One of the greatest assets to effective ministry is a positive message coming from the home—specifically a healthy marriage and stable relationships with children. Patterns of dysfunction here can be disastrous. Paul provided for two young pastors, Timothy and Titus, a list of qualifications for church leadership (1 Tim 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), most of which emphasize character qualities. One notable exception is the more visible factor from 1 Timothy 3:4-5: “He must manage his own household well . . . for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”
When my wife Leah and I began pastoral ministry over 40 years ago, we sensed a calling to serve the Lord together, but we also knew we were novices at this thing called marriage. Later, when children came along, we felt some of the same inadequacy as new parents. We were committed to doing ministry as a family, but standards like 1 Timothy 3:4-5 were a bit scary.
I think those past years have shown us that a good marriage and healthy relationships with your kids come only by the grace of God. All of us are flawed, and those struggles show at times. Fortunately, we have always been able to observe healthy role models in ministry who were honest about their struggles, but committed to building a healthy family. Those years brought some practical wisdom that follows in this blog post. It is not original, but it has worked for us in the context of both a pastor and a professor in ministry.
“Myths” held about us by those under our ministry or sometimes by my students
The whole Hutchison family is in vocational Christian ministry.
In our home, we talk about theology all the time.
Because John counsels and teaches things that benefit other families, our family must be nearly perfect.
Leah knows everything there is to know about any person or situation in the church.
Our kids are required to be active in all church activities, perfectly behaved, and over-achievers in Bible and theology.
Because I am a spiritual leader in the church or the classroom, I must be a perfect one at home.
Practical Priorities in our home and family life
I suppose these misconceptions of a Christian leader’s family should not have surprised me, but I have found that part of leading in Christian ministry is re-educating people about what your family is really like. Here are some practical things we valued as a family, we practiced with our kids, and now practice with our grandkids:
We place a priority on family activities together, including yearly vacations, completely separate from church or ministry. Building memories for our kids and grandkids has been an important part of family bonding.
We intentionally pursue friendships outside of our church or faculty context. Though we have many church and faculty friends, these outside relationships provide a place to talk more honestly about struggles we are going through or to gain a fresh perspective on things happening in ministry.
Leah is a multi-gifted woman who enjoys a wide variety of homemaking skills. Even though she works part-time, she has always seen her primary role in ministry as keeping our home working well. She organizes our social calendar, enjoys entertaining in our home, and as a result, we “seek to show hospitality” to others (Rom 12:13). I realize entertaining in one’s home may not fit everyone’s gifts or interests, but we have found it one of the most effective, natural ways to build bridges with people.
Our daughters are now adults, but while growing up, their peer group always received priority treatment in our home. For two years, a foosball table was the centerpiece of our living room because our home was the gathering place for the high school group on Saturday nights. That’s what a home is for, and even with a little “wear and tear” on the house, it gave our daughters a real sense of ministry to share their home with their friends. To this day, both of them as adults regularly use their own homes for entertaining and ministry.
Protecting Our Home & Family
A home is intended to be used for ministry, which often brings with it challenges and stress. I found there were some simple and helpful steps I could take to protect my family from unnecessary stress. Here are just a few examples:
I “train” people to call me during normal business hours. My administrative assistant understands this priority, handles many routine calls, and gives an appropriate call back time. Emergencies are obviously an exception to this.
As a pastor and a teacher, I have tried very hard to limit evening activities to 2 times per week and to be home at least 4 evenings each week. Exceptions are made, but this has been the goal.
As a pastor, I do not share anything with Leah of a confidential nature. This allows her to relate to people without this information influencing her and it also keeps her from being drawn into conflict. When questioned, she can honestly answer she doesn’t know anything about it.
When our daughters were growing up, we wanted their Christian education in the home to be a natural process (Deut 6:4-7). There were expectations about attendance of church and other activities, but as they approached high school, we let them make more decisions about the activities they attended. They were encouraged, but not required. Receiving Jesus as their Savior was very natural for both of them, and we tried to allow them to grow in the Lord at their own pace rather than pressured by our expectations. As a pastor and teacher who likes to share personal illustrations, I enjoyed telling stories about our home until our kids reached Jr. High age. After that, no stories were told in public without their full permission ahead of time!
The Spiritual Battle
In both the Old and New Testaments, God uses the marriage relationship (Is 54:5, Eph 5:22-23) and the parent-child relationship (Is 64:8, Jer 31:9, Rom 8:15-16, Gal 4:6) to picture His relationship with His people. The many references to this metaphor should lead us to the conclusion that relationships in the family (husband-wife, parent-child) are some of the most important human illustrations of the mystery of our relationship with God. If that is the case (and I am confident it is), why should we be surprised that healthy family life is under such attack today? Above all, Satan loves destroying or distorting Christian families, and especially those of Christian leaders. In ministry, we should always be prepared for spiritual battle in our marriages and families (Eph 6:10-12). Keeping them strong and good examples of God’s love can only come through constant prayer and commitment to the wisdom of God.
John Hutchison is a professor of biblical exposition and the chair of the department of biblical exposition at Talbot School of Theology, where he has taught for over 30 years. He has served in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and is presently pastor-elder at Oceanside Christian Fellowship in El Segundo. Dr. Hutchison earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Exposition from Dallas Seminary, Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theology degrees from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland. Dr. Hutchison and his wife Leah have been married for 44 years and live in Torrance, CA.