The Loneliness of a Pastor on a Holiday

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I’ll admit right from the start. This is an awkward post to write (and no, I don’t need an invite for a cookout this weekend). But with the 4th of July coming up, I thought it might be helpful for pastors, for a pastor’s wife, and for church members to understand what a holiday like this is often like for a pastor.

Many pastors and their families do nothing with anyone on a holiday weekend.

This is something that is hard for someone who is not a pastor to understand.

A pastor knows so many people, and because of this, people in their church think the pastor and his wife have a ton of friends. This is rarely the case. Because they know so many people, everyone in their church assumes the pastor and his family is always doing something with someone. So, when a picnic or pool party rolls around in the summer time, no one thinks to invite the pastor and his family because “they probably already have plans.”

I remember how hard this was when we first planted Revolution. I remember when this became obvious. We were talking to someone about a summer holiday, I can’t remember which one and they were surprised we had no plans. And they said, “But you guys know everybody. I thought you’d have 15 invitations.”

Now, if you are an introvert, you may not care. Chances are high though, if you don’t care, your spouse does.

In the past few years, this has changed for our family by doing a few things:

  1. Invite people over. At first we started inviting people to our house on the holiday weekends. If no one invites you to their house, throw a party and invite people over. Have a great time. Besides you’re the pastor, they’ll want to come over. This is also a great opportunity to model hospitality if your church isn’t very good at this.
  2. Build community the rest of the year. We often wait to build community for when we need it. That leaves us lonely and hurting. You have to build community for the time that you need community, if you wait til you need it, it will be too late. Pour into relationships at other times, be a good friend to others. Many pastors struggle with being a good friend and shutting off work and just being a person.
  3. Teach people what it is like to be a leader. Most people have no idea what it is like to be a pastor or be a pastor’s wife or be part of a pastor’s family. Teach them. Talk about it. Recommend books on it or share blogs (like this one). It isn’t that your church doesn’t care, they just don’t know.
  4. Be someone people want to invite over. The reality is, some people don’t hang out with their pastor or his wife because they aren’t fun to be with. It isn’t that they are being mean, it is just that you aren’t any fun to be with. You might be a grumpy pastor, or a bitter pastor’s wife. Fight against that. Be a friend people want to have. Learn how to talk about other topics besides church or God. Have some hobbies you can do with others.

I hope that helps you as a pastor or if you aren’t a pastor, to know how your pastor might feel this weekend. Have a great holiday!

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Tuesday Morning Book Review || The Pastor’s Family

bookEvery Tuesday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (kindle version) by Brian & Cara Croft.

This is a topic close to my heart as a pastor. I’ve blogged before about the joys of being a pastor, the weight of pastoring and being a pastor’s wife.

This book is really helpful. While Brian writes most of the content, Cara interjects points throughout the book. She even writes a chapter about being a pastor’s wife and a chapter on her struggle with depression and discouragement.

What is the goal of this book? The authors put it like this:

This is a book written for men who have answered the call to serve the church of God as preachers, teachers, leaders, and shepherds. And it’s written to address a unique problem these church leaders face: How do you faithfully serve the church while serving your family? How do you balance the demands of ministry with the demands of being a father and husband? How do you prioritize your time between preaching the word, making disciples, and loving your wife and children?

The role of being a pastor or being a pastor’s wife or a pastor’s kid is not harder than other roles, but it is different. People walk into a church and immediately have expectations of what they want from a pastor. Usually, this is based on the past. It is based on something they liked in a previous pastor or disliked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “My old pastor used to…” as a way to tell me how I was not measuring up. It is the same for a pastor’s wife. Many people expect her to be at everything, lead everything, sing, teach, disciple every woman, etc.

What most people fail to realize (and I’m grateful that Revolution Church understands) is that each pastor and their wife is unique. They have different gifts and personalities. Every pastor is to lead, teach and shepherd. Every pastor will do that differently. Some are extraverts that fill a room and others are introverts that are more quiet.

