London Jr. is vice president of Ministry Outreach/Pastoral Ministries for Focus
on the Family. A pastor for 31 years, he now communicates with thousands of
pastors and church leaders each week through “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing”
(via email) and produces a bimonthly Pastor to Pastor cassette. In his work
at Focus, London serves as liaison to pastors and churches – a “pastor to pastors.”
He recently visited with Preaching editor Michael Duduit.
How did you and Focus on the Family become involved with a ministry to pastors
and their families?
I was James Dobson’s pastor in Southern California. We were sitting at dinner
one night talking about all the mail that was coming to Focus on the Family,
and he made the statement that there was a certain percentage of crisis mail
that was coming out of clergy homes. He said, “Do you think there’s a way we
can work together on behalf of the clergy family?” Jim and I are first cousins
and only children, so we were raised like brothers – we didn’t know if the arrangement
would work very well or not.
end of 1991 we left our church in Pasadena, California and moved to Colorado
Springs. The theme of our ministry became Every Moses Needs an Aaron, which
means that every Moses – meaning the pastor – needs someone to hold up their
arms in the midst of battle – to encourage them, to affirm them.
I got there, we did surveys and found several things. We found that, however
you say it, in nearly every pastor there is isolation. They have all these dreams,
and often no one to share them with. They’re lonely. They don’t know whom to
trust. They feel inadequate, because the issues we face today are more perplexing
and complex than we’ve ever had before. As a result of that we’re not always
sure of how to deal with them. And there is a kind of insecurity – the insecurity
that comes from the constituency of the congregation being consumer minded,
saying not so much “What can I do for the church?” but “What can the church
do for me?” They develop an entitlement.
then among the pastor’s wives we found similar things, only we found that loneliness
was at the top of the list. Then there was great concern over the husband’s
schedule. There’s not enough time to spend with family so life is out of balance.
We also found that women like to nest. They don’t like to move all the time
but so many pastors move about every two, three, four years, and as a result
of that the wives never really get to put down to build their nest, so to speak.
And we found a great deal of concern about children. What are we going to do
about our kids? What if our kids don’t want to go to church anymore? What if
they see so much contention that they’re turned off by the church and they don’t
want anything to do with it?
we just came on board and God gave us this vision that our role was to facilitate
spiritual restoration and renewal. We really think that the pastor has got to
be at their strongest point of intimacy with God if they’re going to be strong
enough for the battle. After that, to come along side and help them manage their
time and their finances and their personal lives, and then to be a catalyst
What are some of things that you encourage pastors to do in the process of bringing
that renewal into their own lives?
There are three things that we find. We have a clergy care line at Focus on
the Family. We handle about 600 crisis calls a month. That’s every state in
the United States and many foreign countries that call us. And when we find
a pastor in real crisis we find three things. We find 1.) There is very little
accountability; 2.) There are unresolved conflicts in the home between the husband,
the wife, the son, the daughter, whatever; 3.) There is a lack of intimacy.
They just don’t spend much time with God. They are so busy that they try to
short cut their relationship, and nearly always it gets them.
How do you go about encouraging them to deal with those issues?
Only about 30 to 40% of pastors have anyone that they feel close to, so the
number one thing is accountability. We’ve developed what we call the Shepherd’s
Covenant at Focus on the Family; that’s based on the acronym G.R.A.C.E. – Genuine
accountability. Right relationships. A shepherd’s heart. Constant safeguards.
Embracing Christ intimately. It’s identified by a little lapel pin that has
the shepherd’s crook on it. Thousands of guys have involved themselves in it
and every Monday I send them an email to encourage them to stand true, but first
of all you’ve got to have the accountability.
thing is you’ve got to make the most of your mornings. So many pastors play
catch up and you’ve got to make the most of your mornings. You’ve got to give
the first fruits of your day to the Lord if at all possible. We don’t pay attention
to the most important thing. Sometimes we’re so busy putting out the fires that
we’re not quieting ourselves before the Lord to receive the strength we need
for what He’s called us to do.
think the other thing is you’ve got to find balance. The average pastor works
from 50 to 70 hours a week. Statistics say that if you don’t give 55 hours a
week your church won’t grow. Well that’s not true, because three quarters of
churches in America aren’t growing anyway and I know pastors are giving many
of them more than 55 hours, so that’s not the reason. There needs to be a balance
between family and constituency.
then – I talk about this a lot – a pastor’s got to take care of himself physically.
