Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 1: Family and Ministry

Whether you are married or single, if you’ve been in Christian ministry for long, you’ve probably wrestled with this question: “How do I know when I’ve done enough?”

People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own. Ministries demand so much more because they are working with people, loving people, and sharing their lives.  You’ve heard this old saying: “Man may work from sun to sun, but a women’s work is never done.” Here’s my new ministry saying: “Jobs may go from nine to five, but ministries aren’t done if you’re still alive.”

Satan can use guilt feelings to make women in ministry think it’s impossible to do enough. That idea leaves us bitter, exhausted, and without hope. He can also use our fear of neglecting family to neglect our ministry. Either extreme is out of balance.

Balancing life and ministry isn’t always easy, but I believe we can find a balance that pleases God and leaves us contented and happy in ministry.

Each ministry situation is unique. Family and marriage situations, health, abilities and gifts, living situations, and personality types all determine how much time and energy we can give to ministry. Each of us must ask God to show us good balance for our ministries.

In my next three articles I’ll talk about:

  1. Balancing family and ministry,
  2. Balancing busyness in ministry, and
  3. Balancing other interests and ministry.

 Balancing Family and Ministry

Some people say God should come first, then family, then ministry. By that they usually mean that their personal relationship with God should come first, then their relationship with and needs of their family, then the needs of their ministry.

It sounds good, but raises some questions. Does that mean you should spend the most hours in your personal devotions and prayer, then less hours spending time with your family and meeting their needs, and the least hours in your ministry? Probably not, but if you don’t measure this in hours spent, how do you measure it?

Some pastors who put family before ministry say that family activities are more important than church activities. Subscribing to this idea, some pastors would skip a somewhat major event at their church to attend a practice soccer game for their third-grade child. Is that balance?

Others say ministry takes priority over the home. But how do you know when you’ve spent enough hours in ministry to enjoy time at home? I know of one full time minister with kids at home who travelled most of the time and only took one week of vacation a year. Is that balance?

Each woman needs to find the correct balance in her life and ministry. She has to consider what expectations her husband and ministry have, but ultimately she is responsible before God. Should home come first and the Lord’s work take second place? Or should the ministry have priority over the home?

I like Warren Wiersbe’s approach. He wrote this: “I disagree with both approaches for two reasons. I don’t think they’re biblical, and they automatically create conflict.  If indeed “two become one,” home and ministry are united; they are one. What God has joined together, we must not put asunder. . . . The best thing my wife and I could do for the churches we served was to build a good home and raise children who were a credit to the Lord and to the church. And the best thing we could do for our home was to build good churches for our children to attend. The two became one. . . . When our children understand that everybody in the family is a part of the ministry, and that together we are all building the church and building our home, we have a common outlook to help us in making decisions. It isn’t an either/or situation; it’s both/and.”

My husband and I first served as missionaries in Taiwan. (1980-1996) In that Chinese ministry our daughters had limited opportunities to help with our ministry. But when we came to New Zealand in 1998, our teenage daughters were a great help to our ministry. When we spent time with the youth group, we spent time with them. They had a great time singing in choir, teaching classes, leading the puppet team, and interacting with our people. They became a vital part of our ministry and the ministry was good for them.

Wiersbe also pointed out an advantage pastors and missionaries often have the people in other vocations don’t have. He says, “The pastor makes his own schedule and has calendar privileges that other people in the church don’t have.”

As a missionary pastor and wife we could often work our schedule to accommodate what our daughters wanted to do within our ministry schedule. The exception came when school activities conflicted with church. In our family, church took priority.

Instead of thinking of priorities in terms of hours spent or which choice wins, I think of it like this. My relationship with God is most important and, above all, I need to take the time and effort to build this relationship and grow in Christlikeness. With God’s help I also need to make choices that ensure that the needs of my family are met and that I am doing all God wants me to do in ministry. I need to be flexible enough to work my schedule around the most important activities. I may not be able to do all I want to do, but I will be able to do all God wants me to do.

In this new year may the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry and family that will give you confidence and contentment in both roles.

Next month: How busy is too busy in ministry? How can I slow down when I get in over my head?

[The quotes were taken from chapter 20 of this excellent book: On Being a Servant of God, by Warren W. Wiersbe. Dr. Wiersbe is with the Lord now. I heartily recommend this book to anyone in ministry.]

