7 Ways I Protect My Family Life in Ministry

Happy Family Portrait at Park

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of the pastor’s immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. 

How many pastors do we know who have adult children that don’t even attend church anymore? Lots. I’ve heard from many who resent the church which stole their family time. 

There have been seasons of my ministry where this was the case, especially on abnormally stressful days. It should be the exception, however, not the rule.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life on a long-term basis.

Cheryl and I are in a different season now. It’s easier to protect our time. My heart, however, goes out to the young families in ministry. Please heed my advice.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry:

Down time.

Saturday for me is a protected day. I normally work 6 long (up to 10 hours and more) days a week. (I’m wired to work and to take a true “Sabbath”, according to Exodus 16:26 at least, it seems one would have to work 6 days — just saying :) ) This also means I agree to do fewer weddings or attend other social events on Saturdays. There are only a few Saturdays a year I allow this part of my calendar to be interrupted. We are blessed with a large, qualified staff. Pastors, it doesn’t have to be Saturday for you, but there should be at least one day in your week like this. If you are wired for two — take two!

Cheryl and the boys trump everything on my calendar.

I always interrupt meetings for their phone calls. If they are on my schedule for something we have planned together it takes precedence over everything and everyone else. There are always emergencies, but this is extremely rare for me — extremely!

Scheduled time with my family.

If I’m going to protect time with my family then they must be a part of my calendar. I’ve been told this seemed cold and calculated, and maybe it is, but when the boys were young and into activities with school, those times went on my calendar as appointments first. I was at every ballgame and most practices, unless I was out of town, because it was protected by my calendar. It was easy for me to decline other offers, because my schedule was already planned.

I don’t work many nights.

Now it’s just a habit and my boys are grown, but when my boys were young, I also wrote on my schedule nights at home. The bottom line is I’m a professional. You wouldn’t want my time if I weren’t. Have you ever tried to meet with your attorney or banker at night? Of course, there are exceptions — I have some monthly meetings where I have to work at night — and life has seasons which alter this somewhat — but in a normal week I work 6 full day time hours a week and that’s enough to fulfill my calling.

I’m not everyone’s pastor.

This is hard for members of my extended family or friends to understand sometimes but, I pastor a large church, so if someone is already in a church elsewhere I’m not their pastor. I am simply their brother, son or friend. Obviously, if someone doesn’t have a church at all then this is a different story, especially since my heart is to reach unchurched people.

I delegate well.

We have a great staff. If something is better for them to do, I let them do it. Every event doesn’t require me to be there, nor my wife. I try to support the activities of the church as much as possible, but not at the detriment of my family. I realize smaller church pastors struggle here, but part of your leading may be to raise up volunteer people and entrust them with responsibilities and leadership. It also may be to lead people to understand your family remaining strong is just as important as other families in the church and part of having a healthy church is having a healthy pastor and family.

I try to stay spiritually, physically and mentally healthy.

It’s hard to lead my family well and engage them when I’m always stressed by ministry. This is a constant battle, and requires great cooperation and understanding by my family, but I recognize it as a value worth striving to attain.

Pastors, I hear from you — and sometimes your spouse. Some of you are drowning in your ministry and your family is suffering. Many are going to say they have no staff or a small staff, but I encourage this same approach to ministry for every person on our staff. I would expect no less of a commitment to their family than I have to mine. Ask yourself this question: How healthy is your family? What are you doing to protect them?

Help me help other pastors. Share how you protect your family.

You might also read 7 Ways I Protect My Heart and Ministry from an Affair

7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath – A Challenge For My Pastor Friends

Man using a tablet computer while relaxing in a hammock

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

A Secret Your Husband Needs You to Know

couples golfing

Ladies, there’s a secret your husband probably won’t share.

He may not even like that I’m sharing it.

It’s not that he doesn’t want you to know. He does. But, it’s hard to admit sometimes. Or, difficult to find the right words.

But, I feel you need to know. It could make a huge difference in your marriage.

Here goes:

He needs your unconditional respect — in fact — he needs you to be his biggest fan.

There. The secret is out in the open.

It’s true. He needs to know you respect him — what he does and whom he is.

Your support feeds his God-given ego.

Of course, that ego can be abused. And, it is many times. It doesn’t, however, diminish his need. I would even say — his greatest need.

Just as you need his unconditional love, he needs your unconditional respect. (And vice-versa)

I also realize you nor he is capable of perfectly fulfilling those individual needs. 

But at least you know the secret now.

Doing well for the woman he loves is perhaps one of the greatest goals in a man’s life.

That inner desire starts at a very early age. The little league ball player who turns around to see if mom watches him bat. The same little boy who brings a flower (weed) home to mom. It’s the respect he’s seeking.

The truth is sometimes a guy feels as if he doesn’t measure up to everyone’s standards. Actually it happens a lot of times.

