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Family-priorities-pastorWe have all heard it said that our priorities should be:

1. God

2. Family

3. Work

But what if your work is ministry? You are working for God—does that make a difference? In your list of priorities, does ministry equal God—and therefore trump family? Amazingly, many people think so.

A Sad Beginning

I remember a concerned young lady coming to me after class while I was teaching at a Bible school. Her fiancé, John*, was one of the more “on fire” students. Everyone loved him. He had a big heart and was a fearless evangelist.

I mentioned during class that ministry is not God; it is what you do for God—and it should not come before your marriage and family in terms of priority. She told me she was engaged to John and that he had made it clear: Ministry would be a higher priority than family. As I remember, I told her that either that must change or she should not marry him.

She married him anyway, and they started a dynamic inner-city ministry, reaching out to the poor. Blessed to see how God was using them, I sent them support. However, just a few years later, John wrote me that after a tumultuous relationship, they divorced. I wrote John immediately to share with him the conversation I had with his then-fiancée and that maybe, if changes were made, God could save the marriage. I did not hear back from him.

A Sad Ending

Many more years earlier, as a young youth pastor, we were excited that a legendary revivalist, now in his 80s, was going to minister in our congregation. He came with his wife and son. While they were with us, they told us they had another son, just 30 minutes away, in Washington, D.C. The mother and brother went to visit this son—who was not a believer and, if memory serves me correctly, was not a fan of the faith. When the famous evangelist was asked if he was going to see his son, whom he had not seen in many years, he said, “No, I must prepare to preach tonight.”

I was really shocked by that response. Ministry was more important to this man than his estranged son. The son died of a heart attack (I think) a few years later, and the revivalist is now with the Lord. As far as I know, I don’t think they ever saw each other again.

Priorities Gone Awry

Pastor Bill* was our pastor when I was in Bible college. He was really dynamic and had a clear apostolic call. However, unbeknownst to us college kids, he was also a former adulterer. Toward the end of my first year of college, he went on an extended retreat, taking a female member of the flock with him. He even prophesied over this woman in the next meeting! He was caught and confronted by the elders. When the elders told his wife, her first words were, “He still has the anointing.”

Most women would be devastated to learn that their husbands had cheated on them—again. But not this woman—her concern was losing the congregation and the power and prestige that came with it. Indeed, when the elders told the congregation of Pastor Bill’s indiscretion, Pastor Bill showed up at the service and defiantly stood in the back, hands crossed, starring down the elders. From here, we could do a great teaching on overcoming the spirit of intimidation, but let’s stay focused. Here was a family whose priorities were out of whack and led them to bizarre, unbiblical behavior.

Five Keys to Keep Your Family Above Your Ministry

My dear friends in ministry, especially you younger ones, put your marriage above your work. Invest in your children. It is hard enough to have a successful marriage and family if you do things right, knowing the enemy has a bull’s-eye on your chest. Why make things even more difficult by making ministry an idol?

Here are five things you can do to protect yourself:

1. Date night. Dedicate one night a week to be with your spouse.

2. Spend time with your children. Spend time sharing, talking with and encouraging them. Find out what is happening in their lives.

3. Leave ministry at the office. Don’t come home and dump on your spouse all the problems in the congregation. Your wife doesn’t need to know who cheated on who.

4. Equip yourself for relationship. Read books and listen to messages that are designed to strengthen your marriage and family. (5 Love Languages is the best.)

5. Get away together. If you are in full-time pastoral ministry, take one day a month and go away overnight. Elana and I did this when I first went into ministry. We noticed that just 24 hours away from the city, focusing on God and each other, recharged our batteries. I would even suggest putting this into the congregational budget.

None of us are perfect, and none of us are going to have perfect families, but we can have healthy families if we put them before ministry and put God in front of everything. I would guess that the number-one complaint of pastors’ kids is this: He had time for everyone else, except me. Don’t make that mistake!

* Not their real name

Ron Cantor is the director of Messiah’s Mandate International in Israel, a Messianic ministry dedicated to taking the message of Jesus from Israel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Ron also travels internationally teaching on the Jewish roots of the New Testament. He serves on the pastoral team of Tiferet Yeshua, a Hebrew-speaking congregation in Tel Aviv. His newest book, Identity Theft, will be released on April 16. Follow him at @RonSCantor on Twitter.

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