When the Pastor is a Mom/Dad/Wife/Husband

Ben Fred Jan 1989When I was a parish pastor several years ago, this line showed up on my annual personnel review: Jan is a good mother.

It struck me as strange.

I remember not knowing if I should be offended (A male pastor would most likely never find ” ___ is a good father” in his personnel review) or appreciative (Yay. They noticed that I can be a good mom and a good pastor at the same time.)

At the installations of clergywomen over the past year, I’ve noticed that there is often a mention – especially in the Charge to the Pastor or the Charge to the Congregation – about the importance of spending time with family.   I haven’t heard the same guidance about family to clergymen.

It doesn’t matter if my church is happy if my marriage and kids are not happy,” I hear female colleagues say – and of course that is true.  Clergywomen seeking new calls mention the hope of balancing work and family in their interview conversations.  And of course, balance is a good thing.

But when was the last time you heard someone charge a new clergyman or a clergyman’s new congregation with similar words?  When was the last time we heard a male colleague share that he was going part-time after the birth of a child?

I have male colleagues who certainly take their turns with carpools and bedtime stories, but being a father has been something that makes a male pastor more appealing without necessarily impacting his daily ministerial duties.  Or am I wrong about that?  Being a mother and a pastor implies that There Will Be Juggling at a level that being a father and pastor doesn’t seem to imply.  Or am I wrong about that?

What is your experience, friends – especially friends in congregations?

Image of HH, FBC, and me (1989)

14 responses to “When the Pastor is a Mom/Dad/Wife/Husband

  1. In 11 years as a Teaching Elder, I’ve only been to one installation/ordination of a married man and he had no children. There was an admonition to make time for family.


  2. Love the picture!


  3. Jan, I read your blog regularly and usually agree with what you’re saying, but today I struggled. I can understand that you are writing from a female perspective and I see the world from a male viewpoint.

    As half of a clergy couple raising three kids, I too understand the need for balance, juggling, ministry, calls, parenting, etc. It’s a tough job. In my situation, my wife has had to have 1-2 part time jobs for many years to be able to fulfill her calling. Because of this she has been more tied down to the “clock in, clock out” mode of work. This made me, and my position as a senior pastor of a church need to be more flexible. So when kids were sick, I had to take off. When errands needed to be run during the day-that was dad. I also dropped the kids off at school, made all the lunches (still do), did the shopping and the kid-taxi work. Does it come with problems? Sure. Some of the folks in the church didn’t like that I was out of the office–even if I was taking care of my family. But I believe that more and more pastor/dads are doing this regardless if their spouse is a fellow clergy or not.

    You asked about dads leaving their church to stay home, and I think of my friend Jim, in IA. I think of Rocky (CA), Chris (IL), Chris (KC) who all have a strong role in their families and do the pastor “thing” too.

    Juggling is a part of ministry and parenting. Period. It’s not a gender-specific issue. It’s an issue.

    Thanks for listening.


  4. I was talking with a female clergy friend last night and she mentioned the same things you did, Jan. At least in her situation, these things still, unfortunately, seem to be very real.


  5. I’ve seen what David says. I’m not sure what happens in ordinations and installations or interviews, but from the pew in California, from what I’ve seen, I think in this generation, especially if they are not a clergy couple, both parents work and whichever spouse is the clergy person tends to have the more “flexible” schedule and ends up doing the carpool, sick day, parent volunteer stuff (and then goes to the evening meetings). –Wendy


  6. My male colleague juggles as frantically as I do. I did have an “aha” moment recently, though. My daughter had walked from her school to the church to meet me one afternoon. We were dashing toward the car, discussing as we dashed whether we had time to make a needed run to the craft supply store and back before her cello lesson. In the parking lot, we passed a church member who remarked, “Wow, I never really think of you as a Mom….” This made me realize that I work pretty hard to hide the frantic juggling I do every day and ask myself: What’s THAT about?


  7. My wife earns significantly more money than I do. We couldn’t live where we live if she didn’t. And because her job has no flexibility—and it’s financially burdensome for her to take unpaid days off—I end up being the flexible one. That means that I can’t get to work as early as I might otherwise and if the kids need to stay home I’m generally the one who does it. I’m not sure if this is appreciated at church, considered a liability, or known at all. I’ve certainly never been lauded for being a good father in a performance review.


  8. I can’t help but point out the issues unique to not having a partner or kids. There can be the expectation of complete availability and flexibility because there are few/no other life commitments that receive the same respect as a family. Admittedly, sometimes those expectations are self imposed for the very same reason. The Catholics have a point; free of a family leaves one free for service, for better and worse.


  9. Polly – you are absolutely right. I literally got a dog in my first parish so that I could tell people “I need to go home and feed my dog” or else I never have been home. Thanks so much for your good comments.


  10. I agree that this is an issue end education is needed! We recently hired a highly qualified woman to serve as mission center (mid-level judicatory) president and immediately had to respond to two “concerned pastors” who wanted to know her plan for balancing motherhood and her job, as she has a one-year old. I’ve never had people express a similar concern for men who are parents.

    We used this as an opportunity to share why it is inappropriate to ask questions of a woman that we would never ask of a man. It turned out to be a good, albeit eye-opening process. By the way, the concerned and inquiring pastors were both female.


  11. My male colleague was charged at his installation this spring to take care of himself and observe Sabbath and spend time with his family, early and often. I was so pleased to hear this.


  12. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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