The families of Australian Protestant pastors are generally supportive of the use of the family’s home for ministry but a majority – 74 per cent – believe that the way in which the home is used needs to change.

They are among the findings of a new study, Doing Ministry Together: Life in an Australian Clergy Family, which explores whether the ministry of Australian clergy members affects family members who live with them. Conducted by Australian Clergy Families, the survey involved 114 spouses and 121 adult children of different generations from across Australia including 185 females and 48 males with an average age of 47 among spouses and 37 among clergy children.

ACF Graph1

Graphic Courtesy of Australian Clergy Families.

“They needed to be able to separate out say, physical areas, or they needed to be able to have a way of separating out the activities that are happening and make sure that their say is respected so that there is that separation of the family and the family space as well from the ministry activity that is happening in their home.”

- Matt Stevens discussing the findings

The clergy involved represented a range of Protestant denominations with the largest proportion of those surveyed belonging to Anglican families (45 per cent of spouses and 37 per cent children). Others represented included the Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ and Reformed denominations.

More than 95 per cent of those spouses and children surveyed said the family home was used for ministry activities relating to the clergy members work – 86 per cent reported this was or had been the case on a weekly basis.

And while less than 10 per cent of spouses and 13 per cent of children reported this was a negative experience - the highest proportion in both groups – 34.3 per cent and 42.2 per cent respectively - said the experience was ‘mixed’, 71.7 per cent of spouses and 76 per cent of children said they felt the way in which the family home was used needed to change.

When asked what this meant, 40.3 per cent of spouses and 36.7 per cent of children indicated that the hosting area for ministry activities should be separated from the rest of the house, and 29.9 per cent of spouses and 13.9 per cent of children said the employing church needed to respect family choices regarding use of the home.

“While some participants advocated specific changes, it was more generally believed that home use should be determined by the clergy and their family and that those choices must be respected by the employing church,” the study noted.

Matt Stevens, co-founder of Australian Clergy Families, said he believes the response of families to the use of the family home for ministry was reflective of their desire to continue to do ministry in the house but to have a greater degree of control over the way it was used.

“They needed to be able to separate out say, physical areas, or they needed to be able to have a way of separating out the activities that are happening and make sure that their say is respected so that there is that separation of the family and the family space as well from the ministry activity that is happening in their home.”

He added that some family members also raised concerns that a lack of proper separation between family and ministry activities could not only adversely affect family members but also adversely affect the ministry being conducted.

“If you have things like counseling or other ministry activities which are quite private and you have them happening at home, then that kind of compromises the professional privacy because the family sees who comes for counselling each week. So that becomes what looks like an inappropriate venue for that activity…”

ACF Graph2

Graphic Courtesy of Australian Clergy Families.

Mr Stevens said that given the current emphasis in the community on work-life balance, it had been surprising to find that the homes of clergy members were still used for ministry to the degree indicated.

“You would expect, as we did, that when the work of the clergy had become more professional that there would be more of a separation between the home and the workplace. But actually what we found is quite the opposite – that the home is overwhelmingly considered to be an annex, an area, of the church ministry and understood to be an area where ministry activities, not just the preparation of them, are commonly held. And that has a direct affect on those who are living in the family.”

When it comes to what the home was used for with regard to ministry, figures from the survey showed that 82 per cent of spouses and 69.5 per cent of children reported it was used for ministry preparation, 95.5 per cent of spouses and 88.1 per cent of children said it was used for church ministries and 62.1 per cent of spouses and 46.6 per cent of children reported that it was used for ministry hospitality.

Mr Stevens said that while they didn’t directly collect any data about whether clergy owned their houses or whether the homes were provided by churches as part of pastors' packages, regardless of this, “their sense of whether or not change needed to happen wasn’t based on whether or not they had their own home".

"Which was again, quite surprising – you think if you had your own home, there would be a different level of control and a different level of...ownership. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Elsewhere, the study showed that almost all the spouses surveyed (98.2 per cent) and a slightly lower proportion of children (96.7 per cent) said they enjoyed at least one aspect of their experience in being a member of a pastor’s family. Some 38.2 per cent of spouses and 51.7 per cent of children identified belonging to a diverse ministry community as an enjoyable experience while 35.5 per cent of spouses said being involved in ministry was an enjoyable aspect and 35.3 per cent of children identified the opportunities for personal development as one.

Asked about what they least enjoyed, 40.5 per cent of spouses and 47.4 per cent of children indicated that it was their personal lifestyle being restricted by the clergy’s ministry experiences and, 29.7 per cent of spouses and 43 per cent of children said it was the expectations of others.

The findings also showed:

• 70 per cent of all those surveyed said ministry strained their family relationships, with lifestyle restrictions, conflicting beliefs about ministry and a lack of separation between ministry and personal life among the key causes of strain;

• 87.6 per cent of spouses and children said they felt there were certain expectations of them as a family member of someone in ministry - these included expectations they would be involved ministry support, in the church and maintain certain standards of personal conduct; and,

• that while 95.6 per cent of spouses and 76.1 per cent of children reported receiving some form of support, there is a disconnection between the types of support offered and the types of support they sought with only 17.4 per cent saying they received the support that was most helpful to them.

Matthew and Rachel Stevens

Rachel and Matt Stevens of Australian Clergy Families. PICTURE: Supplied

 

“That it will be part of helping them, in their local communities, to be understood and therefore supported as much as they can be when and if they actually need that."

- Mr Stevens, speaking of his hopes for the research.

Mr Stevens said he and Rachel, who founded Australian Clergy Families - described as a “community of support and encouragement” for the families of those working in ministry - in 2014, decided to conduct the research after realising through their contact with clergy families, “how misunderstood they were”.

His said their hope for the research was that it would be “part of a larger conversation about understanding the families of clergy workers because of the lack of understanding in general that they have expressed regarding their role and their lives”.

“That it will be part of helping them, in their local communities, to be understood and therefore supported as much as they can be when and if they actually need that,” he said.

Mr Stevens said that as well as being available to the church generally, it was hoped the paper would be looked at by church leadership at both a local and denominational level, noting that the findings were similar across denominations.

“It seems that there is a larger trend happening here which individual denominations need to look at…but also the broader church community.”

Mr Stevens said that fact the study found family members are affected by a spouse or parent’s ministry shows action on the issue is needed if family members are going to be supported and cared for properly as part of the "Body of Christ".

“They have such a pivotal role…and their role in the body needs to be respected so they can play their part,” he said.

The research can be downloaded for free from the Australian Clergy Families website.

Matt and Rachel Stevens will be holding a webinar to discuss their survey findings on Thursday, 21st September, at 8pm (AEST) at www.facebook.com/acfwebinars