Found this quotation in a touching Christianity Today interview with evangelist Billy Graham (link by JT):
“CT: Do you have any regrets as you look back on your life?
Graham: I regret that I didn’t spend more time with my family; I’m sure Ruth and the children paid a heavy price for all the times I was absent. I always tell younger evangelists not to feel like they have to accept every invitation they get, or be absent from home so much. We can do so much today through modern communications.”
Couple this with the admonitions from both John Piper and John MacArthur at the 2007 Desiring God National Conference concerning their regret that is similar to Billy Graham’s, we should probably take heed. Take the time to read this excerpt from the book that was created out of the conference messages.
Justin Taylor: If you could go back now to when you started pastoral ministry and talk to the thirty-four-year-old John Piper and the twenty-nine-year-old John MacArthur, knowing what you know now, what do you think would be the most important thing to tell them on the front end of their ministries?
John Piper: It’s clear to me that the most important things would have to do with my children and my wife, and not the church. I don’t think I would do anything basically differently at Bethlehem. If I thought real hard about it, I might think of some tactical changes. But I think we work out of a pastoral model that’s so simple, it’s hard to change it. You open the Bible, and you tell people what it means with all your heart, and you try to live it out before the people and figure out the other stuff as you go along. But I could do better on my family. I could really do better as a dad, I think, if I started over again. Nobody was talking in terms of “shepherding a child’s heart” in those days.1 Here’s an illustration: Rick Gamache is a pastor of a Sovereign Grace church here in Minneapolis. Rick taught my class for me last Thursday and told these guys about questions that he asks his children to draw out their heart. I read those ten questions or so, and I copied them down and sent them to all four of my sons. They all have kids, and I don’t want them to do as poorly as I did. I think I was faithful to my kids. I went to all the soccer games. I tucked them in at night. I set an example for them. I had devotions every night. But I rarely drew out their affectional life at age thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen. And that has not set them up to be as effective in their lives as they might have been, I think.
So I would go to the John Piper at age thirty-four, and I would say, “Do better at supplementing your truth commitments with drawing out your wife’s heart and drawing out your child’s heart, so that they find ways to express what’s in the heart, not just what’s in the mind.” I think I was naive about that because all that stuff sort of comes naturally for me. I’m an emotional guy. It’s easy for me to express emotions—positive, negative, I’m all over the map. But it doesn’t come naturally for everyone. You have to draw it out. So that’s the first thing that comes to my mind because it feels big now, and the boys are all grown. I still have my daughter Talitha, which is a
wonderful gift. That’s why I copied these ten questions down, because she’s eleven and it’s not too late.
John MacArthur: I think there’s some of that with me. There was a lot less introspection spiritually going on in evangelicalism when I was twenty-nine and coming into my church. I don’t think people thought much about expressing feelings, at least in the world that I lived in. So I would think that would probably be more true of me too than it would be in later years. I’m not a high-powered, Type A, steamroller guy, but I’m highly motivated—I don’t know whether it’s a natural gift or a spiritual gift—to organize everything. I think now I’ve let all of that go, and now I see that there’s a simple, natural flow to the life of the church, but in the early years I was always trying to reorganize everything and restructure it, moving people around in different boxes. I finally figured out that that’s not what you should be doing, but I think the price was paid to some degree with my family because I was so busy studying, and then on top I was coming up with all these different ways to structure and organize things. I don’t think I gave the time to my wife Patricia in particular; even though I was home, I was preoccupied. I was trying to stuff so many things in. The joke in our family is “Calling Father.” They’d wave their fingers across my face . . . even when I was there. I wasn’t always easy to engage, although I think I’m better at it now. You’d have to ask them. I hope I am. I think from the church’s standpoint, patience was a challenge for me. I’ve never been a really patient person with myself, particularly when I was young and expected everything to happen fast; I was disappointed if it didn’t happen at the pace that I thought it should happen. Why can’t people figure it out? Here it is; do it. Our church is Grace Community Church, but I was struggling with grace. Hopefully I’ve come to understand that a little better, and I now have more patience with people. I was mentioning this to somebody earlier: Pastors must preach the Word in a way that is strong and hard and bold and clear and straightforward and without compromise, and then apply it with tenderness and compassion and grace and long-suffering with people. In the pulpit, it’s clear; it’s hard-hitting; it’s firm. But when you come down and you shepherd these people, that’s where, in the application of these great truths, you have to express the patience that endears them. You love them in the process and move them along gradually. And that’s something I had to learn.