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 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV) [Emphasis mine.]
It is a core quality of a person who desires to oversee the church of God to be able to manage his own household well. Paul’s point is that if you cannot manage your own household, then how will you manage the household of God? The implication of this is simple. For anyone who wishes to be a minister, family must come first.
Another way of saying this is that a minister’s family and how it operates is foundational to his ability and qualification to minister in the church. So strong an emphasis is put on this characteristic of an overseer here in 1 Timothy 3, that it says an overseer’s children must be submissive to him and in Titus 1 it says that his children must be believers. This is a standard with which many would struggle. Whether this applies to mature age children or not is debatable, but the point remains that an overseer’s family situation can either include or exclude him from ministry.
For this reason, a minister’s time with his family and his time away from his flock is an incredibly important thing. If family comes first then than that must mean that it is a greater priority than ministry. The principle can be expressed thus; an overseer’s time with his family and the energy that he gives to them must be a greater priority than the work of overseeing the church because it is his ministry to his family that qualifies him for overseeing the church.
Too many ministers and too many parishioners have this backwards. While this was before my time, older saints have told me that it was once a common saying amongst ministers that if you take care of the church then God will take care of your family. This is not true. This thinking fails to recognise that, biblically, the ideal means by which God takes care of a family is through the headship of a husband and father. This does not mean that God does not care for families where there is no husband (such as in the cases of death or abandonment) but it does mean that those husbands and fathers who put ministry before family consistently may very well be disqualifying themselves from overseeing in the church.
A very simple way that overseers can ensure that they put their family first is to have times and activities booked into their schedule with their family set in concrete before any other appointments are made. One example of this is a minister’s day off. A minister’s day off is a sacred thing not just as a Sabbath to spend time in the Lord but also to enjoy and invest in his family. A good husband and father will continually be investing into his family but these weekly times set aside for family communicate to him and also to his congregation that family comes first. We all feel most loved when we are chosen over something else and an overseer’s family knows that it is loved when it is chosen over ministry for some time every week.
We parishioners need to recognise that we are to give double honour to our pastors who teach and lead us and that we serve them and ourselves best when they are fit, healthy, rested and having time with their family. To expect our overseers to put us before their family is to set them and ourselves up for pain as if their family comes undone so too will their ministry. It is only a matter of time.
We must kill the myth of the ‘super-pastor’, the one who is available to everyone at all times, for whatever need they have, no matter how small. This idea needs to be killed as the expectation of our congregations and it needs to be killed as the example to be strived for by those who lead our churches.
There will always be more ministry needs than we can hope to fulfil. Even Jesus when faced with the needs of the people would leave the crowd in order to spend time in a more important ministry, his relationship with his Father in heaven. We, the congregation, need to let our overseers leave the crowd so that they can take care of the two ministries that come before us, their relationship with God and their relationship with their family. May we help them to live up to the standard that they have obtained in Christ.