ORLANDO, Fla. (NRB) – Priorities don’t happen by chance, but they are essential to keeping a family intact and healthy while fulfilling a ministry calling, Jonathan Falwell said March 2 at Proclaim 17, the NRB International Christian Media Convention in Orlando.
“What would it profit a pastor if he gains the whole world and loses his own children?” Falwell, Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, asked. “I think all of us in this room have many times heard the tragic stories of ministry leaders whose families have fallen apart.”
Falwell, son of the late Jerry Falwell, said he is particularly broken over the “thousands upon thousands of stories that we never read about in the newspaper” of families of pastors in churches “that were faithful in ministry and – because they were in small ministries, because they didn’t have large staffs – they did everything.”
Such stories, Falwell said, could be the result of pastors who were more interested in what God wanted them to do than who He wanted them to be. “That’s the story we’ve heard so many times,” he said. “They feel like their calling of God is more important than the presence of God. That’s what we’ve got to turn around.”
Falwell’s wife Shari joined him in the session and cited some statistics, including that many couples spend an average of only four minutes a day engaging in meaningful conversation with their spouse. Such statistics, she said, highlight the need for pastors to be available to their family. She recalled her father-in-law’s example.
“Any time I would call him on his cell phone, even if he was in a conference, he would answer my phone call, and I’m his daughter-in-law,” she said. “He did that with every single member of his family. We were always more important than what was going on right then.”
Pastors, Falwell said, must be diligent about conveying the importance of priorities in their families and churches so that everyone involved knows the pastor’s relationship with God comes first, followed by family and then church.
“What really matters in life is who really matters in life,” Falwell said.
He emphasized three pieces of advice for protecting a family in ministry. First, he said, avoid a legalistic atmosphere at home.
“At home, when people see legalism in us, they see hypocrisy. They see a false front. They see someone who is bringing preferences in and replacing principle with preference, and there’s a difference between principle and preference,” Falwell said.
Second, “we’ve got to make sure that we eliminate in our lives as Christian leaders the pressure to follow or to be like someone else,” he said.
“God has placed me in little Lynchburg, Virginia, to minister to the people of Lynchburg, and if all that I ever get to do is minister to and to bless and to speak to the people of my community, I will have been successful in ministry because that’s where God put me,” Falwell said.
“Wherever God has put you, be thrilled about that. Be excited about that. Be passionate about that,” he said. “Whether it’s in a large ministry or a small ministry, whether it’s having the opportunity to speak to thousands or whether it’s the opportunity to speak to tens, if you are where God wants you to be, it’s the only place that you cannot fail.
“… Make sure your kids know that before they ever walk out of your house – that they don’t need to worry about or to seek the fame and the glory and the lights,” Falwell said. “What they need to seek is God’s will because that’s the place where they will find ultimate joy and contentment.”
Third, Falwell advised ministry leaders to make sure they don’t try to influence their children to be what they want them to be.
“We all want our kids to do certain things,” he said. “My dad never once tried to force me to do anything or be anything with regards to sports or ministry. As a 50-year-old now, I can tell you that meant the world to me because what it taught me was my dad was more interested in me being what God wanted me to be than being what he wanted me to be.”
Everyone will come to the end of life, Falwell said, and ministry leaders will find that one way or another, if God is in it, the ministry work will continue.
“But when you die, you are going to end. … Don’t you think our passion ought to be to make sure that things that do matter with us, our families ... will keep going as well?”
By Erin Roach
Published: March 9, 2017