Tension, confusion, frustration, and even spiritual defeat often confronts the Christian who tries to balance church ministry and home ministry. Is this God's intent? Or is his will that both areas of ministry thrive, each fueling the other, and are both rewarding and fulfilling? I think we can guess the answer.
The following is a practical guideline for the Christian worker who deals with these questions and tension in their life. This paper is written as a blend of biblical principles of ministry and personal experience. It is not an arrogant expression of the writer having "arrived," but rather a reflection of his aspirations.
Home ministry is the God-given role we have as husbands or wives to love our spouses as God loves us. If we are parents, it includes our role to love and raise our children according to His truth. The Bible commands us to invest in our spouse and children by nurturing them, helping them develop intellectually, physically, relationally, and spiritually (Psalms 78:2-7). This requires maintaining an intimate relationship with each family member through consistent time with one another. But… we also have the additional typical responsibilities of holding a job that provides for the family and do basic maintenance things on our house, car, etc. Needless to say, this all adds up to a considerable time investment. There is even more!
Ministry in the Church
God not only speaks to our role in the family, but is equally clear that part of walking with him includes serving him in the church with the resources He's given us – our money, spiritual gifts, time, etc. When we speak of church ministry, we'll be referring to the ministry role(s) we fill in the body of Christ according to our spiritual gifts and burdens (Ephesians 4:1,11,12). This includes the time we spend developing friendships with non Christians so that we may share the Gospel. Additionally, personal spiritual growth (character transformation) also requires investing time in prayer, service, individual study of the word, developing relationships with Christians who can help us grow, and going to teachings. These are all provisions from God that are necessary for our growth. It's not surprising that attempting to balance home and church ministry can produce tension and at times, anxiety. But balance them we must.
ESSENTIAL FOR US TO UNDERSTAND: "feeling tension" over this issue in NOT the problem! Many believe that because they feel this tension something is necessarily wrong and has to be changed. That if we are "right with God" in these two areas, we will feel at peace over this issue. There are times that is true, but there are many times where the tension is felt even if we are in God's will. The Bible is clear that this tension will exist. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus says, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Jesus is not prescribing conflict with our family. He is claiming for himself the right to being the center of our life. Although this does not mean there will always be tension between our family's desires and Christ's, we have to assume that this tension will sometimes arise when the family's and Christ's agenda for us conflict. “Balance” is probably not a realistic goal if we think of it as our culture does, which is “no tension, no fatigue, no tough decisions, etc.”
WHY THE PROBLEM? We all have a set amount of time – twenty-four hours in a day and most of us have all twenty-four hours filled before becoming Christians. Therefore, when something new comes in we typically feel pressed. As new church ministry opportunities come up, we get busier. As our family expands, we get busier. Sometimes we can "capture" wasted time through improving our efficiency, but other times we realize that something will have to go! The cause of this tension is usually an issue of our conflicting values and the solution therefore is grounded in whether we manage our time according to our values.
IMBALANCE RESULTS from unbiblical values and/or an inappropriate response to the tension. Since our life situations often change, we will also regularly need to reevaluate how we balance these two areas.
What should not change is our heart’s commitment to both church and home ministry. God empowers us in both, works through us in both, and He sanctifies us through both. If we do not believe this, then we are wasting our time going further. We should return to scriptures on His purpose of the church and our role in it, and scriptures that guide us in our family ministry.
First, let's briefly consider the struggle of spending too much time serving in church ministry and not enough serving the family. Some individuals struggle when they become married, and/or have children. They have difficulties adjusting prior commitments to ministry with their new responsibilities.
Church Ministry at the Expense of the Family
Some of us try to continue with ministry obligations at the same pace and level of involvement prior to being married or having children. For some people -- that's fine! They may be able to reorganize their schedule and other commitments to allow for no changes in church ministry. They are able to trim some "fat" from involvement in other activities that don't contribute to either ministry. For others -- things must change. They used much of their "free" (discretionary) time doing church ministry before marriage and children. Therefore, some adjustments need to be made. They might try continue to serve the church without missing a beat and only when their family life deteriorates do they begin to wake up.
Sadly, when people are not investing in the family it is usually a direct reflection of their true values. Perhaps ladder-climbing pursuits at work or preoccupation with their hobbies and personal comfort.
This type of struggle is probably more complex than we can cover here and is the direction of imbalance less seen in our church. But at the heart of the issue, there is often a fundamental lack of vision for the family as valuable ministry. God however sees the tremendous impact that we can have in helping the spiritual growth of our spouse and shaping our children's values. It is an exciting, challenging, and eternally significant role.
