by Bobby Liddell
One of the greatest challenges facing a preacher is the challenge to fulfill all his God-given responsibilities to his family. Due to the nature of his work, he faces potentially greater demands and dangers, as husband and father, than do others. Yet, God has greatly favored him with the opportunity to have a family (1 Cor. 9:5; Luke 4:38; cf. 1 Tim. 4:3), and the blessings far outweigh the costs (Gen. 2:7-25; Mat. 19:3-8; Pro. 18:22; Psa. 128). No greater, more fulfilling, human relationship is possible than marriage (1 Cor. 7; Heb. 13:4; cf. Sol.), and no earthly joy quite compares with having children (Psa. 127:3-4), but, in spite of all this, there is the possibility a preacher might lose sight of his commitments in this area and neglect his family. How could this happen?
Faithful preachers gladly give their time and energy, often make financial sacrifices, and expend themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to preach the Gospel, reach the lost, and build up the saved (2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Cor. 16:15). Preaching is, in many ways, the hardest work one could ever take upon himself, and demands his best efforts and most fervent devotion. Therein lies a danger--that one may neglect his family to devote himself more to preaching. Especially do younger, less experienced preachers, with almost boundless zeal, need to realize the danger of neglecting one’s family, but they are not alone in facing this temptation. What does a preacher’s family need?
A PREACHER’S FAMILY NEEDS HIS TIME
Time is the preacher’s valued possession, constant consideration, and tenacious enemy. Men have devoted so much time to doing good things; i.e., to church work, Bible studies, visiting, meeting with elders and members, participating in social and civic groups, and to preaching appointments out of town, they had hardly any time left for their families. Thinking they were doing right, they came home one day to find children who did not know them, and wives who no longer loved them. Too late, they learned the lesson: a preacher’s family needs his time. What a needless tragedy! A man can do the work God expects of him as a preacher, and also be the husband and father God expects him to be. God does not require one to neglect one of His commands in order to keep another.
A preacher’s family deserves their portion of his time. Therefore, the preacher must set aside time for his loved ones, and guard it like a bulldog. As a husband, he should take the time to please his wife–to do for her what she wants, just because she wants it, and because he loves her (Eph. 5:25-33; Col. 3:19). She is not asking too much to want her portion of his time. If he does not ensure she has it, after a while she may grow tired of being without him, doubt his love for her, and serious problems are just around the corner. She did not marry him to become, essentially, a widow. She longs to be with him, and they need time together, to share in interests, and engage in them together (Sol. 7:10-8:3).
As a father, he should take the time to be with his children, because they are his children and he loves them. He did not bring them into this world that they might be as orphans, without a father to love and care for them. They need the instruction only a father can give (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21) and the praise which counts only when a father gives it. This is why he should make time to be with them, pray with them, listen to them, play with them, and to go to their ball games and school functions. The initial disappointment of looking for one’s father in the stands, and not finding him, soon turns to resentment against whatever kept him from sharing this important time. Too many preachers’ children have confided their bitterness for being robbed of their father’s time, saying they “hated” that their father was a preacher, and that they would never be a preacher, or be married to one. Others have gone astray--at least partly because of neglect by their fathers, even though unintentional. While the preacher tried to save the world, he lost his children. Clearly, neglect of one’s family is a problem that can have eternal consequences.
The preacher may have to plan better, rearrange his schedule, and learn to say, “No,” to some things. He may have to overcome being tired, needing sleep, or facing a deadline, in order to be with them. Truly, there are so many other places he could be, and so many other things he could do, but none is more important, at the moment, than being with his family. Jethro saw Moses was overwhelmed judging the matters of the people from morning to evening, and said, “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” (Exo. 18:17-18). Moses was doing good, but it was not good for him to try to do it all by himself and neglect his family. Moses was not superman, and neither is the preacher. He can expect too much of himself, and brethren can expect even more! He must take the time to “do the work of an evangelist,” but he cannot do all the work of all the church by himself (1 Cor. 12:20). Sometimes, this means, lest he steal time from his family, he must refuse to be diverted, and he must deny some requests and invitations. He has a prior commitment, an important appointment with his family, and he dare not miss it. If he is too busy to be the husband and father he should, he is too busy. Yes, a preacher’s family needs his time, but that is not all.
