Pastoring, Parenting and Priorities
How to keep your kids from running a distant second to ministry
In the days leading up to Easter, I steeled myself as I walked to collect our children from school, and each day, our first-grader’s teacher would gently pull me aside for a little chat. “It’s just the same things we’ve been struggling with all month long,” she told me sadly.
He’d been acting out, getting into arguments with his friends, and crying frequently in class. I couldn’t figure out what had gotten into our usually fun and outgoing 7-year-old. He loved school, but something in these last few weeks had changed.
“And today,” she said, “he was up at my desk 24 times; I actually counted. He just needed attention from me all day long.”
That was when it hit me.
Holy Week may have been a difficult week for our little guy, but it was a great one for our ministry. A significant, creative outreach had been taking place all month, and as it headed into the final stretch, more and more people were stopping by, volunteers were in and out of our home, and my husband was working long hours on site. Some days, he was out the door before our children left for school and returned home long after their bedtime, spending his time meeting and praying with strangers.
I was on kid duty, school duty, breakfast-lunch-and-dinner duty, and bedtime duty. This meant I was also on teacher duty — and the one who suddenly realized that it wasn’t a teacher’s attention our son needed. He needed ours.
Working in non-traditional ministry overseas, we don’t often experience the rub of ministry conflicting with family life. We do much of our work with or around our children, and our days are often flexible.
But like most churches and ministries, our Easter outreach was a different matter, requiring months of planning, an array of new faces and several literal moving parts. While our older two often offered to lend a helping hand, our youngest must have felt a bit lost in the shuffle.
By Good Friday, my son and I left school together in mild disgrace, more than a little ready for the long Spring break. And I left longing to reset our priorities, to see our family and ministry from a better perspective.
But where to begin? The church year is a cycle of vital spiritual traditions. The busy seasons (Easter, summer, Advent, with a host of attractional activities that soak up our spiritual and physical energies) will come upon us again and again. How do we keep our kids from paying the price for our good works?
Prioritize Home — and the Little People Who Live in It
“The inside of our home is our No. 1 priority,” says Laurel Ewing, a women’s ministries director in Forney, Texas. “This does not mean that all of our time and effort go only to them, but rather we make sure they understand they are our first ministry, verbalizing the sentiment often.”
Teach your children the proper order of a life with God. He always come first, but family is the most precious gift God gives us, and raising our children is the most important task.
How do we keep our kids from paying the price for our good works?
In fact, the New Testament places such vital importance on family life that “leaders were required to demonstrate faithfulness at home before they were considered eligible for leadership,” says author and Bible teacher Candice Watters. “Too often in our context, we consider leadership to be so important that it’s worth neglect of home life. This gets it backward.”
Remind your children that your love for them comes second only to God’s love for them. The most important ministry you’ll ever have is the one God has asked you to take on: safe-keeping your kids for Him.
Be Willing to Rearrange
As ministers, I believe God allows both parents the flexibility to be “on call” for their kids when necessary. While Easter won’t reschedule itself for September, you might be able to rearrange an early morning prayer meeting for later in the day if it means eating breakfast with and taking your kids to school.
If you can’t rearrange, try to “bookend” your days. A few years ago, my husband and I made the tentative arrangement that if he can’t take them to school, he will be the one to pick them up. The same goes for me.
Starting and/or ending the school day with our children keeps the rhythm of family life beating, and it gives our children security knowing we are always available to them.
Take Your Child to Work (Any) Day
God time and family time are not mutually exclusive. This doesn’t mean they’re wholly interchangeable, but as churches grow and employ people in a variety of ministry areas, many offer flexibility and a family atmosphere.
Don’t wait until Take Your Child to Work Day; consider “hiring” your son or daughter as an assistant for the day, or taking him or her with you on pastoral visits. Explore creative ways your entire family can serve side-by-side, even if it means restructuring where you put your energies.
“For many years, my husband and I struggled to balance numerous church commitments,” says Tricia Goyer, a lay leader in her church. “We were heading in different directions, and our children were forced to tag along or be left behind.”
Instead of traveling down that unsustainable path, the Goyer family made a U-turn.
“We dropped all our commitments and decided instead to minister as a family,” Goyer says. “Today we focus on two areas: children’s ministry and assisting in our local crisis pregnancy center.”
Accept That Some Days, Ministry May Come First
As I walked my son home that Good Friday, I wondered whether our ministry successes were worth our son’s rotten days. Am I willing to let my kids down for the sake of the cause? My immediate thought is, No, of course not! But the truth is that some days we do.
Pastor Craig Thompson says, “Your wife and children should come before your church in your order of priorities, but that does not mean that they will come first every hour or even every week. Sometimes the needs of ministry necessitate that others receive my attention rather than my kids.”
It’s good, and even healthy, for our kids to witness us putting God and His calling first. But when those “sometimes” turn into an extended season, and we take that long walk of shame home, we must work through the fallout together. We can adjust expectations (our kids’, our church’s and our own), set priorities straight and trust that while God’s Church may survive without us, our children won’t.