I’m a seventh-day Adventist today because of my father. I come from a long line of Adventists. Grandparents on both sides of my family were employed by the church, and my dad is a pastor. I’ve seen my share of church politics, cynical members, and “in-name-only” Adventists. As a teen I wrestled with whether or not I wanted to be part of such an imperfect body of believers.
If my dad had allowed the churches he pastored to swallow him whole with their lists of expectations, I would have walked out of the church. But instead of succumbing to the consuming pressures of pastoral ministry, he invested in his family. My dad consistently spent time with me, and his investment made all the difference. I never had to compete with the church for my father’s attention. Far too many pastors’ kids can’t make that statement. My dad’s loyalties were: God, family, church work. I never wondered where I ranked on his list of priorities. He was dedicated to his work as a pastor, but he consistently communicated to me that my needs were as important as church members’ needs.
The other day I heard a speaker talking to a crowd of pastors. He asked them to imagine whom they would look for when they got to heaven. He jokingly wondered if they’d be looking around for that “influential” board member or overly “needy” parishioner. The audience chuckled and then got quiet. Of course they wouldn’t be looking for those people—they’d be seeking the faces of their wives, husbands, children. Then the speaker asked a haunting question: Are you investing as much in your family as you are in your churches? Who or what gets the best of your time and energy? Is your family subsisting on the scraps of time left over after ministry? As a pastor’s wife and mother of four kids under age six, I’m constantly trying to find balance. I know I don’t get it right every time, but my goal is to be continually improving.
Pastoral ministry can make us feel as if we are at the mercy of everyone else’s needs. Jesus gave some advice that stands in glaring contradiction to the typical way we do church work. He told his disciples: “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31, NLT). The idea of Jesus and His disciples taking time off is a revolutionary concept for some of us.
One pastor’s wife confided to me that her husband never takes a regular day off and that they haven’t had a family vacation since starting ministry several years ago. Talk about a recipe for family destruction and burnout! The rest of Mark 6:31 is even more shocking. “He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” This flies in the face of a pastor’s job description, right? Taking time off when people’s needs are greatest? So much is wrapped up in this verse.
Our view of ministry has morphed into something quite different than Jesus’ model. I think there are three reasons for this:
First, it’s easy to slip into the subconscious idea that “saving the world” depends on us. Yes, God has chosen us to be His hands to reach the world. But often “His hands” get so caught up in doing that we give little thought to whether it is “God’s doing” or just plain “doing.” There is always some new program to organize, a meeting to attend, or some person needing help. We must ask God if something is truly His work or simply our attempt at working for Him. We easily overburden ourselves with minutia, which ultimately holds us back from accomplishing what God has in mind.
Second, service can become self-serving. It feels good to be needed and appreciated, but if these desires become the driving force behind our ministry, we are actually ministering to ourselves. I struggle with this one in particular. Tending four young children day in and day out doesn’t bring many pats on the back. As a result, I’m often tempted to accept more public types of ministry. The appreciation I receive feels good, but it should not motivate my service. Luke 16:10 is a good verse for this: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (NIV). Attentiveness to simple family needs may seem insignificant and thankless, but until we prove faithful in this, we are not ready for a broader field of service.
Third, it can be hard to admit that we’re not Energizer bunnies with an endless supply of health. We forget we have real physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Sometimes ministry will push us to our limits, but this should not be the norm. Jesus recognized that both He and His disciples needed a break. They were on the verge of burning out. The demands were high, yet Jesus chose to pull back. Their internal needs trumped the external demands placed upon them. As pastoral families, we have to listen to our limitations. The effectiveness of God’s ministry through us requires us to confront this reality. Unrelenting public ministry will bankrupt our spiritual health, undermine mental effectiveness, and shorten our lives! Jesus is calling us to “go off . . . to a quiet place and rest awhile” on a consistent basis.
I’m learning to regularly ask myself these questions: What is the driving force behind all my “doing”? Am I realizing God’s priorities? Has my ministry become self-service? Is spiritual, mental, or physical bankruptcy looming? If “yes,” then I need to rethink my priorities.
Don’t miss out on God’s dreams for you and your family. For my father, I am living proof of a dream come true, a daughter who is still running after God. Thanks, Dad, for practicing authentic ministry by investing in me!