A PREACHER’S FAMILY NEEDS HIS PROVISION
A preacher must provide spiritual direction for his family (cf. Gen. 18:19; Acts 21:8-10). Compassion for souls should begin with one’s family, for of all the people on earth, the preacher should love his family and want them to be saved. After all of Noah’s preaching, he was able to save his family only (Heb. 11:7; Gen. 7:13). Did he fail? No, he was a great preacher, enshrined in the “Hall of Fame of the Faithful” (Heb. 11)! However, sometimes compassion for the lost and interest in the welfare of others is so all-consuming, the preacher loses sight of his responsibilities to provide spiritual direction to those dearest to him.
A preacher must provide for his family (1 Tim. 5:8), and this provision includes the necessities of life, but also involves much more. He must provide the right direction as head of the house (Eph. 5:23-ff). This direction includes his example as well as his authority (1 Sam. 3:13-14). What example does he give of one’s relationship to the Lord and His church? Often pressed with duties, burdened with care, frustrated, and fatigued with effort, he still must not allow himself to complain and disparage his brethren or his work to his family. Rather, he casts his burdens upon the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7), and from time to time weeps alone, out of consideration for his wife and children. Often things are not as bad as they first appear. Why worry his loved ones needlessly? Why adversely affect their attitudes by telling them all he knows about the brethren (some of which is confidential)?
A preacher should provide his family with stability. The wise preacher will think of his family and choose carefully where he goes to preach. He will also act wisely so he can stay there for a while. Too often preachers jump into situations without considering sufficiently if the pay is adequate, if the work is suited to his ability and personality, and if the brethren want to hear the Truth preached. Soon he is looking again. Once more, his family is packed up, on the road, upset, discouraged, afraid, and dreading the next time this will happen.
A PREACHER’S FAMILY NEEDS HIM
There is no substitute for him. He may not be handsome, brilliant, or rich, but he is Daddy, the one with whom they want to laugh, cry, play, and talk. In his arms, they feel secure. He is the one they love, and they need him to love them. His children need him to love their mother and his wife needs him to love their children. They need the assurance and protection only he can give. A little girl was terminally ill, and, facing death, talked with her father. She told him she was not afraid to die for she knew Heaven would be a wonderful place if God were like her Daddy.
His family needs him to praise them. They deserve it. He could not preach without them! While he often gets public acclaim and approval, he must be sure to give credit to his wife and children for it is a team effort. He should praise them privately and publicly, letting the congregation know how much he loves his family. Of all people, he should know how important praise is.
If the preacher is what he should be, he will give himself to his family, and not neglect them. There is no excuse for him to fail his family, and no compensation for success in any other area. He must present to them the picture of what a Christian man really is, and, if he does, they will know he is a man of God--a good man, a good husband and father, and a good preacher. He will be their hero, and he and they will be blessed now and eternally.
Bobby Liddell’s bio:
Bobby Liddell began his work with MSOP, as Dean of Admissions and instructor, in 1994. In 2002, he became Associate Director, and on March 27, 2007, the Forest Hill elders named him Director of the Memphis School of Preaching. On December 31, 2012, brother Liddell stepped down from being Director, and became Administrative Dean, in order to be able to preach and teach more.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, he is married to Joan (Loe), and they have three children: Tony, Nathan, and Keri, and seven grandchildren. While dating Joan, who was a member of the church at Adamsville, Alabama, he was encouraged by her godly living to obey the Gospel. They were married in 1972, and attended the Adamsville congregation, where Bobby preached his first sermon January 1, 1978.
Brother Liddell received his earlier education at Walker College and the University of Alabama in Birmingham. In 1977, he entered Memphis School of Preaching, and received the Outstanding Student Award upon graduation in 1979. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree as valedictorian (Summa Cum Laude) from Alabama Christian School of Religion (now Amridge University) in 1985, and received his Masters of Arts Degree in 1986. He has continued his education beyond the MA Degree. In 1997, he was given the Alumnus Of The Year award from the MSOP Alumni Association.
The Liddells have been involved in local work since 1979, working with congregations in Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee. Bobby has been associated with several publications, as associate editor, or editor, and has served as a staff member of other brotherhood publications. He has written articles for various papers and bulletins, numerous chapters for Bible study books and lectureship books, and has produced materials for Bible class use (unpublished). He directed lectureships in Florida and at MSOP, editing eleven lectureship books.
Liddell has experience in both radio and television preaching. He was involved in Christian youth camp work for more than fifteen years. He speaks in numerous Gospel meetings and lectureships yearly, and has made preaching trips to Singapore, the Philippines, Latvia, and Canada.