Balancing Ministry and Family: Nurturing the Spiritual Lives of Pastor's Kids

January 30, 2024

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Join host Elizabeth Urbanowicz as she tackles a question from a pastor's wife: How can we serve faithfully without neglecting the spiritual lives of our children? Discover practical insights and biblical wisdom on balancing ministry and family discipleship, and learn how to keep your kids from falling away.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Today's question says, "My husband is a pastor. We know that God has called us to ministry. We have three girls, eight, six, and three. How do we serve faithfully without forfeiting the spiritual lives of our children? I hear people excuse bad behavior of pastor's kids simply because they are pastor's kids. How do I keep my girls from falling away?" This is a really important question.

Now, I know that it does not directly apply to all of those watching and listening, however, our listeners do come from Christian backgrounds, and so we should all be part of a local church. So even if we are not a pastor or pastor's wife, we do have a pastor and a pastor's wife. And so thinking through this question I think can be really helpful for all of us within the body of Christ. So that's what we're going to dive down deep into today.

Now, my first response to the woman who wrote in this question is just thank you for serving the body of Christ in this way. This is a huge ministry and it's so important for all of the rest of us who are believers in a local body to have a pastor and elders who are faithfully shepherding the local body. So thank you for investing in this ministry. And now I do not know this from personal experience, but I know just from those in my life who have pastored me that pastoring can be an overwhelming task. Now, I don't have any experience of being part of a pastor's family, so I'm going to answer this question to the best of my ability from Scripture, but I encourage you to reach out to other pastor's wives who you respect and who you know are biblically grounded to ask them for practical guidance because they're going to have experience in nuanced situations that I am just completely unaware of because I don't have any experience being part of a pastor's family.

Now, when we think about this question, there's two distinct parts to this question. The first part is how do we balance ministry and family discipleship? And then the second part to this question is how do we keep our kids from falling away? And so that does apply to pastors kids and also to all of our kids. So we're going to look at the first question first, how to balance ministry and family discipleship. Now, I know that this is a question that most people who are in ministry, whether it's pastoral ministry or another kind of ministry, really wrestle through how do I be faithful to this calling that God has given me to serve the body of Christ at large, while also being faithful to the calling of discipling these children that he has placed in my care? And now I saw this front and center in a way that just really broke my heart.

Several years ago, I was speaking at a conference that was about discipling children, and the final session of that conference was a Q&A where all of the speakers from the conference got up on stage and one question was asked, and one of the panelists, one of the other speakers was a children's ministry worker. And I don't even remember the question that was asked, but the way that this person responded to the question was just by saying, "yeah, I've really had to wrestle with the fact that I encourage the parents at my church to do things that I don't do with my own family because I don't have time to do them with my kids because I am facilitating things for other people's kids." And I just remember having to stop my jaw from dropping as I heard that response. And it wasn't really an appropriate time and place for me to contradict that.

And to say that that is a very unwise and unbiblical ministry model. But I think it's the model that a lot of people buy into. And it can be really hard to know how to balance both ministry to the church at large and ministry in the home. But it can also be really tempting to focus primarily on ministry in the church at large because sometimes those relationships can feel a little less stressful than the relationships at home. Because while pastoral ministry is very, very hard, we all see one another sin most at home. So the good news for this question of how to balance ministry and family discipleship, Scripture does provide some guidance here and some pretty clear guidance.

In Paul's letter to Timothy, in his first letter to Timothy, in 1 Timothy chapter 3 verses 1-7, Paul is outlining the qualifications for an elder. And so an elder is simply a pastor. So that's what he's talking through here. And so I'm going to read that passage for us. 1 Timothy 3 verses 1-7, paul writes "this 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? He must not be a recent convert or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." And so as we read this passage and see these qualifications for overseers who are elders or pastors, we see a whole long list of things.

