What I learned from a sobbing pastor (aka work-life balance)

When the pastor telling you to work more suddenly sobs because he worked too much, you should pay attention. At least that’s what I thought God was teaching me . . . 

I should back up. Early in my career, I faced a tension that most young professionals face—work-life balance. I was a 29-year-old pastor working 55 hours/week, trying to be a good minister, husband, and father at the same time.

One church member, however, believed I was failing miserably. To support his cause, he asked a well-respected pastor to persuade me to increase my hours at church.

I remember where I was sitting that night in my office when the pastor arrived. I remember his gracious spirit and his gentle encouragement that ministry meant sacrificing a lot for the sake of the gospel.

And I remember when he started sobbing.

It came out of nowhere. He paused his encouragement, got deathly quiet, and then lost it. Decades-old memories came flooding back. He cried, “My wife had to raise our children without me.” His shoulders shook. His eyes went red.

Whoa. His breakdown stunned me. Wisdom was pouring out of that man, not with his prepared speech, but with his unprepared tears.

Since that day I have resolved to be intentionally balanced in life. When I die, I want my tombstone to say, “Here lies a balanced man.” I want to be an excellent example of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things as I serve others in Jesus’ name, which includes excelling at the two roles no one but me can carry out.

I know this is a tension for many of you. And, to be fair, there is no objective answer for how many hours you should work based on the number of dependents you claim on your W2. This will always need to be rebalanced, as life changes seasons.

But here are three reasons I want to prioritize my relationship with my family as I pursue excellence at work:

  1. God says so—When Paul laid out the job description for a pastor, he wrote, “He must manage his own family well” (1 Timothy 3:4). I’ve learned that no one manages well with only minutes. We need more than snippets of “quality time” to manage our businesses and athletic teams. Likewise, we need quantity time to love and serve those in our home.
  2. I hate hypocrisy—92% of my counseling is connected to men who lose sight of their callings to love their wives and lovingly disciple their children. So, how could I preach what I don’t practice? The best “men’s ministry” I can lead is by what I do, not what I say.
  3. I want my family to get a glimpse of Jesus—Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). While I cannot be 24/7 present with my bride or love my kids perfectly, my presence, service, and creative energy are a picture of Jesus’ love for them. When I am there to love them, speak life to their hearts, and give them my full attention, they are reminded of the Savior who loved them enough to serve them all the way to a cross so God would always give them his full attention.

God willing, I want to be a pastor for many years. I know my priorities will disappoint some people, but I am learning to be okay with losing their approval.

Because whenever I pull out a picture of my wife and kids, a smile spreads across my face and I might even start to cry.

Not tears of regret, but tears of joy.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.


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