Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB
God uses the picture of a soldier to teach spiritual truths to His followers throughout the Bible. This is especially true concerning Paul’s mentoring of the young pastor Timothy in the above passage. Whenever I stumble across these illustrations I feel like I have a distinct advantage in uderstanding them after serving as a Navy SEAL for 12 years. The phrase “good soldier of Christ Jesus” surges adrenaline through my veins as I realize the similarities my new life as a pastor has to my old life as a SEAL. Pastoring is a serious endeavor not for the faint of heart.
“Get your loose ends taken care of boys” is a phase that would circulate my SEAL platoons in the months leading up to deployment. As the day approached and the reality of combat was setting in, teammates were reminded to insure their personal lives were in order before we left. Having “loose ends taken care of” was a critical element to the success of the mission. Having your bills paid and family relations in order are far less glamorous than tasks like making explosives, jumping out of planes and other job requirements of the SEAL, but the consequences of these areas being “loose” often resulted in dire consequences. I believe this truth is the same in the pastoral ministry—whether you are a seasoned pastor or an aspiring church-planter or missionary.
I entered the vocational ministry full time a little over six years ago. In this time, I have come to see that many pastors have “loose ends” that hinder, if not destroy, the work of the ministry they have been called to. I would like to suggest a two big items that every pastor, church-planter, or missionary should take care of before launching into the ministry and maintain with vigilance while in the ministry if they desire to
serve over the long haul.
“He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 NASB. Please read that verse again. What does your family have to do with your qualifications for serving as a pastor? Everything! The pastor’s family is a main qualifier in determining if a man should be serving in the ministry, yet it seems that this area is neglected by many “gurus” in church growth, planting, etc. circles.
I went to a very good Bible College and Seminary and am grateful for the preparation I received, yet I don’t remember taking a single class on “Strengthening Your Family as a Pastor.” It breaks my heart to see pastor after pastor fall out because they have neglected to shepherd their family along the way. Men, we tow a hard road as pastors. Please, invest in your family consistently. You are your wife’s husband and pastor—she needs you. You are your kid’s dad and pastor—they need you.
There is no substitute for time together. I heard someone once say that, “Quality time comes with quantity of time.” This is so true. You must make a habit of scheduling family time daily, taking a day off every week, and planning annual get aways. The life of a pastor is unlike any other job. We don’t really have “hours” as we are truly 24/7. I am not sure how some pastors are able to keep regular office hours and respond to the many and diverse crisis’ that come within the life of the church. I am thankful that my church supports me working out of home. I have a detached office that gives me the ability to spend time with the family when I am on study breaks. This time at home allows me to respond to the
variation of needs 24/7 without neglecting my family.
Men, take it to heart—if you house is in order, your ability to serve greatly increases. Every family is different. The ministry is a calling on the whole family. Take the time to determine what works for your family and make midcourse corrections continually along the way.
Jesus said it best, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13, NASB). Paul continues this thread as he grooms the young pastor Timothy, “An overseer, then, must be…free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB).
Are you familiar with this shout, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!”? You should be. I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s message to Christians to get debt free, to live like no other so you can LIVE like no other. Are you aware that most mission agencies will not consider a candidate for the mission field until they are debt free? I think this should be policy for every pastor who wants to run the course well.
We live in a country where huge amounts of debt are normative—Christians are no different. If you are in debt, I highly encourage you to make it a priority to get out of debt. This is challenging, but the rewards of the freedom to serve are amazing when you are living without debt crushing down upon you. The journey out of debt is a hard road that takes discipline and commitment to get to the end of. Get a plan together through resources like Dave Ramsey’s books or others out there.
The Rewards Ahead!
We pastors entered this race with great intentions. The course before us is not a sprint it is a marathon. The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b, NASB). Is financial debt entangling and choking the life out of you? Get rid of it. Pay it off. Stop charging and spend less than you make. Have you left your family in the dust? As a Navy SEAL instructor leading runs, I would often have to circle back and pick up the “stragglers” (those who couldn’t keep up). You may have to circle back to your family. You may owe your wife and kids an apology. You may need to have a hard talk with your family about how you can give them more of your time.
If you’re like me, you get goose bumps reading Paul’s final words to Timothy to finish strong. At the end of my life I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NASB). Running this race free of debt is so much easier than running with debt weighting you down. On my death bed I pray that my wife, kids, and future grandkids will be there as brothers and sisters in Christ running their race strong. Who’s with me?