And now first of all, for those who are listening who are not an elder or pastor at your church, this is something that we should consider seriously when considering what type of church are we going to root ourselves and our family in? Because I know when I was a young adult and I was first looking for a church when I moved out on my own to a different state, I didn't know what to look for in a church. I remember one of the churches I went to that the way elders were chosen is a man could just nominate himself as an elder. And then the congregation voted on it the next day. And then when I read this passage in 1 Timothy one time, I was like, oh my goodness, this was such an unhealthy model for choosing elders because this is a whole long list of qualifications for someone who is in the position of elder, who's in pastoral ministry.

And verse four and five specifically speak to the situation we're talking about here, that a qualification for an overseer, for an elder, for a pastor is 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 well, how will he care for the church? Sorry, how will he care for God's church? And so we need to think about this. What is the order that's given the family managing and discipling and running the family comes first and doing that well is proof that then someone is equipped to do that well in the family of God. So that means that our ministry at home is our primary ministry.

I know that in certain denominations or certain church planting groups before someone is allowed to plant a church, they go through a long interview process. But then the wife also goes through a long interview process as well, so that those who are determining whether this church plant can become part of the network or not, are seeing does this man actually shepherd his family as he's called to? Because if he does not shepherd his family, then he can be shepherding the family of God. So now, how does this look like in everyday situations? That's where it becomes a little trickier because obviously there are certain hours that your husband is going to have to be at work in pastoral ministry. He can't be at home every hour of the day similar to someone that has a nine to five job. They can't be at home every hour of the day, but it does look like the family is going to take priority.

If there's an after hour call from someone and there's a situation going on at home, this might be a situation where your husband has to push this off to someone else in the church. Now, the biblical model for church leadership is a plurality of elders, and this spreads the burden of shepherding the family of God over multiple people so that way the pastors at a church, the elders at a church, can actually focus on discipling their family well without letting family discipleship be hindered by the responsibility of shepherding the family of God.

I saw this recently in my own church. Now, I have gotten Facebook messages before from people saying that when I talk about my church on this podcast that it just sounds like I go to the perfect church. I do not go to the perfect church. There is no such thing as the perfect church because the church is full of humans who are following Jesus, which means that we are sinners who have been reconciled in our relationship to God, but we're still wrestling with our flesh. So please don't get the thought that I go to a perfect church. I go to a wonderful church. I love my church. I'm so grateful that the Lord has allowed me to become part of this body, but it's not a perfect church, so please don't hear me say that.

But one thing I was impressed with recently is the elders at my church. They used to meet on Sunday afternoons, and Sundays are days when all of the kids are at home. So I know that just recently, they changed the elder meetings to another day of the week. I don't know what day of the week that is, but they changed it so that the elders could all be at home with their children, investing in their family and discipling their family. Wow.

Now, individual situations is going to call for wisdom that God can give and wisdom from godly brothers and sisters in the church because in this podcast, I don't know the ins and outs of the situation in which you find yourself. So the wisdom that I can impart to you other than the general biblical wisdom that pastors and elders need to be first shepherding their family before they're shepherding the family of God, so would really recommend that you reach out to other godly brothers and sisters, others in pastoral ministry who can help you with this.

Something that I know has been very helpful for the lead pastor at my church is a group called The Leaders Collective, and you can find out more information about them by going to But this is an organization that is designed to help pastors thrive. And what they do is they put pastors in cohorts together. I believe it's for, I don't know if it's for 12 or 18 months, but they put them together in this cohort and they meet physically together a few times throughout the year. So everybody travels to one location and then they meet online at different times.

But just to talk through, okay, not only biblically, what does it mean to pastor, but what are some of the nuances of pastoring in this current cultural context? What are some issues that pastors face even issues of Sometimes a pastor feels like he doesn't have any friends because he feels like everyone is coming to him for advice. And so I just know that for the lead pastor at my church that the leaders collective has been really helpful. So that's a ministry that I would encourage you to check out. So that's the first part of this question, how to balance ministry and family discipleship. That family is primary because in order to be qualified to shepherd the family of God, someone has to be actually shepherding their family.

Well, again, the ins and outs of what that looks like in everyday situations. I can't offer you wisdom there because I don't know your exact situation. So encourage you, reach out to other men and women of God who you know and trust and also check out the Leaders Collective.

