is the home. The home is the center of Christian learning because it is the center of Christian living. Only from the depth of his ministry at home can a preacher expect to develop spiritual maturity in others. Charles H. Spurgeon spoke persuasively on the home in one of his famous lectures to his students. He adamantly believed that the effectiveness of their minister to others swung on the hinges of the spiritual health of their home. He advised:
“We ought to be such husbands that every husband in the parish may safely be such as we are. Is it so? We ought to be the best of fathers. Alas! Some ministers, to my knowledge, are far from this, for as to their families, they have kept the vineyards of others, but their own vineyards they have not kept. Their children are neglected, and do not grow up as a godly seed. Is it so with yours?” [i]
The challenge of Spurgeon resounds to ministers today! In order to overcome the pitfalls of imbalance, one must turn to the Scriptures for guidance. First, the minister must be focused on his spouse (Ephesians 5:22-23). He has a wonderful opportunity to learn about the gift that God has given to him – his wife! When the husband dwells with his wife according to knowledge he will grow closer to her and long to develop greater means to support her holistically (I Peter 3:7). The goal of the man should be to have a marriage that is on the Rock, yet many marriages end up dashed upon the rocks. Secondly, he must father with the Scriptures (Ephesians 6:1-11). Raising children is a partnership between the husband, the wife, and the Lord (Psalm 127). Instead of provoking children to wrath through shame-based manipulation, the father must lovingly lead the children to love and to serve the Lord. In partnership together, the parents can jointly raise the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Moreover, children should be enjoyed; they should not be endured. Children are a blessing, and they should be regarded as such daily. Lastly, the minister must realize that he is fighting against Satan (Ephesians 6:12-20). As the priest of the home, the husband must intercede for the welfare of his family. If the first ministry of the home is destroyed, then the public ministry will soon follow. The ministry of the home is a mirror of the ministry of the church, and the minister must ensure that both are set on a course to pursue holiness (I Timothy 3:2). The Devil will give his utmost in spiritual warfare to destroy the home, just as he did to the families of Adam and of Job. By donning daily the spiritual armor of God, the minister can confront righteously the wiles of the devil and experience spiritual victory in all realms of kingdom life.
The balance of ministry and family can be gained practically by ensuring that time is made for each area. The old adage is true, “What gets planned gets done.” A minister who is to have balance must schedule time to spend with his family. The same principle applies to labors in the ministry. A minister should become proficient in the organization and prioritization of tasks in order to become more efficient in the use of his time. Long hours may be required for counseling or assisting, during which times sacrifices must be made to meet the needs of ministry. However, long hours are no badge of honor when it is simply the fruit of the habitual mismanagement of time. Also, the minster should be in close and frequent contact with his family throughout the day. Taking time to make a phone call or send a message helps to reassure the family members of their value and worth. At least one evening per week should be dedicated to family time, and the husband and wife should spend at least one evening together alone to invest in one another. Additionally, an excellent recommendation was offered by Tripp to restore the balance of ministry and family if it ever becomes problematic. Paul David Tripp, a pastor whose ministry is to wayward pastors, advised that the minister should “ask for help in making better choices when it comes to being faithful to the dual calling [he has] to family and ministry.”[ii] By doing so, the minister can identify the areas of weakness, neglect, or frustration that may otherwise pass by unnoticed.
Through the power of the Spirit, the family can be a unified home under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13-18). May the life of each minister, though pulled in this dynamic tug-of-war, know the victory that God can empower as ministers fulfill all their responsibilities within each role they have been given!
[i] Spurgeon, C.H. Lectures to My Students. Edinburg: UK. The Banner of Truth, 2008. 237.
[ii] Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012, 211.