Family Ministry at the Expense of Church Ministry
Many of us struggle in the other direction; we are invested in the family but consider church ministry as too costly to the family. Perhaps we experience a regular sense of guilt when we go out to minister or fellowship. If we are leaving our spouse at home to do so, it somehow seems wrong. Or we fear we are shortchanging our children when we leave them with a baby-sitter. It becomes even worse if our spouse or children beg us not to go out. They try to convince us to "please stay at home tonight."
Would You Like To Reduce the Guilt Feelings? Become Convinced of God's Will of Your Involvement in Both Areas.
Remember these tensions are common but can develop into a problem if we choose the family as our highest value in life! The family is not the highest value in life (a surprise to many), our relationship with God is. True, there is probably no greater blessing and joy than a Christ-centered family, but it is not an end unto itself. The family stands to serve God (Mt. 6:33). God wants us and our children to be committed to him foremost, then through His love, guidance, and power we can love the family (Mar 12:29; Luke 14:26).
Working through this truth will help correct or prevent imbalance and minimize guilt feelings.
- "What are you teaching your children if they are the center of your life?" Guilt feelings are also reduced when we consider the lessons we are teaching our family if we do stay at home whenever and just because they want us to. We are teaching our children and/or spouse that they are the center of our life, not God. Why don't we trust him? Do we really believe that he will allow our family life to dissolve while serving him in the church? If that does happen, it will be because we are not responsive to his direction which always includes quality and quantity investment in the family.
- Every child in the world, including (especially?) those with the healthiest family environment, wants more time with their parents, all of the time. Of course, that may appear to change in adolescence – but by that time, these principles have hopefully been consistently applied for years. Every child would rather you stay home every evening than go out. But what is the "goal of our instruction" (1 Tim. 1:5)? It is love according to that passage.
The bible states repeatedly that we only experience victorious living (something we all want) when focused on and serving the needs of others, not ourselves. That is a value that we MUST teach our children. Do we want our legacy to be our children uninterested in a lifestyle of sacrificial living for God? Not caring about the lost, the needy? Consumed with their own feelings and wants?
The mature Christian trusts God to meet their needs while serving others. I want my children to know that they are terribly important to me and that I love them and their mother deeply. But I don't want them to believe that they are the center of the universe and that I, nor anyone else, should live to love and serve only them. That would be reinforcing their sin nature. Although I don't claim "maturity" yet, acquiring this value must be the starting place. We must all teach and demonstrate to our children that God will care for us as we remain focused on serving the needs of others. Then they'll see God working powerfully in our family.
What Helps to Develop a Desire to Serve the Needs of Others?
Perhaps the key element in victorious Christian living is developing the ability and willingness to sacrifice. Only with sacrifice can God develop our character and use us to impact others for him. If we don't teach our family to sacrifice, we will have a spoiled, self-centered family. My wife and I have recognized that there are ongoing situations where we might regularly sacrifice time with each other, but in so doing are contributing to the work of evangelism in our outreach ministry. This biblical value must be passed to our children as well. They need to learn how to sacrifice what they desire for a cause higher than themselves. They will develop a deep appreciation for the time we do have together while simultaneously valuing serving others.
NOTE: You might be thinking, "So...do you just ignore your family in the name of Christ?!" When you get to the application section you will see that these points are qualified by critically important practical guidelines on how to keep your family ministry strong, "in the name of Christ".
Let's consider an illustration of the importance of sacrifice: My family can complain about my going to work 40 or so hours per week, but I can't provide for them if I don't. And it isn't acceptable if they daily complain about me being gone for eight or so hours. I wouldn't permit it to go on at lengths; it would be destructive to our relationships and their development. They need to accept and have a broader understanding of the value of what I do when I am away from them. And, this is the building block for their taking responsibility and making sacrifices in their adolescent and adult lives. Therefore, when they say, Daddy, do you have to go to work today? with their sad faces. I respond that I work so we can have a home, food to eat, and money to share, etc.
Now, let's apply this illustration to the topic. Many Christians, including myself, have expressed fear that our children might grow up associating Christian fellowship with having their parents abandoning them in evenings "to serve Christ". The fear is that it will result in our children being turned off to God. This will happen – IF we don't teach them WHY we do what we do. For example, as we head out to our home group, "I am going out this evening to get to know God better and allow him to teach me to serve others and be more loving to you and others." Or, as we head out for an evening with a couple we are reaching out to, "we are going out this evening to get to know these people and hopefully eventually tell them about Jesus." Children can learn to make that connection but ONLY through your instruction. They will learn the value of sacrificing for the good of God's purposes. What a marvelous value system to hand to our children. Is it possible to teach them this biblical ethic any other way? I think not.
