Ministry vs. God
We have all heard it said, priorities should be:
But what if your work is ministry? You are working for God—does that make a difference? In your list of priorities, does ministry equal God, and therefore trump family? Amazingly many people think so.
A Sad Beginning
I remember a concerned young lady coming to me after class while I was teaching at a Bible school. Her fiancé, John*, was one of the more “on-fire” students. Everyone loved him. He had a big heart and was a fearless evangelist.
I mentioned during class that ministry is not God; it is what you do for God. And, it should not come before your marriage and family in terms of priority. She told me she was engaged to John and that he had made it clear—ministry would be a higher priority than family. As I remember, I told her that either that must change, or she should not marry him.
She married him anyway, and they started a dynamic inner-city ministry, reaching out to the poor. Blessed to see how God was using them, I sent them support. However, just a few years later, John wrote me that after a tumultuous relationship, they divorced. I wrote John immediately to share with him the conversation I had with his then, fiancé and that maybe, if changes were made, God could save the marriage. I did not hear back from him.
A Sad Ending
Many more years earlier, as a young youth pastor, we were excited that a legendary revivalist, now in his eighties, was going to minister in our congregation. He came with his wife and son. While they were with us they told us they had another son, just thirty minutes away in Washington, DC. The mother and brother went to visit this son—who was not a believer, and if memory serves me correct—was not a fan of the faith. When the famous evangelist was asked if he was going to see his son, whom had had not seen in many years, he said, “No, I must prepare to preach tonight.”
I was really shocked by that response. Ministry was more important to him than his estranged son. The son died of a heart attack (I think) a few years later and the revivalist is now with the Lord. As far as I know, I don’t they ever saw each other again.
Priorities Gone Awry
Pastor Bill* was our pastor when I was in Bible college. He was really dynamic and had a clear apostolic call. However, unbeknownst to us college kids, he was also a former adulterer. Towards the end of my first year of college he went on an extended retreat—taking a female member of the flock with him. He even prophesied over this woman in the next meeting! He was caught and confronted by the elders. When the elders told his wife, her first words were, “He still has the anointing.”
Most women would be devastated to learn that their husbands had cheated on them—again. But not her—her concern was losing the congregation and the power and prestige that came with it. Indeed when the elders told the congregation of Pastor Bill’s indiscretion, Pastor Bill showed up at the service and defiantly stood in the back, hands crossed, starring down the elders. From here we could do a great teaching on overcoming the spirit of intimidation, but let’s stay focused. Here was a family whose priorities were out of whack and led them to bizarre, unbiblical behavior.
Five Keys to Keeping Family Above Ministry
My dear friends in ministry, especially you younger ones, put your marriage above your work. Invest in your children. It is hard enough to have a successful marriage and family if you do things right, knowing the enemy has a bull’s-eye on your chest. Why make things even more difficult by making ministry an idol?
Here are five things you can do to protect yourself:
Date night. Dedicate one night a week to be with your spouse.
Spend time with your children sharing, talking, encouraging… find out what is happening in their lives.
Leave ministry at the office. Don’t come on and dump on your spouse concerning all the problems in the congregation. Your wife doesn’t need to know who cheated on who.
Constantly read books, listen to messages, etc. that are designed to strengthen your marriage and family. (5 Love Languages, the best)
If you are in fulltime pastoral ministry, take one day a month and go away overnight. Elana and I did this when I first went into ministry. We noticed that just 24 hours away from the city, focusing on God and each other, recharged our batteries. I would even suggest putting this into the congregational budget.
None of us are perfect and none of us are going to have perfect families, but we can have healthy families if we put them before ministry and God in front of everything. I would guess that the number one complaint of pastors’ kid is this: He had time for everyone else, except me. Don’t make that mistake!
*not real names