By Chelsea Maxwell & Peter Chin
There are few natural boundaries to the work of a parent. Similarly, pastoring a church is a calling that exists outside of a 9-to-5 workday. Pastor Peter Chin shares his experience of serving his congregation and his family faithfully. He also speaks to the connection between public policy and caring for the welfare of families. While churches may not have the capacity to take up every issue stressing families, Pastor Chin explains why he feels the church must be involved with supporting families as they balance work and family responsibilities.
CM: Can you share a little about your family and the values that shape your family life?
PC: My family consists of my wife, Carol, and our children: three daughters and two sons. We live in South Seattle, which is the southernmost neighborhood of the city of Seattle. It is a community that has historically been comprised of people of color. I am a pastor of a local, historical church.
Pastoring and parenting are both time intensive. How have your roles as a pastor and a parent interacted?
That's a question I am continuing to figure out. There is no clear boundary for your kids, spouse or parents. Your role as a family member tends to ooze into multiple aspects of your life. But unfortunately, pastoring is the same way. Pastoring is an intersection of many things. It's not just a job; it's a Christian community. It is a role of providing spiritual care and addressing the physical needs of a neighborhood. There are so many different aspects of church, and it doesn't have a confined space either. When you have two roles that primarily identify you, and neither one of them likes to be given any boundaries, it gets really difficult. I'm continuing to figure out what it looks like for me to have both of these roles in my life, neither one of them really having clear boundaries.
The conviction that I've had season after season is that my calling to my family comes first. This is mainly because my family will only have me as their father, whereas congregations have many leaders. Additionally, when I pull back, there is more room for other leaders to come forward. There is more room for other people to serve.
Limitations to our time are not bad things. The Sabbath sets aside one seventh of our week for rest. When it comes to our interactions at church, we forget that. We feel that ministry is taking up all our time. Every nook and cranny of our life is taken over. It shouldn't be that way. We have to allow the sovereignty of God to control all the things that we're doing and our timing. We can't slip into the mentality that we're being overwhelmed.
Can you tell me about a specific time when you had to draw boundaries to protect family time?
It’s a weekly phenomenon. There are very few workplaces where your kids are part of your workspace. On any given Sunday, my kids are there in their own right. But, it also happens to be the main space of where I do my job. So, there are Sundays where I'll be praying with someone and they'll be sharing something really difficult. We'll work through that and then one of my younger children will come up. They're kind of heedless of the situation, and they will want a hug or to tell me about something. In that moment, I have to make a choice of who to pay attention to. Should I tell them to go away? What effect will that have on my kid? Or, do I turn away from this person who's talking to me very intently? What effect will that have?
There are regular moments in which that has to happen. Weekly, I have to try to figure out what's a good boundary and what's not. Time is a limited quantity. There really isn't enough time to do everything, so you have to make some pretty sober choices about what you do and don't invest in based off your priorities and the time you have. And then there are seasons where you have to make that choice with much more conviction and much more consistency.
There was a time when my wife was really sick. She was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer while I was planting a church. Planting a church demands all of you, really, in terms of being an entrepreneur, speaker and networker. I had to limit the amount of time I was preparing my sermons in order to pick up my wife from chemo. I had to choose not to network with someone just because I needed to care for myself and needed time away from people. I had to take time away from feeling forced to give that “everything is awesome; this is going to be awesome” energy when I did not feel awesome. That time period, overall, highlighted the needs of my family acutely. It taught me that there is a theological and spiritual reason why we can and should be able to say those “no's,” and God's family should still be able to operate.
Is there anything else that you want to add about these topics that we haven't discussed yet?
I want to stress that there's a lot of intersection between these ideas of being stressed for family time and people's welfare. When we use terms like “family leave,” we think about administrative and policy changes that have to happen to make those things possible. But, the ramifications of those policy decisions are deeply personal and spiritual. We're talking about marriages; we're talking about people's health; we're talking about their welfare and how cared for they feel. I think this conversation is important for Christians to participate in because we put such a high value on care - spiritual care, pastoral care, emotional care - and we realize that family leave is a form of spiritual, personal care for people. Sometimes we divorce family leave and family well-being, as if one is governmental and administrative and the other is spiritual and personal. The times when people granted me leave or gave me the room to care for my family were deeply influential to me on a personal and spiritual level.
I don't think there's nearly as much gap between those ideas as we think. If we really care for individuals, then creating policies that care for them makes sense. We shouldn't divorce them or refuse to engage in those conversations in an attempt to seem non-partisan. We have to think about the tools necessary for people to fulfill what they have been called to do, which is to be shepherds for people and to care for them in their time of need. Our churches need to realize that this is our fight. This is something we should be engaging in.
Pastor Peter Chin is the lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church, located in one of the most diverse zip codes of the United States. A graduate of Yale University and Fuller Seminary, his ministry and advocacy for racial reconciliation have been covered by the Washington Post, NPR, and CBS Sunday Morning. Peter is also the author of Blindsided By God, an account of his wife’s fight against breast cancer while pregnant with their third child. Peter and his wife Carol live in Seattle, Washington, with their five children.
Chelsea Maxwell is the Program Associate of Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, and the contributing editor of “Time to Care.”
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