Children can abstract as early as 4 years old; explaining this to them even before then is appropriate, in terms that they can understand, with illustrations (like the one above) that they can relate to.
Consider too, it is not God's will that we should put our gifts and burdens "on hold" in order to dedicate our life to the family (Luke 9:59-62). We don't have the luxury of saying we'll just hold off doing church ministry until the kids are in school, or out of school, or whatever life circumstances are ideal for us. He knows it's not healthy for our relationship with him, nor is it healthy for the family's relationship with him.
Perhaps one of the most compelling (as it relates specifically to the health of the family) reasons for our involvement in church ministry is how it affects our ability to love our spouse or parent. One of the biggest "favors" we can do for our spouse and children is to be more like Christ next year than this. Our marriage and family's spiritual vitality improves as our character changes toward the likeness of Christ.
However, God's provisions for a healthy spiritual relationship with him and personal character growth take time. These provisions – consistent involvement in Christian fellowship where we develop significant, ongoing ministry (and are served), study of the word, and prayer – all work together through his Spirit to change us. They MUST take us from the family on some evenings, but we come back a better person of God – a better spouse, a better parent. It is impossible to become more Christ-like without those provisions, so we involve ourselves in them because of, not in spite of, our dedication to the family and God.
Therefore, we should never choose to turn our backs on his provisions for growth, especially "for the sake of the family" – that would not be for their sake, it would be destructive. This discussion just barely scratches issues that are much deeper. What I want to encourage is your consideration of the counsel of the whole word of God. He doesn't just hold church ministry as important, nor does he just hold family ministry as important. He sees that both must serve him and his purposes on earth. We must be involved in both areas of ministry in a healthy and balanced way for the sake of our family, the church, and most of all, the kingdom.
Personal (and imperfect) Example
I'd like to provide a personal example developed through much trial, error (sin), and gratefully, the input of God often through friends in the church. This should not be interpreted as a perfect or "right" model, nor that there is a formula that works out there that we can plug our situation into and come to the "only" conclusion.
Before I was married I was involved with a home church focused on sharing God's message to others. The home church met weekly, we had a weekly men's Bible study, a weekly large group meeting (Central Teaching - many home churches coming together in a corporate setting), and I would get together at various times weekly with several other Christians to serve and learn from them. Then things began to change in my life situation.
I got married in 1985 to Chris. I love her dearly and wanted to build the marriage. Yet I remained equally committed to serving God and did not change my level of involvement in either of these ministries. We felt TENSION (I.E. - painful arguments)! This is typical of Christians committed to the church and their family. Frankly, I would be surprised and have to wonder about Christians in this situation who didn't feel this tension.
The new tension in my life required adding consistent, committed time to my marriage ("family times"), which required reducing my normal frequency or duration of involvement in some of lives of other Christians and non-Christians. They were still important, but I could no longer meet with them one-on-one several times per week as I used to, nor for whole evenings as was my custom. I maintain my commitment to discipleship by making better use of smaller blocks of time like breakfasts and lunches, and evenings after meetings when I am already out. Now, full evenings out from the home are more commonly done for the sake of outreach, and often with my wife as my partner in ministry.
Because many of the members of our home group have young children, we reduced one of our meetings to every other week. Our small men's & women's Bible studies are a subset of home groups and are for equipping believers for ministry; we call them cell groups. One parent is at home having quality time with their children while their spouse is getting equipped and the following week those roles are reversed. Home group remains a weekly priority and getting a babysitter for it is doable and often shared among members. We have tried reducing frequency of home group also to every other week, but found the vitality of Christian community and Christ-centered friendships suffered, and therefore so did the missional work of those home groups. Biblical principles that apply to this reasoning are further explained here: normative involvement in the Body of Christ.
We also have no qualms about using a baby-sitter for the sake of both of us being fully involved in fellowship and outreach activities. What an awesome way to use God's money for His purposes! For groups that meet weekly but the couple can’t afford a weekly baby-sitter, we encourage the spouses to alternate on two of the weeks per month and for the other two getting a baby-sitter so that they can still enjoy fellowshipping together and be strong contributors to the ministry of the group.
Changes like this have helped our family and many others live out God's purpose in both arenas.
Here are some practical suggestions to help maintain balance:
- Study and think through the biblical principles of ministering to your wife and family and in the body of Christ.
