Guarding my marriage and family are important to me. I have been in vocational ministry since 1993 and since then I have watched many pastors lose vibrant ministries because they forgot to minister to their own family. I said to my wife-to-be (1992) as I watched the pain she endured as a daughter whose parents were divorcing and her father lost his pastorate, that she would not endure that same pain as wife. Since then, I have set boundaries to protect my marriage and family.
Last week I learned of yet another pastor who resigned from his church due to a long-standing affair. This was the third brought to my attention this year alone! This one was especially painful because it was someone I have known for 20 years and considered a role-model for my own ministry. He was someone I had great admiration for and someone who had invested in my own life and ministry. As a fellow Gen-Xer, we appreciated the same things. My heart breaks for his family as they navigate the days ahead.
I don't believe any of these pastors woke up one day and said, "I think today I will become an adulterer and crush my family and destroy my ministry." No, we get there by making choices that open the door to sinful behavior until the day comes when we have lost our family and ministry. Success in ministry is not defined in terms of numbers or feelings. Success is not about he size of your church, or youth group, or worship team. Success in ministry is largely defined by the success of your family. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). All men would do well to memorize Proverbs 5:15, "Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well." If she's not your wife, she's another man's cistern!
Here are some safeguards that have allowed me to see my 25th wedding anniversary!
1. Guard your weekends as time with your family. I realize there are going to be some Fridays and Saturdays that ministry will demand, but guard those days carefully. My phone recently rang three times while I was having dinner with my wife in Lexington one Friday evening. I allowed the calls to go to voice-mail. The message was not a crisis, but simply a request for advice. I responded with a short text that simply explained that I would be happy to speak with them on Monday, but my weekends are reserved for my family. I make exceptions for crisis situations such as death, threats of suicide, or medical emergencies.
2. If you have a "day off" during the week take it. My day off is Fridays. It's easy for a pastor to head to the office to get caught up on some of the tasks that have been piling up. It's easy to find ourselves spending more time with our church than with our family. Some pastors have made the church their mistress. The church (the bride) already has a bride-groom (Jesus)! I have been on staff at multiple churches, but I only have one wife! She has been there with me every step of the way.
3. Never counsel someone of the opposite sex alone without accountability. I attempt to schedule all counseling sessions during office hours. However, when this isn't possible, I ask one of the other pastors to sit in one of the adjacent offices while I am counseling an individual. The office door remains cracked open the entire time.
4. Never have lunch with the opposite sex alone. I recently had a lunch appointment with a couple in our church. I was informed at the last minute that her husband would not be joining us. Simply ask to reschedule the appointment.
5. When making home visits, take someone with you. I usually ask one of the other pastors to accompany me during home visits. It's a great time of discipleship and mentoring and provides accountability.
6. Make sure your social media and communications have accountability. Group messages are best, but if you find yourself in a private text messaging conversation make sure you have accountability.
7. Find accountability with another pastor-friend. I have had the blessing of having the same mentor for about 30 years! We hold one another accountable. We've had tough conversations.
What safeguards have you found helpful?
Dr. Chris Dortch has been in vocational ministry since 1993. His blog is aimed to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."