(Please don’t tell him I told you all this.)

He feels the weight of being wonderful in so many areas. His home. His family. His work. Even in his hobby.

It’s a pressure men carry internally — possibly never sharing it with anyone.

Chances are fear of failure is his greatest fear. And the fear of disappointing you is a close second.

He may see you seeming to do so well with all your responsibilities. Whether in the home, with the kids, or in relationships — he feels you always know what you’re doing. He knows he doesn’t.

Even your walk with God may shine brighter than his sometimes. Okay — most times.

You handle things so well, in fact, at times, he’s tempted to not even try.

(Please don’t tell him I told you this.)

Let me give you a personal example. One time after preaching Cheryl said nothing. Usually she says “Great job today” — or — ”That was a good one”.

That day — nothing!

Three days later I asked, “Was I that bad?”

See how shallow I can be?

Truth is I need her positive feedback and encouragement. It’s what fuels me. It’s what keeps me motivated to do my best.

Your husband is likely similar.

I know that sounds shallow of us. Perhaps it is.

But, here’s the best part of the secret.

If your husband feels respected in his home — he will do anything to keep it.

Maybe even start doing the dishes. If he does, brag on him.

Who knows? Maybe next will be the dusting. Nah — don’t push it!

And, if you’re raising a son — next time your little boy — I mean big boy — is up to bat, make sure he can turn around and see you smiling. It will make all the difference.

5 Tips when Communicating with Women

man woman talking 2

I recently posted 5 Tips when Communicating with Men. I promised a companion post.

I should say I don’t feel as comfortable with this side of the discussion. Obviously, this is not my gender. I love my wife — and I study her. I have worked with hundreds of couples — many times in distress. Still, I don’t feel I’m qualified to speak for the gender.

My degree in counseling and experience working with hundreds of couples, however, has helped me process some thoughts about men and women and how they communicate. I wrote these, but ran them by my wife prior to posting.

As I said with the men, remember these are generalized statements, so not all women will fit in each of these. If they don’t fit with you, dismiss them. Simple as that. Men, if you wonder — ask. The only intent here is to be helpful.

Here are 5 tips when communicating with women:

There may be a deeper meaning – What a woman says most likely represents the way she feels, which may or may not be captured completely by the words she uses. It’s harder to put emotions into words. I find it important to ask Cheryl to clarify what she is saying often. It sometimes helps if I repeat back what I think she’s saying, then allow her to tell me what I’m missing.

Emotions are attached so the way you say it is important – Most women place a very strong value on relationships and people. Because of that, women may think and communicate more with their hearts. It’s more difficult for a woman to “set feelings aside” when communicating, for example. They are relational and more subject to getting their feelings “hurt”. Women don’t necessarily want to avoid discussing the difficult issues, but they do want men to consider how they say things. Words can have heavier meanings for a woman, since they are often interpreted with emotions.

Details are important if they are attached to someone they love – I always joke that Cheryl can remember where the socks in the house are, because they are worn by someone she loves. Women want to know details of a man’s life because she loves the man. I have to remember this when Cheryl asks for more details about my day. Sometimes her questioning is just so she can be a part of it; not to burden me with questions. Also, because trust develops with information and experience, and because women may live closer to the emotions of an issue than even the facts sometimes, details can be important in learning to trust a man. Knowledge and information helps keep the woman’s heart from emotions such as worry or fear.

Crying may simply be a way to express and release emotions – With intense emotions — sometimes a woman can feel overwhelmed with stress, anger, grief or even pleasure — tears are a natural reaction. Cheryl knows, however, that when she cries I get uncomfortable. Just as a man needs to learn to use anger responsibly, the same is true of tears for a woman. It can help a man communicate better when he understands tears may simply be a way of expressing emotions. (One thing Cheryl does for me if she’s crying is to release me from responsibility — if I didn’t cause the tears. That’s always helpful and allows me to better support her.)

They don’t always need you to fix things They may need you simply to listen as they work through something. This is a hard lesson for a man. Cheryl processes with me as she shares the burdens of her day, a stress she feels, or a disappointment in her life. She doesn’t usually want me to have an answer — at least not immediately — she wants me to be a sounding board as she thinks through the issue. I’ve learned that sometimes it is best to say nothing — just listen — until she asks me for an opinion. Of course, when she says “Go” I’m usually ready with the solution. :)

Learning to communicate better as men and women makes life more enjoyable for both genders. Most women I know are willing to admit that a woman can be more complicated to understand than a man. I’ve learned by experience that when I don’t understand how to communicate with Cheryl — or what she is saying — or when I mess up — I get tremendous credit for asking her to help me understand. Cheryl always seems patient with me when I’m attempting to communicate better. Men, it’s worth the effort!

