How Can You Balance Life and Ministry and Your Passions and Hobbies?

At a recent event in India I was asked two interesting questions on a common theme: “How should a pastor balance his life outside of the church with his calling to ministry?” and “How should a pastor think about passions and hobbies outside of ministry?” These are issues I’ve thought about a lot and attempted to provide a helpful answer.

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How should a pastor balance his life outside of the church with his calling to ministry?

Yes, really, wives, children, church, hospitality. Those aren’t distractions, those are life, right. No, I mean it. I think what God calls us to is, we have a vocation and that’s important. But what we tend to do, my vocation as a writer, if I’m not careful, that becomes the point of my life and I can lose sight of other things. You think about, as a pastor, you are qualified to your ministry because of the way you interact with your wife and children. So your wife and children can, if you’re not careful, become a distraction from your ministry, right. Your ministry can become the main thing. But there’s a real sense in which your wife and your children is the main thing and ministry flows out of that, right. If you’re failing as a husband, if you’re failing as a father, you’re not qualified to do the other thing. And so, for me as a writer, and as somebody who writes about Christian things in a public place, I want to be very, very careful that I’m continuing to be a faithful father and a faithful husband and not just living this life that’s divided, where I’m a bad husband, bad father, but writing about fatherhood, writing about marriage. And you could find out there, there’s a lot of marriage experts who have very, very bad marriages. There’s a lot of parenting experts who have rotten kids, who have a rotten relationship with their kids because their ministry has become their focus and they’ve taken their eyes off what matters far, far more in the eyes of God.

So, I think that’s one of the challenges for us, that when we’re busy in ministry, when we’re busy in our vocation and here comes this interruption, it might be visitors, an opportunity to extend hospitality. We’ve got to weigh those things carefully you know. Am I going to step away from what I’m doing and extend hospitality here? What is God wanting me to do in this moment? Those are hard decisions and I think in the end, look as elders, we have to be husband of one wife, we have to faithfully parent our children, yet we have to extend hospitality, that’s right there in the qualifications, you must be a man who extends hospitality. So, what seem like they may be distractions from what we’re doing in life, really are the very things that in many ways qualify us to ministry. So, it really comes down to how you look at life, and how you look at these things that we trust the Lord in his providence is bringing our way.

How should pastors think about passions or hobbies outside of ministry?

Yes, if you’re the only pastor in a church, you have special challenges in what else you’re able to do, right. You carry, you bear the full load of ministry by yourself and that means there’s probably lots of other things in life you would want to explore, you would want to commit time to that you simply cannot. So, I know one of the temptations for a pastor is to make an idol out of his ministry, to give all his time to that ministry, even at the expense of his own soul or his own health or his own family. So, I’d want to be careful as a pastor that I wasn’t so committed to that, that I was going to wreck my own life for the ministry. And many, many pastors would attest that they’ve done that. So, don’t make an idol out of the ministry. And, one of the ways you can do that is by having time for other passions, other pursuits. So, if reading is a passion, if writing is a passion, then taking time, deliberately carving out time to give to that will actually make you a better pastor because it will be relaxing, it will be fostering a different, something else, a different interest in your life.

Other than that, I’m just more and more convinced that as we go through life we all just realize, there are a lot of passions I’ll have in this life that I simply won’t get to explore because of what God has called me to, because of the realities of my life. But look, I have all of eternity, right. My life does not end at death, it’s really just getting started. So, for so many of us, there’s things we would like to do, there’s things we would like to explore, there’s places we want to go, there’s people we want to meet, there’s passions we want to pursue, there’s talents we just aren’t able to use. But our lives don’t end at death. We do have all of eternity coming. So I think for some of us, our best writing will be in eternity, you know. Or, pursuing that passion. I would love to be able to do that now, I just don’t have time, but, I’ve got eternity. Or, God has called me to do this in my life, well someday, I trust in eternity I’ll be able to fully explore that passion.

So I think taking that long view means we don’t have to regret some of those things we can’t do now. We can just look forward to the time when each day is better than the one before it and we’ve got just this time to enjoy God, to enjoy his world and to use our full gifts, talents, time, energy, enthusiasm, all we’ve got, for his glory.