I’ve heard Darlene Cunningham teach us, “We have often been told, ‘God first, family second, ministry third.’ While this is well-intentioned, it should be, ‘God first, God second, God third…God everywhere, and in everything first.’” I like this approach which doesn’t compartmentalize our lives into categories.
Family and ministry are linked. According to 1 Timothy 3:5, ministry begins in our families. Hospitality, discipleship, worship, sanctification, service…it all begins at home. Everything is first learned at home – for better or for worse. Ministry is not just a separate category of our lives when we walk into our office or place of service. Ministry is also when I prepare coffee for my wife in the morning. It is also when I take care of a sick child or play with him. In fact, my authority outside my family will also stem from my investment inside.
God doesn’t just call individuals; He calls families to follow and serve Him together as a team. I am not advocating for familiocentrism. Jesus did not ask us to “seek first the welfare of our family,” but “the kingdom of God.” We are called to seek His kingdom in our family and to serve the development of His kingdom as a family.
And the life the Lord invites us to experience as His followers is not one of unbridled, unbalanced activism. We are not called to sacrifice our family on the altar of ministry. We need to discern what the Lord is really asking us to do and what is coming out of drivenness. My father was a farmer; there were seasons when I knew he was very busy, like during the summer harvest. He was often up at 4:00 a.m. and wouldn’t get home until 11:00 p.m. This would last for a few weeks. But in the winter, there was a lot less work on the farm so he was more available, we went skiing as a family… We may have times when we are less available, but over the year it must balance out, or our family will suffer. Do we have different seasons during the year, or is it an all-the-time high speed pace that will end up killing us and our family in the long run? And what is your rhythm? It may be different from your wife’s. It may be different from your friends and colleagues. Have you learned about your boundaries?
Everyone must find a rhythm that corresponds to him or herself. It depends on our seasons of life, our temperaments, our gifts… It also depends on our education. And it evolves with the years, the age of the children, the circumstances of life. But here are some tips to help us reconcile our family life and our ministry.
- Serve as a family and include your children in your ministry as much as possible, as long as they enjoy it. We have been on missionary tours as a family since the birth of our children. Actually, we were already involved regularly before their arrival, and we simply included them in our lifestyle. And they loved it. In fact, most of the time they prefer going on a missionary outreach rather than our family holidays… In doing so, we were able to instill in them a mentality turned towards the nations, the love of God and service to others. As they grow up, they continue to do this without us, but with other teams.
- Learn sabbath, for yourself, as a couple, as a family. It allows you time to disconnect from activities, be refreshed personally and in your relationships. One of our KKI leaders taught us how family vacations were sacred for them and how his adult kids reported to him that it was a key time every year that kept them connected. How do you get refreshed, and how do you include that in your schedule?
- Learn to protect your family times. Edith Schaeffer founded with her husband the L’Abri center in Huémoz, Switzerland. Their ministry consisted of welcoming students and young people and training them to think according to Christ. They welcomed hundreds of people from all walks of life for more than twenty-five years. Their family life was therefore conducted in the context of a wider community life. Edith Schaeffer encourages families to be like doors which have hinges (that know how to open) and locks (that know how to close). As she writes, “If you are going to open your family to others, you need to have something to give.” Sometimes a person would arrive unexpectedly. She knew how to welcome them, how to make them feel comfortable, but if they were in the middle of family time, she would gently explain that they could wait in the living room, offer them a drink and some reading material until they had finished their family time. Welcoming guests and practicing hospitality should not be at the expense of our own family.
- For that, we need to learn to plan and block specific times in our agendas or we’ll never be able to fit them in. The enemy loves to steal, and the urgent of everyday life will definitely help him to do this. I schedule time with my wife – we go for a walk to share and pray three times a week and once during the weekend; we go out to eat at the restaurant once a month. We schedule family meals (especially with young adults!), personal time and fun activities with some of our kids. We need to be intentional or it will not just happen.
- Let’s be humble and aware of our shortcomings and tendencies to neglect important priorities. Let’s practice confession and praying for one another especially toward our spouse and kids. When is the last time you asked for forgiveness from your children? And let’s make sure we have someone who can ask us the tough questions about our marriage and family life. This may prove lifesaving at some point.
- Let’s practice prayer together. Spiritual intimacy means it’s a joy and a longing to pray as a couple and a family. How can we develop a healthy rhythm so this habit becomes really part of our life?