Family Before Ministry

Family Before Ministry

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.


  1. Stu (Author)

    Thanks for this post James. You raise such a critical teaching, one that should challenge and encourage every pastor, let alone lay leaders in the church. Too often we impose ridiculous workloads onto our church leaders when in some respects they have one of the toughest jobs out there. Biblically they will be held more accountable to God as well. We need to support them, not burden them more.

    We need to respect the importance of pastors/church leaders primarily investing time into their families. A pastor’s work is uniquely different to other jobs in that their faith is the core focus of their work and recreational life. Those of us who have “secular” jobs have clear boundaries to work with. We can switch our focus and energy from our church and secular work as we invest time and energy into each other. A pastor can not do this. Yet we can continue to pressure our pastoral staff with high expectations and guilt by saying we work hard during the week and then do church work on top of that. This is unhelpful, insensitive and showing ignorance on our part to their situation. It doesn’t mean a pastor has the right to be lazy or “slacken off” in their church work. Rather they need to have clear boundaries so that they can do their best in all areas of life, and not just in their church ministerial roles.

    The leaders of the church need to ensure their walk with God and their family life are looked after before even thinking about church, otherwise their ministry in church will suffer. Let’s respect our leaders and allow them the time to fuel their spiritual batteries so that they can better lead our churches. Otherwise our churches WILL suffer.

  2. SDG

    SACRIFICE comes before family or ministry.
    There is an excellent video in the HBC Video archive called ‘A Life of Sacrifice’ by Paul Washer.
    I commend it to you.

  3. Jimmy Williams

    Thanks for the post, James. As a full-time minister as well as a husband and father, the idea of balance comes to mind straight away. I often struggle with finding a good balance between being primarily devoted and faithful to my family along with being devoted and faithful to my ministry work. I definitely agree that there is (and will always be) more ministry to do out there, more needs to help meet, more ministry causes or initiatives to support or lead. And yet I only have one family and doggone it, I need to love them and lead them well. To be honest, at times I’ve struggled with feeling like I’ve swung too far to the side of caring for my family at the expense of my ministry to students and other staff. It sure can be hard to measure sometimes. But praise GOD that He knows, He works in spite of my weaknesses, even through the times when I may skew too far to one side or the other. I want to be faithful to both, while at the same time making sure that I am indeed placing my family first. I feel blessed to be part of a ministry in which that priority of family first is well-supported and valued.

  4. Ula

    God is available at all times. I think it is wise to encourage parishioners to speak to Him first. I believe one of the great dangers of being a pastor is being sucked in by the needs of the church in such a way that one would inadvertently attempt to take His place in being available at all times for all needs. Very valuable insights. Thanks 🙂

  5. SDG

    So there is a man bleeding and dying in a lonely and dangerous spot, and all the clergy have passed by to attend to ‘more important things’. It took an outsider from the laity to do what God requires: But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
    If the discussion above is an indicator of the heart of church leadership in years to come, then God have mercy on the poor congregations who look up to these ‘shepherds’.

  6. Stu (Author)

    SDG, I think you are twisting what is being said. Clearly we are to be compassionate and to show mercy to those around us as God first showed mercy to us. We are to live to honour and reflect Christ, and that is to love and show mercy to others. Yet part of that is ensuring that we serve our family first, ensuring we are ministering to them as God would have us. Titus and 1 Timothy is very clear on this. That doesn’t mean we don’t minister to others and serve them. It’s about acknowledging we can’t save the world, but simply doing what we can to minister Christ’s mercy to those in our lives.

    A church that has a culture that encourages healthy boundaries will enable it’s members to better serve God and those around them. As you said, it stems first from our sacrifice to, and relationship with God. Jesus himself modelled this. We are to do the same.

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