A MINISTER’S GREATEST REGRET
When I was in college at Kent State University, I occasionally attended a church pastored by a man I respected greatly. His preaching was exegetical and solid, he was practical and in tune with the journey of all age groups, and he was a sound counselor. I loved talking with him about various topics, but 30 years later there’s only one thing he said to me I’ve never forgotten.
One day I asked him what advice he had for someone (like myself!) who was thinking about ministry as a vocation. I was prepared to hear something about seminary or some line of counseling training or personal soul care, but what he actually said caught me completely off guard.
Without hesitating he replied, “The greatest regret I have in my ministry is that my family has always come in second. I’ve cared and counseled hundreds of couples but haven’t given the time and attention I should have to my own wife and kids. It’s so easy to get caught up in the work of other people’s lives and the business of the church that the lives closest to you suffer. Don’t let that happen to you.”
He went on to give details on how it played out: taking less salary when budget lines got tight; not taking vacations or regularly leaving them early for a church crisis; no room for date nights; spending too many nights away from home; missing games and school events to attend to other people’s needs, being physically present but mentally/emotionally gone.
I didn’t really understand it then, but I do now. I’m guessing you do too.
Now I’ve been married myself 19 years, been in parachurch ministry for 26, served as a teaching pastor and Elder at a mid-sized church for eight, and you know what? I’ve been guilty of the same offenses far too often.
If you’ve been in ministry of any kind for any amount of time, I’m guessing you can nod your head to his list and more. It’s such a challenge to wear all the hats we’re supposed to wear—husband, father, friend, pastor, counselor, neighbor, coach, son, brother—and do an equally good job under all of them.
Pastor Andy Stanley says we all have to “cheat” something everyday with all the roles we’re juggling. The question every day is simply “Who or what will get cheated today?”
When the souls of people are your “business,” so to speak, and when your commitment is to a life of service, it’s easy both to assume your family has made the same commitment and to expect them to sacrifice for the calling.
And to some extent they should. Sometimes they do have to come second, they do have to make sacrifices, they do have to unfairly hurt because of someone else’s crisis.
But thanks to the words I heard so many years ago, I intentionally (and regularly) remind myself that my wife and kids are my first ministry. I’m not getting paid to care for them. I won’t get much positive reinforcement or ego strokes for doing it. (Indeed, now that our kids are teenagers it’s quite the opposite!) I don’t usually feel the same significance ministering to them that I do when ministering to strangers.
But my first responsibility is to them. When I stand before God, my first accountability will be on behalf of them. As Pastor Crawford Loritts says, there’s three things nobody else can do but me: No one can walk with God for me, and no one can be husband to my wife or father to my kids for me. Those are exclusive roles that only I can play.
Over the years I’ve grown to take those roles increasingly seriously and continue to make adjustments to make sure I share in my college pastor’s regret as little as possible. And it starts with scheduling time to pay attention to my marriage. Getting uninterrupted time with my wife. Turning the phone off when I get home. Becoming unavailable to others so I can be available to my kids.
You already know the drill. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we make it. It’s a choice to reprioritize. What will that look like for you this week?
Ed and Amy Uszynski
Speakers at Dayton Conference
Ed is the Co-Director of Digital Strategies for Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru, and oversees content creation for athletesinaction.org. He speaks frequently to high school, college, and professional athletes, while also addressing men’s groups and churches around the country. He has an MA and MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a PhD in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University. He and his wife Amy speak for Family Life at the Weekend to Remember conference several times a year. Ed and Amy have four children and live in Xenia, OH.
We at the Center for Church Leadership are embarking on a new partnership with FamilyLife ministries. One thing they offer is a free registration to any full-time or senior pastor and their spouse to their Weekend to Remember marriage event.
Send a quick email to Scott Stemple and he’ll send you the information you need to register for an event that fits your schedule.
The Louisville and Dayton events are scheduled for October 26th – 28th. There are many other locations and dates to choose from. See map of events here.