The Pastor’s Personal Life

The Pastor’s Personal Life
By R. S. Taylor

According to the Bible a pastor must be “above reproach” (I Tim. 3:2). This blamelessness is a must in at least three basic areas: personal character, family life, and business relations.


There will be no divine dynamic in one’s ministry unless one’s baptism with the Spirit is validated by strong moral character. In the secular world the claim is often made that one’s private life away from the job is none of the public’s concern. This claim is being blatantly voiced by school teachers, elected officials, and many others in the public eye. But such a position taken by a preacher is the crowning imbecility. A young pastor of my acquaintance flung such defiance at his concerned church leaders when, after his wife left him, he started shining around his young secretary. Only eternity will reveal the irreversible damage done before the church managed to get him out. Such an attitude reflects an immature philosophy of life, a hireling’s view of the ministry, and an impudence toward God.

In June 1988, Chuck Colson addressed some 200 Prison Fellowship leaders in their annual planning meeting. After reviewing God’s blessings and detailing the open doors before them, he asked, “How are we going to accomplish these tasks?” Then immediately he countered: “But that is the wrong question to ask. The important question is, What kind of people are we going to be?” He answered by discussing four qualities of being which they must possess, the first of which was holiness.’ Stephen F. Olford makes the same point: “God is far more concerned with what we are than what we do. If what we are doesn’t satisfy his holy demands, then what we do is virtually worthless.”

While taking a walk one day, I admired the neatly kept yard of a house on the corner. But as I turned the corner and walked down the side of the house I caught a glimpse, through a gate slightly ajar, of the unkempt backyard. Weeds, piles of trash, and uncut grass were supposedly hidden behind the high fence. The contrast between what was displayed to the public and what was hidden was shocking. Sometimes there is an unsuspected backyard in a pastor’s life. But sooner or later some gate will be left open and the truth will be discovered. When that happens that pastor’s influence is at a dead end. And the bigger the show on Sunday morning the bigger will be the nausea in the stomachs of his people. For the sake of his soul, he needs to confess, clean up, ask forgiveness–then get out. For even if he recovers himself spiritually, it is doubtful that the tarnish to his image in the church and community can ever be quite removed.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches,” the Preacher says (Prov. 22:1). But the good name will not outlast its basis in good character. A man or woman of character is a person not only of sterling integrity but of courage, discipline, perseverance, and rock-ribbed stability. Such a pastor may wince but will not whine. He or she is a tower of strength on whom a whole congregation will come to depend.


Sometimes a pastor’s family is the millstone around his neck. A gossipy, garrulous, bossy wife can render her husband’s talents unmarketable. As for the children, one wonders how many empty parsonages there would suddenly be if I Timothy 3:4 were strictly enforced: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”

However, an even more insurmountable barrier to success is for that millstone around the pastor’s neck to be not his wife or his children but his own relationship with them. He, of all men, can rightfully be expected to model the husband and father described in Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives,” and “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (5:25; 6:4). A gushy public show of love will not do; nor will public admonitions. The real home life, including both husband-wife and parent-child relations, should be solid and exemplary.

His right arm

Such a home is a pastor’s most effective arm of ministry. For such a home cannot be hid; indeed it should not be. People yearn to see with their own eyes what a normal Christian home is like. Visiting children and teenagers imbibe indelible impressions which will fashion their own dreams and ideals and reinforce their faith. But if instead of love they find bickering, yelling, and general disorder, they will be disillusioned and wounded, and perhaps lost both to Christ and the church.

The parsonage family privacy should be guarded up to a reasonable point, but not to an extreme isolation as if the public were poison. The home should be the pastor’s haven, true. Yet somewhere in here must be remembered the injunction, “given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2, KJV). But hospitality is a family affair; the pastor cannot be hospitable by himself. Furthermore, hospitality is an atmosphere, a spirit, which makes guests feel wanted and cherished.

The health of the wife and ages of the children are factors which will bear on how much the home is to be accessible to outsiders. But the truth is that many solid Christians today trace their spiritual strength in great measure to the happy hours in the parsonage as teens or to the meals shared and loving fellowship offered, with prayers and tears mingled. The pastor’s home life-how he lives in it and what he does with it-simply cannot be dismembered from his total ministry. It is a facet of that ministry, for good or ill.

