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A Word for Pastors

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
– 1 Timothy 3:4 (ESV)

This verse has been a weight on my soul ever since our first daughter was born in 2002. If there’s one thing that every pastor with children has in common, it’s the weight of this verse. Or perhaps more precisely, how others will interpret it when the day comes that your child makes some poor choices. I have had my qualifications as an elder questioned, first by me, which is healthy, but also by others behind my back, which is unhealthy. Why? Because we’ve had some struggles with our youngest daughter over the past few years. So, this post is for my fellow pastors. What does it mean that we manage our households well, with dignity, and keep our children submissive?

A manager is a shepherd. Shepherd your family. Tend to their spiritual and physical needs. Lead them. They are your first ministry. Don’t let the demands of church folks supersede your wife and kids. This is, at times, a difficult balance to maintain. Do you go to your kid’s last soccer game, or do you visit a church member in the hospital? They both occupy the same time slot, and you can’t move either of them. Which do you choose? I don’t have an answer because it isn’t always clear. But if you’re managing your household well, shepherding your family in the grace of God, the answer will be a lot clearer.

We’re also supposed to manage with dignity. Being dignified simply means that you conduct yourself in a way that people respect you. In any kind of leadership role, you can either demand respect or attract respect. People who demand it seldom get it. They’ll get lip service but no actual respect. Those who attract respect don’t need to ask for it because they conduct themselves in a way the people actually desire to give it. That is managing with dignity. You parent in a way that the whole family desires to give you their respect. How do we do that?

  • Be quick to own your mistakes.
  • Don’t hesitate to apologize.
  • Ask for forgiveness.
  • Forgive freely.
  • Follow through with promises and punishments.
  • Let punishments fit the crimes.
  • Don’t overreact.
  • Exert self-control over your emotions.
  • Don’t knee-jerk react. Respond thoughtfully.
  • Be unflappable.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but these things have helped me along the way.

Finally, keep your children submissive. Of the three things in this verse, this one is the most prickly. What does that mean? Here’s what it means. You keep your children obedient. Simple enough, but for many that’s not where it ends. People watching from the outside often want to extend that to, your kids never make bad decisions. Honestly, I think as pastors, we often set a higher bar than the Bible as well. But obedience doesn’t mean bad decisions are never made.

My youngest daughter made some poor decisions and tried to hide them. When they came to light, we surrounded her. We gave appropriate discipline, and set new boundaries that she was supposed to obey. Did she like that? Of course not! This led to arguments and a dark cloud of disharmony that existed in our home for a long while. But, that’s parenting. She obeyed our discipline for the most part – even if she kicked against it at times. Did she try to skirt them? Of course she did! But all the while, we kept pointing her to Jesus. We kept praying that the LORD would deliver her. It was some of our hardest years. In the midst of it all, this Proverb kept tumbling through my mind.

14 A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?
– Proverbs 18:14 (ESV)

I knew two things because of this Proverb. First, I could not let go of hope, or else I was going to end up with a crushed spirit. Second, I could not crush my daughter’s spirit with heavy-handed, hope-bereft discipline. Everything had to have Jesus Christ in the crosshairs. He was and is, and must continue to be our aim.

Now, from the outside, all you could see was an unhappy teenage girl, a tired mom, and a dad, husband, and worship pastor who was fighting for joy. From the outside, you might hear a rumor or speculation here or there and see only what was on the surface. But what you didn’t see was a dad who wept regularly in prayer over his family. A mom who was begging the LORD every day to change things. You didn’t see the Monday nights when we opened our Bibles and studied the Word together as a family. You didn’t see my frustration that I knew people might be making judgments about our family and, consequently, my ability to minister, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. You didn’t watch me experience real despair that I was powerless to change things.

Was I managing my family well? The consistent answer I kept receiving from the LORD was to keep doing what you’re doing. I cannot explain it to you. In the midst of all that uncertainty and all that darkness, the LORD gave me unflinching confidence that He was going to lead us out of this. It’s all I had most days. I would quietly sob through my prayers, and the LORD would ask me, “Am I going to lead you out?” Through my tears, I would answer, “Yes. But right now, I’m still at my wit’s end.” The days when I came within a heartbeat of walking into our senior pastor’s office to resign, the Holy Spirit would fan the flame of that confidence, and I would remember and determine to wait on Him.

I’m happy to tell you that He is turning things around. Many of the things my wife and I have been praying for are coming to fruition now. And I have that same unflinching confidence that not one word of His promises to me will fail.

All of this has taught me an important lesson about managing your house and keeping your children submissive. At the end of the day, people will never see what’s really going on. The ones who love you will support you and walk alongside you, even if they don’t know everything. If you serve in a church where the people understand how forgiven they are, they will be quick to extend grace to you as you navigate difficult parenting challenges. Pastors are in the middle of their own transformation, just like anyone else. So are the pastor’s kids.

Regardless of what you or I say, we will remain beneath the unbalanced scrutiny of the pew-sitters microscopes. People who do little more than take up space in a pew are always more prepared to offer judgment than grace. So, give the devil as few footholds as you can. Let the Holy Spirit lead you well as you manage your household and keep your children submissive. Keep Jesus central in all things. Speak with some fellow believers whom you can completely trust for tight lips and sound counsel and tell them everything. Every word. Every event. Every feeling. Every thought. Hold nothing back. Then if someone asks you what’s going on, with prudence, be honest about your struggles and ask them for prayer and patience as you wait on the LORD to work things out.

And most importantly, stay in the Word and pray without ceasing. Pray big God-sized prayers for your family and trust Him for every result. As a pastor, you carry many others’ burdens along with your own. Keep laying all of them down at the throne of grace. If you don’t, you’ll buckle beneath the weight of a load you aren’t supposed to be carrying.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Brothers, you preach that all the time. It applies to you as well. Find His rest in the midst of all the burdens and lead your families there.

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Last modified: May 4, 2023