Guest Outpost blog by Jordan B. Davis
My mom was a director of Christian education for 15 years, covering the duration of the first 13 years of my life. While I have fond memories of turning the library table into a fort while I watched my daily selection of movies and of helping my mom design the latest bulletin board, I struggled many times with the pull of both church and family in our home.
I know that my mom did her best, and her best was incredible. She was always there for us when we needed her and made sure that when we were hanging out at the church, we were able to have fun (we were always the first kids to watch the latest release of Veggie Tales!). I know it wore her out to make sure she was everything to everyone at all times, and I know that I am only beginning to understand what she did for us as a family while serving the church.
Looking at my own life and work now I want to first make one thing clear: I DO have a family even if I do not have children yet. I will never forget the individual who told me how easy my ministry must be since it is just my husband and myself and we “don’t have a family.” My husband is my family and my time with him is just as important as a mother’s time with her children.
I recently read Phil Bell’s book, “Team Up!: The Family Ministry Playbook for Partnering with Parents,” while on a high school retreat. My husband was gracious enough to step in as a chaperone for this retreat when my other chaperons had to cancel. I was debating on if I should go to my session meeting and youth group gathering once we got back on Sunday. After all, we would be back at 1 p.m. and the meetings started at 4 p.m. — and wasn’t three hours enough of a break? Not to mention, I had been able to spend the weekend with my husband and it was important for me to do my job fully.
My desire to be present for everyone and everything kept getting in the way when I read 1 Timothy 3:5: “For if a person cannot manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church?”followed by Bell’s response, “If you and I don’t know how to invest in our families first, we can’t begin to understand how to invest in others’ families.”
Reflecting on what Bell wrote, I realized that my youth watch my family life a lot more closely than I think. Their parents watch even more closely. Yes, the session would appreciate me being at the meeting right after the retreat as would the youth group, but it would go further (even if unnoticed for a while) if I drew the line and made sure to take time to not just recover, but to be with my family. My church family and job had been a priority for 45 straight hours. Now it was time for my personal family to be priority. Even though my husband was with us on the retreat, we were not able to actually be together or even have an entire conversation.
My personal calendar includes all of my appointments, as well as every home soccer game that my husband coaches and every guitar concert he directs. He is not my child, but it is just as important that I support him the same way I would a child. I make a point to keep those times clear as much as I can so that I can be present for him in the same way he was present for me at the retreat. My biggest struggle for balance falls in the late hours while we sit on the couch and the phone or computer beckon me to do that “one thing,” which inevitably turns into at least an hour of working while I should be with my family.
As pastors, it is so common for us to want to be the best person possible for all of those in our lives and that regularly leads to over-functioning and a lack of emotional and mental presence. It has taken several years for me to learn how to clearly define my two worlds as I also allow and work to have them intermix in appropriate ways. My family needs me just as much as my congregants need me, if not more. My lifelong vow, however, is to my husband and family. I can call other pastors for assistance when my schedule is just too much or in times of crisis. My committees can function with or without my presence. My advisors can lead youth group even if I am away. My family cannot call in a backup wife or a backup mom when that is needed later on.
I give thanks for a wonderful example set by my own mother, even if it was hard on all of our family at times. I also give thanks for a congregation who understands and encourages all of the pastors to make sure they find this balance between work and family. Yes, the church is a vital part of our faith life and source of relationships, but it is also work. We can’t let the idea of a church family through work overpower our own family at home.
JORDAN B. DAVIS is the transitional associate pastor for youth and young adults at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church in Cary, North Carolina, and is the editor of Union Presbyterian Seminary’s “Congregational Corner.”