The one part of the book that was most helpful to me is the part on loneliness. It is interesting that in a church, everyone knows the pastor and his wife because of the up front nature of the pastor’s job. Yet, few people really know them. The pastor and his wife have a harder time finding community. Now, sometimes this is the fault of the pastor and sometimes the fault of the church. Many people wrongly assume that on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, etc. that the pastor is invited to 25 different picnics because “they know everybody” when in actuality most pastor’s are not invited to any of the things others in the church are invited to. It can be lonely.

If you attend a church, pull aside your pastor and his wife and ask how you can pray for them. How you can serve them, cheer them on. Ask what they need and then listen. Don’t have an agenda as they’ll sniff that out in a heartbeat.

Here are a few more things that stood out:

  • We end up defining greatness much like the world does – by how grand, glamorous, and broad an impact an individual had in their life and ministry.
  • It’s safe to assume that our process for determining if someone is “great and faithful” in ministry is typically not dependent on whether these men were faithful to love their wives and shepherd their children.
  • The temptations a pastor or church leader faces to neglect his family for the sake of greater and more fruitful ministry are real and nothing new.
  • The most noticeable problems typically get the most attention.
  • There are demands on a pastor’s time, and most of them are legitimate. Yet the real problem of neglect is actually rooted in something deeper than just competing demands for time and attention.
  • Because the family of a pastor is under such close scrutiny from the church, it can be tempting for a pastor to care more about the way his family appears to other people than about actually caring for his family.
  • An unhealthy focus on perception – caring too much for what others think – tempts a pastor to seek a quick fix or to cover up unhealthy patterns and problems instead of honestly dealing with the sins he commits and the challenges he faces in his family life.
  • The wife of a pastor should be seen, but that doesn’t mean we have to “do it all.” In other words, it’s important that the wife of a pastor shares his desire to serve the church, but her service cannot be motivated by a concern for what other people think.
  • If a pastor and his wife sit back and wait for others to take the initiative in building relationships, they will remain quite lonely.
  • Being overlooked and feeling unimportant go hand in hand with the struggle a pastor’s wife has with loneliness. Your role as a wife is lived out in the shadow of your husband. You are seen by many, yet at the same time you are invisible.

While I liked most of the book and Katie and I had some good conversations based on the content, my one annoyance is how so many books excuse the sins of pastors. Here’s what I mean. In this book and another one written to church planting wives, the wife excuses when her husband sins. In this book, Cara talked about the times her husband would answer the phone during dinner, go out when there was a crisis in the church, someone to visit, etc. instead of being at home for the night or instead of delegating that responsibility to another leader. Essentially, how he put the church in front of his family and that was part of the sacrifice of being a pastor’s wife. Now, there are times a job beats a family, every job has that. There are also times a pastor shouldn’t answer his phone, respond to a crisis or delegate something. When someone calls and says, “We have to meet right now.” As long as no bodily harm will come from meeting tomorrow, if you are at home, meet tomorrow. A crisis sometimes needs to be met immediately and sometimes it can be met the next day. Use some wisdom on that, but please stop excusing your husband’s sin.

Off my soapbox.

Other than that part, the book was great and incredibly helpful for pastors and their wives about what it is like to be a pastor. It is unique, it is different. It is hard work and it is a joy.

I love the way Cara answers the question if being a pastors wife is harder than she expected. She says, “It is more rewarding than I expected.”

One last thing about being a pastor’s wife that we’ve held since day 1 of Revolution: A pastor’s wife should have the same expectations placed on her as on every other woman in the church. She should use her gifts, serve, give, be in community. The expectation should be the same as every other woman. Our elders do not expect a pastor’s wife to do more than another woman. Can she? Yes. Does she have to? No.

If you are thinking of becoming a pastor or a pastor’s wife, or you are one, this is a book worth picking up. Today.