There’s a catchy old Sinatra song that goes something like this: “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage … You can’t have one without the other.” Can you hear it in your head? If not, you’re likely in your 30s or younger. Sometimes in our home we have changed the lyrics just a bit to: “Ministry and marriage, ministry and marriage, go together like ice cream and asparagus!”
As a ministry person, if you’re part of a family—any sort of a family—you likely know all too well the challenges that can co-exist with the balancing act of family life and ministry.
Ministry can be completely invasive and overwhelming—evening meetings, phone calls at all hours, interruptions on your day off. It’s people’s lives, hearts, and needs. There is an urgency. This matters for eternity, right? Certainly God will provide for our families even if we give more to the ministry. He has called us. Right?
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). That verse pretty much sums up the goal of it all. It applies to our own children and to those under our influence in ministry. But those in our home are priority above and before the others. We find clear direction from 1 Timothy 3:5, “But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” How do we do this? How do we do both?
Through God’s Word, we see two very clear core issues: idolatry and identity. Gulp. And let me tell you, I have excelled at both.
Ministry is valuable. We know it is, whether the world affirms it or not. We know what we do has Kingdom impact. We feel needed. We see God using us and our gifts for His glory. It gives us purpose and worth. But all too easily, we no longer serve God but we serve the work. Ministry becomes our God. The impact it has on our family is profoundly dangerous. We preach “serve your families” and yet we fail to serve our own, because we’re busy serving others. When we seek to be all things to all people, what does that look like to our kids? We put ourselves in the rightful place of God—idolatry. When we allow ourselves to be in that position, our families will resent us. Unknowingly, we sometimes let ourselves, our importance, our worth, our impact, become our own god.
Sometimes the ministry we do becomes a role. We feel needed and it can even feel like acting—far from genuine. There are oodles of people in ministry who need the role and the title to give them worth and value. It could even be you. Too often, we hide behind our calling and let it be the excuse for being out of balance and for messed up priorities. We let a busy ministry have high value, but that’s not what God intended for us to do.
So now what? Ask the Lord to show you what the struggle is. Have you put too much on yourself and let the ministry take the rightful place of God? Is your position too important? Do you find yourself needy of the title, the role, the influence more than being whole in Christ simply because He created you and loves you? Be honest and dig deep. Seek the input of trusted friends and ask if they see either of these in your life. Be ready for the answer and don’t hold it against them. A true friend will tell the truth because of their love. Ask your family and not just once but often. I learned a great evaluation tool from Dr. Gary Rosberg from America’s Family Coaches. “Let’s take our temperature. Are we hot or cold?” He would use this phrase with his young children to evaluate how they felt about the family relationships. Check with your family often; they might be hot today and cold next month. Once you know if either identity or idolatry is an issue, own it and don’t make excuses.
Embrace Regrets. I don’t really get it when someone has no regrets. I certainly have a bunch of mistakes I’ve made that I regret. But I do believe those regrets can serve as great teachers—agents for change. The mistakes you have made likely can’t be fixed but they can and will be redeemed. Learn from them and do it differently next time.
Self Care. Oh, this is so hard and so very important. Self care involves time off and time with—time off from ministry and time with the Lord. I finally had the a-ha moment that helped me understand the importance of the Sabbath concept. I now take a day fully off—no striving, no work, and all focus on Him. This has had a profound impact on my life. And then time with Jesus. I have always been in the Word and then not. Back and forth. Good devo time one week, not so good the next week. I finally started asking the Lord to get me up early to have time with Him, to let me crave it so much that I was hungry for it. I cannot imagine doing ministry without first being with Him. I had too many years of doing ministry for Him but not with Him.
Tweak Your Thinking. Only one part of our earthly relationships are eternal—brothers and sisters in Christ. Invest the most, the deepest, the best. It’s easy to desire what is good, lovely, honorable, and pure, for your spouse and kids when you look at them as your brothers and sisters in Christ. You change your perspective of them. This is one of the most incredible changes in my life. This simple tweak in my thinking has caused my love for my family to flow more freely. It has caused me to pray more effectively for them. I have minimized worry and anxiety. I love them better and am a better wife and mom because of this.