Women, what would you add to my list?

5 Tips when Communicating with Men

man woman talking

In my position, I hear from men and women continually. In most relationships — communication appears to be the biggest struggle. It’s a constant work in progress in my own marriage. The difficulty is in the way men and women communicate.

My counseling background and years of experience working with couples has given me insight into some of the barriers men and women face when communicating. I realize not all men are alike — and these are generalities. I can’t emphasize that enough — so if you comment that these aren’t true for everyone — I with you! (Please re-read this statement.) The only way to know is to talk with the men with whom you are trying to communicate to see if these are true for them. My hope is that these — as general as they may be — may help some women better understand a man and improve communication. (The companion post will follow.)

Here are 5 tips to communicating with a man:

We meant what we said. Often not what you heard – That is true 99% of the time. (Statistically verifiable. :) ) Men are usually more literal, and frankly simple-minded. Women may have multiple meanings with a statement. That’s less likely with men. So, when a man says something, try to hear only what was said — without attaching extra thoughts triggered by emotions. If in doubt, ask if his statement had a deeper meaning before making assumptions. Most likely he meant only nothing more than what was said. (I can’t tell you how many classic examples of marriage problems I’ve seen develop with just this one tip.)

We don’t often like to give details – If we said where we were going, who we had a discussion with or what we had for lunch, that’s usually enough for us. End of discussion. (At least in our minds.) We may not like going into detail beyond those simple facts. I understand you may need and even deserve more information. That’s especially true when a man has given reason to disprove his trustworthiness. In learning how to communicate, however, it’s important to know details may be out of his realm of comfort to provide. When it’s not a matter of trust, the less you pump for details the more likely he will be to share facts, and even occasionally, details. (For Cheryl and me, she has learned that if she gives me time, and especially if we are doing something together — like walking — that I’m more likely to share the details she wants without having to ask for them.)

Our range of emotions are limited – Most men don’t feel as deeply or multi-faceted as a woman feels about an issue. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that we are wired differently. Because of this, men tend to communicate more factually and less emotionally.If you ask us how we feel “happy” or “sad” may be as descriptive as we can get for you. That may be it. I’ve heard so many wives who want to know their husbands “deeper” emotions. She may not understand that he’s shared the depth as well as he knows how to share them.

When you may tend to cry we may tend to get angry – I get criticized for this point sometimes, but it’s a difference in wiring. Please understand, there is never an excuse to misuse anger and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated. But anger in itself is not a sin. The Bible says “in your anger do not sin”, but it seems to assume we will have moments of anger. The same things that may cause female’s emotions to produce tears, often cause a man to develop anger. A godly man learns to handle that anger responsibly, but it doesn’t eliminate the response. When an issue riles a man emotionally, it helps if you understand his emotions may be normal and you may even be able to help him channel his response to that emotion. Cheryl does this for me continually.

Sometimes we have a hard time communicating what’s on our heart. often we never fully do – This is sad and we may even know it. Here’s a tip. When you make us feel we will be respected regardless of the emotions we display, the more likely you’ll see our true emotions.

Please understand. I’m not making excuses for men. The basic premise of all of these is to remember that men and women are different. I’m simply trying to help you communicate with a man.

Men, what did I miss?

7 Things You May Not Know but You Need to Know about Your Husband

couple sitting on sofa at home

I recently wrote a post about 7 things you may not know about your wife. It was a popular post and I committed to write a companion post for the wives.

Here are 7 things wives need to know — but may not know — about your husband:

His ego is more fragile than you imagined. I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about the male ego. I get it. But, it hasn’t gone away and, frankly, the world isn’t too kind on our ego. We see the jokes on every sitcom and commercial about how inadequate we are at times. But, there’s not a man with a soul that’s alive that doesn’t want to be admired by the woman in his life. Not one.

He is very visual. Very. More than you are probably thinking. You see his eyes roam. That’s a natural reaction for him. He doesn’t have to work on it. Now he has responsibility over his eyes — not the girl who attracted them — but if there’s a pretty girl around, he probably saw her long before you did. And, he likely battles staring more than you will ever understand.

He doesn’t want you to be his mother. You can say “Ouch!” if you need to, but men want a wife, not a mom. I hear this from men frequently — especially young men. If you’re a mom they want you to be a great mom — just not theirs. I know we need mothering sometimes. All of us do. We may even act like big babies at times. But, mothering a husband never works. Ever. Be our partner. Our best friend. Not our mother.

When you correct him you hurt him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t need correcting. He might. But, the way you do this is huge. Your respect for him is huge for him. His greatest emotional need. That could be in how he fixes the bed — or the fact that he doesn’t — or for things far worse. If he senses you are talking down to him — not respecting him — he may comply with your wishes in actions (or not) but inside his heart will be growing colder towards you.

