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7 Ways I Protected My Family Life as a Pastor

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of the pastor’s immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter.

How many pastors do we know who have adult children that don’t even attend church anymore? Lots. I’ve heard from many who resent the church which stole their family time.

There were seasons as a pastor where this was the case for me, especially on abnormally stressful days. I decided, however, I wanted it to be the exception and not the rule. I decided years ago, before I was ever a pastor – actually when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards – that my busyness would never detract from my family life on a long-term basis; if there were anything I could do about it.

The last six years in an established church Cheryl and I were in a different season. It was easier to protect our time. My heart, however, goes out to the young families in ministry. My role now is helping pastors and ministry leaders full-time. I hope some of them will heed my advice.

Here are 7 ways I attempted to protect my family as a pastor:

Disciplined down time.

Saturday for me was a protected day. I normally worked 6 long (up to 10 hours and more) days a week. I’m wired to work, but to take a true “Sabbath”, according to Exodus 16:26 at least, I had to take one day where I did nothing. For me this was usually Saturday. This also means I agreed to do fewer weddings or attend other social events on Saturdays. There were only a few Saturdays a year I allowed this part of my calendar to be interrupted.

I realize this is not the case for most pastors. We were blessed with a large, qualified staff. Pastors, it doesn’t have to be Saturday for you, but there should be at least one day in your week like this. And, if you are wired for two – take two! The Sabbath isn’t just a command for the people you are trying to shepherd.

Cheryl and the boys trumped everything on my calendar.

I always interrupted meetings for their phone calls. If they were on my schedule for something we had planned together it took precedence over everything and everyone else.

There were always emergencies. That’s the life of a pastor, but it was rare for me to break a “date” with my family for non-emergency invitations.

Scheduled time with my family.

I knew if I was going to protect time with my family then they must be a part of my calendar. I was told by some this seemed cold and calculated, and maybe it was, but especially when the boys were young and into activities with school, those times went on my calendar as appointments first.

As a result, I was at almost every ballgame and even most practices, unless I was out of town. It was possible, because it was protected by my calendar. It was easy for me to decline other offers, because my schedule was already planned.

Cheryl and I continued those scheduled times after our boys left home. (Sometimes, in really busy seasons, Cheryl, who has access to my calendar, would place them on the calendar for me – without my advance notice.)

I didn’t work many nights.

Now it’s just a habit and my boys are grown, but when my boys were young, I also wrote on my schedule nights at home.

This is the one where I get the most pushback from people. The bottom line is I’m a professional. You likely wouldn’t want my time if I weren’t. Have you ever tried to meet with your attorney, banker or doctor at night?

Of course, there are exceptions – I had some monthly meetings where I had to work at night. I was very active in the community and so we attended a lot of community functions. Plus, life has seasons which alter this somewhat, but in a normal week I worked 6 full daytime hours a week and that was usually enough to fulfill my calling.

Granted, there is no way, especially in a large church, where I could physically be at every event that happened in the church. When I first arrived as pastor I did more of this, because people were getting to know me. One night I attended 6 Christmas parties hosted by Bible study classes. (I had to turn down just as many other invitations.) But this wasn’t a practice I could sanely continue long-term.

Even for those in smaller churches, remember this post is about protecting the family and there is simply no way to do that if you are never at home with the family. And, in most families, the family is home more at night.

I was not everyone’s pastor.

This is hard for members of my extended family or friends to understand sometimes but, I pastored a large church, so if someone is already in a church elsewhere I didn’t try to be their pastor. I was simply their brother, son or friend.

Obviously, if someone didn’t have a church at all then this was a different story, especially since my heart is to reach unchurched people.

I delegated well.

We had a great staff. If something was better for them to do, I let them do it. Every event didn’t require me to be there, nor my wife. I tried to support the activities of the church as much as possible, but not at the detriment of my family.

I realize smaller church pastors struggle here, but part of your leading may be to raise up volunteer people and entrust them with responsibilities and leadership. It also may be to lead people to understand your family remaining strong is just as important as other families in the church and part of having a healthy church is having a healthy pastor and family.

