The members of the pastor’s family are in one sense not ordinary church members because of their unique familial relationship to the pastor. Yet, when it comes to the church’s expectations of them, they should be treated as ordinary members.
Pastoral ministry today is especially challenging. The most recent figures show that 50 percent of current pastors will not be in the ministry in five years. This number rises to a staggering 80 percent at the ten-year mark. Pastors already face a constant barrage of unreasonable, unrealistic expectations on their limited capacity. This alone is often too much to bear over time. It gets worse. Add to this the challenges and expectations a church places on a pastor’s family, and these attrition rates should be no surprise. Eighty percent of pastors say the ministry has had a negative effect on their families. One statistic that should trouble us the most if we truly care about a pastor’s family is that 66 percent of church members expect their pastor and his wife and children to live at a higher moral standard than they themselves do. In my experience, that percentage is too low.
Rightly informed ministry expectations of any kind need to come from Scripture. The best way to determine the expectations for the pastor’s family is to consider the expectations for the pastor, found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. There, Paul lays out the qualifications to be a pastor:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Tim. 3:1–5)
There are, however, no qualifications for the pastor’s wife and children listed in this passage. Yet, our churches are full of people with unreasonable and demanding expectations of the pastor’s family. The wife is expected to serve in certain leadership and service roles in a church. The children are commonly expected to perform for the congregation with a maturity they may not yet possess and a remarkable ability to interact with adults. Rarely have I met a pastor’s wife and children who do not feel this immense pressure. Many eventually grow to resent it.
Since there are no clear and specific biblical expectations for the wife and children of a pastor, we must then consider whether there are any general expectations for them as a result of the qualifications given to the pastor. I see four implied expectations that Scripture unveils for the pastor’s family as a result of the pastoral qualifications.