Why Pastors Must Prioritize the Health of their Marriage and Family Above their Ministry
Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Priorities are windows of our hearts and minds. We prioritize, spend time on, and value what is important to us and whom we love. As Christians, our priorities should be governed by Scripture. We must love what God loves and prioritize what He says is important. We should seek first what advances His kingdom and His righteousness in our lives (Matthew 6:33). The priorities of the pastor are essential for him to be “found faithful” in the work of ministry (1 Corinthians 4:2). In this article, we will briefly consider eight biblical reasons demonstrating that pastors must prioritize the health of their marriage and family above their ministry. Reflecting Scripture, some reasons will warn us of the consequences of sowing wrong priorities, whereas other arguments will display the blessings flowing from biblical priorities.
1. Unhealthy marriage and family disqualify from pastoral ministry
Prioritizing a healthy marriage and family above pastoral ministry is key because lacking in this area disqualifies from leadership. Indeed, a necessary qualification for pastoral ministry is that the man desiring the pastoral office “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Timothy 3:5). Paul, the author, continues, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (v. 6). Not managing one’s family well is equated with being unfit for pastoral service. Besides, the reputation of the pastor is key to his eligibility for ministry: “he must be well thought of by outsiders” (v. 7). Hence, not prioritizing the health of one’s family or marriage can lead to a tainted reputation outside and inside the church and disqualify from the office (Titus 1:5-7).
2. An unhealthy focus on doing rather than being
David Norrington aptly said that Christians are often “unskilled in prayer, more concerned with doing than becoming.” This sadly can characterize pastors quite accurately who can be preoccupied in the doing of ministry without prayer and without a higher priority on being husbands and fathers and becoming more like Christ in these roles year after year. Although there is much noble work to be done and desired in pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 3:1), most of the qualifications delineated in 1 Timothy 3 have to do with being rather than doing. The focus is on the pastor’s character and not on his accomplishments. The pastor must then resist the urge to pursue metric-based performance, seeking the praise of men through ministry accomplishments, and rather be content and joyful to be a husband and a father in the secrecy of the home.
3. The reality of the primacy of marriage and family before ministry
Typically, marriage and family come before and outlast ministry. It is indeed the assumption of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 that most pastors are married and have children before entering into the ministry. According to recent research, the average American minister has led three churches in his life, and the average pastor tenure in a local church is 5 to 7 years. However, the gift of marriage is life-long (1 Corinthians 7:39). How foolish then to neglect the love and joy of life (Proverbs 18:22), for an important and yet temporary ministry in comparison.
Besides, the fruit of the union of marriage –the children– only stays home for a season. Barna research found that 42% of pastors say they “wish they had spent more time with their kids” and found “a better balance between ministry and home life”. A negative impact on family goes hand-in-hand with lower ministry satisfaction. Some regretted their absence when their children walked away from the Lord. What good is it to gain the whole world in ministry while losing one’s wife or children? We can wake up one day and it is too late. Scripture calls us to enjoy the wife of our youth and our children during the precious time that God gives us (Proverbs 5:18; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Psalm 127:3-5). The Lord has untold blessings in store for his children who embrace the gift of family with proper priorities. Let us receive them gladly!
4. Neglecting marriage and family leads to a ministry that will not last long
One can start well, and yet not finish well. The priest Eli is one such tragic example for Scripture tells us that he did not restrain his sons (1 Samuel 3:13) and his reputation dissolved as his sin was exposed before all Israel (1 Samuel 2:22). God then said, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest,” (v. 35) for Eli had become unfaithful. Just as Eli’s situation did not happen overnight, neglecting our family is a dangerous habit that will have long-term consequences. Eli ministered for a time, but he then lost both his ministry and his family. In the same way, a pastor’s reputation could be lost over the years because of his lack of family leadership. Besides, if one takes the view the pastor’s children must all be Christians based on Titus 1:6, then the ministry will be short-lived if unbelief hits home because of the father’s neglect. The same is true if rebellion begins to mark the household. Ministry longevity starts in the home.
5. Wrong priorities involve compromise and rob of spiritual power for ministry
Neglecting one’s wife and children is a sin. Every sin quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). We are then less filled with the Holy Spirit and His power to proclaim the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5). However, we need the Spirit’s presence and blessings to be effective and faithful witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8). Therefore, the pastoral work is too great, and the task too wonderful, to neglect our family and rob ourselves of the spiritual power we desperately need to serve God and others. Every preacher knows all too well what happens if he has an unresolved argument with his wife and then tries to pray – much less to preach. There is no peace for prayer until peace at home is restored, and there is no power for preaching either. In the same way, neglecting one’s family, even in non-obvious ways, does diminish one’s ability to minister to others. Pastors ought then to prioritize their homes above ministry to commune with God and be filled with His Spirit which will overflow into ministry.
6. A healthy marriage and family is an important support for ministry
In the turbulent pressures of ministry, peace at home and a supporting wife as an invaluable partner for ministry, are stabilizing agents. A godly wife who is cared for and loved and who is supportive of a pastor’s ministry will help him to be hospitable as he should (Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 3:2). His desire to host people to share the gospel, pray, and fellowship will be made possible by the help, ministry, and gifts of his wife. The pastor’s home can thus become a beacon of “true fellowship in the bonds of Christ.” Besides, she will also watch over the children during the sermon or oversee them when the pastor visits congregants. She will pray for God to sustain her husband and for fruits in his ministry. As God had told Adam in the garden of Eden, a healthy marriage will be a tremendous help and support for life and ministry.
7. The pastor and his wife are one flesh
God made husband and wife a mysterious unity (Genesis 2:24). “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” wrote Paul to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 5:28-29). My health and wellbeing are tied to my wife’s because we are one. Pursuing a healthy relationship of love is working side by side with God who is uniting us (Mark 10:9; Matthew 19:6). Therefore, Paul goes so far as to say that no loving and cherishing our wives is hating ourselves! Continual love and care for our spouse are thus keys to growing a healthy marriage as well as pastoral ministry as one will impact the other.
8. Prioritizing one’s marriage glorifies God by reflecting the Gospel
The divine gift of marriage for men and women is meant to reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ who loved His bride –the Church– and sacrificed Himself for her. This is wondrously taught in Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25), “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32). Pursuing a healthy marriage and family is therefore a key ministry to reflect the glorious Gospel to the lost world and cannot be set aside as unimportant. Christ loves the Church and He died for her, therefore I must have an agape love for my wife and serve my family. The Gospel is good news and marriage is good news! Let it be seen in our priorities.
In conclusion, the pastor should be a model of family discipleship for the local church, exemplary in managing his household, and thus able and willing to care for God's church. Excelling at home himself, he can credibly minister to his congregation regarding marital and family challenges. The result “shall be, like people, like priest,” (Hosea 4:9), and a thriving generation of new families who will not hide “truths from [their] children” but “tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” (Psalm 78:4). Modeling biblical priorities and love in the home will have a multi-generational impact on the local church and fuel missions to reach the lost.
Written by Jonas Croissant for the completion of the Reformation Seminary degree. Hillsboro, Oregon January 2022.
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