In training hundreds of preachers and preachers’ wives, and being married to a preacher’s wife, I have seen firsthand during 50-plus years of full-time ministry the toll ministry takes on the preacher and his family.
I have had letters, phone calls, and face-to-face visits with numerous wives of preachers lamenting their lives as wives of preachers. I have also visited with children of preachers who felt neglected and even abused because of their fathers’ ministry. A teenager said relative to her father’s behavior, “Oh if the church only knew what went on behind closed doors in our home they would fire my father.”
Every preacher, at one time or another, has heard the statement, and even made it, “How sad for the preacher to save the world and lose his family.” It is not minimizing the importance of “saving the world”, it is shining the spotlight on the preacher’s in- mission field—his family.
Preaching is like no other job, and make no mistake, you may call it whatever you wish, but it is a job, work, and none house -ending day after day demands. The preacher is like a volunteer fireman in a neighborhood, on call 24-hours a day. The preachers’ job is one overseen and supervised by every member of the congregation who is expecting an endless list of demands to be fulfilled with little time off, limited vacation time, etc.
In researching and writing Preventing Ministry Burnout, as well as honestly evaluating my own life and ministry, I found some very disturbing truths about preachers and burnout. One amazing discovery was when I lectured on burnout at various places, preachers were reluctant to attend. One preacher asked to visit with me in secret because he didn’t want his elders to see him talking with me about burnout. On one occasion I sent out 100 invitations to attend a seminar, only two responded.
Not only do preachers have family issues they also have numerous personal issues. Many are overweight, suffering depression, low energy, high blood pressure, and other health related issues. In my book, I discuss these and other personal issues related to ministry and burnout.
Preaching is not a nine-to-five job, where he punches an end and out time clock. He is on call 24-hours a day, 365 days each year. He doesn’t have “no” in his vocabulary. One preacher said in a proud voice tone, “I’ll rest in heaven; there is too much work to do to spend time resting or taking it easy.”
The preacher spends hours listening to others and their problems but doesn’t have time or energy to listen to his wife, much less his children. He knows what’s going on in some members’ lives more than he knows what’s going on in his family members lives. A teen boy said, “Daddy visits others more than he visits with me.”
One preacher confessed that his wife was his “dumping ground” relative sharing all the challenges and problems in his ministry. She is the only “safe person” he can share his personal disappointments, setbacks, hurts, conflicts, and frustrations with. She watches her husband deal with criticism, misunderstandings, and endless conflicts. The children watch and absorb the pain without being able to share in the solutions. On the other side of the coin is the preacher who involves his family in all the issues, but solutions never go beyond the four walls; the only resentment goes out the door.
It is easier to talk about this problem than to implement a solution. How can we address and dialogue about these issues faced by most preachers in full-time ministry? Here are some suggestions:
The first step to solutions is an honest admittance of the problem. The second is a documentation of all the issues related to “neglecting the family.” The third step is for husband and wife to openly and honestly discuss the need for more balance. The fourth step is to pray for wisdom relative how to share the issues with church leadership. The fifth step is to make out a family time together schedule. The sixth step is to have a family conference where you share your new plans with the family. Adjustments will be made after input. The seventh step should be a sharing with the church leadership your need and plans to lead a more balanced life as their preacher. Be positive and seek their guidance. Don’t try to jump the Grand Canyon in one leap. Eighth, study the balanced life of Christ.
Hopefully, this brief article has opened the door for serious discussion relative to the preacher and his family. You want to save the word AND your family. I suggest you get a copy of my book Preventing Ministry Burnout available here.