The late Bob Pierce was a man to admire. One day he wrote in the margin of his Bible, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." Those words inspired him to start World Vision, a mission organization that has served hurting people around the globe since 1950.
But his life also contained tragedy. As Marshall Shelley described in The Healthy Hectic Home (Word, 1988), the dream to launch World Vision left Bob little time for his family. While he was building a world-class ministry, his family was crumbling. Bob's wife eventually divorced him, and he was alienated from his children.
The story of Bob Pierce is a grim reminder to keep a healthy balance between the work God has called us to do and the family God has given us to develop.
We both have jobs we enjoy and want to be effective in. As a teacher, Bev influences 90 or more junior high students each year. Phil touches families at all stages of life as an associate minister in education and family life.
Early in our marriage, however, we asked God to raise a "hedge" around our family to protect it from eroding under the pressures of a hectic life. During the past 20 years we've learned how to keep that hedge in place.
Every job has a downside. Bev's job has a hold on her during the week, while Phil's tightens on the weekend. Toward the end of each academic quarter, Bev must grade stacks of papers and contact dozens of parents. With our church expanding its facilities, Phil's to-do list is also increasing.
But every job has an upside as well, when your job can work for you if you seize the advantages. The flexibility of a minister's schedule, for example, has helped our family manage school schedules. Bev leaves home by 6:15 on weekday mornings. Phil was able to adjust his schedule to be home until 13-year old Brian gets on his bus at 6:48 a.m. and 10-year-old Amanda boards hers at 8:22. Then Phil leaves for the church office. The change meant Phil could not meet with a group of Promise Keepers for a weekly breakfast — so he started a new group that meets over lunch.
This raises another point. In most ministry couples we've observed, it is the minister's spouse who is asked to be flexible. But more often, it is easier for Phil to adjust his schedule. Ministry families willingly make necessary sacrifices. Shouldn't they just as readily take advantage of the minister's flexible schedule?
We've maintained the hedge around our home by knowing when to work together and when to separate. Early in marriage we did most everything together. A normal response when someone saw Phil alone was to say, "Hi, Phil. Where's Bev?" and vice versa.
We still hear the question occasionally. Phil was at a church event recently when someone asked him about Bev. He explained that she was grocery shopping so they would have some time to relax together the next day. The person understood that they intentionally went separate ways to get more accomplished.
At other times, we find that staying together frees us up more. For instance, in the church, we seek areas of service in which we can minister together. We've enjoyed leading children's church and co-directing vacation Bible school, especially when our own children were involved. We're able to keep similar (not duplicate) schedules in the church by choosing to work together.
We have different gifts, but we can complement each other. Rather than risk pulling marriages apart, the church can strengthen couples by helping them form a partnership in ministry as well as in marriage.
We easily slip into speeding from one commitment to the next with little or no margin for family time. When our schedules begin to speed out of control, we know it's time to coordinate our calendars.
Our family methodically compares schedules to track what is happening with each family member. (Our children's calendars grow right along with them!) We used to discuss our schedules once a week, but that's not enough anymore. So we added two questions that we ask each other every day: "How did your day go?" and "What does tomorrow look like for you?"
Knowing everyone's schedule helps, but the real benefit is in using our calendars to reserve time for one another. We have noticed that many ministers boast about not taking all their vacation days, but we have yet to hear one who refuses to take all of his paychecks. Our point is that time, not money, is most valuable to the family. We've had to learn to reserve time for one another and to guard that time as closely as Bev would a meeting with her principal or Phil would an appointment with a church member.
As you probably know, this commitment is not always easy to maintain. Once, Amanda seemed to need some extra focused attention. The end of school quarter was approaching, so Bev would have been hardpressed to take off extra time. One of our family sayings is "Whoever can, does" — and since Phil could, he scheduled a personal day off to spend with Amanda.
But on the morning of their "date," the phone rang as they were leaving the house. Phil answered: A church leader needed to meet with him "as soon as possible," preferably for lunch that day. Phil glanced at Amanda, who had chosen Red Lobster for their own lunch appointment. She was valiantly trying to disguise her disappointment. Phil decided to keep his date with Amanda. The "ASAP" meeting turned out to be something that could wait, and the hedge around our family remained strong.
Whenever we are faced with tension between work and family, we can't help thinking of Bob Pierce and wondering what he would have given to have his family back. Then we think of our prayer to God, to build a hedge around our home and recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to keep it from eroding.
A father’s greatest influence is not what he teaches his children, nor the pride he instills through great accomplishment or recognition. It is who he is, the presence he shares, the time spent with his kids, the love for his family he models, the values and priorities by which he lives, the commitment he makes to his God.
Something happened this morning. A family friend visited our offices. And that experience jolted me into a realization about my family and myself.