This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
You are at coffee with a mid-thirties pastor. You ask how things are in ministry, and he begins to list all the things that are going on with his church: increase in attendance, membership, counseling, camps, staff, and even new facilities. He has his hands in all of it. He is respected by his congregation and is seen as the facilitator of so much of this growth.
But you’ve known this pastor for some time, and you ask how he is doing. He exhales, stares into his coffee, and admits that he’s tired. Church life is going so well, he says, but he feels like he comes home to a different world. He’s spending more and more nights at church, and it is reaping dividends. But he’s missed several of his son’s t-ball games, and he stepped down from being his coach this year when church life asked more of him. He is having more and more conflict with his wife, and he gets the sense that she doesn’t respect him like people at the church do. He just doesn’t get it, he explains, doesn’t his family see how important his work is? Don’t they see that the church is central to the plan of God, and thus should be our unparalleled priority? He doesn’t say it, but the question is in his eyes, “Doesn’t my family realize how lucky they are to have me, the shepherd and leader of this blossoming church, as a husband and father? Why don’t they appreciate me the way the church does?”
You drive home and are praying for this young, tired friend. You feel prompted to write him a letter. So the next day you write the following:
It was great seeing you yesterday afternoon. It’s been awhile . . . far too long. And I rejoice in the blessings you are experiencing in the ministry. Church life has its ups and downs. There are joys and there are pains; smiles and tears. As you know, I’ve experienced both, so it was a joy for me to hear of the Lord bringing visible fruit to His gospel work through you.
And yet, as I rejoice with you, I left yesterday concerned; uneasy, even; mainly in how you talked about your family life. It sounded empty, hollow. By the look in your eyes, I could see that you are feeling it too—that no amount of joy you experience at church can make up for a joyless home-life.
And so let me follow-up our conversation yesterday with two thoughts—two words—that will hopefully lead to more conversation.
The first word that comes to mind is “evaluation.” Before the Lord evaluates your ministry at the Bema Seat (what we, as pastors, should be most concerned about), he will first evaluate you as a husband and father. Where do I get this from? Simply from the flow of Paul’s words to Timothy. Before Paul commands Timothy to study to show himself approved (2 Tim. 2:15), and before he commands Timothy to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:1–2), Paul sets forth a foundational requirement for every pastor. And what is that first requirement? “An overseer, then must be . . . the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).
Oh, please do not write Paul’s words off as only dealing with your sexual purity! You know the Greek. The application is much broader than sexual purity. The call is to be a one-woman man—speaking of your priority, devotion, care, commitment, sacrifice, and love for your wife. And what I heard from you yesterday gave me pause. Though sexually faithful, I had to ask, “Are you living right now as that one-woman man Paul was looking for?”
Are you a one-woman man emotionally? Do you cherish the accolades of your church staff, elders, and members of the church more than the words of your wife? With so much time being spent at church, is your wife getting the leftovers of your energy and time?
The same kinds of questions can be asked in the spiritual realm. Are you a one-woman man spiritually? Are you praying for your wife? Are you leading her by serving her; loving her by sacrificing for her?
Is she your priority?
These are the questions Christ will ask as He evaluates us, even before he gets to our ministries.
But there is a second word that I left yesterday thinking about. And that word was “moments.” And here I have in mind your relationship with your son. As you know, Paul also mentions the importance of your role as father. You know the verse, speaking of a pastor’s children, Paul writes, “He must be one who manages his own household well” (1 Tim. 3:4). How does this happen? How are children raised, molded, and shaped? How is a household managed? Well, think of it in terms of “moments.”
Moments shape children. I’m thinking of John Piper’s statement, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do.” The same is true in your son’s life. The moments you invest in your son will shape his life. Think about our time together yesterday—only a one hour span of time, a mere moment in our week. Yet it will be a moment that shapes us as friends, energizes our ministries, and molds our thoughts. Now imagine the moments between a father and son. The moment your son looks into the stands before he gets up to bat and sees his dad cheering him on. The moment you and your son can re-live his winning hit in his t-ball game. The moment you can console him after his team loses. Moments—mere moments—yet each moment shaping him.
I was just reminded of this yesterday afternoon after we met. I took the afternoon off to spend with my wife and girls. We brought them, and some of their friends, cliff jumping. On our way, my oldest daughter asked me, “Dad, do you remember when we swam to that huge cliff in Rockport?” She was talking about a swim we took 8 years ago, when she was 8 years old. A moment. A faded memory for me, but a vivid memory for her. A fifteen-minute swim shaped her. Weeks, months, years don’t shape children—moments do. And yesterday, taking an afternoon off from church to spend time with my family was another one of those life-shaping moments.
Yes, ministry is important. Yes, you have been called to study, preach, and shepherd. And yet, before any of that can even be done, our Savior is calling you to love your wife and son. To serve them, guide them, model for them the great power of the gospel in your own life.
How thankful I am for our friendship—a friendship that can have these hard conversations. Let’s continue this conversation next week.