There is probably nothing that has greater impact on the effectiveness of the Christian executive than his or her relationship with the family. On one hand, Christian organizations tend to shy away from interfering with an individual’s family life. On the other, as in the case of the local church, they may have very high expectations for the role a pastor’s family should play. There is tension here that must be handled with discretion and care. We need some way of thinking about the overall situation. Fortunately, there are some basic principles which, if understood by both the individual and the organization, can be of great help to both. We think about this in terms of priorities. Which things will be the most important in our lives?
Three levels of priority
It is my profound conviction that there are three levels of priority for the Christian, and that the relationship between these priorities is of prime importance. These priorities relate to the whole structure of our life’s relationships, including our relationship to our family.
Our first priority is obviously to God in Christ. The Bible leaves no room for disagreement here. Our commitment to God must be ultimate. Few would argue with this as our first priority.
The second level of priority is not so universally appreciated. The Bible calls us first to a commitment to God, but second to a commitment to one another. The biblical concept is that the work of Christ is carried out by His Church, not by individuals (Ephesians 4:12f). Indeed, the New Testament focuses primarily upon the relationship of believers to one another and to the world, rather than on the work that Christ’s followers are to fulfill. Romans 12 is a good illustration of this. After 11 chapters of theological framework, Paul devotes a major section not to evangelism but to relationships with one another. Jesus told His disciples that the way others would know that we were His disciples was by the love that we had for one another (John 13:35). Certainly for the married Christian man or woman, his or her spouse comes at the top of such a list. The Bible is clear about the unique relationship of husband and wife, going so far as to call them “one flesh.” Paul tells us this relationship is so special that the only way to think about it is as the relationship Christ has with His Church (Ephesians 5:22f).
A third level of priority is the commitment we have to the work of Christ. And yet it is clear from Ephesians 4 that this work is to flow forth from a unique combination of gifts given to individuals for the building up of the body of Christ.
Obviously Christian organizations focus on the work of Christ. How then do we reconcile the tension between the second and third levels of commitment?
The organization man
Unfortunately, too many executives, Christian and otherwise, resolve this dilemma in favor of the organization. It is probably in the nature of the executive that he or she is generally a task-oriented person who finds satisfaction in the task at hand. As the Christian leader assumes increased responsibility within the life of the organization or church, the demands on his or her time increase proportionately. The time spent with a spouse or child decreases. In this situation, it is very easy for the Christian executive to leave his wife behind, both educationally and emotionally. (See “When Did You Leave Your Wife?” in Christian Leadership Letter, March 1977.)
Success can be a deadly enemy. As an individual rises to a position of leadership in an organization and becomes conscious of making a significant contribution to the growth and welfare of the organization, the work can become more and more exciting. Past successes generate enthusiasm for new ventures. We easily become stretched beyond our own capabilities. Fatigue and its accompanying sense of despair can drive us on to new endeavors, rather than warning us to slow down.
Part of the tension is the question of calling. Is the wife or husband of the Christian executive also called to the same work? Traditionally, when a pastor has been called to a church, the congregation has assumed that the wife was part of the package; the wife was seen as an extension of her husband. But what about the Christian organization? Too often just the opposite has been true. The organization assumed that the task of the wife was to stay at home and have little or nothing to do with the life of the organization. In fact, organizational wives are often viewed as a source of discontent and potential gossip. (It is worth noting that some Christian organizations have taken the opposite tack and made a point of hiring both husband and wife and sometimes other members of the family.)
The second priority
If you are one of those people whose life seems to center completely on the work to which God has called you, we suggest the need for an ongoing reevaluation of your commitment to the body of Christ, particularly to your family. Use the same executive skill that you bring to your organization to think about the health of your family.
Your appointment book is a good place to begin. Most of us put down in our appointment books those engagements which have the highest priority in our lives. Are your spouse and your children in your appointment book? If your wife and children analyzed your time based on your appointment book, would they feel that they have a significant priority in your life? What can you do to set aside time in the months ahead to be with them during times that are important to them? Have you taken your wife or your teenage son or daughter out to lunch recently? Perhaps your schedule is full this month. But plan ahead!
Your understanding of your call needs to be shared with your family. They need to understand what it is you do and why you do it. It is amazing how many children have misconceptions of their parents’ work. Have you let your children spend the day with you at work? Have you ever walked them through your organization’s facilities and explained to them how different things work? What about taking your children on a business trip? If you are a person who is required to do a considerable amount of traveling, perhaps you can save ahead so that your wife can accompany you on some of these trips, not only to experience the travel stress that you have, but also to see the ministry in which you are involved.
Family times need to be protected. Too many executives take their work home, and children view this work as competition. Many executives and pastors encourage people to contact them at home, leading the family to develop an “us vs. them” mentality. This is a particular problem for the pastor.
Each week, time should be reserved exclusively for the pastor and his family. This appointment should be kept (except in the case of a real emergency). The congregation needs to hear from the pastor that this is an important priority with him. This needs to be quality time. It is all too easy to be in each other’s presence without really experiencing each other’s person. An evening of games, a day at the park or beach, or some other mutually enjoyable experience can happen with some advance planning. Take a look at your children’s calendars. Do they have ballgames or other sports events that they would like you to attend? And don’t overlook your older children. They still need you, even though at times they may not act that way.
The devotional life of the family can quickly be neglected by the Christian leader with “greater” responsibilities. Visit your local Christian bookstore for help here. Don’t assume that because you’re an effective pastor or because you’re a well-known speaker, you have insight into what would be appropriate for children and families.
Vacations are important. Perhaps you and your wife need an occasional vacation away from the children. For family vacations, try to understand each family member’s needs; many family vacations have been ruined because each member had a different perception as to what the goal of the vacation was.
Planning is important. We suggested earlier that you use some executive skills to strengthen the health of your family. In the merry-go-round world in which we live, our only defense against the unbearable number of demands that will be placed upon us is to start planning into our lives those things which we believe would honor God and benefit ourselves and our families. Compare your calendar with your spouse’s and your children’s. What do they tell you about the way you’re spending your time? Can you see areas where you could set aside time to build into each other’s lives?
Don’t overlook “unplanned” time. When you see that you’re going to be in a high-stress situation, such as extended travel, allow some free time, either days or hours, to do nothing except what comes to hand. It’s a great tension reliever.
One man’s experience
A Christian executive shared with us his frustrations of being so involved with his work that his family always suffered. No matter how hard he tried, he arrived home each evening still full of the day’s problems. He tried the suggestion of leaving his worries on a “worry tree” in the front yard. It didn’t work. Finally, he sensed the Lord was telling him he was going about it the wrong way. Rather than empty his mind of his concerns, he saw that he should fill it with thoughts of his family. His drive home was about five miles. He picked conspicuous landmarks along the way and associated them with specific members of his family. As he passed each one, he tried to imagine what that family member would have been doing that day, what special concerns he or she would have, what he would like to discuss with him or her that evening. By the time he walked up the front path, his mind was on his family. Now the cries of “Dad’s home!” began to have real meaning. As he expressed it, Dad was really home, and the family knew it.
We are made for relationships
The most important part of God’s creation is people. Relationships are what life is all about. No matter how high our spiritual calling, the basis of our effectiveness is our effectiveness as members of a mystical body called the Church, and the love we have for one another. If you are looking for a measure of your effectiveness, check out the love within your family.