Adopt a Team Mindset with Your Family. Win-win is the only option. Be on each others’ side. Always. Say it out loud, “I am on your team.” Pray for each other. Pray with each other. Both are needed and yet they are very different. And serve! Serve your family. Ponder this: I serve my family. I serve my spouse. I serve my church. I serve the families. This is consistent from job to home. Instead of being in charge one place or the other, serve both. You will feel a freedom and increased peace in your home.
Don’t Compare. Comparison is a deadly trap. Facebook and other social media options are prime ground for cultivating a tendency to compare you and the ministry you serve in to others. Social media has been linked to increased depression and lack of contentment. God has a picture of what your family and your ministry will look like, and you’ll find that in His Word as you spend time together. You are wise not to compare to other ministries or to other families. Be confident and content in the family you are.
Do the Little Things that have Big Impact. You can’t do it all, but you need to do a lot. You know what matters most, and you know what is essential for you to function well. If you need to walk every day, make it a priority and treat it as an appointment. If you thrive when you have lots of chat time with your spouse, find a way to make it happen every day. For me, having a tidy house is essential. There are five of us (not counting the yappie Yorkie, Baxter). We have a “Ten-minute Tidy” routine. I set the timer. We all take an area of the house and for 10 minutes we tidy up. That’s 50 minutes of manpower. It’s amazing how much we get done! You will make time for what matters most.
Know When to be Done. Not with your family. That is a clear, biblical priority. You may need to be done with the ministry, though. Dr. Gary Rosberg said, “Life is short. Your calling is important … but they can get another speaker, leader, person in your role. Only one person calls you husband/wife and only your kids can call you Mom/Dad. Win at home first.”
Since being invited to contribute to this issue of Kidzmatter Magazine, a family member has left their spouse and children in pursuit of something “else,” leaving behind precious loved ones who are sad, angry, confused, unsure, worried, and quite simply, shattered. Since being invited to contribute to this issue, a dear friend has had the shock of her husband having an affair and filing for divorce. Theirs is one of those families where you say, “Not them!” And since the invite for this article, a fellow ministry staff member confessed to an extra-marital affair.
Unexpected. Yes. And no, not really. As the thesaurus says, “unexpected” is abrupt, unannounced, unpredicted, and unforeseen. All three of these heartbreakers are that for sure. After pondering these so-very-fresh crisis situations, there were clues. They were at risk. It’s wise to learn from the mistakes of others. There are two obvious consistencies between all three: Busyness and Absence.
It’s clear that these homes were busy—too busy. Too much work … too much pursuit … too much striving and trying and pursuing and seeking more. When anything takes the rightful place of God in our lives, it becomes an idol. Working endless hours, day after day … doing more … being out of balance takes a toll. There are seasons of life when that is okay and even demanded, but those seasons are unique and usually temporary, and in those seasons, God provides in a special way. In these families, at least one person was too busy. Too much. They had clearly made choices that were not what God intended for them.
The other issue was absence from abiding in the presence of the Lord. The Word of God is life. We are to hunger for it like we thirst for water. These three were not spending time with the Lord. They were not getting to know Him better. There was no daily feeding from His Word about life and how to navigate the daily challenges it holds. And in one situation, doing work for the Lord took the place of doing life with the Lord. There is a difference.
As you take a serious look at yourself in light of both the ministry and your family, where does busyness and absence fall? Take care of it now! Minister to your family first as you abide in the presence of the Lord. And, may you experience the joy that comes from knowing that your children are walking in the truth.
Jane Larsen is the wife to Scott and the mom of three kiddos—Alex, Blake, and Emma Grace. She leads the kidmin at their church, wears all sorts of hats at the camp Scott directs and is a true city girl who has found the sweetest joys in rural Iowa, including a darling cow painting that sits right next to her coffee maker!