Have you ever:

  • planned a lesson for kids only to see it fall apart when you actually presented it?
  • lost a co-worker when you needed them the most?
  • struggled to back a trailer into a tight space?
  • felt the magic of a sudden open door to sharing an important spiritual truth with someone?
  • struggled to work under someone else’s leadership?
  • had a close friend who encouraged you in ministry?
  • watched a promising new convert break your heart with an unwise decision?
  • served as a cook or dishwasher for camp?
  • wondered if your ministry was a failure?
  • severely embarrassed yourself while preaching a sermon or giving a lesson?

These are very common occurrences when you are involved in small church ministry. My husband and I have been in mission ministries for more than 40 years. We know what it’s like to keep putting one foot ahead of the other even when we weren’t always sure what the Lord was doing through our ministry.

I am just releasing a new novel about young single adults facing some of these same things in ministry. Short Poppies is first in this series about Americans partnering with New Zealanders in church planting ministry. If you’re in ministry I believe you’ll find that some part of this book will resonate with you. This book has light-hearted moments but also deals with serious issues in ministry. And the ebook is just in time for Christmas!

Buy it on Kindle.

Buy it at other online stores.

Though we all struggle from time to time, we need to remember that it’s a privilege to be in ministry. When we are working hard, doing our best at what we feel God is leading us to do, we can know that God is working through us whether or not we can see results. 1 Corinthians 15:58 gives us this precious promise: My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Wherever you are today, may you have a blessed Christmas as you minister to others and celebrate on your own.

Instant winner!

Being a subscriber to Deb’s Book Blast automatically qualifies you to be in the draw to win the Kindle version of Looking into You by Chris Fabry. I’ll announce the winner at the end of this Book Blast.

Our international trip during Covid

 Recently my husband and I left Invercargill, New Zealand, where we live and minister, to go to the States for his mother’s memorial service. All of his mom’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren attended the service. It was not only the celebration of the spiritual heritage she left behind, but also a great family reunion. During those four weeks in the States I was also able to visit all my siblings. It was great to see family who had come from all across the States for these two reunions and God did extra things for us during that time.

God helped us overcome many obstacles to make this travel possible. New Zealand, a country of about 5 million people who live on land about the same size as Colorado, has exercised strict Covid restrictions with the pandemic since the beginning. These restrictions have been very effective. Since March 2020, we’ve only had about four thousand confirmed and probable cases of Covid. Most of these came from a recent spike in numbers. Most New Zealanders live on two islands, which also helps keep Covid under control. But these results are partly due to very strict border control. As a result, at this time travel is expensive and complicated. God helped us get through many challenging obstacles to allow us to travel during Covid. Here are some of the obstacles:

  • We couldn’t bring a pastoral couple to fill in for us outside New Zealand borders.
  • We had to find a flight from the US back to NZ that linked to a MIQ voucher. (A reserved spot in special facilities to remain isolated in for two weeks.) This obstacle is huge all by itself.
  • Though Covid jabs weren’t mandatory, we felt we needed them for travel and the schedule for them in our town was filled up until after we needed to leave.
  • Covid added thousands of dollars of expenses to our trip.
  • When we got out of MIQ there were no flights to Invercargill for eight days.

One by one God helped us past these obstacles. We are so thankful.

During managed isolation we were only allowed out of our rooms for a bit of exercise several times a day. The rest of the time we were in our motel room. Meals were dropped in front of our door three times daily. Some found this isolation very trying, but Art and I enjoyed our time together. We had plenty of time to read. I read Looking into You during our travels or isolation. I also spent much of these two weeks working on my book, Short Poppies, which I hope to publish by the end of the year.

How are you doing?

During our recent visit, it seemed like many Americans had largely forgotten about Covid and were living pretty much as normal. Others, of course, have lost jobs or loved ones. Some churches have special struggles. Covid means people around us may be scared, angry, confused, worried, or resentful. As friends and neighbors experience pandemic fatigue, we can be the kind faces (even if masked) and cheery voices that make their day a bit brighter.

Here is a meme to remind us of this. Feel free to copy it and post it in the social network you like to use. I’ve posted two versions which can be used in a portrait or landscape orientation. Or you can pin it to a Pinterest Board.

A Song about God’s goodness during dark days

You may have heard of Ron and Shelly Hamilton. Ron has written hundreds of songs and hymns and cantatas. Shelly wrote the music for many of these songs. They are probably the foremost couple in composing, performing and publishing conservative Christian songs.