It will bear repeating that the pastor has no better church building tool than his own home. In an early pastorate we were told, when we moved into the parsonage, that three of the newer couples (not yet members) had decided to use the pastoral change as the opportunity to visit other churches. Within two weeks we had all three couples, separately, into the parsonage for a hot dinner. They were enthralled. They had never before been invited guests at a parsonage meal. We cemented all three couples to us and to the church. There was no more talk of going elsewhere. Instead, in due course they joined and became solid pillars.

Total involvement

The happiest parsonages and the most useful parsonage families are where there is total involvement in the work of the church. Everyone, yes, including the children, see themselves as part of the team. They share the enthusiasms, the planning, the victories, and to some extent, even the burdens and sorrows. To suppose that children should be shielded from the realities of their father’s work is a great mistake. It misjudges their capacity for caring, and it deprives them of the greatest arena for growth known by any family in the congregation. Involved children are less apt to grow up resenting their role as PKs. They learn to think of others; they understand why Dad is gone some evenings; they develop at an early age a sense of responsibility; their emotional roots become profoundly grounded and entwined with the church and all it stands for. Out of such a parsonage will come faithful laymen, preachers, and missionaries.

Whether or not children of pastors grow up a part of the team or alien to it depends largely on the attitude of the parents. If the parents are resentful, full of self-pity (or misguided pity for the children), the mood will be contagious. Children will absorb the atmosphere by osmosis. But this is a spiritual problem. If the parents will surrender totally, not to the church but to God, and accept His yoke gladly with every fiber of their being, and glory in their role as ambassadors and shepherds, their high sense of privilege will buoy everything they do, and their sheer joy will be transmitted to the children.

Not only is the atmosphere of the parsonage a spiritual matter but it is philosophical as well. If husband and wife have imbibed the modern notion that their private personhood and individuality are more important than teamwork, that the wife should go her way, the children theirs, and the pastor his, the likelihood that the children will grow up with any sense of responsibility toward the church will be slight if not nil. And such fragmented parsonage families are certainly not happier; neither will their members be healthier-in the long run-for having been shielded from the pressures of the ministry.

The argument that since there is only one salary, there should be only one worker, is a carnal argument which knows nothing about consecration, divine love, or the joy of the Spirit. A sanctified pastor’s wife is in it with her husband all the way, praying with him, bearing him up, sharing his burdens, helping in whatever way she can, and doing it gladly for Jesus’ sake. The question of pay never enters her head. A separate career is not the way to preserve personal identity or mental health. The best assurance for these blessings is the inner peace of knowing we are pleasing God.

The working wife

The primordial working wife is the homemaker. Her job is the most challenging career possible, and, other things being equal, her faithfulness in this role is the best way by far to support her husband. No amount of money she might earn elsewhere could possibly compensate for the handicap her absence from the parsonage introduces into their total ministry. Doubly ludicrous is it when her outside job ties him down to part-time baby-sitting–thus crippling his ministry rather than aiding it.

But having said this it must be added that in some extreme situations it may be justified for a pastor’s wife to work outside the home. This is especially likely to be the case in church-planting enterprises. If a wife, who would rather stay at home, courageously and unselfishly expends herself in order to release her husband for church work, and if this is actually the result, then she merits our admiration and approbation-certainly not brickbats.

The pastor’s conduct

While much depends on the wife, the achievement of a happy parsonage is even more dependent on the pastor. He must avoid three common mistakes:

1. Churlishness. If he is selfish and unreasonable, if he is cross with his wife and impatient with the children, if he loses his temper, he spoils everything. He had better pull the blinds and lock the doors and keep his church members outside. But that is not holiness. Let such a pastor humble himself before God until he is changed totally, in reactions, in spirit, in voice timbre, in understanding. The atmosphere of the home will rise no higher than the atmosphere which the father brings with him when he enters the door. Let him park his grumpiness outside. Better yet, get it out of his heart.

One pastor reared five children-all of them now active in the church. The oldest child told me that they looked back remembering their father’s gentleness toward their mother–a diminutive, not strong, but courageous woman. When he would come home from his study at the church or after a day of calling their father would say to her, “Would you like for me to help you finish getting the dinner on?” And her answer would be, “Yes, please do.”