I try to stay spiritually, physically and mentally healthy.

It would have been hard to lead my family well and engage them when if I was always stressed by ministry. This was a constant battle, and required great cooperation and understanding by my family and by the church, but I recognized it as a value worth striving to attain.

Pastors, I have heard from you – and sometimes your spouse. Some of you are drowning in your ministry and your family is suffering. Many are going to say you have no staff or a small staff, but I encourage this same approach to ministry for every person on our staff. I would expect no less of a commitment to their family than I have to mine.

Ask yourself this question: How healthy is your family? What are you doing to protect them?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 49 Comments

  • Duncan M. says:

    We live in a society where everything happens really fast. If we wish to succeed we need to be able to keep up. Time has become a precious asset that few can actually enjoy. Unfortunately, the family life is the most affected by the busy schedule. This article is very useful as it can help all those people who struggle to make their schedule more efficient. We all love to spend time with our family, and this is why we need to turn it into a priority, not just a desire.

  • Andy says:

    Met you last week in Humble TX. Have been reading your comments for the past week. Everyone of them has had great wisdom for us.

    Your articles on Worship Pastors and young leaders are spot on.

    This one on family protection is a subject that my wife and I have discussed many times in the last 10 years, (Been a Full Time Pastor for 10 years.) When I was a youth and worship pastor I seemed to be able to guard our family time better. In the past 10 years this has been a struggle. It is a struggle I never saw myself having in Bible College. Thanks for the straight forward thoughts you give.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thank you Andy. And thanks for commenting. Enjoyed my time in Houston last week. Let me know if I can ever help. 

  • jimpemberton says:

    Another great list! I'll liken it to parenting kids. One of the best things I can do in the course of parenting my kids is to place them second after their mother. Of course, they aren't really second, because it doesn't work that way. If they trump my wife, then they ultimately suffer. So it's in their best interest that my primary concern for them is their mother, and that in her best interest my primary concern is nurturing my relationship with Christ. In the same way, the best thing for a church is that a pastor minister to his family first, and secondly his pastoral staff as a team if his church is large enough.

    There is also a principle of corporate leadership that is important for pastors of both small churches and large churches alike. Congregations are made up of individuals, but the pastor is to pastor the corporate body primarily. Think if a flock of sheep. A shepherd leads the whole flock. You call to the sheep and nudge a few and the whole flock moves. Some go astray and you have to go bring those back. A few lag behind and you have to stop and tend to those. But in general, if the flock is moving, the general direction of the whole ministers to each individual as neighboring sheep pull each other along. If the shepherd tries to move the flock by guiding each sheep individually all the time, the flock isn't going to go anywhere. That can't be good on the shepherd's state of mind. Well, it's supposed to work the same way in the church. By directing the whole congregation as his primary task, the pastor by default enables members to help each other in most things. A little equipping along these lines only helps clarify this among the congregation. Now this may not be the expectation in many churches, but it is the pastor's job to work to change unhelpful expectations. So lead the whole, occasionally nudging a few and tending to the few who stray or fall behind, and the task becomes more manageable. (And make sure your staff is on board if you have a staff.)

    By the way, I get this last observation by watching my own pastor, who is retiring in a few days. This is the way he's led us. He's enabled us to take the lead on many things giving him the time he needs to devote to his family. Consequently, our church has been able to do an incredible amount of ministry far beyond anything that our pastor, or even pastoral staff, would have been able to be directly involved with.

  • Brandy says:

    Its great for those of us not in ministry to read this. Helps us get a perspective from the preachers point of view and to be more understanding.

  • @LeaMoja says:

    Hi Pastor Ron!

    An elder once told us that Teddy (my husband) is a Pastor and belongs to the church and he is not entitled to be with us all the time. Funny, right?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Yes. And crazy.

    • Pastor J says:

      The problematic thinking here is not distinguishing between belonging to God and belonging to the church. The church is the people. The Church belongs to God.

      This is the same mistake we can make as pastors. When we realize that we can give our all to God without giving every moment of our time to the church, it is freeing. We belong to God and God alone. We depend upon God to guide us in our use of time.

