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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on the pastor’s family. Previous post.

In my previous post I discussed the importance of protecting your family from yourself. In this post I will continue my discussion of protection, but with a different focus.

When it comes to your ministry, it is necessary that you make great efforts in protecting your family, both your wife and children, from the church. That may sound harsh, even unbiblical, but I encourage you to this end because the congregation’s expectations of a pastor’s family and other demands from pastoral ministry can begin to put added stress on your family, especially your wife.

The area in which the greatest watchfulness needs to be exercised is the care and protection of our wives from undue pressures on account of the nature of our work. Although they [our wives] may sometimes appear to be in the background, they are to the fore in their contribution to our usefulness. . . .

More is required of our wives than wives of men in other callings and professions. They cannot be separated from our work as other wives can be from their husbands’ employment. Some wives may have little idea what their husband’s work involves. But not so our wives; they not only marry us, but they marry our job as well, since they live in the middle of it.1

In this regard, I strongly suggest that you establish boundaries from the beginning. When I interviewed for the position at my present church, I asked the search committee: “What are your expectations for my family? How much do you expect them to be involved? Is it your impression that when you hire me, you hire my wife as well?” I asked these specific questions because in a previous ministry situation I was questioned about my marriage and my commitment to the church because of my wife’s inability to attend every program (my wife is a registered nurse).

Although their assessment seemed excessive, it made sense once I learned some of the church’s history. What I did not know at the time was that the regular involvement of the previous youth pastor’s wife set the agenda and expectations for my wife. So, we were violating unofficial policy. In addition, there was another occasion where a couple involved in the ministry fell into sin. Prior to this discovery, the wife had withdrawn from ministry activities. That indiscretion made them suspect when my wife did not attend church functions. They were worried about my own marriage.

Not knowing these traditions and incidents was the cause of much frustration, which could have been easily avoided if the answers to the above questions were known prior to accepting the position. All of this is to say that you want to do your best to learn as much as you can about the culture and history of the church you will be serving, especially as it relates to your position and your family’s involvement. Misreading a church’s expectations can put a strain on your ministry and on your marriage. Make sure you are on the same page with the church that is calling you as you work out your family’s church involvement. This is just one way you can protect your wife.

In addition to protecting your wife, you also want to protect your children. We need to remember—and we need to help others remember—that the main identifier of our children is not PK (“pastor’s kid”); it is follower of Christ (or so we pray!). This became an issue for my daughters when they attended our church’s school. When my daughters would talk in class, fail to hand in homework, or participate in some other mischievous behavior, a teacher was likely to say, “You should know better, you’re a PK.” This bothered my daughters to say the least, and they acted out in response to it. They felt singled out (by teachers and students at times) because of my job. When they sinned, it was shocking because their dad was a preacher. I spoke to the teacher explaining the harm it was causing and requested that he address my daughter(s) no differently than any other student. The same needs to be addressed with anyone in the church who has the tendency to put needless pressure on our children.

The truth is, your children need to know that just because you are a pastor you do not expect them to be perfect.

More importantly, talk to your children about these undue expectations. The truth is, they need to know that just because you are a pastor you do not expect them to be perfect. When our children do wrong, they are disciplined not because they are PKs but because that is what Scripture calls us to do as fathers. Your children need to understand that you disciple them so they will be conformed to the image of Christ, for the glory of God, not so they will be conformed to the whims of fellow sheep, for your own glory. Therefore, be careful not to fulfill your calling as a father because you’re concerned with your own self-image and reputation. Repent of comments such as, “How could you do that, don’t you know what people will say?

Another way to protect your children (and your wife) is to minimize their exposure to the problems and difficulties within the church. Derek Prime shares from personal experience the importance of this:

I learned an important lesson when, as a young minister, recently ordained, I preached in a church in the north of England. The pastor and his wife had a family whose children were in their early teens. I knew a little about the church and some of the difficulties through which it had been passing. As we sat around the lunch table on Sunday, I asked a question about these problems. Immediately I felt a gentle kick on my ankle. My hosts gave a noncommittal reply and quickly changed the subject. Later when the children were not around they explained a principle I have never forgotten, and have tried to follow. They made a point of never discussing before the children any matters of difficulty within the church, or anything that might be interpreted as criticism of individuals. They did not want their children to grow up with a jaundiced view of church life because of the inevitable problems with which pastors have to deal.2

My own experience suggests that this is a good practice.

However, I do want to qualify this. As your children reach the teen years, discussing with them public matters of difficulty and even personal criticisms of you and your ministry can be healthy.3 They need to know (and they likely already do) that life in church is not always easy, and at times can be downright miserable. Yet, fellowship in the body of Christ is of such importance it is worth the struggle. They need to see your willingness to forgive those who have wronged you and humbly love those who have criticized you so as to maintain the peace and purity of the church. It will not be long before they are making a decision to join a body of believers, and your example will be instructive when the cruelty of gossip, slander, and downright rudeness raises its ugly head.

When difficulties arise in the church, we need to be wise in how we involve our family. It would be counterproductive not to include them in some part of the process, particularly praying, but it would also be foolish to get them in the middle of it. For example, we must be sensitive to who can hear our conversation while on a phone call. You do not want your inquisitive teen or wife forming opinions, particularly in regard to people, based on part of a phone conversation. They do not need to know all the parties involved or the specifics, but they also do not need to put their head in the sand.

In many situations I want to keep my family uninformed for their own protection. This way, when they are confronted they can honestly say, “I do not know what you are talking about.” Members are often amazed that I do not tell my wife everything about conversations I have had, even in private pastoral matters. They assume I share everything. However, this is a violation of their privacy and unhealthy for my wife. On the other hand, when something is public, to act like they are not aware of it is blatant denial. Thus, you need to discuss with them how to interpret the events and when and how to respond. This can be a great opportunity for the family to apply the gospel in a difficult situation.

And that is the point. You have been given a great calling—to preach the gospel and to be an undershepherd of Christ’s church. But don’t forget to preach the gospel to yourself and to your family, applying it always, even when it comes to their relationship to the body of Christ. Being sensitive to these matters will allow you to be the protector of your family that God calls all husbands to be, including ministers.

  1. Begg and Prime, On Being a Pastor, 270. ↩︎
  2. Begg and Prime, On Being a Pastor, 263. Begg shares a similar concern. ↩︎
  3. These must be public and it is wise when possible to leave names out of the conversation. ↩︎

Raising Future Husbands and Wives

Gideons among Us