When it comes to balancing work and family, it’s a challenge that every man and woman needs to master, no matter their field of occupation. But when it comes to pastors finding balance, the stakes appear to be much higher.
It can be easy for some to assume perfection on the part of those who teach us about God and the Bible. After all, if they are literally studying the Bible every day, they should have living it out down to a science as well. Of course, if they are experts at fulfilling the unrealistic picture we have of preachers, then their children will also achieve sainthood by the time they reach adolescence. All jokes aside, pastors and their spouses often put this unrealistic assumption on themselves as well. Whether the expectations come from within or without, the reality is that the pastor has to discover what every other working parent must.
Perfection from the pulpit (their work) would appear to be connected with maintaining perfection at home (their family), so every other family looking at them will assume the consummate picture is unachievable by mere mortals. This dichotomy of expectations can leave a pastor wondering if it is impossible to know how to balance work and family. To help, we bring these eight tips on balancing work and family while in full-time ministry!
1. Know Your Calling
Have you ever had an inside look at the life of a pastor? Not the glamorous parts, like when they are on stage. We’re talking about the down-in-the-trenches work of ministry. It’s the late nights spent studying to provide practical and biblical answers to the needs of their people. Or it’s the long hours spent counseling people in crisis, visiting people in the midst of their trauma, and the necessary (but not exciting) planning of meetings to ensure all the programs and ministries are running smoothly.
You might ask why anyone would choose this kind of life. The answer is simple. Pastors know their calling. But the calling to both family and ministry must be clear. Your calling (to God, family, and career) must be assured in order for you to be at peace with the demands of each area of your life. It is a mistaken belief that your calling to be a pastor precludes you from being a parent who is present and active in the lives of your family. Those who hold this ideal often feel resentment when the demands of the family take their attention away from work.
2. Have Clear Focus
James does not soften his words when he reminds his readers that those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). For this reason, pastors need to have a clear focus on their priorities and goals. Paul gave plenty of instruction to church leaders in his letters to Timothy. Understanding God’s priorities for leaders is the best place to begin when figuring out what balancing work and family looks like from a biblical standpoint.
Having a clear focus is a necessity because if there is a vacuum here, others will only be too eager to fill it with their expectations for you. Establish your focus from the beginning, and you’ll be prepared to help people understand your driving principles.
3. Maintain an Organized Calendar
While the first two tips might be more philosophical in nature, this tip is very practical. Keeping your calendar up-to-date and organized is key to maintaining balance. Management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Tell me what you value and I might believe you, but show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I’ll show you what you really value.”
This insight is valuable for setting up your calendar. You can choose what gets added and what gets postponed. So ensure that family time gets the same (or better!) treatment and preparation as any other appointment. Putting family appointments on your calendar also serves as a great reminder to you that you are more than a ministry leader.
4. Set Up Clear Boundaries
“There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.” You may have used this phrase when teaching your young children how to keep their rooms clean. The same is true with your ability to figure out how to balance work and family. For some of you, it may involve turning off all of your technology when you want to avoid the distractions it brings. In this way, you can practice being 100% present with people, be it a ministry appointment or a family dinner.
5. Teach Biblical Balance
“What gets recognized, gets repeated.” While this is often used as motivation for employee recognition, the pastor wanting to model balancing work and family will also see the benefits of teaching this biblical principle. Showing your church the expectations from God and the blessings that follow will increase their desire to do this with their own family. It is also subtly recruiting them to guard the same for you and others. After all, what family doesn’t want to know their pastor is practicing what he preaches?
6. Leave Room For Flexibility
The tyranny of the urgent is real. Sometimes the needs of the family will take you away from work, while sometimes the needs of the church will demand your attention during a time normally reserved for your family. A schedule planned with empty space will allow for both groups to gain and keep your attention. Pastors understand the need for extra time, (be it frequent or unscheduled) but what pastors don’t practice well is planning for this predictable pattern.
This tip isn’t about allowing anyone and anything to fill all of your empty calendar space, but strategically leaving space open in your calendar allows you to fill it with long-term goals or to catch up when unforeseen events and activities have been added to your week. While what is allowed in these time slots will be up to your discretion, having that space in the first place allows you to respond with energy and enthusiasm rather than dread and irritation.
7. Combine the Time
Far be it from a seminary website to endorse killing, but when it’s two birds, and the weapon of choice is a stone, then we’re all for it. Wow, that illustration may have gotten away from us, but hopefully, you see where we’re going with this. There will be certain ministry tasks that can be combined with time spent with your family. It might be taking your children along to visit a shut-in or inviting people over to spend time with your family while you share with them various serving opportunities within the church.
This tip for balancing work and family can also work the other way around. Building relationships with people by having them over for a game night can foster ministry growth as the bonds between your families are strengthened. The point here is that ministry, perhaps unlike any other job, does not always have to happen separately from your family.
8. Remember that You’re Not Alone
Honestly, if we were ranking these tips, this one would be much higher. One of the greatest mistakes that lead to a lack of balance and overall ministry burnout, is the idea that a pastor has to do it all. Ephesians 2:10 clearly teaches that each of us is “created to do God’s work.” Not just pastors, but all of us.
When pastors, for whatever reason, take on every ministry task, they rob the congregation of meaningful moments of ministry and acts of service. Biblical writers may not have put it this way, but sharing is caring. From Proverbs that teach how we’re better together to Paul’s illustrations about the body of Christ working together, it is clear that God intended for us all to share in His work. The very obvious side benefit is that when we share ministry tasks, we will all share the benefit of balancing work and family.
How to Balance Work and Family
You won’t get it perfect this week. Next week isn’t looking too promising either. But following these tips for balancing work and family will help you to accomplish the things you have been tasked by God to accomplish. This might even look like earning a seminary degree to further your ability to minister. Because Grace Theological Seminary values the pastor, his family, and the church where they serve, we created a competency-based theological education.
What does that mean? It means you get to continue serving where you are already planted while receiving seminary credit for the knowledge you already have and the ministry tasks you are already doing. We call it seminary at the speed of life. It was created with you and your family in mind. If you would like to learn more about our Deploy program, inquire today!