The panel -- part of the 2013 SBC Pastors' Conference June 10 in Houston -- featured Anne and Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; Cheri and Paul Jimenez, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.; and Kelly and Gregg Matte, pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston. Matte served as president of the 2013 Pastors' Conference and Jimenez as vice president.
Wright, SBC president from 2010-12, said balancing ministry and family begins with "our quiet time with the Lord, just because obviously we wouldn't last a month in ministry if we didn't have that time alone with God. But I think our kids need to see us having that time alone with God."
The Wrights, parents of three adult boys, now with four grandchildren, admitted they were "failures" in family devotions, due to the age spread of their boys. They decided early to commit to spending one-on-one time with each child to pray, read Scripture and perhaps a Christian sports biography -- which became a "positive," they both said.
Wright told how he set aside each Tuesday as his own "Sabbath," which he defined for ministers as "24 hours away from your regular job" to spend time with family.
"Ministers are perhaps the worst offenders of ignoring the commandment on the Sabbath. We really live in sin so often and rationalize it that we are doing the will of God," he said. "The Sabbath allows us to have a family day." And it also is a "time of rejuvenation that you can pour into your family and stay away from work."
Making this happen, Wright said, requires discipline. He places his wife's name each week on his calendar.
The Mattes, who have two small children at home, said the biggest challenge for them is "schedule and focus," Gregg Matte said. "It's never all done as pastor. It's always I can't get it all done as pastor. So we have to be very clear about keeping the schedule conducive to our family."
A second key challenge is focus, he said, adding that he struggles to be at home mentally. So he has established his home as a "no-phone zone," and refuses to look at messages until the children are in bed.
Paul Jimenez said intentionality also must be a priority, or the home calendar will be swept away by the church calendar.
The young family has made a commitment to have dinner together every night, Cheri Jimenez said. "We have had to give things up to maintain a peaceful attitude and way of life," including extracurricular activities in the belief that their children will "remember those times we spend at home."
All three couples agreed that family should always "trump" ministry.
"Always," Matte said. "The oddity is when ministry trumps family not when family trumps ministry. I want my kids to always feel like they were most important."
Bryant Wright said 1 Timothy 5:8 will convict a pastor on the priority of family. That passage teaches that a man's lack of provision for his household denies the faith and renders that man no better than an infidel.
Anne Wright said as her boys grew to be teenagers, her prayer life "hugely expanded." While she had been praying for her children's "protection," as they got older she began praying for their "provision and God's preparation" in her effort to raise godly men.
At the suggestion of a spiritual mentor, she began praying Colossians 1:9-12 over her children, "encouraging them to know God's will, to be strengthened, to have wisdom, to walk in way worthy of having His name attached to the end of your name."
At the end of the discussion, husbands and wives throughout the auditorium were urged to join hands and pray for their families.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
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