The second part of this question is how to keep kids from falling away. Now, specifically for the person who wrote in this question, one thing I want to make sure I'm being clear on is there should be no added pressure on your children to behave in a certain way just because they're pastor's kids, that you should make that clear as you disciple your children, that you expect certain behavior from them because you are discipling them because you are trying to train them to be followers of Jesus. The impetus should never be, well, we're the pastor's family, so we have to act in that way. What we're doing if we're a pastor's family and we're training our kids in that way, is we're training them to be people pleasers, and that's not at all what we want.

We don't want our kids to please man, but to please God. And so there should be no added pressure on your kids to behave a certain way because they're pastor's kids. They should have the same expectations that you would place on them if you were not the pastor's wife that you expect them to be behave in a certain way because that is what honors God. Now, of course, there are going to be people in your church who make comments about your kids, and when that happens, those should be addressed right there in truth and love. Now, I know this is a very, very difficult thing, but even if you could have just other people in the church who understand this, if you could just say, Hey, could you hold me accountable that when somebody makes a comment about my kid and how they're surprised that a pastor's kid would do this, that I would be able to speak the truth and love, would you hold me accountable to this?

That when somebody says that, I say, I'm grateful that you notice behavior in my child, but we don't expect our children to act a certain way because the because pastor's kids, we expect them to act a certain way because we're training them to be disciples of Jesus. So we just want that to be clear. Also, for those of us who are watching and listening who are not in a pastor's family, we should make sure that we're not having unrealistic or extraordinary expectations on our pastor's kids simply because they're the pastor's kid. They did not choose to be the child of the pastor. God chose that for them.

Now, as far as how do you keep your girls from falling away, I give you the same recommendations that I make to everyone. That discipleship involves the whole person that God created us as body and soul and discipleship is holistic. And so an easy but cheesy way to summarize this is discipleship involves the heart, the hands, and the head. And so when I talk about the heart, I'm talking about the kind of relationships that we're building with our children to make sure that we are building healthy God-honoring relationships with them. It's not friendships because they're the child, we're the parent, but that we're building relationships where we're confessing our sin when we sin against them and asking for forgiveness and fostering reconciliation that we're calling them out on their sin when they sin against us, and against that, we're keeping that relationship clean.

Then also, what are the affections of the heart that we are cultivating? Are we spending time in Scripture? Are we helping them develop a love for God and his word and his people? We want to make sure that we're cultivating the affections of their heart, then their hands. What rhythms and routines do we have in place in our home that are fostering the things of God? Are we regularly serving? Are we regularly practicing biblical hospitality? Are we regularly reading Scripture? Are we investing in relationships in the body of Christ and then also the head? How are we training our children to think well, are we training them to understand the objective nature of truth? Are we grounding them in a biblical worldview and understanding of the world that comes from Scripture? Are we equipping them to soundly read, interpret, and apply Scripture? Are we giving them the skills that they need to think carefully so that they can evaluate every idea that comes their way, that discipleship, there's no guarantee.

There is no guarantee that we are going to raise children who are going to seek and serve Jesus all the days of their life. We just can't have that guarantee. But what we can do is we can do the best of our ability by the grace of God with the skills and tools that God has given us to help cultivate our children's hearts, hands and head.

Now, if you're looking for more information on this, we have a parenting series at Foundation Worldview that you can purchase and then use in your local church, which just has five different 45 minute sessions. It has notes that go along with it. It has small group discussion questions. It has follow-up activities to do at home, just to think through how do we disciple the whole person? How do we make faithful disciples of our children?

For the woman who wrote in this question, just again, blessings on you and the ministry that God has entrusted to you and your husband and to any other pastors or elders and wives who are listening, thank you so much for the ministry that you choose to do, and for the rest of us who are not elders, pastors or elders and pastors wives, that we need to be faithful at praying for our pastors and their family because we know that there's a spiritual battle for them as they're shepherding the family of God.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode, but as always, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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