I see so many people whom God has invested in but have short changed God’s investment
because they don’t take care of themselves physically. My big thing is: just
check the gauges. I’ve got four gauges and an indicator on the spiritual dashboard
for pastors that I talk about. If you don’t check the gauges, if you run out
of gas, if you’ve become eccentric, then your ministry’s going to suffer and
so will the body of Christ.
One thing that keeps on reoccurring in our conversation is the issue of time.
Time is one of the real battlegrounds for pastors, isn’t it?
Yeah it is. Time is important, and my belief is pastors are terribly poor time
managers. If we had assigned to us a 9 to 6 or 8 to 5 day we could probably
get more done than we do. But because we have free time – and because in many
ways pastors are terribly slow self-starters or because we travel so much –
I think that we are our own worst enemy. We make it almost impossible to be
good time managers because we allow so many things to come in.
Several years ago we started a magazine for ministry wives that was edited by
Jill Briscoe, Just Between Us. [It’s now published by Jill and Elmbrook
Church; www.justbetweenus.org] One of things I recall is some of the letters
that we would get from pastor’s wives – letters coming out of broken hearts
because of some of the issues we’ve talked about. How can we help those pastors’
wives who are dealing with such issues?
The thing that breaks my heart more than any is to receive those kind of letters
and know that in many ways that lady is almost a slave to the church and the
unrealistic expectations of the congregation. For some reason, so many pastors’
wives have been sold a bill of goods that says, “Your husband’s success is going
to be validated by your behavior or your performance, or your involvement,”
to the point where so many of these ladies have lost their identity.
wrote a book one time entitled Married to a Pastor’s Wife – a little
play on words. The theme of that book was: be yourself. Ever pastor’s wife has
got to find her own identity. They’ve got to find how they want to use their
gifts and their graces. They’ve got to find how they re going to relate to the
community. Are they going to find their identity in the community or the church,
or are they going to sit at the piano and bat their eyelashes at their husband,
or are they going to involve themselves in ministry in some other way? There’s
a scripture in 2 Timothy 1:7 where Paul was talking to Timothy and said, “I’m
reminded of the sincere faith that first I saw in your grandmother then in your
mother and then in you.” And I really do believe that regardless of whether
or not that pastor’s wife is involved in the church, that she becomes in many
ways the anchor in that family to live consistently before children, to love
her husband, to encourage others about the church – not to disparage the church
but to set a tone in that pastors home, parsonage, or whatever, that is like
wife, Beverly, that’s what she did. There were some places we didn’t like but
our home was our sanctuary. It was a place where – when we shut the doors and
pulled the blinds – it was our house. Nobody else’s. They could kick us out
but as long as we were in it, it was our house. I think every pastor’s wife
deserves to have a place to call home and to establish herself and her own identity
in that community, in that church. You cannot live on unrealistic expectations
because there is no way to satisfy everybody.
got a message that I deliver that is probably my most popular message wherever
I go. I talk about the five things that Beverly taught me as a pastor’s wife.
And so many pastors’ wives identify with that because they’ll come up to me
afterward and say, “Man, I’d like to meet Beverly. She’s the kind of lady that
I’d like to be!” or “I’m like Beverly” or whatever. Beverly’s my greatest asset,
because as an only child I was kind of insecure. I came out of four generations
of pastors and my whole life was based on the church and building the church
and growing the church and being popular in the church. One day she said, “You’ve
got to make a decision: is it going to be the church or is it going to be your
family?” I learned that the most important members of my congregation are my
wife and children. Everybody else pales in comparison to them. That’s easy to
say. That even makes sense to say but how to practice that is a whole other
What are some of the other things Beverly taught you?
Well, first of all she taught me to let me find my place. Don’t pigeon hole
me. Don’t put me into areas that I feel uncomfortable. If you’ll let me do what
I do best most often, then you’ll be happier and the church will be better served.