In another case a preacher’s wife told me that before she was married she did not believe in the possibility of full sanctification. Then she said, “But I do now; I have lived with a sanctified man for twenty years.” When the wife believes it, the children will too; and beyond that the church people will believe it.

2. A driving spirit. It is possible for even a sanctified pastor unwittingly to become uptight. The first thing he knows he is doing the Lord’s work not in the power of the Spirit but in the energy of the flesh. He becomes inwardly driven. But such a spirit never stops with him. The aggressive, pushy, often demanding spirit is felt by his people, sometimes transmitted to them; but worse yet, he takes it home with him. He becomes unreasonable in his demands with the children, expecting a perfection from them beyond their capability. And he multiplies his expectations of his wife, imposing loads and duties and activities beyond her strength. Laughter and play become casualties. Emotional wedges begin to divide and weaken. This happens not because the pastor is evil or means to be unkind, but because he has allowed himself to become obsessed with a driving spirit. He must stop, back off, relax, play and laugh again, apologize, renew his own spirit, and realign his perspective. After all, it is the Lord’s work, not his.

An editor of a monthly pastor’s journal received an anonymous letter from a harried parsonage wife. She narrated her predicament-four small boys, several jobs in the church, increasing weariness, all compounded by a driving husband who failed to understand her needs. When she tried to talk with him, he would explode, “Here I am, working like a slave to make this church go, and surely I should be able to expect you to carry your end of the load!” Anonymous or not, the letter was quietly traced and identified, and word was passed to the superintendent who could move in with his restraining hand before that well-meaning young pastor blew his home apart, and his ministry to boot.

3. Neglect. A lively discussion is abroad these days concerning the relative priority of the pastor’s family in relation to the church. Having heard dire tales of neglect and its horrible consequences, some young pastors are so determined to put their family first that the church is shoved to the back burner. Family first is really very little different from “me” first-it is a composite “me.” Everyone in the family may end up ingrown and protective of self but casual about the church. Is this really what the pastor wants?

No more useful laymen ever blessed a denomination than Rhoda and Gordon Olson, of Eugene, Oregon. As pressing as their business always was, church had priority. One of their two sons said, “When we were growing up there was never any question as to which came first, the church or our own interests. We knew the church would always be put first; we never expected anything else.” It is temporizing and compromising which poisons children, not loving, consistent commitment. These two sons in their warm loyalty to the church and to Christ illustrate the principle. If it will work that way in a lay family, why not in the parsonage?

Faithful laymen are out at night a lot also, attending board meetings, committee meetings, a myriad of activities. Their wives too may wish their husbands could spend a quiet evening with them. But for that matter, so do the wives of doctors, policemen, firemen, insurance adjusters, sailors and soldiers, explorers. So the lonely pastor’s wife should reflect long and hard about her many sister fellow-sufferers before she allows resentment to embitter her soul. For a woman to leave her preacher-husband, break up her home, and cripple his ministry, when she knows he is honestly seeking to build the kingdom only betrays a profound self-centeredness, and a backslidden heart.

Yet with all that, needless neglect is too common and should be avoided. While some demands such as emergency hospital calls are unavoidable, many activities are the creations more of zeal than wisdom. Pastors could ,often accomplish more at a slower pace. Frequent quiet, unhurried times with the children and other times just with the wife until emotions are nourished and renewed should be systematically planned and jealously guarded, within the limits of professional obligation.

Perhaps Don Wellman had it about right. When asked which should come first, the church or the family, he answered, “Neither. God should come first. If God does he will show us [what to do]. At times He will direct us to put the church first, while at other times He will prompt us to put the family first.”


Not only do foundations for success include healthy family relationships, but irreproachable business activities. Carelessness around church finances or in handling personal credit accounts can result in suspicion and distrust, which ultimately will tarnish the glittering shine of one’s hard work.

In the project of raising funds for the church in Jerusalem, Paul was doubly careful to protect himself from the slightest breath of scandal by appointing someone else to handle the money. And he explains why: “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Cor. 8:20-21).

The test of a pastor’s ability to supervise church finances is his success in handling his own. Paul applies the question to the family, but if we add “finances” the point is made: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family [finances], how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). Good question.

