Put Ministry |in it’s place|

Posted on March 26, 2011 by

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So as my responsibility at church is growing, I have had to think a lot about how to balance my work (ministry) life with the rest of my life, because I struggle with keeping my priorities straight.  It’s hard to want to stop working when you see God moving in your church.[1] Even though we have a high calling that is deserving of honor it is crucial to have your priorities in place. And those priorities need to be

GOD

FAMILY

MINISTRY

Growing up with a dad in ministry this is something I’m acutely aware of. My dad was the minister of worship under a man named Noah and in that time I saw a change in the way my dad interacted with us. Noah made it clear that he would miss meetings because his kids had a sporting event, and I saw that philosophy affect my dad. He was at my concerts, spent time driving me places so we could talk, and let me know that my phone calls would always get through.  So it is something that I have been intimately aware of as I’ve begun in ministry.

From talking to different pastors and their kids (it’s an easy bond being a PK), I know that one of the quickest ways to get your family to hate your church is to put IT above THEM. Conversely, one of the easiest ways for a pastoral family to come to love a church is to see it be supportive of their family.

So what does the Bible say? It says some hard things and for some it should be a warning sign that you might reevaluate your life.

“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

(1 Timothy 3:4-5 ESV)

“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

(1 Timothy 3:11-12 ESV)

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. “

(Titus 1:5-6 ESV)[2]

So as we can see one of the qualifications for being a church leader is to “manage your household well”, and having children that are obedient and show characteristics of faith.  If your wife and children hate the church I doubt that you are managing your household well, or that your children will show characteristics of a faith that has stolen their father.

A big part of being in ministry, perhaps the biggest, is living a life that is worthy of being emulated. We can program till our eyes bleed, preach until our voices are gone, and council until we can’t think, but if we are living lives that aren’t exemplary it’s all for nothing. A church becomes like its leaders. So consider hard how your family life is showing biblical truth.

As men our relationships with our wives need to show Christ’s relationship with the church. He died for her; too often we focus on the leading to the neglect of looking at how He leads the church. But this needs to get through— He DIED for her. He begged God for another way, but still He DIED for her. She didn’t ask Him to, she didn’t even know she needed it, but still he DIED for her. As the head of the home we need to be intimately aware of the needs of our families, and sacrifice our own good for their good.

This can physically mean getting a little less sleep and putting the kids to bed if your wife is tired, OR going to bed when you aren’t tired because she can’t sleep without you.

It can also emotionally mean putting down the book you are sure is going to revolutionize your small group ministry to actually talk about her day (or better yet talk about her dreams and desires and get past chit-chat), OR when something really shakes your family take the time to reassure her that she is your treasure and she comes before work and play.

And spiritually, when you fight, always be the one to initiate the reconciliation just as Christ did, and set aside scheduling volunteers to talk about the scriptures and pray with her.

If you decide that Ministry is more important than your family not only are you most likely disqualifying yourself from the very thing you are idolizing, but you are breeding a church of workaholic men who will set aside their family for their job/career because that’s what pastor does.

Growing up as a Pastors Kid (PK) and now being in ministry, I see how hard it is to balance this. We have been given a high calling, and there is nothing like seeing people connect with God.  Paul even encourages men and women to remain single if they can so that they can devote themselves to the work of God.

“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ESV)

Now don’t read this as an admonishment to married people to put the worries of ministry above the family. It is stated as a matter of fact, those who are married have to worry about their spouses, and those who are not don’t have a spouse to worry about.  I went to a Christian school and most of my friends were planning on going into ministry. One of the conversations that came up, as dating relationship flowered or failed, was about being called to be single? Matt Chandler says it this way— “do you have the gift?”, speaking of celibacy. If you do, dive into ministry and live life with reckless abandon for God. If you do “burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9) than you need to marry and let that relationship help sanctify you and devote yourself to rightly showing the character of Christ to those with whom you have relationship.[3]

I will end this long thought with a few questions and thoughts that have changed the way I look at my life.

Is ministry your Idol?