I think that was one thing.
think the other thing she taught me was that I love the church but I love her
and the kids more. See I was raised in a pastor’s home and my folks were always
out doing stuff. I remember growing up very lonely as a child, and because I
had that modeling as a young 23-year-old pastor – I came out of seminary at
23 – I didn’t know how to properly be a father or husband because I had a very
poor role model. As a result of that I thought that my ministry was validated
by Beverly’s involvement. But I also found the church will place on you everything
they possibly can and then come back for more. Somewhere along the way you’ve
got to say stop. So we would just say openly, “This is how Beverly will be serving
the church the next 6 months, this is what my kids will doing. They’ll be playing
basketball a lot and I’ll be going to their games, and you just need to know
that if you don’t see us at every little opening of the doors that there’s a
good reason for that.”
think that the other thing that she taught me was to be honest with her. At
Focus on the Family, I deal with so many crisis situations where the pastor
and his wife were not honest with each other about absenteeism or about intimacy
or about pornography or about gambling or about emotional affairs, and because
they weren’t honest it escalated into something that almost became too broken
to mend. I believe that pastor’s wives – they have antennas that just go to
the sky. They can pick up every little bleep and bloop and everything, and we
need to listen to them. Pastors need to listen to their wives because we are
kind of like gladiators in the arena. We’re battling it out in there and our
wives are sitting in the grandstand watching. They see the dangers coming but
we’re so busy fighting this battle that we don’t see the dangers coming up behind
us. Wives can really help us with that.
other thing she did for me was she helped me choose my battle. She helped me
realize that I didn’t have to win all the time. In fact it was good if I lost
some. I remember one day she just said to me, “You know, you’ve got blood everywhere.
You just picked two hills you’re willing to die on, and at least if something
happened to you I’d know where to find you.” In my mindset I was an athlete.
I wanted to win. I loved the game. The final score was important to me. Finally
one day she just said: it doesn’t matter who wins.
then the other thing she said is: I’ll follow you wherever God leads you. I’m
not sure I’m called to be a pastor’s wife – and she was one for 31 years – but
she said, “I’ll promise you that I’ll follow you wherever God leads you.” We
did a survey at Focus on the Family before I spoke at a large conference of
women several months ago and found that it’s pretty well split. Fifty percent
of the pastor’s wives feel called, fifty percent of them though osmosis or whatever
just became a pastor’s wife.
What can churches do to help pastors and their families?
I think the first thing is – this sounds trite – I think every church needs
to have a pastoral care committee. I’m not talking about deacons, or elders,
or trustees. I’m talking about a pastor’s concern committee whose sole responsibility
is to look after the needs of the pastor, their families and their staff. That
has to do with compensation. That has to do with if the church owns the home
what kind of condition the home is in. It has to do with the kind of car the
pastor drives, is he safe? It has to do with insurance, medical insurance, retirement.
It has to do with that whole thing that some churches – especially smaller churches
– we kind of dominate them; they’re like the hired hand. And they’re not. They’re
called-out servants of God. Every church needs a pastoral concern committee.
I think beyond that every church needs a group of people – and this is not everybody;
I really believe people are called, it’s a gifting – who will commit to pray
for the pastor and staff. No pastor should walk out into a congregation without
having the hands of the elders laid on him and prayed for. Without the anointing
of God we’re like gun shells in a gun without any gunpowder.
I think every church needs to let their pastor dream. I think so many pastors
are afraid to think outside the box. They find themselves so pigeon holed by
a power group of deacons or elders who are just satisfied with the status quo.
Ever pastor needs to dream the impossible dream. And because the church is changing
so much, congregations need to insist that their pastors are continually learning,
studying, improving themselves, becoming conversant about the generational issues
and the issues of how to do church better and how to do it more effectively.
I think the church has got to really look at itself very close. The Bible says
let a man examine himself. Well, I say let a church examine itself. Contention
and bitterness and a sense of malice is destroying church after church after
church. I read the other day that 53% of churches in America have allowed themselves
to become so contentious that it has resulted in a lessening effect in the community
and a decreasing number of attenders. In fact the Associated Press did a survey
several years ago asking people who don’t go to church why they don’t go to
church anymore. Of course, the first reason was church wasn’t relevant. In the
top five was there is so much contention in the church that I feel uncomfortable
How has the pastorate changed over the years? You were in the pastorate for
a number of years and now you work with pastors. How has it changed?
I was a pastor for 31 years. I think that the church has changed in that there
used to be a very distinct difference between a Baptist church, a Methodist
church, a Nazarene church, a Presbyterian church, an Evangelical Free church.
There was a doctrinal or theological difference that you were aware of. You
could go into just about any church (of that denomination) across the country
and there would be a sense of sameness about it. Now I’m not sure most churches
know who they are; their theology has become kind of a blend of many other theologies.
Where once there was a time where denominational leaders had a voice, today
there is a handful of popular pastors or professional ministers that dictate
the direction of the church. I think that’s one way we’ve really changed.
think another way it’s changed is that we’ve lost the urgency for the lost.