As a boy, Jonathan, their son, was the voice of Pee Wee Pirate on the Patch the Pirate audio tapes. During college a medication for acne triggered a clinical depression Jonathan never came out of. He was an outspoken Christian and wrote beautiful music, but on Mother’s Day in 2013 he took his life. During the dark days following his death, his family commissioned a songwriter to write lyrics to a tune Jonathan had written. It is a powerful testimony of God’s goodness in difficult times. I’m hoping this song, “You Are Always Good,” will encourage you as it has me.

Now for the free drawing.

I have randomly picked several winners from my subscribers list to receive the Kindle version of Looking into You by Chris Fabry.

And the winner could be … you! This time I’ve picked several winners from my list, but none of them were able to get back to me. As a result, I will chose the first person to get back to me as the winner of this drawing. The second to get back to me will be the winner of the next drawing. All you have to do is send these words to this address: artdebbrammer@gmail.com. The words are: I have read your Book Blast and want to go into the drawing for a free book. The winners will be announced as soon as they reply.

My review of Looking into You:

Paige Redwine is haunted by a choice she made when she was only seventeen. Now a well-respected English teacher, she finds the baby she gave up for adoption is a student in one of her classes. She must choose between keeping silent about the past or revealing herself to her daughter and risking her reputation as a teacher. Fabry gives a personal and intimate look into the lives of the birth mom and her daughter and the choices they must make. Though several things seemed a bit unrealistic I did enjoy this book for the personal look it gave into giving up a baby to adoption. I don’t give 5 stars to many books, but I did for this one.

When Covid’s Not Over Yet

A year ago I wrote a blog about the Unprecedented Opportunities that we have during the Covid-19 pandemic. I listed 6 Christian qualities that model Christ-like living and give us a special way to shine our light into a dark world troubled by Covid. If you missed that blog, you can read it here.

A year ago, most of us probably thought, a year later, the Covid problem would be largely under control. That life would be normal again. Sometimes in some places it may seem like normal, but the Delta variant is reviving the virus in new ways. Some places around the world are struggling more now than ever before. Now pandemic fatigue sets in and we’re sick of it all. Sometimes it affects our ministry.

So how are you doing? Are you managing the extra layer of stress Covid-19 adds to life in general? Are you weary of the divisive issues Covid brings to church, school, and friendships in general? Is the gloomy news about the Delta variant dominating your life?

My husband and I recently traveled from New Zealand to the USA to observe a memorial service for his mother who died in May. It was a special time to celebrate the heritage she left us by serving God faithfully for many decades.  We were also able to spend time with much of our extended family. But Covid did set many obstacles in our path and add that extra layer of stress to our travels.

Covid made every aspect of travel more challenging, but God brought us through these obstacles.

  • Finding someone from within New Zealand who could fill in for our ministry when replacements from other countries weren’t allowed in
  • Getting airline tickets that matched managed isolation vouchers
  • Getting both Covid vaccinations before we left
  • Paying for extra expenses incurred because of Covid
  • Booking a flight home to Invercargill after 2 weeks of managed isolation during a level 4 lockdown

We left an island country the size of Colorado that had experienced many months with zero community transmission. From there we went to the States where states of similar size presented about 500 new cases a day. Believe it or not, living in a country with very little Covid produces a special kind of challenge. From the beginning of Covid, New Zealand sealed off its borders and was able to catch incoming cases before they spread to the community. While we were in managed isolation for 14 days after our trip, however, Covid entered the community and spiked with, at some points, over 80 new cases a day. Suddenly Auckland was in level 4 lock down, and the rest of New Zealand was in level 3.

As I landed in New Zealand I had to reset my body clock from Central Daylight Time to New Zealand Standard Time. And my body calendar from hot summer to cool winter.  And my almost-normal New Zealand life to very restricted New Zealand life. Now we’ve entered level 2 and can have church again, with less than 50 people, face masks recommended, and 2-meter social distancing.

Sigh.

Covid isn’t over yet. In fact with the Delta variant, it’s breathing new life … or death … depending on how you look at it.

Last year I talked about Unprecedented Opportunities Covid brings us in ministry. Now I want to talk about how to handle the complexities of pandemic fatigue. Since God has allowed Covid into our communities, how can we manage the issues it brings to our ministry?

Prepare to deal with Covid’s extra layer of stress.

You’ve all heard about the two shoe salesmen who heard about a country where people didn’t wear shoes. The pessimist says, “I don’t want to go there. If people don’t wear shoes, no one would buy any.” The optimist says, “I must go to that country. No one has shoes so the market’s wide open!”

