BOOK REVIEW: Brian & Cara Croft, The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Zondervan: 2013.
The sad story of John Wesley’s marriage is fairly well known (if you don’t know it see here). The Pastor’s Family starts with this and adds other, lesser known, cautionary tales of pastors who seemed to have very “successful” ministries, were “greatly used”, and yet failed in their responsibility to pastor their own family.
But this book was written because the authors know that this is not just history – the issue of pastors neglecting their families is a very pressing issue today. The target diagram (Jesus, marriage, children, work) does not often resemble the priorities of the pastor or the expectations and demands of his congregation, especially in our East African context. The stress laid on the family in the qualifications for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) is hard to reconcile with the experience of many P.K.s and the worrying prevalence of divorce.
Brian Croft, who pastors Auburndale Baptist Church in the US and writes for the Practical Shepherding blog, has written The Pastor’s Family together with his wife Cara to address this issue. The book starts with some painful diagnosis, similar to Tidball’s list of idols, zeroing in on the heart of the problem – the pastor’s heart.
“A pastor’s heart is no different from any other heart. A pastor’s neglect of his family cannot simply be blamed on pressures, demands, and unrealistic expectations that have been placed on him… The reason a pastor disobeys the direct command of Scripture to care for his family and excuses his disobedience is his sinful desire… What does this look like, practically speaking?… fearing what people think rather than what God says… wanting glory for ourselves… identity crisis that exposes pastoral ministry as an idol” (p.45)
Croft then calls us to repent, put off the old and put on the new. With a very helpful mixture of biblical exegesis, godly wisdom and practical specifics, the rest of the book looks first at the relationship between the pastor and his wife and then at his relationship with his children. Loads of helpful stuff:
- Love, understand and delight in your wife
- Fight the spiritual battle – it is a spiritual battle and you need God’s armour
- Serving your wife (like BB Warfield), encouraging your wife, discipling your wife, praying for your wife
- Shepherding your children individually, biblically, theologically, sacrificially
- Fostering your children’s appreciation of the pastoral ministry
- Family devotions (like Jonathan Edwards)
- 4 warning signs of neglect: you are in a struggling marriage, you are dealing with a bitter child, you have a demanding church, you find yourself with a regretful heart
- 5 ways to prevent neglect: take a day off every week, use all your holiday allowance, enjoy every minute with your family, just let the phone ring, regularly evaluate the balance in your life
A couple of criticisms of the book:
- It could be more gospel-driven. The gospel is literally a footnote (page 50 footnote 1). Croft is completely orthodox in his understanding of the gospel but by basically assuming that his readers (pastors and their wives) know the gospel, the danger is that it looks like the solution is simply repentance and obedience – stop doing the wrong thing and doing the right thing. As one reviewer notes, the book can come across a bit like a series of How Tos with a bit of ‘but it’s all by grace’ tacked on the end (e.g. p 54). What would have been great would have been to see how the very nature of the gospel – justification, adoption, Christ and the church – flows into and defines the pastors marriage and parenting.
- Throughout the book there is use of ‘call’ or ‘calling’ in relation to pastoral ministry. It could well be argued that this is both unbiblical and can actually contribute to the very problems of family neglect that the book seeks to address.
With those qualifications I’d still warmly recommend this book as a very necessary wake up call to many of us and a very helpful practical guide to doing something about it.