The greatest calling of family ministry
The launch of a new school year may be the most intense time in our ministry calendar. With the excitement of the fall launch comes early mornings, late nights, and “the day off” may seem to elude us for weeks on end. Sadly, as our ministry and focus at church accelerate, our ministry and focus at home often suffers. We design and launch dynamic strategies to bless and enrich families in our church, while we neglect the spiritual life of our own family at home.
The greatest calling of family ministry is not in your church but in your house.
For the first ten years of my pastoral life, church was first, family was second. I loved my wife and children, and I enjoyed spending time with them, but my driving passion was shepherding the teens, children, and families in my church. I prayed with and taught the Bible to other people’s children, but not mine. I made sure every church event was prepared and well organized, while I continually delayed needed projects and tasks around the house. My wife, Amy, was becoming increasingly discouraged and lonely, as she was wrongly saddled with the task of leading our family. In 2004, God broke in and broke me. He brought me to a place of repentance and turned my heart to the ministry of my family and convicted me that my “Great Commission calling” began with the shepherding of my own family.
As God changed my heart, He changed my life. Here are some practical ways you can increasingly give your best ministry to your family this year.
Changes at Home
Establish a basic weekly schedule.
For many years, each morning, Amy asked me, “What time are you coming home tonight?” I would reply on my way out the door, “Not sure, probably around 5:00.” Around 4:00 I would give her a call, “Honey, really sorry, I don’t think I can be home till around 6:30.” This pattern proved to be a daily disappointment and discouragement to my wife. My chaotic schedule at work was creating chaos at home. Our marriage took a huge step forward when Amy and I sat down with the calendar and created a standard schedule for my workweek. Mondays off. Tuesdays home at 5:00. Wednesdays home at 10:00, etc. If someone asked me for a Tuesday night appointment, I didn’t have to think about it. “No. I am not available on Tuesday nights, because that time is already scheduled with my family at home.” A set schedule provided clarity and boundaries for me and my family.
Lock up the gizmos.
I have a horrible habit of having my phone in my hand and my laptop open on the kitchen table. My ministry to my family can be interrupted anytime with a text, an email, or “Oh, I just want to check on something real quick.” When you get home, put your gizmos in a separate room, turn them off, and close the door. If you don’t, your children will have more memories of you looking at your smartphone than you looking at their eyes.
Take your day off.
God commands that we do all our labor in six days. I think that church leaders are some of the chief rebels against the fourth commandment. For us Sunday certainly has essential elements of worship, fellowship, and rest. It is also our most important, most demanding, and most draining work day. If you do not have a set, and religiously protected, day off, then the long-term viability of both your family and your ministry are at risk.
Gather for family worship.
Without question, the biggest thing that needed to change in my family had to do with family worship. As the leader, shepherd, and pastor of my home, nothing is more important than gathering my family together to pray and read God’s Word. Family worship is the engine that powers your family. What impact would your ministry at church have if you never read the Bible or prayed as a part of your program? Zero. The same is true at home. Being a spiritual shepherd of your home requires regular time in family prayer and Scripture reading.
Changes at Church
Unfortunately, many church leaders also work in a “corporate culture” which actively works against their ability to prioritize their ministry to their family. Here are some essential conversations to have with your team and with your senior leaders.
Establish the 40-hour baseline.
I know many churches that formally communicate to their ministry staff the expectation of a 55-hour workweek. This is a recipe for disaster. Be prepared for continual staff turnover, burn out, secret sins, lousy marriages, and prodigal children. There are reasons why the 40-hour workweek was the norm in the formerly Christian culture of the United States! It created the opportunity for healthy work and family balance. There will always be the occasional 60-70 hour weeks, but there needs to be a healthy baseline goal. You are not more spiritual or more dedicated to your ministry if you work more hours. In fact, it may mean that you are less spiritual and out of the will of God as you spiritually neglect your marriage and children.
Keep your team accountable.
As you meet with your volunteers and paid staff, is your first concern for them their personal walk with God and their ministry to their own families? Is that your first topic of conversation when you meet with them, or are you so passionate about casting vision for their ministry at church that you are unintentionally leading them to put their secondary ministry (church) ahead of their primary ministry (home)? This is especially important with your paid staff team. One of your primary leadership tasks is to be sure they are not working too many hours.
It has to be a constant topic of conversation.
Have an authentic ministry.
The banker can get a divorce and still bank. The salesman can be addicted to porn and still sell. The teacher can have rebellious children and still teach. But for ministers to please God and “succeed” in our work, we must walk with Him, grow in godliness, prioritize our marriages, and shepherd our children. We cannot lead people in a direction we are not going ourselves. The authenticity for our ministry is proven in our homes.
Leading family ministry at church is a piece of cake compared to engaging in family ministry in our own homes. You will not get awards, columns in the church newsletter, or thank you notes for honoring your parents, prioritizing your spouse, caring for your siblings, and shepherding your children. The senior pastor probably won’t call you up front during the church service to thank you for your ministry in those areas. But one day you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”