Perhaps the two best-known leaders in the Christian movement from the 1950’s into the 1980’s were Billy Graham and Bill Bright. Both men influenced countless pastors who grew up in those generations and left an enormous impact, especially on the American evangelical landscape.
Both men’s (auto)biographies also reveal a fair bit of tension between family and ministry needs. A couple excerpts…
From Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am:
As we drove into the yard, I saw a beautiful little child wandering out to greet us. Even after I got out of the car, it took some minutes before I realized that it was Ned [Graham’s son]. I hadn’t seen him for many weeks.
Yes, it took him a few minutes before he realized the beautiful child was his son. Graham talks about the difficulties of being away from home for weeks and months at a time and says the “traveling ministry was a costly investment of [his] time as far as [his] sons were concerned.”
Bright’s authorized biography, Amazing Faith, also talks about the “sacrifice” for Bright’s sons, Brad and Zac:
There were, however, all too few father-son activities for these growing boys; it was in fact a sacrifice for them to do without Dad. By God’s grace they came through with balanced lives. Their mother’s example was especially helpful. Both Brad and Zac would later say they could recall no occasion when their mother bemoaned Bill’s absence. Eventually they concluded that if she could handle his absence patiently and quietly in dependence on the Lord, so could they.
I also recall a prayer Bright said while he traveled the world — something to the effect of, “God, tend to my flock at home while I tend to your flock around the world” — but I haven’t been able to locate the exact quote.
By my observation, a nation of ministers largely grew up with a similar mentality about family and ministry: “God, I pray you take care of my family while I go about the call of ministry.” I’ve seen a number of examples of pastors who have “sacrificed” family, friendships, and/or health for the sake of the call.
Changes in views of ministry and family balance
Also by my observation, several prominent ministers in the next generation have largely rejected these “sacrifices.” In his book Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide? (affiliate link), Andy Stanley says there will always be someone not getting as much of your attention as they want/deserve. He urges leaders not to cheat their families. His solution is simple:
Simply put, you must choose to cheat at work rather than at home.
That’s quite a turn from what we saw and heard from Graham and Bright.
Rob Bell has never been shy to say that he doesn’t do night meetings. He’s busy having dinner with his family at home. And he talks about Sabbath frequently, asking people when is the day they totally disconnect from the world and are present at home.
In my humble opinion, Stanley and Bell are providing far better guidance and influence on this topic than Graham and Bright did. (That’s not meant to discredit the truly great work those men did.) I hope these kinds of influence will lead to a new generation of pastors that prioritizes family, personal health, friendships and Sabbath more than most of the past generation seems to have.
Pastors, whatever your calling, if God has blessed you with a family, you cannot neglect them! That goes, too, for other church leaders and volunteers. Please don’t choose (or let the church convince you) to give more of your time and energy to tending the flock of the church than to tending your own flock.
Doing pastoral ministry and caring for family well — the rub
I recently heard Tim Couch, a former University of Kentucky football player, asked if he had considered coaching. His response (paraphrased as I remember it): “I would love to coach. But I also have two young children, and working in TV lets me be home with them a lot more than coaching would.”
I’ve often wondered how college football coaches take care of their families well, especially if they have young children. From what I understand, they work incredibly long hours, spend a lot of time on the road recruiting, and move more often than young Methodist clergy. Tim Couch’s comments seemed to confirm that it’s tough to do the job well and also be there for family. The requirements of some jobs just don’t lend themselves to being there for family at the most important times.
Andy Stanley and Rob Bell aren’t your typical American pastors. As I understand it, both of them have/had roles with very little pastoral care and almost no work with volunteers. That’s very different from the majority of pastors I know, whose roles require quite a bit of pastoral care and work with volunteers, at least if the job is to be done well.
When you desire to provide good pastoral care and need to meet with teams of volunteers, not to mention any of the other typical church programs and events, you’re usually talking about a lot of nights and weekends. And if you’ve ever had young children, you know that night-time, especially dinner time and bed time, is probably the most important time to be home.
There’s the rub.
And this at least has me wondering — how well can one balance pastoral ministry and family values, especially with young children? The two seem to have conflicting prime times.
What do you think?
You would also be interested in my Modern Pastor Series.