      A favorite quote of Rick Warren's that I prayerfully keep before me is: "You have just enough time to do God's will." And as another wise person once told me, "My family is my ministry too." Remember Paul's words in 1 Timothy 3, that states that one qualification for leadership in the church is "managing one's household well." That requires a presence in the home and with family.

  • Hey Ron, definitely agree with you about the priority of family time as well as Sabbath, but I do wonder about the working nights piece.

    I'm a young pastor and married but without children (so I realize I'm coming at it from a particular perspective). That said, it always strikes me as a bit unfair to a congregation when a pastor won't meet with people at night.

    I'm the first one to try to setup a lunch meeting or schedule something as early as possible after the work day. 5 is better than 6 which is better than 7. For me, it's not a question of being a professional or the number of hours a pastor is putting in but about the ability to actually care for people.

    Maybe the offset is not getting in to the office until 11 AM or taking off from 3-7 PM for family time, but the idea that pastors can't do evening meetings, when most of their congregants can actually meet, just seems odd.

    It's always a balance. Maybe it's one night a week that's set aside for late meetings, maybe it's giving up half a weekend day for meetings. I suppose in your case you might be doing most of that on Sunday after church, which could work.

    I'm certainly not advocating that a pastor should be involved in "church stuff" five nights a week (in fact, I personally can't stand that), but a night for small group and a night for counseling or whatever seems reasonable.

    And I don't know so much about bankers, but I have attorney friends that work extraordinarily long hours, as do many business owners.

    Again, I'm not advocating exceptionally long working hours or sacrificing family, but I do think a bit of creativity might allow us to better serve both our families and our flocks.

    I would love your thoughts on this. While I don't have kids now, I plan to one day, and I'm certainly still figuring this pastoring thing out.


    • ronedmondson says:

      Will, there will always be exceptions. I work until 6 PM a lot of nights, which captures most people. I commit to about 3 to 4 couples I can meet with for counseling in a month. If a couple of them can only meet at night, I will work with them. If a committee has to meet at night, I may make an exception. (I also might make a meeting very early in the morning.) In my current church I have small group one night a week. In my new church I'll have Wed night and Sun night activities. I try not to be legalistic, but I do try to be practical with how I'm wired. I work long days, but by evening, most of the time I'm mentally and physically spent.I find if I try to accommodate many more meetings at night in a month, something will suffer. My leadership of the church, my message preparation, my personal health, or my family time. If the church wants a healthy pastor for the long-term, and doesn't want a pastor burnout or facing moral failure, then it must understand the pastor can't be all things to all people.I think the key is prioritizing your life, structuring yourself for balance, and then disciplining yourself for the long haul.And, life is seasonal. I'm in a different season now as an empty-nester and actually more willing to work a night at times. Still, the older I get, the more important it is that I rest well and stay mentally and physically prepared for the long days ahead. Life will look much different for you when you start to have children.BTW, I was a small business owner with 30 + employees, served as a vice-mayor of my city and on the city council and on dozens of committees when my boys were young. I tried to have the same disciplines in my life then also.

  • @Daredub says:

    Love this, thanks Ron!

  • jolinne balentine-downey says:

    I don’t take any phone calls during mealtimes. No texts either

  • ronedmondson says:

    Thanks Michael!

  • Some great wisdom here, Ron. I also work 6 10+ hour days, and I've definitely been burned out… But everything you've said here is exactly how I "found my way back". Thanks for always being such an encouragement.

  • Dale says:

    Hey Pastor Ron. I started full time ministry as an Associate Pastor in January of this year. Like you I am a work-aholoic. I love to work and in fact a lady in yesterdays service watched me in the morning and said,"Are you a work-aholic?" I think it's pretty bad when someone you don't know can point it out. That being said, I am now starting to feel the effects of it from my family and am understanding the "protecting my calendar". I didn't know what that meant but your post sure helps.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom

    • ronedmondson says:

      One thing is certain. If we are in ministry we will never run out of work to do. We have to build discipline into our life or our family will suffer. Thanks Dale. Trading you a prayer.

  • Excellent post Ron. Thanks!

  • So important Ron. Thanks for this. It's gold.