I don’t thing we’re driven by the reality of the number of unsaved people that
live around us. Evangelism is basically dead in much of the church. I think
another thing that’s happened is that we’ve developed a kind of feel-good mentality.
Make me feel good. I know there’s no condemnation in Jesus but I don’t want
to be convicted. I’ll get angry at you if you make me feel convicted. I think
now that we’ve moved into megachurch world where it’s the Wal-Mart mentality
– one-stop shopping. We’re closing so many small churches every week but the
truth of the matter is that the mega churches – the 850 or so megachurches with
2,000 and above – really only service about 3 million people on Sunday out of
the 300 million people in the United States.
other thing is a lot of young men and women are leaving the ministry. Where
in my generation 20 or 30 years ago, you wouldn’t think of leaving the ministry,
today young men and women are opting out very early after seminary or Bible
college. Yet one of the things that has changed is that we do church now better
than we’ve ever done it. Technology has improved. Delivery systems have improved.
Just the whole internet systems we can use to enhance ministry. That’s improved
greatly. But it’s obvious that the technology is not the answer. I still think
that the servant, shepherd, pastor is the one that over time will be the most
One of the realities of the church in America – particularly the mainline churches
– is the increasing role of women in ministry. I don’t know how much work you
all do with that group through Focus. Have you been dealing with issues that
challenge the husbands of those women serving in pastoral roles?
All the time. You know Jim Dobson and I come from a Nazarene background. (I’m
not sure what I am anymore because I’ve been in some 90 different denominations
since I started this ministry!) But our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers
were ministers, so our mothers weren’t ordained but they were in the ministry.
Our grandmother and great-grandmother were ordained, so we’ve known that all
our lives. So we don’t have any trouble with that aspect of it. But the number
one criticism we get in our pastoral ministry division is: you’re excluding
and ignoring women in ministry.
Focus on the Family has this little slogan in our ministry: We Minister to Anyone
Who Ministers. We’re not going to deal with the theology of it. We can’t. It’s
just like if you were running an emergency room and a Baptist came in and you
say “OK, I can treat this Baptist but this Methodist over here is much more
liberal than you are so I can’t treat them.” Well, we see ourselves and our
ministry as an emergency room in many ways, so our role is to minister to anyone
I go to pastor’s conferences there are always – I guarantee you – there are
always three or four women pastors that come up and say, “We appreciate the
information you gave but it didn’t touch on what I’m going through. My husband
feels like he’s just kind of a third arm and he just kind of sits there, and
he’s become ‘Reverend Mary’s husband’ and he’s fighting it – he doesn’t want
to come to church anymore.” What I say to them is you’ve got to be sensitive
to that because your marriage is more important than your ministry. You’ve got
to figure out a way to deal with those kinds of things or you’re going to invalidate
your effectiveness. But the answer to the question is we are not very good at
addressing the needs of women pastors. And I really do think that they are going
to have to form a coalition of their own. Not a union. Not like the National
Organization of Women. Not a fighting organization but an organization where
they have similar needs and similar situations where they can help one another
go through these things, because I’m not sure that we’ve got those answers yet.
Preaching to the issues of family – what are things that you think pastors can
do through their preaching and teaching ministries that can help strengthen
Well, I’m not sure about all the preaching, because a lot of that preaching
is going to end up with a lot of guilt, especially on fathers. I think three
things: I think number one we’ve got to teach and preach the significance and
the value of marriage. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap that
the world is trying to say to us, that the definition of marriage can be bounced
around or contested. Naturally from a very conservative ministry like I’m from
– Focus on the Family – we believe wholeheartedly that marriage is between a
man and woman and lasts forever. We know that there are going to be divorces.
We’re aware of that. But we still believe that in God’s ideal of marriage for
a lifetime. I think the second thing is we’ve got to help our parents learn
how to parent the children. There are so many fragmented and separated homes
and stepfamilies and variations of families and single parents – all these kind
of things. The church has a responsibility to cover the bases. I don’t know
how but with people sitting in the pew, 40% of them have been divorced, 60%
of those who have been remarried are going to get divorced. Children from three
different marriages are trying to balance when we go to church – when we don’t
go to church, how do we find stability when my child can only be at church once
every three weeks. The church has to step in there. We can’t just stand by and
watch the avalanche. It’s not just something that we have the luxury of observing
– we’ve got to walk into that.
third thing – and this is really key to me – I think the economy of church growth
and the economy of healthy churches is based on the father. If we don’t teach
fathers how to be fathers and husbands and churchmen, we’re going to continue
to struggle as the body of Christ. I’ve practiced it and I believe it – even
if pastors still laugh at me as a result of it – but I made ministry to men,
the fathers my priority. It was the most important thing I did as a pastor because
it has been statistically proven that if you can get a committed father into
the church loving Jesus Christ and his family, then 94% of the time all the
family will follow and be blessed by the relationship.
