In the Bible, the Apostle Paul is clearly a superstar. He is an evangelist, a church planter, and a missionary. He traveled more broadly, baptized more people, started more churches, and wrote more books than anyone else in biblical history. We know his work and his name. But we are less familiar with the scores of people who are described as Paul’s coworkers in Acts and the New Testament letters attributed to him. Some are well known, such as Barnabas, Apollos, Aquila, Timothy, and Titus. Others like Jason, Sopater, and Sosthenes, are less known. Yet, each played a vital, supporting role in the building of the kingdom. Paul, in appreciation for one unsung hero who worked unselfishly out of the spotlight, calls Epaphroditus, “my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants”—Philippians 2:25.
During this Pastor’s Appreciation Month, it is nice to pause and to thank all the members of the pastoral team, to celebrate the unpaid, unsung heroes and heroines who daily support and sacrifice for the cause of God: the pastor’s family. Often overlooked but always present, the pastor’s family is the pastor’s pastor, providing the social, emotional, and spiritual support to facilitate ministry. Families are asked to move to new locations, attend new schools, find new employment, secure new housing, and establish new relationships, simply because the pastor has been assigned to a new church. They are asked to share their family with the world. The reality of living a transient, 24-hour on-call lifestyle can prove challenging for spouses and children.
That’s why it is so amazing that pastoral families are so gracious with their time, so affirming of the work, so committed to the church. Week after week pastoral families show up, participate, pray, and give. What an example of family commitment! Even when life’s difficulties weigh upon them, they still show up to minister to the needs of others.
We have heard some members remark, “Well, I show up at church and work hard and nobody pays me or recognizes me. . . . The pastor’s family is no different than mine.” However, pastoral families do live in “glass houses” and grapple with some unique circumstances. Let’s look at a few comments shared with us from pastors’ children and spouses.
Pastors’ kids are strong and resilient. They have learned to be flexible and adaptable, but they are children. Is it fair to expect more of them? Here is what pastor’s children want you to know.
1. Let me be a regular kid. Children of pastors are not born with halos. They are not more holy than other children by virtue of being in a pastoral home. They are kids, who make mistakes and learn and grow. Once during a Sabbath meal as the pastor’s child was enjoying a heaping helping of mac and cheese a member said, “You shouldn’t be eating all that cheese. It is not good for you. You should know that as the pastor’s kid.” The implication is that somehow the child and the family are not setting a proper example. What a heavy and unreasonable burden for a child to bear.
2. He’s my dad first. It is true sharing one’s parent goes with the territory. The pastor becomes the parent figure to the church, providing direction, comfort, and friendship to all. Yet, it can be hard to watch one’s father or mother being so patient with others, and then, in exhaustion, become short with their son or daughter. Children are left craving more time with their parents. Children need more than quality time; they also need quantity time. One frustrated child remarked, “Why are they always taking my daddy? Can’t they get their own? He was my daddy first.”
3. Stop talking about my father/mother. Sometimes when members are angry or dissatisfied with the pastor, their negative comments may be disappointing or confusing to the pastor’s child. One pastor’s kid, who thought his dad was the greatest preacher of all time, was devastated to hear in the hallway after church, “I don’t know what that man was talking about.” Children who are in the powerless position, naturally want to defend their parent against the more powerful adult making the comment, but are afraid to speak. Thus, the child is left feeling helpless and ashamed for feeling helpless.
Pastoral spouses love the Lord and His church as evidenced by their consistency and sacrifice in ministry. They too are resilient and strong, holding the family together amidst the whirlwind of church busyness. But they are also human, unable to meet every expectation of church members. Here are some things to consider.
1. The spouse is not the church secretary. The sheer volume of calls and requests that come for the pastor may be overwhelming and difficult to juggle with all the other responsibilities of life, employment, and family. While a spouse may choose to answer the phone, or take a message for the pastor, it is unfair to expect the spouse to serve as secretary for the church.
2. Don’t take it personally. One church expected the spouse to run children’s Sabbath School, be a Master Guide, cook in the kitchen, organize the potluck, plan weddings, and attend every funeral, every concert, every baby shower, and every night of every evangelistic meeting. Some members are offended when the spouse doesn’t come for their event. The call of work, children, and personal health must be taken into consideration. Remember, there are scores of member events and only one pastoral spouse.
3. Not all spouses are fashion icons. No one person’s wardrobe is inspected more than that of the pastoral spouse. Is the hem too high, or is the hem too low? Does the suit fit too tight or is it too loose? Is the ensemble appropriate for the occasion? Is it the same outfit worn last week? It is hard to be under constant scrutiny for one’s personal taste in fashion. It is unrealistic to always expect the spouse to be well-heeled and meticulously dressed on the modest income of a pastor. A little affirmation is always welcome.
4. The spouse is an individual. Pastoral spouses are not extensions of the pastor. Each is a person with her or his own spiritual gifts, professional skills, personal interests, life experience, and informed perspective. Rather than imposing a prescribed role upon the spouse, encourage the spouse to exercise personal discretion in commitment to ministry.
5. Respect family privacy. There are times pastoral families are drenched in stress, loss, failure or grief. Situations occur when the thin veil of pastoral infallibility is frayed and the members see the family in its most vulnerable state. This is not the time to gawk and assess. This is a time for retreat and prayer. Let the family have some time to renew and restore. Encourage others to do the same.
Pastoral families are awesome. They are precious gifts from heaven to the church community. They must be treated as treasures—respected, cherished, and nurtured. They sacrifice canceled vacations, birthdays, anniversaries, family dinner, and holidays. Still, under the anointing of the Spirit, they remain faithful to the call to ministry. So, during this month of pastoral appreciation, take a moment to thank and celebrate the unsung heroes and heroines of our local churches, pastoral families. Let us affirm their contribution to building the kingdom of God. Here are a few suggestions:
• Pray for the pastor’s family daily.
• Speak kind words to others about the pastoral family.
• Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
• Encourage and sponsor pastoral family vacations.
• Surprise them with hospitality and generosity.