I spend lot of time with young leaders, including student pastors and church planters as well as younger pastors of established churches. One of their great concerns they share with me involves their family, and specifically how to have a healthy family in the face of ministry pressure. I am by no means the perfect model of this, but here are some principles I share with these young leaders:
1. Be a growing, passionate, genuine Christ follower. Don’t roll your eyes and think, “Well, of course.” The destruction that comes to a minister’s home comes from neglecting this more than any other factor. Admit you are at your best a sinner in need of daily grace. Be marked by prayer and devotion to the Word. Be accountable to others. You will not be perfect, but you must be consistent. You will fail your spouse.
If you “walk with Jesus” simply because you are on staff at a church, your children will know. If Jesus is not more vital to you than anything else, He will become unimportant to them.
2. Be spouse and parent first, minister and leader second. I remember early in ministry hearing priorities like this: God first, then ministry, and if you take care of your ministry, God will take care of your family. That approach has failed in many a minister’s home. You don’t have to sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry. I think of a student pastor I will call Jack. As a classic people pleaser, he was a good fit for the youth ministry culture of today. But his wife got seconds, and then so did his children. So she left.
3. Don’t make your family an idol. On the other hand, we must help our children know that, while family is more important than other relationships in our lives, even they are not as important as Jesus. The glory of God and the worship of King Jesus, and the sacrifices that come with our submission to Him, must be seen as valuable to our children. I was gone a lot in our children’s lives, yet they love ministry. Our son is in his first full-time student pastorate in an established church and our daughter is very active in the worship ministry and small group ministry at their church plant. My wife is the main reason. Throughout their childhood, she demonstrated both a deep love for Christ and a strong commitment to God’s call on our family, which included my being gone a lot.
Once when Hannah was young I was lying on her bed before leaving on a trip. She said, “Daddy, I am gonna glue you to the bed.” I told her how much I loved her and how I would rather be home always, but Jesus was going to let me help some others for a couple of days. I explained to her that if I did not consistently obey Jesus, one day that would be more harmful than helpful for her. I wasn’t sure if she understood then. But she does now.
4. Know the pressure points of your family. Your family is not exactly like mine. You must know your family’s needs and their strengths and weaknesses. For me, travel was an area that caused pressure; Michelle and I sought to make it a positive. Our now adult and married kids love to travel, and the reason is we turned my traveling into a positive for them. For you, it may be long hours of meetings at a church building night after night. When Josh hit sixth grade I got off the road and was there for him. I made the vast majority of their ball games. There are certain seasons in your family when you are needed more at home than at one more meeting at the church building. This includes compensating for hectic times, taking vacation after a very busy ministry seasons, for instance.
5. Cultivate your family relationships. Every day do something in their world. Seek to make the two best places on earth your home and your church. Find what your kids do and do it with them. This is huge. Note that sometimes a person, usually a coward, will try to hurt you through your children, or try to hurt your children, and some will succeed. Help your children see that Jesus is as real in times of pain as He is in times of joy. Do special things with them. Josh and I have been to a lot of ball games, and when Hannah turned sixteen, I took her to Times Square.
6. Lead your family spiritually. Family worship, gospel outreach, family conversations, rites of passage, and your own example contribute to this.
7. Get your children involved in ministry they love and thrive in. Help them, especially by their high school years, to own a ministry. Josh began traveling with me to play drums at youth events as a fourteen-year old. He has become a great drummer, but more than that, he became a great young man of God. He also loves cities and has been on mission trips to several great cities. Hannah has mentored middle schoolers (she still does actually), and in her senior year began singing with our church’s praise team. She has also been on mission trips to four continents.
God has been very good to me in ministry, often in spite of me. But nothing I will do matters as much as seeing our children walk with God. That does not just happen; we must be strategic as parents to see ministry become a wonderful place to raise children.
What have you learned that helps you to raise children to love Jesus and ministry?
The above was taken from As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. You can order your copy here.