Elsewhere in this issue we have an interview with David Murrow, who writes about
why men don’t want to come to church. He talks about the feminization of the
church. Do you see that as a factor in reaching men?
In so many ways men have abdicated their role of leadership in the church. Because
women are often more aggressive and in many ways more mature and more biblically
based they take on a lot of the leadership – they may not sit on deacon boards
but they still are the driving force behind what happens in the church. I see
that in the kind of songs we sing. I’m not sure that most men like to sing love
songs. I think they like to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “We’re Marching
to Zion.” I think men like to sing cheerleading songs. I don’t think they like
to sing love songs. I think that women and teenagers like to stand and sing
40 minutes and just sing songs. I don’t think the average guy likes to stand
up in church and sing songs for 45 minutes, especially if you can’t hum them
when it’s over. I just don’t.
think the average man is immature spiritually; they don’t have a Christian worldview.
They don’t even know the beginning of what a Christian worldview is. Barna’s
statistics prove that only 9% of those going to church have a Christian worldview.
I think that men who don’t take that responsible role of leader in the home
spiritually abdicate that role to the wife, and that literally oozes over into
what the church is. And the truth is most men would rather watch football than
correct their children. I don’t say that sarcastically but if you’d ask the
average father how much influence they have on their children’s day-to-day lives
I guarantee you it’d be very small, so they abdicate that also to the wife and
an interview like this I can’t define what biblical manhood is, but I base what
I do on the 2 Timothy 2:2 scripture where we teach and give to faithful, teachable,
reliable men truths that we can pass on to other men. I think that men need
to feel a part of something. They need to feel like they are making a contribution.
They need to feel like they are being listened to. They need to feel like they
have influence. But they’re not going to accept that responsibility if they
are not taught and given guidance and given mentoring and also given an example
of what they should be. So many fathers in America still deal with the whole
issue of God’s love because they’ve had such a poor relationship with their
father. I don’t mean to use that as a crutch but it’s really true. I read somewhere
the other day where a full 20-30% of men are still angry at their fathers even
10 or 20 years after their dads are dead. Well, you can imagine how that anger,
that frustration will affect and influence how we treat kids and how we treat
our spouses, how we look at the church and even how we look at God.
What do you want to say to pastors and preachers that I haven’t asked you?
I want to say to them that Bill Hybels didn’t call them and Rick Warren didn’t
call them and John Maxwell didn’t call them and Jim Dobson didn’t call them
and Billy Graham didn’t call them and Chuck Colson didn’t call them and whomever
else they want to put on that list didn’t call them. That one day God looked
at them and in that moment of decision tapped them on the shoulder and said,
“Follow me,” and we left everything to do that. He didn’t call us all to be
superstars or megachurch pastors – He just called us. He said, “Surrender your
gifts and your graces to me and bloom where you’re planted and I promise to
never leave you nor forsake you.” I would like to say to pastors today that
they need to look back in time and rethink their call and rethink their mission.
then they need to recognize that God, because of His investment, wants to see
dividends. We can’t always be looking over God’s shoulder to see what He’s got
coming for us next. We need to look Him in the eye and say, “What do you have
for me right now?” And we shouldn’t put ourselves down or disparage our effectiveness
simply because we pastor a small church or a power-based church or a church
that’s in a dying community. That has nothing to do with it. What everything
has to do with is the call of God in our lives and our making the most of the
opportunities given us. We’re not all created equal and the rewards will not
always be equal as far as earthly rewards. The “well done” that comes from God
when we see Him someday is the most significant reward.
think when Paul was talking about contentment in Philippians 4 it surely wasn’t
because he was happy in jail. It was because he knew that he was where God would
have him for that moment, and that one day this would end and the true contentment
would come when he received his final reward, when he talked to Timothy about
his crown and that kind of thing. I just don’t think we have the right to diminish
God’s call in our lives by comparing ourselves to other people or other churches
or other situations. We must make the most of where we are now, because eternity
depends on it. The moment we start feeling sorry for ourselves, then we get
our eyes off the mission and put our eyes on our self and when you do that then
there’ll always be heartbreak.