This summer I was invited to the home of a pastor friend to fellowship with some other pastors. What made this even more exciting was they all pastor very large churches across the United States and most of them were conference speakers and authors of several books (I even had several books I wanted autographs). I was humbled to be invited just to sit and learn from pastors whose churches numbered in the thousands and influence reached even more. Then I realized I had a scheduling conflict. Not just any conflict that I could easily reschedule. I was a coach for my four year-old son’s T-Ball team and it was one of his last games. Part of me thought since I had made all the rest of the games I could miss just this one. After all, this was an important meeting and he was four. Surely he would understand?
In that moment of rationalizing and justifying in my head, the Holy Spirit convicted me in my heart. He asked, “Where is your priority and commitment?” I replied, “To You, Lord.” I thought that was a good “churchy” reply to God. I quickly realized my priority was my son. I repented to the Lord for arguing a bit and attempting to justify ditching my son’s game for Kingdom work it was also Kingdom work. Now, I’m sure the time would have been beneficial to me as a pastor. No doubt I would have made connections. And I’m sure he would have been fine. But how many four year-old T-Ball games would I get with my son? There would be many more opportunities for conferences, meetings, and networking. There are hundreds of pastors with hundreds of great churches with which I can fellowship. But I only have one son.
I’d like to say he hit a grand slam or scored the game winning run by sliding into home but he didn’t. It was an average game where four year-old T-Ball players did what they usually do – made dirt angels in the infield, picked weeds in the outfield, and tackled each other in the process of the whole team running for the ball while two runs scored. But as I coached first that night something welled up inside me. I watched my son with new eyes. I know several previous games we rushed to the ball park after a long day at work, hurried the kids on and off the field, and left even faster to get home to really do nothing. As I stood there near first, I realized he’d soon be five, then 13, then off to college. While we have never put ball before church there was something very spiritual happening in me at that moment. It really wasn’t about T-Ball. It was bigger than T-Ball. It was God reminding me to put my family first, even before my work as a pastor. If I couldn’t love my kids deeply, how could I love His deeply? If I couldn’t love my bride deeply, how could I love His deeply?
I have to remind myself weekly to prioritize family in all the demands of being a pastor. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church – church is people and it takes more than 40 hours a week to do it all. But I don’t want my family getting the leftovers of me – and sometimes that’s difficult after meetings all day, hospital visits, budget demands, and the study and planning that still awaits after they all go to bed. So when they ask, “Dad, can we wrestle?” or “Can we play daddy workout?” I often do it tired. I haven’t missed one of their games, assemblies, or activities yet. It’s tough to balance everything out sometimes, but they are worth it. Thank you Lord for my kids. One day there won’t be any T-Ball, awards assemblies, cheerleading, or daddy wrestling. These moments frame the foundation of our relationship for many years to come. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3).
Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.