When I was a kid, there were balance beams at almost every playground. I don’t see many of those today. All the twisted ankles and broken femurs probably had something to do with that. So like lawn darts and tetherballs, playground balance beams have become relics of our past. Too bad, really. Walking the balance beam at the park taught me how to focus on the basics – putting one foot in front of the other while maintaining a healthy equilibrium. A life lesson for sure. Decades later, the concept is still simple even though the beam itself has become much more complex.
“Balance” is a word that has been at the front of my mind lately. Sometimes this word encourages me. Sometimes it haunts me. My boys turn seventeen and thirteen this year and suddenly, questions of prospect have turned into questions of retrospect. Have I shepherded them and my wife Vanessa well? Have I modeled faithfully what it looks like to follow Jesus? Have I been giving the best of my energy to shepherding the church, or to shepherding my home? I have been putting one foot in front of the other for almost four decades now. But have I sustained a healthy equilibrium? Have I balanced the home and the church well?
A pastor who loses at home wins nowhere. Have we not seen this evidenced in the disastrous falls of many respected spiritual leaders in our day? In only a moment, all the ministry success of a man’s past can be completely washed away in the sweeping waters of moral failure. Balance. Balance was missing. Those shepherds who pour the most and the best of their energy into the 99 in the field will inevitably neglect the 1 back home. And the pastor who loses at home wins nowhere. Balance is key.
I asked my wife and sons for input on this article. Below are ideas that we have come up with together. With that in mind, pastor, here are seven suggestions from my family to yours, toward maintaining a healthy balance between home and church.
- Be the primary discipler of your children and wife in the home. Your greatest mission field is within the walls of your home, not your church. You have more potential to influence your wife and children positively for the sake of the gospel than you do anyone else. Your family will be active in church life. They will grow spiritually from the activities and fellowship of the church body. They will be the most faithful church members you have and will take advantage of all the discipleship opportunities your church offers. But, dad, as the priest of your family you will be held accountable by God for the spiritual climate of your home. You cannot outsource this to your church leaders. You cannot take it for granted. Read Scripture with them. Pray with them. Let life be the classroom and the Bible your curriculum. Be intentional about making disciples of Jesus in your home, and let that overflow into your duties at church.
- When you are home, be completely home. I confess, this is one of my greatest struggles in the ministry. Thankfully, Vanessa knows this and is gracious with me when my attention is divided after a long day at work. But as soon as possible, every day, I have to redirect my mental and emotional energy from work to family. This is my responsibility. My family deserves my full attention. Vanessa has many conversations every year with pastors’ wives who lament that even when their husband is physically at home, his mind is always somewhere else. A father’s physical presence coupled with emotional absence damages the home in a unique way. It cultivates an environment of insensitivity, callousness, disconnectedness and discouragement. Pastor, embrace this truth and it will change your life: your work will never be done. Every day you will leave your office with more to be done. Wrap your head around that. Own it. Then let it go until tomorrow. When you are home, be completely home.
- Put your family on your calendar. Be present for the small things, not just the big things. Children spell love T-I-M-E. Sure, your children will remember some major events and your presence there. But looking back on my time with my boys, it has been those afternoon baseball games and Saturday night basketball games. The band concerts and the new school orientations. The mid-day doctors visits and all-nighter last minute science projects. Those have been the moments that facilitated inside jokes I can’t seem to forget and warm hugs I want to always remember. Plan yearly vacations and take them. Put ballgames, concerts, and movie nights on your calendar. Then when someone asks if you’re available, tell them “no,” because you have a previous engagement.
- Let unplanned absence from your family be the exception, not the rule. I often hear that pastors are on call 24-7. Technically, I can’t argue. If at any moment you get “that call” and something major requires your presence, you will drop everything and go. That’s part of the job. However, most pastors I know need a refresher course on determining what constitutes an emergency pastoral care moment and what doesn’t. Your readiness to leave your family and attend to someone else should not be the norm; it should be the exception. Very few things constitute such a moment. Most crises that require your attention can be handled tomorrow as effectively as they can be handled today. Someone else, not you, should handle some. Have the wisdom and the self-control to say “no” whenever possible, and to save your “yes” for those rare, necessary occasions.
- Don’t assume that all is well at home. Crises in the home do not usually pop up over night. They brew and mature over time. The pastor who assumes everything is okay at home will be blindsided by disaster when it hits. Have the humility to ask your wife and children, “How am I doing as a husband/dad?” “Have we been spending enough time together?” and “Do you know that I love you?” If the Lord puts a check in your spirit about what he said or what she’s wearing – about the tone in his voice or the roll in her eyes – don’t brush it off. Open doors of conversation about everything. Listen more than you talk. Don’t assume all is well at home.
- Be a husband and wife team. When you are the primary decision maker at work, sometimes a directorial mentality can creep into your marriage as well. I deeply regret the times when Vanessa has had to confront me and ask, “Am I your wife or your secretary?” Ultimately, the husband is the head of the home. But the wise husband will listen to his helpmate and consider her input before announcing decisions and plans for the home. Your children need to see that you and your wife are a team. That you respect her, honor her and value her insight. She is a gift from God to you, to help you consider things you would not have considered and think through repercussions that have not yet crossed your mind. Be careful to balance boss at work with parenting as a team at home.
- Consider how decisions at church affect your family. Not that a decision’s effect on your family should regulate your willingness to make it. But rather, that you are sensitive to the decision’s relational and spiritual implications on your wife and children. Perhaps it is a church discipline issue that will potentially affect the way your children and their children interact. Perhaps it is a change of a Sunday School teacher’s class assignment that will alter the frequency with which your children interact with him or her. Perhaps it is a counseling situation involving a couple with whom you and your wife often spend time together. Make the right decision always. But also think through how you can either prepare your wife and children for the coming change, or prepare yourself for their questions or hurt that will surface in time. In this way you will build bridges between the home and the church. You will begin to do ministry and to endure trials together within your family.
“Balance.” A simple, two-syllable word, but a complex, convicting principle of life in the ministry. This is no childhood playground fixture anymore. Thirty years ago, lack of equilibrium resulted in a broken ankle. Today, it results in a broken home and a broken ministry. Remember, a pastor who loses at home wins nowhere. Pastor, how are you balancing shepherding the home and the church? What changes do you need to make today? I want my home to be a success story, not a statistic. What about you?
Grace and Peace,