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Pastoral ministry today is especially challenging. The most recent figures show that 50 percent of current pastors will not be in the ministry in five years. This number rises to a staggering 80 percent at the ten-year mark. Pastors already face a constant barrage of unreasonable, unrealistic expectations on their limited capacity. This alone is often too much to bear over time. It gets worse. Add to this the challenges and expectations a church places on a pastor’s family, and these attrition rates should be no surprise. Eighty percent of pastors say the ministry has had a negative effect on their families. One statistic that should trouble us the most if we truly care about a pastor’s family is that 66 percent of church members expect their pastor and his wife and children to live at a higher moral standard than they themselves do. In my experience, that percentage is too low.
Rightly informed ministry expectations of any kind need to come from Scripture. The best way to determine the expectations for the pastor’s family is to consider the expectations for the pastor, found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. There, Paul lays out the qualifications to be a pastor:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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 Tim. 3:1–5)
There are, however, no qualifications for the pastor’s wife and children listed in this passage. Yet, our churches are full of people with unreasonable and demanding expectations of the pastor’s family. The wife is expected to serve in certain leadership and service roles in a church. The children are commonly expected to perform for the congregation with a maturity they may not yet possess and a remarkable ability to interact with adults. Rarely have I met a pastor’s wife and children who do not feel this immense pressure. Many eventually grow to resent it.
Since there are no clear and specific biblical expectations for the wife and children of a pastor, we must then consider whether there are any general expectations for them as a result of the qualifications given to the pastor. I see four implied expectations that Scripture unveils for the pastor’s family as a result of the pastoral qualifications.
1. Being faithful church members.
All agree that the pastor’s wife and children do have a unique position in the local church. Yet, when it comes to expectations, the wife and children of the pastor should be seen simply as other church members. Nothing more should be expected of them than is expected of other church members. They have the same church member responsibilities as members not related to the pastor, including regular attendance and participation in corporate worship, submission to church leaders, faithful giving and serving, support and sacrifice for other church members, and evangelism in the community as well as investing in relationships in the church.
2. Supporting the ministry of your pastors.
It is a right expectation for all members that they support the ministry of their pastors (Heb. 13:17). Since the pastor’s family has a unique relationship with one particular pastor, it seems reasonable and right to expect the family of that pastor to support him. Doubtless, the most meaningful kind of support for a pastor is knowing that his family is with him and for him. This support should, in part, carry over to the ministry of the other pastors of the church.
3. Helping find the balance of family and ministry life.
No one understands the pressures and demands on the pastor more than his family. Consequently, the members of his family are the most valuable voices to help him know how to find that most challenging balance between ministry work and family time. The pastor’s wife commonly acts as the barometer of the family and can uniquely help her pastor-husband see when he is neglecting his family for the sake of ministry. Likewise, as the pastor spends time with his children, his awareness of their needs can show him ministry imbalance in a way his closest friends or most trusted fellow pastors in the church cannot.
4. Being willing to share him.
The calling of a pastor, according to the New Testament, is demanding (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1–4). Pastors are called to shepherd the souls of God’s people entrusted to their care in such a way that they will give an account for those souls to the Chief Shepherd. The pastor’s wife and children need to resolve that as a result of this noble calling, they have to share their husband or father with the church.
The members of the pastor’s family are in one sense not ordinary church members because of their unique familial relationship to the pastor. Yet, when it comes to the church’s expectations of them, they should be treated as ordinary members. The burden to be a godly example to the church and carry the burden of souls is to rest solely on the man called of God to do so, not his family.