We are all worshipers. God created us to pour ourselves out for something, but if that something is anything but Him it’s Idolatry. Look at what you spend your time doing, where you spend your money, and what you will sacrifice other things for. Usually there you will find your object of worship. Ministry can be the silent assassin of idols. We begin to worship working for God or the prestige of being a spiritual leader and forget to worship God. The verse that strikes a healthy fear into me every time I read it is

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

You can work your whole life for Jesus and forget to know Him, and obey all that he commanded (even about our home life).

Are you the spiritual head of your home?

“If you can’t lead your family, you have no right leading God’s family.” I have heard this quote from a few places and it helps to put things in perspective. It takes more than asking a few cursory questions about how their “walk with God” is going. I haven’t quite figured this out, but I am fearfully working it out.  But I do know that it takes times of deep discussion about our hearts, about God’s work in our lives, and about how we are responding and growing.

How do you define success?

I live in America, and numbers are king. Attendance and budget are easy ways to quantify your ministry. But they are misguided. I grew up in a church of 500+ and served on a ministry at school that averaged 500 students. I interned in two churches of 1,000+ attendees and now I work in a church of ~150 regular attendees. For a while it was a tough transition. I had this vision of how to grow the church, how to get more people (more people in my demographic), how to get up to speed on the latest trends. Then God planted a question in my mind that started to grow, “If I call you to be here forever and it never grows past 200, will you be satisfied?”  My gut response was arrogant, “Satisfied with what, an anemic church?” Then God humbled me, “Satisfied with me, with growing a church deep instead of wide.” Through a lot of wrestling with God He shaped my heart to come to the point where I can honestly say that the size of the church I’m in doesn’t matter, it’s the thirst for God that matters.

What does this have to do with family? Well if you are constantly striving to hit the next number bracket, it’s really easy to leave your family in the dust. But if you are constantly submitting to God’s measure of success you can’t ignore your family, since they are the main congregation you will be held accountable for.

Do you believe/trust that Jesus is the one building the Church?

It is so easy for selfish pride to creep into ministry. A program/ service/ sermon/ teaching/ song/ counseling session goes well, and a self satisfaction can set in. “I did a good job.” This can quickly progress to the feeling that it’s our work building the church, and if we weren’t there it would fall apart/stop growing. I feel this sometimes and then I have a Sunday where I feel like I’m going to fall down dead from exhaustion, or nothing is going as planned, and God touches people’s hearts. We are tools in the hands of God. Matt Chandler had a good illustration of this. Do you know any people that are amazing at making things? Right me too, it’s sick how good they are. But you don’t every look at what they’ve made and say “Look at what that hammer built! That is an awesome Hammer!” you praise them for their skill and talent, we are the tools and God is the craftsmen, it is God that should get the glory.

Let us be a people who listen to the commands of scripture, and strive to live lives that show the love and unity of our God. Lord transform our hearts, and make us children you are proud of.


[1] God has never called anyone to build His church. Jesus builds the church, Jesus sustains a church, and Jesus will kill a church that needs it.

[2] So I guess this takes a little clarification, these are qualifications for elders and deacons. Pastors are biblical elders; they do the work of an elder and should be held to what is asked of elders. For the rest of us that aren’t elders, the Bible says that the office of elder is something to aspire to, basically saying that these are qualities of exemplary Christians, and something that we should all be held to.

[3] I am a symbol guy, I like giving meaning to things and letting them continue to remind me of the truths I have attached to them. My wedding ring is a prime example of this. As we were planning where to get our rings it was important to me that I be able to design my own. On the top is a Chi-Rho, the latin symbol for Christ, and whenever I look at it I think of how I am supposed to love my wife like Christ loved the church and died for her. On the other side is a Triquetra which is the symbol for the trinity, and this reminds me that our family is to show the nature of God, being two persons existing as one. Finally the sides have a swirl pattern that mimics her wedding ring to put flesh to the concept that I am married to a specific woman and not just some abstract idea of a wife. A few times when I am being a selfish jerk, I’ve looked down and actually teared up at how I am failing to be the man God has commanded me to be. It’s a strong motivation, for me.

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Posted in: Praxis, Theology