On Christianity Today’s website, Journalist Joseph Hellerman wrote a controversial article in 2016 entitled, “Our priorities are off when family is more important than church.”
In the article, Hellerman made the argument that Christians should prioritize their church above one’s family.
He wrote, “Most of us prioritize our commitment to family above our commitment to the church. This is unfortunate because the Bible offers us a different set of relational priorities.”1Jospeh Hellerman, “Our Priorities Are Off When Family Is More Important Than Church,” ChristianityToday.com, Christianty Today, August 4, 2016, Accessed January 25, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/august-web-only/if-our-families-are-more-important-than-our-churches-we-nee.html
Reading such a statement from a well-known news outlet could easily send pastors and their families down the wrong path as the church is often equated with the ministry. A pastor could easily conclude from the article that the well-being of his ministry should be prioritized above the health of his family and thus sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry.
But, contrary to Hellerman’s argument, the Bible clearly teaches that a pastor must prioritize the health of his family above his ministry since his home serves both as his proving ground and training ground for ministry.
A Pastor’s Family Is His Proving Ground For Ministry
The pastoral office is the highest and most important office that exists since a pastor cares for the church of God, which Christ obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28). To be a pastor is an enormous responsibility. It requires the right kind of man who is called by God and meets specific biblical pastoral qualifications.
The Apostle Paul outlines the lists of pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. It’s noteworthy that Paul starts both lists by stressing that a pastor must “be above reproach.” It is the umbrella word over every other qualification. It means that a pastor must be blameless and without stain in his character and teaching.
This high standard also extends to the man’s family life and the health of his family, as seen in 1 Tim 3:4 and Titus 1:6.
1 Timothy 3:4
1 Timothy 3:4 says, “[A pastor] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God).” A pastor must actively lead his home and have children who obey and respect his leadership. He must guide and lead his wife and children as a caring, loving, and responsible husband and father. Paul says that if a man does not know how to manage his own family, he can’t manage the household of God. A man must prove that he can lead his family spiritually and morally before he can lead an entire church. The health of a pastor’s family either qualifies or disqualifies him from the pastoral office.
Notice: A pastor does not prioritize the health of his family for the sake of the pastoral office. He prioritizes it because he loves his family and wants to honor God—It’s his joy, duty, and priority.
A pastor must likewise prove faithful to his wife and commitment to raising his children in such a way that they are faithful and “not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6).
He must assume responsibility and leadership over his family and have children who are faithful to his teaching and discipline.
Alexander Strauch, a well-known pastor and author, captures the essence of Titus 1:6 when he writes, “A man’s ability to lead and manage the people of God is commensurate with the evidence of having children who are well-behaved.”2Biblical Eldership Resources, Christian Maturity: Based on the Qualifications for Biblical Elders (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2018), 43.
So a pastor must prioritize the health of his household to qualify for the pastoral office.
The family also serves another important role in the pastor’s life.
A Pastor’s Family Is His Training Ground For Ministry
A man once asked a well-known preacher how to prepare best to serve as a pastor. The man expected the preacher to recommend respected seminaries and Bible teachers. Instead, the preacher looked at him and said, “Go home and love your family.”
Although it is often ignored, the role of a man’s family in his sanctification and training for faithful pastoral ministry can not be overstated.
Dr. Voodie Bachman, a respected theologian and pastor, makes this point about marriage when he says, “Beyond the purpose of bearing, raising, and discipling children with a view towards expanding God’s kingdom, he has also designed marriage to sanctify his people.”3Voddie Baucham, Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 85.
The New Testament has much to say about sanctification in the home. A pastor’s family is his training ground for growth in love and biblical discipline and instruction.
Growth in love
In Ephesians 5:22-33, the Apostle Paul instructs husband and wives about their marital roles and responsibilities to each other. Speaking to the husbands, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). A husband must seek to continually love his wife in the same sacrificial way Christ loved the church.
The extent of this verse becomes even more clear when considering Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is easy to love one’s wife when she is all sweet and cute, but it’s another story when she is stubborn and harsh.
However, a pastor must learn to imitate Christ in good times and in bad times and love his wife sacrificially and unconditionally.
A man entering the pastorate will quickly learn that sheep bites, so he must be clothed in love—and the home is the perfect training ground for such virtue.
Growth in biblical discipline and instruction
A man’s relationship with his children also serves as an effective training ground for his ministry. It is the father’s primary responsibility to discipline and instruct his children (Eph 6:4). He must provide his children with a Christian education and upbringing.
This upbringing comes from discipline and instruction in God’s word. As John Macarthur comments, “This calls for systematic discipline and instruction, which brings children to respect the commands of the Lord as the foundation of all of life, godliness, and blessing.”4John Macarthur, Macarthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 1783.
When a man has learned to effectively and biblical instruct his children and discipline them in love, he has been well prepared to feed, lead, care, and protect the flock of God.
Don’t Sacrifice Your Family on The Alter of Ministry
Sadly, a growing number of pastors sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. But may it never be said of the next generation of faithful pastors. May they hold firm to the Bible’s undeniable teaching that a pastor must prioritize his family and its health above his ministry because a pastor’s home is his priority and serves both as his proving ground and training ground for ministry.
Journalist Joseph Hellerman would do the church of Christ a great favor by changing the title of his article to “Our priorities are off when ministry is more important than family.”
|↑1||Jospeh Hellerman, “Our Priorities Are Off When Family Is More Important Than Church,” ChristianityToday.com, Christianty Today, August 4, 2016, Accessed January 25, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/august-web-only/if-our-families-are-more-important-than-our-churches-we-nee.html|
|↑2||Biblical Eldership Resources, Christian Maturity: Based on the Qualifications for Biblical Elders (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2018), 43.|
|↑3||Voddie Baucham, Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 85.|
|↑4||John Macarthur, Macarthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 1783.|