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Ligon Duncan

How does the minister balance work and family?

By Ligon Duncan

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III, Pastor First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi (Excerpted from an interview):

I’m not sure that I do a good job of that and I’m still growing in that and it’s something that my wife and I talk about and that my officers and I talk about very regularly because it is a wonderful relationship that I have with the officers.  They have been appreciative and protective and they’ve recognized that sometimes I’m my own worst enemy because I love everything that I’m doing, even hard things, even when someone comes into my office with a heartbreaking situation or a sin that needs to be confronted and no matter how difficult it is, I love the work.  I love the preparation for preaching, I love the preaching itself, I love the pastoring, I even enjoy the administrative responsibilities that I have to fulfill from time to time so my temptation is to throw myself into that all the time.  I can do it round the clock—just give me a little bit of sleep and slide some food under the door and I’m a happy man.  But, and I’ve found this, because my wife has worked as a Christian educator and has served on a staff of churches, she knows what life is like in a local congregation and she’s also had pastors that have set good examples for her, both in regard to work ethic and pastoral care, so she knows that a minister has to be on call.  I’ve never known her to resent that.  If someone calls at 2am in the morning and I need to be there, Ann is very understanding of that, and that sort of time is—I’ve not felt pressure in that way in terms of family schedule.  But very frankly, I have to sort of do flex time sometimes.  There are times when I have to be out every night of the week, and when that happens I just try and find strategic times in the day where I can be with my daughter, who’s under three, at important times; whether it’s getting—you know, getting her up and getting her dressed, where we can be together and you know, snuggle in the morning and read a book or talk—I just try and be there at strategic times and it’s the same for Ann. 

I think that family can become an idol too, and I think that there can be unrealistic approaches to what family life ought to be like.  We can have idyllic views of what a normal family life is, and so I think there’s going to be flexibility in—there’s not going to be one particular model that has to prevail in every circumstance and people are different, people’s personalities are different, and parents are going to have to make decisions, and usually, very frankly, there are signs with our families that we see that clue us in to whether we’re spending enough time with them or we’re ignoring some aspect if we feel like they’re getting enough attention and oftentimes the mother, the wife, sets that tone.  I can recall many, many men telling me that the reason their families were healthy were that, in part, their wife did not resent the demands of their position, and that she conveyed a concurrence and enthusiasm about the importance of the work that the husband was involved in, so that there was not a residual bitterness always floating around the house.