I have a confession to make: I have to admit that even though I’m a pastor, my family and I have occasionally gotten into fights on Sunday morning. Perhaps with this admission those of you reading this post have let out a collective gasp in shock and disbelief. What? The pastor has had fights with his family on Sunday morning? Yes. That’s the truth of it. Believe it or not, pastors are people too, and sinful people at that. This means that, as undesirable as it is, I have, on a rare occasion, had strongly worded disagreements with my wife in the waning hours and minutes before we’ve headed off to church. That’s reality. Maybe I’m the only one? Maybe my family is the only one that likes to mix it up on Sunday mornings? If so, then consider this an irrelevant confession. But something tells me I’m not alone. So if you do find yourself in the midst of a verbal melee right before you’re getting ready to go to church, what should you do?
First, let me say that by “fight,” I’m not talking about physical altercations. I’m talking about verbal altercations. I.e., “What’s the matter with you? Why did you ruin my blouse by putting it in the dryer with red socks?! You turned it pink!!!” (Whether such words have ever been uttered in my house, I leave to your active imaginations). Needless to say, you should do what you can to avoid verbal fights. Getting angry before worship is sinful. And this is especially problematic for the pastor. It’s hardly beneficial to raise your voice at your wife right before you’re going to preach the word. This means that if a disagreement or problem arises, be very slow to respond in anger. There are a number of things you can do to ensure that your family doesn’t have a volcanic eruption right before you pile in the minivan.
• If conflict arises see what you can do to resolve it immediately (e.g., Matt. 5:23-24). If you’ve done something wrong, don’t be defensive. Admit it. Seek the offended person’s forgiveness. Do what you can to make things right.
• Be slow to speak. Sometimes fights get started because one person responds intemperately or insensitively. While you should always be cautious about what you say, this is especially the case on Sunday morning.
• Ensure that you’re ready for church by preparing the night before. Is your sermon ready? Have you and your family been in prayer asking God to prepare your hearts? Is the car gassed up, clothes laid out, breakfast ready to go, and Sunday lunch planned? Conflicts often arise because a lack of spiritual and logistical preparation.
• If things get out of control—do what you can to regain control. Stop talking about it—hit the pause button, go to church, and pray that the means of grace will work and when you resume discussing the matter that it will be tempered by God’s grace.
• Under no circumstances should you carry the fight on in the car or especially at church. If you fight in the car, you’re almost guaranteed to make things worse. Never argue at church. This can undermine your ministry.
• In a worst-case scenario, you as the pastor should go to church alone and have your family stay home. This is a last-ditch situation and is quite undesirable, to say the least. In such cases you should give serious thought about not preaching. Moreover, in this case, whatever you do, don’t lie! Don’t tell people, “Oh, my wife wasn’t feeling well this morning.” That’s a bald face lie. And don’t try to pass it off as, “My wife wasn’t feeling well this morning,” which really means, “we had a barn-burner of a fight and she’s angry as a hornet right now.” Be honest and tell people, “My wife and I had a disagreement this morning, and it’s become an impediment to our worship. Please pray that we can resolve this as soon as possible.” It’s better to be honest but at the same time vague (you need not divulge every detail) rather than to lie to people at church. Because not only is such conduct unbefitting of a Christian, let alone a minister, it can set you up for significant failure in the future. One small lie to cover an argument starts to multiply like rabbits and before you know it your marriage could be in trouble but no one would ever know it because you’ve been covering it up with lies. If you get to the point where this type of scenario unfolds with any degree of regularity, then you definitely need to talk with your elders and contemplate some time off, perhaps a sabbatical, so you can tend to your marriage and family. In some cases, this may be a signal that you need to resign from the pastorate because you aren’t qualified to serve as a minister. As difficult as this may sound, there are one of two things wrong—you are either unqualified to serve because you can’t control your temper, or your family is out of control. Either way, both are reasons to be disqualified from the pastorate (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:7).
These are just a few suggestions, but the important principle to remember is, how can we go to worship Christ, the one who has forgiven us of so much, when we harbor bitterness and anger towards others in our family? Seek Christ in prayer and ask him to protect you from anger and foolish talk, but especially so on Sundays, the day when you have to minister to God’s sheep. If you’re not a minister, pray for your pastor! Pray that the Lord would protect him and his family and give them a peaceful home, especially on Sundays so he is free to serve the church by administering the means of grace.