As a rural pastor, you may be spending more time with your family lately thanks to COVID-19 and school shutdowns. During normal circumstances, you might have workdays that include lengthy commutes to regional hospitals to visit parishioners after a recent surgery. Every church, no matter how healthy, has evening meetings that draw ministers away from family time. Fact is – you might hardly see your family during the week.
With current pandemic conditions requiring pastors to largely continue working from home, this could be a great opportunity to become more intentional about quality time with family.
Empirical studies have found that the average family spends less than 40 minutes together on weekdays. However, they usually try to catch up on weekends when family time expands to about 3 hours.
Other studies show that even a few minutes of quality time throughout the day can strengthen family ties. Small gestures make a big difference.
Find out more about how to nurture the important relationships in your life. Try these techniques for maximizing quality time.
Maximizing Quality Family Time with Your Children
Your kids are going to consume your time one way or another. Build them up now to avoid bailing them out later. Proactive parenting will help your children to become more resilient and make wiser choices.
Use these strategies:
- Pay attention. Boost your child’s self-esteem and social skills by giving them your undivided attention. Turn the TV off. Put aside thoughts about Sunday Worship or that next Zoom meeting. Turn the cell phone off. Yes, OFF. Listen closely to what they have to say and show your enthusiasm.
- Dine together. Enjoy family dinners. Linger around the table or plan activities for afterwards. You can make an evening out of renting a movie or doing crafts. Do not give over every evening to your church. Set clear boundaries concerning when you are available for committee meetings and counseling sessions.
- Play and dance. Too many structured activities can crowd out time for independent play. Leaving room in your schedule for laughter and silliness can be a holy thing. Remember Proverbs 17:22 – A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. How are you playful and joy-filled in your time with family?
- Have deep conversations. Don’t forget that even though your vocational job may be “pastor,” your primary call is to disciple your own children – and not everybody else’s. Earn your child’s trust. They’ll be more likely to confide in you when they’re struggling. You can also use news stories and movies as prompts to discuss important issues, and relate current events to their developing faith.
- Go on vacation. Use your personal leave time. Family outings create lasting memories, and you may feel more relaxed away from home. Many rural pastors may be bi-vocational or also not have the income to take the family on vacation. Here is a good list of affordable retreats and getaways for pastors and their families – and many of them are free.
Maximizing Quality Family Time with Your Spouse
Does your spouse seem more like your roommate sometimes? It’s natural for the honeymoon phase to pass, but you can revitalize your relationship. Clergy and clergy couples are not immune from struggling with challenging relationship dynamics. There are several ways you as a pastor can work on keeping your own marriage strong, not only for the sake of your own families, but so that you can minister out of a sense of wholeness and authenticity.
Try these techniques:
- Schedule date nights. Aim for at least one date night a month when you can focus on being a couple. If you’re too tired to plan a night out, it’s okay to stay home as long as you do something more fun than working on your taxes. In rural communities clergy may not have family support systems like grandparents, but often a church member will gladly provide babysitting so a pastor and spouse can go on a date night.
- Find a joint project. Shared interests draw you closer together too. Work on a homestead project like chicken coops or a raised bed garden. Take up a shared hobby like hiking or hunting – whatever brings you both joy.
- Support each other. Ordinary love comes in ordinary ways. Ordinary love is, arguably, a form of extravagant love exemplified in Jesus’s love. Help with household chores, or surprise your spouse with a favorite treat. Bring your spouse a cup of coffee or tea while they’re working at home. Find ways to bless each other when you both need to get work done from the house, or when one of you needs to leave for the day.
Maximizing Quality Time with Yourself
Your relationship with yourself counts too. Even Jesus got away on personal retreats and to recharge.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Nourish your soul. As a pastor, it can be easy to care so much for others that you neglect your own soul. Take time for your own spiritual formation. Your family will thank you for it.
- Work out. An alarming number of pastors are obese and struggle with health related issues, from hypertension and anxiety to heart disease and stroke. When you take your physical health seriously, you’ll also be serving as a positive role model for your kids and congregation.
- Eat healthy. This may include committing to bring healthy food to all those potlucks, or politely declining when offered a giant piece of pie at that afternoon home visit. Eating healthy can change your family’s life for the better, because you will all feel better when you spend time together, and you’ll likely be more active.
- Sleep well. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. My friend Charles Stone writes about Six Reasons Pastors and Leaders Need More Sleep. You’ll be a more effective parent and a more loving spouse when you’re well rested. You’ll even be a more effective pastor.
With enough planning and effort, you can share more quality time with the ones you love. When you maximize quality time with your family, not only is there a positive impact at home, but your congregation will also be blessed. Strong churches have strong families, and that should begin with the Pastor’s family.
Of course, every pastor’s family has struggle and dysfunction, and no family is perfect. Rural ministry can often seem like living in a fish bowl – especially if you live in a parsonage. Rural ministry can also feel isolating. The more us ministers in rural churches can strengthen our own families, the more we will be able to authentically offer pastoral ministry to our churches.