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  • David Whitaker

The tension felt between church and family

HOUGHTON – This is for all those pastors’ kids and/or pastor families. There are few things more difficult than trying to live for Jesus under the scope of the church while trying to prioritize your family when the “church” needs you. The struggle of attending your kids’ basketball games, driver’s ed., Christmas and band concerts while feeling the pressure to be a super pastor and a super dad at the same time can be frustrating.

I grew up in a Pastor’s family who went through extreme difficulty. I felt the pressure from the church people even as a 7-year-old who didn’t always wear a coat or tuck my shirt in for Sunday School or God forbid wasn’t wearing a belt. Silly rules traditional church people make up. The pressure to perform and be what they expected was huge, and it was felt by the entire family, not just the pastor/aka Dad or the pastor’s wife/mother. Mom & Dad had to make hard choices and often times seemed to choose the church and the endless responsibilities the people in the church put on them. Needless to say, we didn’t function properly as a family let alone a pastor’s family, and in the end our family fell completely apart.

My dad, my pastor, fell morally, and we lost everything. And just like unrealistic expectations some churches put on the pastor’s family, there wasn’t aid or help when my family fell apart. There wasn’t grace given to the pastor. No mercy for our hurting family. Grace and mercy, the very things that were preached and communicated every week, weren't shared with us. There wasn’t an exit plan in place. Fast forward to my own family life and ministry. I’ve invested 15 years of full-time ministry at the same church as their lead pastor, and we’ve grown and shrank as a church several times, while facing intense hardships as a church and as a family. Painful things! Hard things! Lonely things! But over the years, especially more recently I’ve learned, by the grace of God, to take time and invest in my family when it’s time to do so. I fight the temptation to be so busy with the church and ministry that we miss our kids’ childhood. We have to pull back from meeting everyone else’s needs in the church and community and pour into our own family’s needs. The truth is that the first half of my ministry here, I ran the race of putting my church first. Every day I lived and breathed church while feeling burned-out. Just ask my beautiful wife. I was ambitious to say the least, but God showed me through the painful church experiences and physical pain that my family needs to be a top priority. Our church has lost countless families and church people over the years, mostly close friends. But God used this hardship at the ministry level to keep highlighting the importance of keeping my work and ministry in our church and my time with my family in the right perspective. We attend the sports games that our kids are in and let them know that their events are important to us. We protect holidays and celebrate with our family. Our marriage and relationship are important to God and to us. We work hard at keeping each other first. It’s been so beneficial. We have a good family and great kids. It is my God-given responsibility to love them well, and after that, to shepherd the church and our ministry in Houghton. We have 4 beautiful kids which was recently topped off by our now beautiful 19-month-old baby boy. We went 8 years without having a baby and God surprised us with baby Cooper. He’s such a blessing but don’t let his cuteness deceive you. He’s a menace. Partially because we’re now older parents, we struggle to keep up with him, but I believe God gave us a baby to keep us in this healthy pattern of prioritizing the family He’s given us. God knows what He’s doing. We truly have no choice, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. We love all that God is doing through our family and our church. My plea to anyone who’s reading this and puts their church or position first, is to not gamble with all God gave you, especially your family. Prioritize your wife and kids.

Put your marriage and family first. You’ll never regret it. Trust me!! Believe it or not God is fully able to keep your church moving and effective through others in the church.

God designed the family for fulfillment and satisfaction. Enjoy it and rest in it.



Dave Whitaker is Pastor of the Houghton Baptist Church in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He and his wife, Gillian, have four children, 3 sons and 1 daughter.


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