Editor’s note: Pastors all over the world struggle to find the line between loving their families and serving their churches. In this discussion, Pastors Cheng and Wu talk about the struggle to serve both their families and their churches. Although pastors face the very real temptation to sacrifice their families on the altar of service to God, Pastor Wu concludes that he must teach his congregation to look to Christ to meet their needs—not to him.
Pastor Cheng: How do you see your family in the big picture of God’s kingdom and the church?
As pastors, serving the church is our job and our calling. Our ministry work is closely intertwined with our families and children, and they can be seen as complementary parts of our calling. On the surface, we understand that Jesus is our head. He is the head of our family, our church, our children’s education, and our filial responsibilities. However, this is easier said than done. We only have so much time, and it’s hard to manage our priorities.
Finding Belonging in the Church
Pastor Wu: I am satisfied with the balance between ministry and family. In fact, things are getting better. I used to be very social, and loved to make new friends. I’ve had many friends since I was a child. From kindergarten to elementary school, I was always popular. I could gather people. Although I wasn’t good at school, my classmates listened to me instead of the classroom monitor.
When I was in middle school, everyone in my grade and the grade below knew who I was. We had simple, genuine friendships. We were friends simply because we liked each other—there weren’t selfish motives. However, the real world wasn’t so carefree and kind, and my disappointment led me to start playing rock and roll music.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
After high school, I studied art at a vocational school. During this time, I realized that people were hard-nosed and selfish. It was hard to accept, and I felt my world had collapsed. I thought human relationships were naturally kind and peaceful. After this shift in my understanding of the world, I rebelliously wanted to defy the world, to say that it shouldn’t be like this.
When I started playing rock music, everyone knew I didn’t want to follow society’s expectations. Rock music was like my righteous judgment on society. However, I eventually discovered my music didn’t make me better than peers who chose to follow society’s expectations. We all had fallen and sinful natures. I finally found my true sense of belonging at church. I realized that, if we all followed Christ and lived as a part of his family, that would satisfy my relational longings. All my life, I’ve been looking for a spirit of brotherhood and friendship.
The Pastor Can’t Do It All
After I started full-time ministry, I encountered a big problem. I assumed that serving the church and serving my family were the same. During my most intense period of serving the church, I spent all my heart, mind, and focus on my ministry. I took my family for granted. I thought they should completely support me, regardless of the costs. I thought my wife should have been mentally prepared for personal sacrifice, and that she ought to submit everything to God.
Eventually, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t demand that she sacrifice everything. My expectations were unfair, since everyone needs pastoral care and time to grow. I can’t expect anyone to go into full-time ministry and suddenly become a perfect giver. My expectations for my wife stemmed from how I was raised and what I observed in my own life. I thought that, if you really wanted to make something happen, someone had to sacrifice. I wanted my church community to experience peace and genuine relationships, so I sacrificed my own family. I thought that I needed to do more at church to promote peace and harmony in my congregation.
My mother set this example for me. She was the most sacrificial person in our family, giving up her own preferences so everyone else could maintain their own interests. In my family, my mom bore the cost for familial harmony. A similar culture seems to have developed in the church. Demanding that pastors devote themselves to the church and sacrifice their families for the good of the church is a harmful way of thinking.
I was always hearing complaints from our church members, so I tried to call everyone to serve together. However, if no one else stepped up, then I did the work. I came to realize that I am very limited. When a church grows to a certain size, it’s not possible for the pastor to do everything anymore. We aren’t Christ. I eventually learned that the only person who can truly serve the church is not me, but Christ. I shouldn’t allow myself to burn out. I needed to take care of my wife and family. After this realization, I learned to tell people that the church depends on Christ, not on me.
Realistic Expectations for Ministry
I began to adjust my schedule, and made changes to how much time I spent with my family and how much time I spent at church. I tried to assign work which could be completed by others, and I encouraged them to serve at church. I didn’t feel guilty when I needed to serve my own family. I didn’t need to sacrifice my family in order to serve the church. After these changes, I am enjoying the state we’re in now.
I also think my church is heading in a better direction because of these changes. My congregants aren’t influenced by a false caricature of their pastor. When I relentlessly did ministry, church members may have gotten the wrong idea of what ministry should look like. I don’t want my church to think they shouldn’t do ministry if they can’t commit the same amount of time, or to think that ministry requires them to sacrifice their family. They’ll never be able to meet those expectations. However, they will eventually realize that these expectations aren’t true, and that balance between ministry and family is good.
Pastors Cheng and Wu are pseudonyms for pastors serving urban Chinese house churches.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray that Chinese pastors will not sacrifice their families on the altar of church service, but will look to Christ to provide for the needs of their churches.