After serving the church for more than 20 years, during which I rarely took vacations or days off, one of my mentors in ministry asked, "How is your mistress?"
"I don't have one," I replied with stinging self-righteousness and moral purity.
"Ah, but you do," he replied. "She is the church!"
After lengthy self-examination, I discovered truth in his statement. On the few evenings I was home each week, I found myself emotionally exhausted. Through counseling, visitation and pastoral nurturing, I had "given at the office" and had nothing left to give to my wife and children.
Vacations were interrupted by emergencies, crises and funerals. Weekends were filled with services, meetings and weddings. Early mornings were punctuated with hospital visitation and praying.
As much as we try to follow to-do lists, rarely does any day follow a set plan. And that which is most important--marriage and family--essentially slips lower and lower on our list of priorities.
Recently I listened to Chuck Colson blast a well-known pastor and author for being divorced and not stepping down from pastoring his church. In the last few months, high-profile ministers have announced their divorces. In truth, both the divorces and the finger-pointing are sad commentaries on church leadership.
Too often the pathway leading to marriage failure in the pastorate is simply this: Pastors, particularly men, become married to the church. Wife and children are robbed of the pastor's time, attention, emotions and intimacy.
In Genesis 2 we are reminded that the institution of marriage and the family came long before the institution of the church. We should also be aware of Satan's devices. His first attack came against marriage. He hasn't changed tactics or strategies. If a pastor's marriage can be destroyed, then the whole body is fractured and fragmented.
So, what are we to do? Let's return to this simple statement of priority in ministry: God first, marriage and family second, and church third.
What difference does it make if we save scores of marriages through pastoral counseling and lose our own? What difference does it make if we have successful ministries to children and youth but have broken relationships with our own children?
My observation is that women who pastor are much less likely to sacrifice their families for ministry. Men of God, it's time we begin to walk the talk. Let's cherish, protect, nurture and love our families.
Larry Keefauver serves as a teaching pastor at The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida. He is the author of numerous books, including, Experiencing the Holy Spirit (Nelson).