It was Sabbath morning and we were parked outside of the church. At 9:12 I was 45 minutes late, stressed about teaching the adult Sabbath School class, and concerned about my ill-prepared sermon. Anger caused my heart to race, as all three kids sat in the back of our mini-van crying while my wife stared silently out the window. Does any other profession have to bring their family to work with them? I was feeling sorry for myself.
The children's tears were caused by an argument about which Sabbath DVD to watch during the thirty minute commute to church. My wife's silence was the result of a fight we had the night before in which she tearfully accused, “You don’t pull your share around the house. We are slaves, who must accommodate your pastoral schedule.”
Although I had argued vigorously, she had a good point. During our fifteen years of marriage, she encouraged me to finish my master's degree and doctorate while she gave up her career to work part-time so we could raise our three kids. She had moved cross-country twice and we had lived in eight different homes. After finally landing her perfect job, we moved to another country, so I could pastor my “dream” church. She was exhausted, her eyes were sunken, and she could no longer conceal the sadness in them.
“Okay, get yourselves together,” I demanded. Each kid had his or her own “church chores.” They would help set up tables and chairs, and run last-minute errands around the building for me. We were already well behind schedule.
Preparing to exit the van, I looked through the rear window, and saw the Pathfinder leader pulling up behind us. What a perfect family. They had one more child than we did, and yet, they were so active and involved in church, and always on time! They hosted a Pathfinder vespers every Friday night at their home. His wife dutifully made supper for over 25 kids and parents. Even though vespers often ended late, they seemed to get to church early every week. I wish I could trade families for a day.
As our families vacated each vehicle, the Sabbath smiles and greetings emerged. There were giggles and hugs replacing what, only a few minutes ago, was hitting, fighting, and crying. Miraculously my wife’s eyes appeared bright and cheerful and we walked into church together, hand in hand, as one happy family. We were Sabbath actors, performing our Sabbath best.
Can you resonate with this story? I wish I could say this only happened once. Unfortunately, a version of this story has occurred too many times to count. And after serving as a conference ministerial director, I know many pastor's families who have had a similar experience where there is the pressure to be or act perfect.
So what can be done to preserve the authenticity and emotional health of the pastor and family? How can a pastor live a life of integrity in public and private? What the pastor may consider a small mistake may shine a bright light on the character of the pastor.
A few years ago, I was listening to a sermon when I noticed an interesting watermark on the slides on the screen. The graphics on the screen were clearly marked with the following words, “Thou shalt not steal.” The pastor had illegally downloaded the graphics without paying for them, and his crime was clear to the entire congregation!
Last year I received numerous complaints of a pastor who was allegedly buying sermons from online sources and preaching them as if they were his own. Some of his church members were concerned about his integrity for preaching a sermon that lacked personal Bible study in which he appeared to be the author. The truth is, there are many megachurches that sell sermon series. These series have been well researched, tested on seeker audiences, and come with a full graphic pack and customizable downloadable resources guides that can be used as sermon notes. When the pastor is already stretched for time due to growing church demands, the ‘sermon in a box’ can be very tempting. Is it wrong? Are we pushing the boundaries with truth?
Let’s face it: Pastors are paid to behave good. While our job description requires us to be good examples, we face the real-life dilemma of temptations. Some of these issues are publicly known to our congregation, while many are only known within our own hearts and by God. We are tempted when filling out our parsonage exclusions. We are tempted with exaggerating mileage on our worker’s report. We are tempted to not eat according to our church’s teachings whether we are in pubic or in the privacy of our home. I am reminded by Paul’s struggle in Romans 8 where he says he wants to do what is right, but his human nature wants to do otherwise.
There is a real tension that exists in pastoral ministry. Our intentions are pure and we want to do right (like the Apostle Paul) but we are also weak and will sometimes fail at living a life that glorifies God.
I have often wondered how God could refer to King David as “a man after my own heart.” We all know that David was a murderer, seducer, and a horrible father. Yet, God still loved him despite his human failures. The life of David reminds us of a man who also struggled with truth. One of the reasons I believe God loved David so deeply is because the King was honest about his own struggles. He didn’t hide it, but rather was transparent.
When I was a teenager I already knew that I wanted to be a pastor. I started preaching at a young age, and became an itinerant youth preacher through the support of my pastor. During that period, I would wake up early on Sunday mornings and watch all the television evangelists. My favorite preacher who I tried to emulate was Jimmy Swaggart.
In addition, every week night I watched the PTL Club with Jim and Tammy Baker. Their show was inspiring and fun to watch. As you may recall, within a short time, my religious heroes were publicly caught in scandal. They made unfortunate decisions that led to the demise of their ministry. Even my pastor was terminated due to immoral behavior.
Where do we put our trust? From whom do we learn how to live a life of integrity? There are hundreds of books on church leadership that can be consulted. However, I am drawn to Ellen White’s counsel in Pastoral Ministry, where she reminds the pastor to use Jesus as the Model Pastor. “Every minister should study closely the manner of
Christ's teaching. They must take in His lessons…The truth will blossom and bear the noblest kind of fruit. And the worker's own heart will be warmed.”*
Incidentally, remember that model Pathfinder leader’s family? One day the parents confessed to me that they had chided their family to be more like mine. After I shared my confession, we certainly had a hearty laugh – and reality check.
Kumar Dixit, D.Min., is husband of Rajinie, a speech-language pathologist, and father of three children. He was, at the time of the writing of this article, the Chaplain of WGTS 91.9 radio station.
*Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference Ministerial Association, 1995), 281.
Reprinted from CALLED magazine