I was recently with a group of clergy discussing what it means to be professionals in general and clergy in particular. Questions of learning, activity, and priorities were bantered about, but one comment gave me pause. Someone said, “I am only a good pastor to the extent that I am a good husband.”
Such an assertion is not without scriptural support. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul lays down concrete means to judge if someone is worthy of being an elder or a deacon and many of them revolve around his management of his family. There are skills and abilities that have commonality between caring for wife and children and caring for a congregation.
Based on context surrounding the comment, however, I don’t think this is what he meant. Instead, he was reflecting one of the great heresies in my lifetime: that God’s primary concern is for us to have good marriages and nice kids. Like most prevalent heresies, it is dangerous because it is close to the truth. In the doctrinal debates over the nature of the Trinity, subtle nuances were very important, not because the Latin Fathers were nit-picky, but because like a navigator on an ocean voyage, they understood that being off your heading even a little can land you where you did not intend.
The Holy Spirit provides balance on many themes if we consider the wider council of Scripture. Seemingly contradictory statements can inform our understanding of how we are to behave. This is evident in the way we are taught about our close relationships. Our behavior toward parents is elevated in the Fifth Commandment:
“Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
Exodus 20:12 (ESV)
Yet Jesus tells us,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26 (ESV)
We know from Jesus’ defense of caring for aging parents (Mark 7:9-13) that he is not anti-family. It is a matter of degree, not an all or nothing injunction, that makes it difficult to get our family relationships right.
Can I be a good minister without a perfect marriage? There are certainly lines which when crossed in marriage indicate that I should step down, but I would argue that the means and the ends get reversed too often in our churches. God is viewed as a means to a good family life, when we ought to view family as one of the means to improving our holiness before God.
Another way to frame the issue is: Do I spend all my energy on being a good dad and husband, with the implication that this is pleasing to God? Or, do I seek to be a follower of Jesus, with the implication that such effort will enable me to properly order the rest of my life as well? What is the motivation for my actions?
Of all the Apostles, we at least know Peter was married (Mark 1:30), though we might not, had his mother-in-law not been ill. He did not introduce his wife before he preached at Pentecost. She is never directly mentioned in the Gospels, and yet we revere Peter for his devotion to Christ. May we be revered for the same.