Striking the balance: Shepherding the family and the flock (Part I)
“They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept” (Song of Songs 1:6). The PBS documentary “Carrier” is a fascinating look at life on board the USS Nimitz, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that bestowed its name on an entire class of ships. More than five thousand sailors and marines…
“They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept” (Song of Songs 1:6).
The PBS documentary “Carrier” is a fascinating look at life on board the USS Nimitz, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that bestowed its name on an entire class of ships. More than five thousand sailors and marines live in a floating armed city that the President can dispatch to extend the military might of the United States wherever in the world it may be needed. An aircraft carrier is a mobile four-acre expression of United States sovereignty in the global matrix of power and diplomacy.
Though the crew who serve on the Nimitz may perform radically different jobs, they all work toward one purpose: to maintain and launch aircraft that can deliver ordinance and demolish chosen targets. Food service personnel, pilots, and machinists are all there to make sure that the Nimitz does its job in any circumstance and at any place in the world.
Every day crew from various departments abandon their usual assignments and leave their typical tasks to participate in a curious but essential ritual called a “FOD walk.” FOD, an acronym for “foreign object damage” is anathema to the 85 aircraft that call Nimitz home. In three or four lines that stretch from one side of the ship to the other sailors walk over every inch of the deck. With their heads down and their eyes focused on the deck beneath them, they painstakingly search for an errant screw or a shred of metal because they know that the tiniest sliver of metal can damage and ruin a multi-million-dollar aircraft and even cost lives. They have been made painfully aware that carelessness can do what the most sophisticated enemy weapons can seldom accomplish: take the Nimitz and its flight deck out of commission.
While we’ve all heard the horror stories of pastors who fall into sexual sin or embezzle funds, far more pastors lose their ministries—or, at the very least their joy—because they don’t vigilantly keep watch on the little things in their lives and ministries. In the same way that a nail or a piece of metal that is useful in its proper place can cause a crash if separated from its purpose, pastors who don’t faithfully guard against it can find that even a good thing out of place can wreak havoc.
“Family and ministry are not in competition or contradictory to God’s perfect plan and will for our lives.”
Nowhere is the need to maintain a healthy equilibrium more important than in the balance between the public and the personal. Pastors often feel torn between church and home, between ministry to others and ministry to family. Though I would never deny the challenge that maintaining that balance presents, family and ministry are not in competition or contradictory to God’s perfect plan and will for our lives. Accordingly, when I feel like they are, then I’m doing something wrong! God doesn’t issue contradictory calls. If His Word is true then He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have all the time, resources, and opportunity we need to do God’s will. No pastor can ever claim a lack of God’s supply as the reason he doesn’t succeed at home.
While a pastor’s job is unique for many reasons, his family’s involvement and key role in his success or failure is certainly one of the ministry’s greatest challenges. He lives with a set of unexpressed expectations that may well make or break his ministry in a church. If his wife doesn’t attend services, for instance, her husband’s effectiveness may be compromised. If his children misbehave and disrupt the preaching, the pastor may find he has less authority to lead and less tolerance from church leaders.
Before we complain about the inherent unfairness of this phenomenon, we would do well to remind ourselves that God actually gives the church the right to examine the pastor’s family as part of his qualification for ministry. If an elder doesn’t rule his house well he can hardly be competent to lead the church of God. With so much at stake, ministers of the gospel must devise ways to strategically pour their lives and their time into their ministries at home as well as in the church. Though the complexity of life guarantees that ministers will always feel some tension, a few key principles can drastically reduce it and ensure that life doesn’t rip apart at the seams.
Make the Word of God Central
Through Moses God told the Israelites the ideal way to teach the Scriptures to the next generation:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).”
The primary task of a parent, therefore, is to train the heart of his child to love the Lord. The child’s life must be saturated with God’s Word. Instructing the child in the Word of God goes far beyond regular devotions. It means that every facet of life must relate to the Word. The child needs to see an evident love for the Lord and His Word that permeates every part of family life. Too many pastors spend time preparing sermons and lessons for church members while neglecting to impart a heart for God to their own children.
“Too many pastors spend time preparing sermons and lessons for church members while neglecting to impart a heart for God to their own children.”
The greatest theological education I received was not in seminary, but at my dad’s side. I was privileged to grow up in a pastor’s home and as a small child my father began to systematically and faithfully teach me the whole Bible. Before bed, riding in a car, sitting on the porch, or visiting with him in his study I would hear the most fascinating and dramatic stories imaginable. I can still recall the way he told me of Elisha striking the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, crying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” to see the waters part before him. I can still hear him telling me how Nathan confronted David, drawing him in with a story and pointing his accusing finger in the kings face, telling him, “Thou art the man!” My dad could make the characters of the Bible walk right out of the pages of Scripture and into my bedroom. He imparted an excitement and a love for the Word.
One of the greatest compliments I ever receive from members of my church is “You make the Bible come alive.” What they can’t possibly know is that when they think they are listening to me they really hear my dad speaking God’s Word to my six-year-old heart. Now more than forty years later, that love for the Word overflows into my classroom and my congregation, but I owe it to a father who was never too busy teaching others to take time to teach me.
In the same way, a pastor ought to relate the Word of God to the everyday occurrences of life. Children should be taught to value all people because they are created in God’s image. They should understand that the news on television is usually bad because men are sinners in rebellion against God ever since Adam sinned. They should be given a basic theological and biblical framework through which to interpret life.
My primary task as a pastor is to teach my people how to feed on the Word of God so that they can glorify Him through worship and witness, obedience and devotion. If I make the Word central in both my home and my church, then those purposes will never be at odds. I might face strategic challenges regarding my time and influence, but never about what I am trying to accomplish. My intention in my home and in my church will coincide and overlap in wonderful ways.
Are you a Southern Seminary alumni? Get connected! This short documentary shows how Southern Seminary alumnus and Texas pastor John Powell learned how to be both a cowboy and a shepherd. Discover how his theological training and his network of supporters from Southern Seminary helped equip him for rural ministry.