(Coming soon: "When Your Pastor Is Your Dad")
(Edit: at least one reader has taken this article as negative. Please, before you read it, understand that I have happily been working with my in-laws for going on 6 years and am in no way saying one should not work in such a condition. The purpose of the article is simply to point out certain dangers to consider and to give a little advice for those who may enter into such a scenario. If you are in such a scenario and things are working well, then obviously this article is not meant to criticize your work. Thanks for reading)
I've always thought it would be unwise to work for family, particularly in the ministry. Even now, I might still shy away from recommending it if anyone asks, only because I can't get past some of the dangers I perceive to be present in such a scenario. However, I know without a doubt that it can be done, and I have been working (quite happily) under my father-in-law for nearly 6 years now, and I have been convinced from the very early on that it is God's will for my family at the present time.
When my father-in-law first asked me to pray about coming on staff as a youth pastor/assistant to the pastor, I was convinced it was unwise. I won't get into the details about how God quickly changed my mind, but I do want to address in this article some of the reasons I thought it could be unwise, and I want to give a bit of advice to anyone in this position. I will also list a few benefits that are worth considering.
Why it may be unwise to take a ministry position under the pastoral leadership of your father-in-law
1. The Dangers of Nepotism
We naturally treat our family differently than we treat others. Even if it doesn't happen, other staff members and laypeople will probably struggle with the idea that you and your family may be receiving preferential treatment.
2. The Matter of Headship
The Bible is clear that the husband/father is the head of his household. For this reason, there is a principle God gives us of leaving mother and father and cleaving unto our wife. I believe honor and (to some degree) authority is still given to our parents even after marriage, but the man is responsible for decisions made in his own household.
3. The Possibility of Strife
Of course this is always a possibility in the church, but working so closely together on a regular basis with people you know so much about can accelerate the possibility of bitterness and strife.
4. The Possibility of Hindered Growth
There are certainly many different reasons working under your father-in-law can hinder your personal growth. Some things are learned better when you are on your own, trying to figure things out for yourself. It becomes very easy to rely on family to do the figuring for you, and if you are not careful you can become way too dependent on them.
Now, by simply being aware of the above warnings (as well as many that I am sure I left out) I believe you CAN make it and thrive. On a personal note, I think my family and I (as well as my in-laws themselves) have kept a pretty good handle on these matters while working together in the ministry. However, I would be dishonest if I said I wasn't affected to some degree in all of these areas. It is something you must daily be aware of if God leads you to work in this scenario. But there are some benefits to consider that I must point out in order to be fair:
Some of the benefits of taking a ministry position under your father-in-laws:
Without a doubt, the number one comment we receive when people find out we are working with my wife's parents is "Oh it must be so wonderful to be able to raise your children around their grandparents." I would have to admit, it does bring a sense of security and comfort that we wouldn't have on the other side of the country or on the foreign mission field. As long as this comfort doesn't become a hindrance to fulfilling God's plan for your life, embrace it, and be thankful!
There are things you will understand about your pastor when he is your father-in-law that no one else in the church will be able to understand, and there are things about you that your pastor will understand that no other pastor you could work for would be able to understand.
I suppose it could also be a negative, but there are certain things you can tolerate in family that would be much harder to tolerate with someone outside of the family. It is not always a bad thing that your pastor gives you a little more liberty than he would to other associates. It is not always a bad thing that you will tolerate decisions and actions that your pastor makes that others have a harder time tolerating.
We have all heard it said that the ministry can be very lonely. After only 6 years in ministry, I can understand that saying more than ever. But it is very therapeutic to be able to get together with family and discuss honestly and openly some of the things about the ministry that can be so heart breaking and frustrating. As long as we can do it without isolating ourselves entirely from those to whom we are called to minister, I see nothing wrong with this great opportunity to have a special relationship with your pastor and pastor's wife that many others in the ministry don't have.
Obviously, we could go on and on with a list of pros and cons. The main thing is that you seek the Lord with lots of prayer on the matter, and make sure you are doing what is right for your family and for the glory of God. Personally, I don't know what my future holds as far as ministry goes, but I am thankful to be where I am at the present time. There are obstacles in any relationship, and every situation has many possible outcomes depending on the decisions we make. But when we follow the leadership of the Lord, all things are possible according to His plan and purpose.
God bless you and may your passion for ministry grow as you addict yourself to it. (1 Corinthians 16:15)
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