  • herbhalstead says:

    Alright – in honesty, I can say that I have a hard time with #2 – it sounds so simple the way you put it, but I will have to pray for trust in God the next time I get a call from my bride or children during a meeting.

    Also, #3 – I used to do that. I know we've suffered some from me not doing it any more – I resolve to sit down with Angel and try to schedule "family time" – hold me to it! 🙂

    #5 – I believe in this wholeheartedly, so much so that I'm pretty stubborn about it. My stubbornness recently bit me in the booty on this issue and has sparked a rethink. I am still working through whether or not narrowing my "flock" is appropriate, and to what extent… pray for me, Ron.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Honesty and transparency…I love it! Praying for you as your wrestle through these issues.

      • herbhalstead says:

        I realized I neglected to share how I do well at protecting family time. While planning-out the church I planted, someone pointed me to two books. The first was "Present Future" my Reggie McNeal. The second was "Simple Church" by Thom Rainer. Both were crucial in helping me see that a full church schedule, contrary to popular opinion, is bad for families. We decided to purposefully limit what "events" and "service times" we have. That has been one of the biggest factors in maintaining healthy family relationships – not only mine, but for the rest of the church was well.

  • Ron
    This is a really interesting post. While I don't work in 'full-time' ministry, I apply similar principles (which I've been blogging about recently) to prioritise activities in my life.

  • Lance_Morgan says:

    Ron, these are great. I am beginning to finally follow THE tug, and establish the ministry God has for me. These 7 nuggets are going to be great to implement, before it's too difficult. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Joseph says:

    This is great, definitely sharing with the elders at my church. (:

  • @jacobricker says:

    Thank you so much for posting these 7 ways to protect my family! I have already started a few these when I began pastoring a few months ago. Theses are esp. important to me since I am a bi-vocational pastor. Thank you for the encouragement!

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks. You are right…I did bi-vocational ministry for years. It is a challenge balancing all your hats. God bless.

  • @dmlonderee says:

    Thanks for this, Ron. Can't describe how much this post has helped me. I've been in full time ministry now for about 18 months, after spending nearly 12 years working in management in the business world. This is one of the biggest obstacles I've encountered. I never dreamed how difficult it would be to guard my time with my wife and my family. I guess I just thought that it would be just as easy as secular job I had, but it isn't. I've got 3 young sons, all under the age of 8, and I've realized that I have to work hard to protect my time with my family. I don't want them to grow up to think that they come behind the ministry in my life.

    Our church has experienced nearly 300% growth in the last decade, and is on the verge of growing from the "small church" that it was for so long. This adds to the challenge, because some of the "old guard" expect you to minister to every family member that they have, and they expect you to attend every committee meeting and ministry function on the calendar. Our senior pastor realized about 3 years ago that this was hindering the growth of our church, because people looked to him for everything, and he had to begin to let go. And he was 100% right. I've learned from him that one of the keys to success in ministry is delegating to the right people.

    Our current philosophy has made some people mad, but it is helping our families. For example, a long time member had a large birthday celebration for his 75th birthday this past Saturday. I had to call and tell him that I couldn't come, because our family had already been involved in two other "after hours" ministry-related functions earlier in the week, and we needed some time as a family. I've made some people mad, but I will not answer my cell phone in the evening if it is church members calling, unless I know that their situation requires it. If they need me, they can leave a voice mail, but I've learned that 9 times out of 10, it isn't something so urgent that they couldn't have called me in the office the next day.

    I don't always comment on your posts, but I do appreciate how you use your years of wisdom in the ministry to help others.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for sharing this. It is difficult for those not in vocational ministry to understand, because they don't see the demands placed on those in ministry. The church or ministry doesn't have to be very large at all for the demands to be overwhelming. I've heard it said that for every person attending your church on a Sunday, we have the potential to minister to that number times 7. If someone in your church has a nephew who doesn't attend church, you'll do the wedding, and the premarital counseling…etc. While this is all good stuff, it can be damaging to the family if boundaries are not in place.

  • Ron, this is great.

    As a young guy in the ministry, I am constantly battling so that my families time does not get eaten.