The pastor, for instance, who leaves unpaid bills when he changes churches, then pays no attention to the increasingly irate collection letters which follow him, is a disgrace to the ministry. The sooner he is found out and gotten out the better. He brings every other minister-indeed the Christian church, yes, Christ himself-into disrepute. He displays a fatal deficiency in both integrity and competence. Even if through unwise management debt has accrued, there are always ways to protect one’s credit and the good name of the church. It is the silence which is inexcusable-in the meanwhile buying even more things and piling one’s debts even higher. And it is to be feared that too often blaming the church for not paying enough is a copout for poor management. To allow money to crowd us out of the ministry is a sin against God. It reveals lack of dedication, faith, and discipline.

Some young couples are subconsciously infected with the materialism of the age. As a consequence they demand a higher standard of living than they have yet earned or the church can afford. When a man puts a price tag on his ministry, that moment he becomes a hireling. His whole attitude is totally foreign to the servanthood of Christ or the selfless love of an apostle Paul. Doubly odious is it to measure the value of education and degrees in terms of salary level such degrees should bring. Do young people struggle through school in order to have bigger churches and bigger salaries, or to prepare themselves better to serve the Lord? A mercenary approach to education degrades it and annuls its spiritual value. Such an attitude disqualifies one from a Spirit-empowered ministry.

One superintendent was trying to place a young couple about to graduate from seminary, but each church he offered prompted the complaint, “We can’t live on what that church is offering.” They had bought this and that, and had saddled themselves with substantial monthly obligations. Finally in disgust he said, “I think you two had better forget the whole thing. It looks to me as if you are more interested in your comforts than in the ministry.” Contrast that couple with another who, when responding to a call to preach, let their fancy furniture go back, rearranged their affairs so they could take whatever opened, then went to the most unpromising church on the district, with meager salary–a faith-move which launched them upon a glorious adventure of thirty-five years of successful pastoral ministry.

Some situations call for a bi-vocational ministry. Especially is this expected to be the case when a couple accepts a church-planting mission. But the aim should be to make such an arrangement as temporary as possible. When not in the church-planters category but in an established church with a parsonage and a salary-no matter if small-the husband and wife can demonstrate both their mettle and their faith by saying to each other, “We are in this thing together, all the way, ‘sink or swim, survive or perish!”‘ If God has called them and if they work hard and manage prudently, they will not perish. God thinks too much of His honor. They may not drive a luxury car but so what?


In a West Virginia parsonage, while I was at the church for a short revival meeting, I said to the pastor’s wife, “Can you be happy in this house?” It was an old house, with marks of age and decrepitude in every room. With a radiant face she said quietly and simply: “I can be happy anywhere.” I believed her. The relaxed, comfortable atmosphere in the home confirmed her words.

What was her secret-or perhaps secrets? I can guess the basic ones. First, she loved God and was consecrated to Him. Second, she loved her husband and believed in him. I suspect also that there was an emotionally satisfying relationship between them. But there was something else: her own decision. Some wives will never be happy in the ministry, no matter what the salary or how swank is the parsonage. They do not intend to be.

As one parsonage mother said to her teenagers, “We create our own moods.” And wives create their own overall frame of mind by which they relate themselves to their husband’s calling. It is a blend of divine grace and personal decision.

Of course if some preacher’s wife testifies, “I began to be happy in the ministry when I put money, moves, and people on the altar, died out to my own way, and was truly sanctified,” I will concur that this, after all, is the bottom line.

This much I do know. If a woman is going to succeed as a preacher’s wife, her motivation must be deeper than love for her husband. Her inner drive must flow from something other than a human desire to see him succeed. Only an all-embracing and profound personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which transcends and sanctifies her love for her husband, will hold her steady during the lean years. If human love is all she has, she will be apt to become bitter and resentful when there are “no” votes, or when her husband is unfairly criticized, or when he doesn’t get the ecclesiastical break she thinks he deserves. Conversely her strong grip on God may many times be the saving difference in the ability of her husband to hold steady, when battered and bruised. Husbands and wives should reinforce each other, not just professionally but spiritually and emotionally. Then they will share in the joys and rewards.