Deut. 4:9; 6:4-7; 11:18-19; Joshua 4:6; 1 Tim 3:4; Eph. 6:4
Matthew 28:19; Mark 3:33-35; John 15:5; Mt. 6:33; Mt. 10:37-39.
- Evaluate where you spend your time.
Chart your weekly schedule. List your "stated priorities" and see if these and where you actually spend your time match.
Do you work inordinate hours and are afraid to draw a line with the boss -- but are willing to draw lines with God?
Is your attention to your hobbies and personal comfort taking precedence over family and church? In other words, the family and God are getting shortchanged, and the problem isn't too much ministry (as I too often hear).
- Talk with a mature and experienced Christian worker about your situation and ask for their opinion on your time management.
DON’T BE DEFENSIVE WHEN GETTING INPUT ON YOUR MARRIAGE OR PARENTING SKILLS – I am amazed at how this remains an area people are hesitant to get help with. I shudder to think where my family would be without God’s wisdom expressed through other Christian workers.
- Study a biblical discussion on normative involvement in the Body of Christ to balance with these suggestions on family ministry.
- Set regular, consistent times aside for your family and for individual members of the family.
We call these "family times" or "date nights".
Some people scoff at the idea of scheduling regular family times -- as if it is sub-spiritual. Personally, I reserve and schedule time for the things that I consider most important in my life (Heb. 10:24). The less important things, I just handle the best I can along the way.
For our family, I find at least two family times per week and a Dad and child time weekly with each of my children (my wife does the same) works best. What does it mean if I am willing to set aside time weekly to help a younger Christian grow, but don't do the same for my family? Even before having children, Chris and I consistently had date nights at least a couple of nights per week. Now, our Thursday evening is for the family and at least a half-day Sunday. Seldom will we do any house work or anything like that during those times. Rather, we play board games, sports outside, go places, have a Patch Party time, which is some surprise, etc.
My wife and I also get our own date nights (about once every two weeks) when we get a baby-sitter to watch the kids, often after we've put them down to bed. Our children understand and appreciate the fact that Chris and I value and need time alone together, too.
- Get meals together and take advantage of the briefer moments before meetings to interact in a quality way with your family.
We are like everyone else; we would love to "veg out" when getting home from work. But with rare exception, that is not an option for us. Time with our family is too precious. Coming home from work and keeping our "feet moving" -- ready to play with the kids and relate to our spouse -- is a necessary sacrifice. God will empower us and bless that time.
- Where possible, have your children serve with you.
If it is a more adult centered ministry, try to find ways to have them help out (helping to set up a room, prepare snacks, introduce to the people, etc.).
- We have each of the children teach us what they learned in the children's program while we attended our Central Teaching (Sunday corporate teaching).
This gets them used to communicating God's truth to others and expresses our interest in what they are doing. It is difficult to imagine a happier moment than hearing about your child leading someone to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
- As mentioned above, but worth repeating, they should be instructed in the importance of our ministry as it relates to God's purposes.
Your ministry will only be a distraction to them until you explain its importance to God. It's a good way to remind ourselves, too!
- They should be aware of the money you give to the church to begin to develop awareness of God's perspective on financial stewardship.
When they wonder why you don't have a fancier car, do several expensive vacations, buy all the things their friends have, etc., it's appropriate to let them know where a significant amount of your money goes and the eternally valuable things it is being used for.
- Pray together regularly, making certain to mention people that you are reaching out to and serving.
Ask them to pray for you and your ministry. Share your struggles and fears and ask for their prayers. Be humble about your sins and they will understand the grace of God.
- Study the Bible together regularly.
There are several children's Bibles that can facilitate this.
The Lord envisions our family being a juggernaut of ministry in his name and simultaneously a source of rich blessing and joy in this life. How many people are in your immediate family? Imagine each one of you, from youth to adult, effectively using your gifting and love of the Lord to share the good news with friends, schoolmates, neighbors, and workmates! One family working as a unit in two, three or more directions at once!
Imagine being a more loving husband and/or father, wife and/or mother this month than you were just a few months ago? Or envision your children becoming more loving as they grow (particularly in those adolescent years!!). Consider these fruit of the Spirit, "...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Gal. 5:22,23). Now spend a few minutes picturing how your relationships in your family would be if these qualities were in ever-increasing measure in each members' life (including your own - don't be self-righteous)?! It is one of God's blessings to us, that as we are committed to his purposes of reaching those that don't know him, he works with our cooperation to change our character. The result is a family that loves one another more deeply while being used by Him in the world more significantly -- yes, both family ministry and church ministry are essential.