Balancing Life and Ministry, Part 1: Family and Ministry

 

Woman JugglingIf you’ve been in full time 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 never quit while you’re still alive.”

Satan can use guilt feelings to make people 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 other interests and ministry, and
  3. Balancing busyness in 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 which is also your full time job? 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 who travels most of the time and only takes one week of vacation a year. Is that balance?

Each person is responsible before God to find the right balance between family and ministry. The only one who answers to me is me. And, of course, my husband and I work out this balance as a couple. However, I will share with you some thoughts about the issue that I’ve found helpful.

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 says, “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.”

In our Chinese ministry in Taiwan (1980-1996) our daughters were limited in how they could help. But when we came to New Zealand in 1998, our teenaged 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 says, “In spite of complaining about the demands of ministry, 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 week: 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. I heartily recommend the book to anyone in ministry.]

[image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/Deposit Photos.]