Sunday was an anomaly. An outlier. It was the rare Sunday that I wasn't preaching and I wasn't on vacation. Now that's rare enough, but something even more rare happened: none of my family was volunteering to serve either.
Let me give you an idea of how unusual that is for our family.
For the last 6 1/2 years as the pastor at Live Oak Christian Church there has not been a single Sunday that none in my family, including me as the Lead Pastor, was serving, excluding vacation. That last bit is important. I DO have time off, but not once has it happened that my family and I could attend OUR CHURCH without any responsibilities. Six and a half years.
It got Karrie and me thinking: has this ever happened before?
For about 10 months I was not a part of a church staff, from March to December of 2000. Outside of that, Karrie and I went as far back as my internship at Kingsway Christian Church in 1995.
Not a single Sunday came to mind.
Some of you may be thinking, "Well of course you don't remember it, how many Sundays have their been since 1995?" That is my point. It is such a rarity that if it had happen, we would have remembered. (And there have been 1,020 Sundays since the first Sunday of our internship in 1995.)
As Karrie, the girls, and I were driving home from a get-together Saturday night we realized that I wasn't preaching, Karrie wasn't serving, and Avery wasn't volunteering. I texted our leadership at the church and they encouraged me not to come the 1st service and just come with the girls like a "normal family" for the 2nd service.
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty stoked! We slept in a little bit, we ate cinnamon rolls for breakfast ... I even had time to play a little Destiny on the PS4 for a while!
We piled into the van ... in ONE VEHICLE! (Any other ministry family will understand how exciting that sentence is.)
When we got to the service we were late! (So THAT'S what it feels like to be late to church!)
For all of the excitement of that moment - to sit and worship with my family - something bizarre, and to me, deeply sad, happened.
It was ... awkward. Strange. Difficult.
I wasn't even doing my normal "scout-out-the-church-for-all-that's-wrong" thing that I usually do at other churches, I was just sitting with my family. My wife was agitated. My daughter felt uptight. It was like they felt, I don't know (and I don't want to put words in their mouths), but it felt like somehow my presence with them hindered worship ... like my being there, with them, my own family ... somehow it made worship harder. I have thought about it for the last 24 hours and the reality that I have literally wept over today is this:
My presence with my family in worship at my own church was UNNATURAL.
Unnatural. Me. With my own family. At our church.
Today I have sat in my office and wrestled.
Over our almost 20 years of ministry Karrie and I have worked hard to balance family and ministry. Our girls are subjected to more "come-and-help-at-the-church" moments than they should have to be. Karrie has endured more "aren't-you-Pastor-Michael's-wife" moments than she deserves. We give everything that we have to the church. Everything. I'm not trying to brag or be arrogant here, but all of our time, our giftedness, our energy, our emotions. Relationships that we build are almost all built at the church. Connections that our daughters have are almost all from church. Financially we are one of the top contributors to the church.
Most people get to diversify themselves and church is just one part of their life, or even their faith, but not us. We are always all about the church. And it's not just me. It's my wife. It's my daughters. It's the dog. It's my family. Church, CHURCH, CHURCH!!
(I may be exaggerating about the dog.)
I guess I'm saying all of this because I'm waking up today to the reality that after 20 years of ministry, after 20 years of serving literally thousands of people in multiple States ... after investing in and building up people and programs and churches, trying to make Jesus available to others ... after trying to make everyone else feel comfortable at church so they can hear the Gospel ... the people I make the most uncomfortable at church is my family.
I'm still reeling from it ...
In 1999 I was burnt out in ministry. Karrie and I were serving at a "mega-church," we'd just had our first daughter, Avery, the ministry was growing by leaps and bounds, and we were adding a Saturday night service. We were younger and really didn't know how to get our arms around family and ministry. I remember telling the Elders of the church that I was resigning, but I didn't want to offend them with the truth of why I was stepping down.
I so distinctly remember thinking, "I will not put my family on the altar of ministry."
Now almost 15 years later I find myself seeing that I've protected my family from the expectations of the church the best that I could, and we've tried to created the most "non-pastoral" home we could - just like your house, but I couldn't keep them safe from one of the greatest enemies of families everywhere.
Oh I'm there to tuck them in at night and I've attended my fair share of Tae-Kwon-Do belt ceremonies and gymnastics and dance practices, but I'm ALWAYS absent to worship with my kids. To LEAD them in worship.
I've taken for granted that my wife is always at the church as my partner-in-ministry, but I'm never at the church as her partner-in-life.
So, why share all of this today when it is still so raw for me? Because it needs to stop. For me and for your pastor.
Let me encourage you to do a few things to help protect your pastors' families:
1. If you're in leadership at a church, give every staff member a Sunday off every 6 weeks.
For those of you saying, "We don't get a day off from our job every six weeks." You're right, and you're not in ministry. Pastors work hard every day of the week, and Sunday comes every 7 days. Their calling isn't their job, it's their life, and subsequently it is their family's life. Many of them are consumed by the expectations and needs of others, all the time ... on Facebook, on their cell phones, on Twitter, in the Target parking lot, at the Friday night football game, on a walk with their spouse, at the playground with their kids. They can't turn off being a pastor any more than you can turn off seeing them as a pastor. Give them one Sunday every six weeks. They can be responsible to make sure all of the bases are covered; you can be responsible to protect them and their families.
2. If you're a pastor, make this a non-negotiable in your schedule.
Not an option. Not up for discussion. End of story. Period. Don't waste this weekend as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Don't use it as a "go-see-what-other-churches-are-doing" day. Use it as a "I'm-serving-and-leading-my-family-only" day. If you're church is willing to invest in your family by making sure you can worship with them one Sunday every six weeks, you better be wiling to let someone else do the work of the church so you can do the ministry of your home.
3. If you're a church member, let them come and be a church member.
This is a tough one, I know, but let them come and be just like you. Ask them questions about their family, their kids, their football team, their favorite foods ... just don't ask them anything, and I mean ANYTHING about church. Don't schedule appointments. Don't ask about volunteer scheduling. Don't discuss ministry ideas. Just let them come to church.
4. If you're the spouse of a pastor, protect this.
Sometimes pastors can get in the moment and forget. Sometimes we "turn it on" as soon as we walk through the door to the church. Make us shut it off for the morning. We want to, it's just that sometimes we don't realize we flipped the switch to begin with. Encourage us to be with you, and if you have to, smack us upside the head as a reminder.
5. Make it natural.
Work hard to make this normal. Make it something that you, your family, your elders, and your church expects and looks forward to. Make worshiping together as a family as NATURAL as serving together as a family.
I know this isn't new or revolutionary, and I know it isn't the answer or be-all-end-all, but it's a start. It will take everyone to pull it off, but I can't help but KNOW that your family and your church will be better for it.
I also know that this is the devotion blog from An Ordinary Guy, so let me leave you with this verse:
Maybe not what you were expecting, but that bit about "so that their work will be a joy" ... There is NOTHING I would enjoy more than worshiping with my family NATURALLY.