Pastors get asked a lot of questions when they sit down with a church search committee, as they should. Extending an invitation to a pastor is a big deal for both the church and the pastor. The range of questions they typically ask will no doubt vary from church to church, but one question that often doesn’t get asked is this: are you a family man?
This question will have to be unpacked a little because the vast majority of men are going to answer in the affirmative. It is hard to imagine someone saying … “no, I am not.”
The reason this question is so important is simple. It’s biblical. The qualifications for pastors and elders are outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. Right in the middle of that passage, Paul tells Timothy, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4–5).
Just to state the obvious, not every pastor is married. Nor does every married pastor have children. And not every pastor is at the same stage when it comes to the family. My wife and I have four youngsters now, but we are well aware that one day we will be empty nesters. However, Paul was assuming that the majority of pastors will be married and have children. Down through the ages, God has called many men to the pastorate, while also calling them to a life of celibacy. This article is aimed at the rest of us.
God has called pastors to set an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). This extends to every part of the pastor’s life and ministry, and this is no less true of the home. God has called every pastor to shepherd and disciple both his wife and his children. This duty cannot be delegated. It cannot be passed off to someone else. It is our God-given responsibility.
A big part of the father’s responsibility is discipline and instruction (Ephesians 6:4). But being a “family man” is not limited to that window of time where our kids are at home growing up. It is lifelong. God often blesses fathers with grandchildren and sometimes even great-grandchildren. Invest in them as much as you are able. Consider also that as pastors, we have a prime opportunity to invest in younger men, training them to be the family shepherds God has called them to be. This is all part of what it means to be a family man.
But perhaps the chief responsibility of the pastor as a family man is to care for his wife. Sometimes pastors’ wives feel lonely and neglected. For them, it feels like their husband is more married to the church than to her. But God has called every pastor to shepherd, disciple, and care for his wife (Ephesians 5:25–33) in a way that points to Christ and the power of the gospel.
If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you know the unique demands and pressures that are placed upon the pastor. No doubt your wife will feel those pressures too, only in differing ways. As a pastor, you are a man in demand. It can often seem like everyone expects something of you. Pastors serve and counsel and teach and lead and shepherd and on and on. At the end of the day, after relentlessly giving of themselves, pastors may feel like they have nothing left to give to their wives.
In no way do I want to downplay just how challenging this can be. We can say along with the Apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Every day we need to remind ourselves that our sufficiency comes from God. And when God calls, He also equips. As the gospel changes you, allow that to overflow into your marriage. Be intentional about finding ways to bless your wife. Strive to nurture her on a daily basis, and above all, remind her that her sufficiency (like yours) is found in Christ alone.
The health and success of the churches and our families are linked. Family life is significantly important to the well-being of the church. If families are not healthy and vibrant, the church will not be healthy and vibrant. It is crucial and even necessary for pastors and leaders to set an example in this regard.
I would encourage to approach this with a spirit of humility and honesty. No godly pastor would say he has mastered it all. Repentance may be needed in some areas, or perhaps you just need to be more intentional about investing in your family.
One excellent resource among many that I would commend to you is a book by Brian and Cara Croft titled The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.
Husbands and fellow pastors, may God give us the grace to be faithful in leading and loving our families. And may we strive to set a godly example to the flock of God entrusted to our care.