He loves you uniquely. He probably won’t love you all the ways you expect him to love. And, frankly, he won’t be all the love you need him to be. He may not always feel love as an emotion as strongly as you do. Your heart is capable of much more than he can fill completely. There will be times — hopefully even seasons when he does — but no man will meet every need of your heart. (Other than the man Jesus.)

What he does really is who he is many times. It’s his identity. If it’s golf, his career, fishing, antique cars or his extensive comic book collection — that’s a part of him. When you miss that or don’t value it he may feel like less of a man.

He probably thinks you’re more wonderful than you think he does. He probably thinks higher of you than you do. How you look. What you’re able to do.  e wonders how you keep up with everyone and everything as you do. He may even envy that about you. And, he has a strong desire to protect you because of his view of you. He respects you — probably more than he knows how to communicate to you.

Guys, anything you would add?

7 Things You May Not Know but You Need to Know about Your Wife

family crisis, conflict, strife, discord

Guys, can I be honest with you? Marriage can be hard.

Did you know that already?

Sometimes you do the wrong thing before you even knew you did the wrong thing. You try to figure out the one you love the most but the more you try the more confused you get. I get it. I understand.

Men and women are different. (You can tweet that.)

We don’t always think and respond to life the same way.

And, likely there are some things about your wife you just didn’t know.

Over the years, through counseling training and actual counseling — and learning from my wife — I’ve observed some things. And, I’ve realized some men simply don’t know them — or don’t realize how important they are to their wife.

Here are 7 things you may not know but you need to know about your wife:

You step on her feelings more than you know.

You just do. And, you don’t even mean to — or know that you are most of the time. She may think you do, but you don’t. You’re just not as aware of how she’s wired emotionally. And, most of the time she overlooks it. She knows it wasn’t intentional. But, it hurts. And, the more you do it the more it hurts. So be careful with your words.

And, that leads to the next one.

Your words are heavier than you think they are.

You need to know that. When she asks you how she looks, for example — yes it is a quandary on how to respond and there are plenty of jokes around about that dilemma — but your response matters. Probably more than any other response of her day. It’s a small question to you but big question for her. And, you communicate things to her continually through how you say what you say and the body language you combine with your words. And, they weigh a ton to her. A ton.

She wants you to take the lead.

At least occasionally. I know all the women’s rights issues cloud this for you. It can be confusing, but there’s likely something in your wife just waiting for you to make a decision. She values your input and she wants you to lead in the home as well as she sees that you can lead elsewhere. And, speaking on behalf of men, I know you don’t always want to be the leader. She’s better at making many of the decisions than you are. Still, she’s waiting — hoping, that you’ll step up where you need to lead.

She doesn’t want to be like her mother.

Or to be compared to her mother. And, these type jokes aren’t funny. Ever. Trust me. And, in fact, she doesn’t want to be like any other woman either. She wants to be seen for the unique wonder she is — which by the way was God-designed.

She is likely with you even when she’s not.

At least in her mind. Our wives are very relational. So if she asks about your calendar– now you know. She’s not trying to be difficult or suspicious. She’s trying to be with the one she loves.

It’s okay just to hold her hand.

And, also, to occasionally be romantic. You may have established a long time ago that you’re not the romantic type. She may realize she married funny — or serious — or dedicated — more than romantic. But, every woman needs a little romance occasionally. It makes her feel special — especially when it comes from you.

The way her world looks is often how her heart feels.

All her world. The house, for example, you think it doesn’t matter, but to her it reflects her — not you. She’s also conscious of what others think of her appearance. She carries this burden heavier than she wants to sometimes. Don’t diminish this to her. Understand it.

In a future post, I’ll share the companion post for wives to understand.

Every Relationship Needs More Grace – A Sermon

happy couple 2

Every relationship could use more grace.

In this message, I share some practical ways to share grace in building oneness in the relationships of our life.

Here’s a summary:

1. Realize the grace you’ve received.
2. Practice daily forgiveness.
3. Filter everything through love.

Love Helps – Grace from ron edmondson on Vimeo.

Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Sermon

Happy senior couple.

In the series Love Helps, I shared a message about the importance of actions building oneness.

I shared four actions to help build oneness:

5 Ways a Once Good Marriage Slips Away or Falls Apart

couple in distress

How does a once good marriage slip away?

I get asked that question when it becomes public that a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.

As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.

There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.

Here are 5 ways a once good marriage slips away — or falls apart:

Other interests come between them. It could be a relationship — even other good relationships — or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. Distractions will destroy a good marriage.

Unresolved conflict. Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes.

The couple stops dreaming together. When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy that fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.

Boredom. I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating — quit laughing — quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.

Living separate agendas. It’s okay to have separate identities. Even encouraged. It’s okay to have separate interests. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When that’s not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.

I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.