November 18, 2013

Why I Really Hated The Pastor's Family

I love books. I whizz through them no bother at all. When a book grabs me, then I positively crunch through it. A couple of hundred pages doesn’t take me longer than a couple of hours. I have a few personal rules when it comes to reading. The title needs to be interesting, the concept needs to intrigue me, and the first chapter needs to grip me. Otherwise, it joins my ‘gave it a quick skim but not quite bothered to read it all’ pile.

Then there are the books that I love. I devour them quickly and will come back to visit them from time to time. There are books that I hate. They are usually unhelpful and unedifying. The litmus test is if I am beginning to reach boiling point whilst reading, harbouring murderous thoughts against the author, and fighting the urge to buy every copy I can for my yearly ‘books that suck’ bonfire. Finally, there are the books that I really hate. These ones take me longer to read, weigh heavy upon my soul, and bring conviction like a constant jab to the face from Mike Tyson. You know he’s good, you know what’s coming, and when he hits home it hurts! A lot.

The Pastor’s Family is a book that I really hated. It’s a short book, but it took me a long time to read (relatively speaking). This is one of those (all too rare) books in which I found myself reading a few pages, putting it down, thinking about it and then picking it up again. It really got under my skin. It’s more like a sit-down dinner than a quick Big Mac and fries. I hated it, because unlike a fast food restaurant, I was forced to sit at the table, engage in meaningful conversation, and chew every mouthful (if you get my meaning). This is just too rich to wolf down in one sitting. This is fish, chips, and mushy peas (with a dash of curry sauce) washed down with a lovely bottle of Italian Lager (Peroni, of course). Dunno why I’ve gone all foodie here. But it’s working (in my head, at least).

The Pastor’s Family is written by Brian & Cara Croft (how cool if they had a daughter called Lara? OK, maybe not) about their experiences in pastoral ministry thus far. Sometimes Cara writes and sometimes Brian writes, and the result is just a clever, punchy little book choc-full of biblical wisdom and insights. They remind us that in ministry we face the battles of seeking approval, wanting to appear successful, fighting significance, having unrealistic expectations, and searching for meaningful friendship. The biggest battle, of course, is against our own sinful desires. Not only do they offer advice and encouragement but, aided by some friends along the way, they give us pause for reflection and include some helpful Q & A’s at the end of each chapter.

There are three distinct parts to this book, consisting of a total of seven chapters, with a helpful conclusion and some appendices at the end. Surprisingly (for me anyway), I found Cara’s Part (2) to be an eye opener that should be required reading for all young couples (particularly men) going into the ministry. Scratch that, all couples should read this chapter intently. Part 2 is brutal reading. It deals with everything from handling criticism, to expectations (this pops up a lot), to coping with a demanding schedule. It really is top drawer. She reminds us: “The truth no one tells you but everybody knows is that there are no ‘regular’ hours for a pastor’s family.” (p.80) How true in the schemes, particularly as we model a 24-hour approach to life and ministry. Our home is like a train station. A conveyor belt of people and problems. It is all consuming and draining, and, for me, all time with Miriam and the girls is precious time.

However, a caveat here. Whilst I agree with what is being written, Miriam and I are trying to teach and model to our girls that church is family. The people we have in and out of our lives are extended family members, and so we don’t quite see it as‘ministry’ time when people are around. Don’t get me wrong, we are thankful for a quiet night in with fun and games, but we don’t count it a hassle if people pop by and join in (I am not suggesting that the Croft’s do either).

Another area of interest in the book was the area of counselling the opposite sex. It seems, from my reading of it anyway, that Brian will counsel some women on his own (or at least without Cara present). I think he includes her in more difficult cases. Here, we differ (and I am not suggesting he is wrong—context my friends). I suspect it is more for cultural reasons than anything else.

When Miriam reads the book (I have put it next on her to do list) she will be particularly gratified by Cara’s affirmation that you do not have to be a theological giant as a pastor’s wife in order to be helpful to ministry. However, the challenge to keep on growing, thinking, and grappling through the deep things of God is equally a rebuke to comfortable Christianity. We need biblically literate, mature women, able to apply the Scriptures in the mess of modern scheme life, now more than ever.

Chapter 4 on caring for your wife is an absolute smasher. In it, among other things, Brian outlines 4 ways a pastor can encourage his wife: serve her, pray for her, encourage her, and disciple her. What a boot up the jacksie that was! He then asks five questions we should put to our wives:

  1. What are the most helpful ways I can serve you?
  2. What things do I do, or can I do, that encourage you most?
  3. In what ways can I disciple you better and pray for you more intentionally and faithfully?
  4. What stands in your way of receiving my care? Are there any barriers or obstacles that we need to remove?
  5. How can you help me do a better job of caring for you?

I suggest you stop whatever you’re doing right now, make a list of these, and hand it to your wife for her to reflect upon. Follow that up by reading very carefully the reflection on pp.107–109. Then pray and ask for the Lord’s help.

One final thought. I would very much have liked them to discuss (or even have a contribution from one of Brian’s fellow elders) on the relationship of the minister’s family to the sheep he/they are shepherding. How should a local church care for its shepherd as part of their extended family? How can pastors help their sheep in this regard? How do we, as pastors, encourage this kind of care among our people for us?

This is a great book if you take it seriously. If not, it will convict you a lot, you will put it down, get distracted by something else, put it back on the shelf and move on to the next thing. That, friends, would be a real shame. Worth the cash. Get on it today.

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