 Ministry during Covid is kind of like that. As New Zealanders say, “I’m so over Covid!” I’ve worn my mask, and social distanced, and scanned my QR code (something they’ve evidently not done in the States.) I’ve even had that nasty Covid swab stuck up my nose.

So if God has called you to a ministry in a country in which people are “so over” Covid, what can you do? Like the optimist you can say, “Wow. Everyone is discouraged, stressed, and impatient. What a great place to spread encouragement!”

My last trip to the supermarket was one of those days. It rained, hailed, blew. I had to figure out how to adjust my mask for a more comfortablefit. I had to wait in a short line to get in, and then do the “distance dance,” trying to get my cart without getting too close to anyone. I was trying to figure out how to work the QR code we’d just downloaded on my cell phone. When it didn’t work, I had to fill out a card for contact tracing. I sanitized my hands, pushed my cart into the store, and then realized I’d forgotten my bags. (In New Zealand you have to bring your own bags to the store or pay for theirs.)

You’ve been there before. We all have. I try to remind myself that everyone around me is facing similar struggles. For some of them, Covid has cost them their business. They’ve worried about sick family members or not been able to attend a funeral of a loved one. I’ve only been inconvenienced by it.

How can we encourage others during a stressful shopping trip or everyday life?

  • When wearing a mask, make eye contact with people and smile with our eyes.
  • Be extra patient with workers when it takes extra time and effort to do their jobs.
  • Speak a few cheery words even when we don’t have to say anything.

 Don’t allow Covid to dominate your life.

We need to have some idea of what’s going on with Covid, but some of us need to know the details more than others. Don’t let the news dominate your life or weigh you down. Here are some ways to keep that from happening:

  • If Covid news upsets you, don’t listen to it.
  • If you listen to it, don’t dwell on it all day.
  • Allow extra time and energy to deal with the extra level of stress Covid brings.
  • Make the necessary changes you need to make, but don’t let it dominate other areas of your life.
  • Choose music, books or movies that edify. Pass over ones that depress you.
  • Don’t let your viewpoint affect your disposition.

Don’t let Covid’s divisive issues divide your church.

 Covid is a real threat vs Covid is a giant hoax. Mask vs no mask. Vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers. These issues are polarizing people today. Even Christians. Even churches. And that saddens me. Of course, my opinions make perfect sense to me. Except for eating and drinking, on my recent trip back to New Zealand, I wore a mask for 30 hours straight. And it didn’t hurt me. I could ask, “Even if people don’t see Covid as a serious threat, would it hurt them to wear a mask to make others more safe?” But some would even resent me for asking that question.

Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. People have their reasons and I have mine. But I don’t have to make it an issue.  I can respect the feelings of others even if they differ from mine. I can scroll past Facebook posts that might upset me or hurt a friendship. I can simply listen to a conversation and not share my opinion. I’ve been in ministry for 43 years now and I’ve learned one thing: I don’t have to weigh in on every issue.

Though our viewpoints may seem important to us, let’s not let it divide our churches. These are not moral issues and shouldn’t become church issues.

As people in ministry, we don’t try to control every conversation we take part in, but that doesn’t tie our hands. What can we do when someone brings up a Covid issue that is moving in a negative direction to the point of discouraging others and maybe even causing division?

  • Acknowledge that Covid has brought real hardship to some people.
  • Recognize that these are sensitive issues with good people on both sides.
  • Before the conversation becomes demoralizing, nudge the conversation in a more positive direction or even change the subject.

Can I do that? Just change the subject because I don’t want to talk about it? Isn’t that rude? I wondered that a few years ago, but I’m changing my viewpoint. Maybe you’ve been in a conversation that goes on and on past the time that everyone has expressed his or her sentiments and are beginning to repeat them. Maybe you’ve even had this exact conversation before and it never turns out well. Once in a while I just step into the conversation and change the subject, gracefully or not. I find that people generally don’t mind, even if they know what I’m doing, and some appreciate it.

As people in ministry, we can lead the church even in casual conversation. We can set the tone and help the church to be a positive place. People have problems and we need to come alongside to listen and encourage. Church meetings, however, should be a place of blessing, not constant complaint and discouragement. The pastor can preach an uplifting sermon, but any of us can work behind the scenes to encourage each other individually.

We are the church. We’re supposed the help each other and make our meetings a healthy place for our church family to meet, fellowship, and feel encouraged. Even during Covid. Especially during Covid.

 Listen to the inspiring song, “We Are Your Church.”

Get the free printable download of the song,We Are Your Church.