By Monica deRegt
Right before my husband started his new job as a youth pastor, someone older and wiser (and perhaps a little more bitter) warned me to never let him refer to the youth as "his kids". While we laughed it off at the time, thinking of course he would never inadvertently put the youth's needs above his own children's needs, it did make us stop and think about setting priorities in our life. Since then, we've heard some pretty sobering statistics about the children of youth pastors, and I've had some pretty real experiences with the realities of why those statistics have come to be.
I have heard it said before that the order of our priorities should look a little like this: God, Family, Church, Career. I'm not sure what source that comes from, or whether or not it is even Biblical. It seems pretty obvious that God should come first, but is it possible to always put the family next? Especially when one's career involves carrying out God's ministry?
There were days it didn't seem fair or right to me that my husband could spend hours at work planning and preparing for a Bible teaching that would capture the youth's interest, that would engage them and make the Bible come alive to them, and then he'd come home where we'd rush through a chaotic dinner hour filled with phone calls from frantic youth leaders cancelling on him an hour before youth night, causing him to stress out and not be present physically or emotionally during our "family dinner time", and he'd usually end up too tired or busy to even read the Children's Bible story to our own kids with any enthusiasm at all, if he could even stay that long after dinner before heading out to youth group or a leader's meeting or who knows what. I'm sure this scene is all too familiar in most homes with young children and a busy working Dad. But the difference is that when Dad works for the church, and his job is to shepherd young hearts into a saving relationship with Jesus, it's a little more bitter of a pill to swallow that he's just too exhausted or busy to put in the effort needed to fulfill this role at home.
So what can we do to ensure that our own children, who God has blessed us with, do not become casualties of Dad's (or Mom's) ministry career? How do we stop feeling guilty for wanting to keep our spouse away from the ministry he is called and ordained to do, to attend to the needs of his family? First of all, let's not lose sight of God's call on our lives when it comes to being parents. His word is clear about the time and effort He expects fathers and mothers to put towards teaching and instructing our children in God's Word and His Law (Deuteronomy 6). It is also made clear in the New Testament that anyone working in ministry needs to make sure his home life is in proper order first (1 Timothy 3). I'm not saying this is easy, or that it's black and white. But there seems to be an order to things that God has put in place, and we do not need to feel guilty for desiring God's way in our lives.
There are steps that can be taken to make sure that your children get the same attention and care and passionate example of faith as the youth do from your spouse. One thing our family did was move family devotions to the morning. Because my husband worked all day and most evenings, he could start his day a little later in the morning (there is rarely pressing youth concerns at 7:30 a.m.), so we committed to having breakfast together as a family every day and making that the "family dinner hour" experience that was so lacking from our evening suppers together. It's a great way to start the day--together, and with God. We also took advantage of the flexibility of Dad's daytime hours by dropping in on him frequently at work. I'm not sure how much the rest of the staff appreciated our noisy bunch descending upon them, but whenever we'd arrive, my husband would make it fun for the kids--sneaking them a candy from the youth room closet, sharing juice and cookies together in the church kitchen, showing them Christian music videos on the big screen and dancing together, playing with the rubber chicken and other odd youth group game paraphernalia, making hot chocolate on Thursday mornings for the school bus kids waiting outside our church. Our kids were welcomed with open arms into Dad's job and into his passion for youth ministry, and they benefitted from it too, and thought it was fun and special. Rather than youth ministry being the job that took him away from us, we tried as much as possible to turn it into the job that we were all doing together. This helped us. I'm sure there are many other great ideas out there that have helped you. Please share them. Let's learn from each other!