Can You Balance Ministry & Family?
By Stuart Briscoe
A young man whom I had met in an English coffee bar, on finding out that I was “religious,” took the opportunity to let me know what he didn’t like about the church. Among other things, he complained that ministers stood in their pulpits “six feet above contradiction.” He obviously felt that we should come down from our perches and face the questions and arguments of those who were either not in agreement or had been led by our remarks into total confusion.
Ever since that time I have tried to be available to people by emerging from behind the sheltering shield of the pulpit with a view to engaging my listeners in dialogue. Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s suggestion, that preaching is like throwing a bucket of water at a row of bottles where some of the water goes into some of the bottles but speaking one on one makes it possible to fill each bottle, also helped!
I have noted that questions differ from place to place and often from generation to generation. Not surprisingly, those living under Muslim rule ask different questions from those who have never met a Muslim, while those living under Communism have entirely different concerns from those whose nations are emerging from Communist domination. But in the West there is one question that arises more than any other.
“How do you balance family and ministry?”
This question is usually posed by the younger generations. Or at least those by a generation younger than mine - which accounts for 90 percent of those still alive! Perhaps one reason for this is that unlike my generation where marital breakdown was practically unheard of, the younger generations are facing monumental family disintegration and are accordingly, understandably running scared. And they see ministry as a potential cause of marital and family breakdown - it becomes something akin to an enemy of family life.
Understandably, they must be on their guard! On the other hand, my generation not only did not have the specter of marital breakdown, but we were also raised in wartime when men went off to war, families were separated for years on end and it was all for a good cause. So we regarded ministry in much the same way. The danger of course was that sometimes families were offered on the altar of ministry. But now, the younger generations, far from seeing Christianity as a warfare which we must fight, see it as a relationship we must nurture. Surely both are true. So neither generation has got it all right! Or totally wrong. But today’s generation must be alert to the possibility that ministry is being offered up on the altar of family.
Where then is the balance to be found? I believe it is in the application of an ancient principle enunciated by Joshua, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). This statement assumes that a believing household will embrace “Service” as a dominant life principle.
Furthermore, service as a dominating principle will inform the minds, govern the attitudes, and motivate the actions of the whole household. The family then becomes not a self-serving entity primarily concerned with its own wellbeing - which is not unimportant of course! - but a committed community in which service and sacrifice for a cause even greater than the family becomes cohesive and normative. In this way, ministry ceases to be a threat to the family and the family no longer sees itself as an alternative to ministry. Rather the family becomes the arena in which ministry thrives and ministry becomes the environment in which the family matures.
One example may suffice. When our children were impressionable teenagers, I invited a young pastor from South Africa to be our guest for Thanksgiving. As we began to eat our meal together this “colored” man - to use the derogatory term by which he was known in his native land during the horrendous days of Apartheid - suddenly began to weep quietly. I asked him what was troubling him and he replied,
“Nothing is troubling me. But you must understand I have never seen the inside of a white man’s home before and to think that I am now seated at your table sharing a meal with your wife and children overwhelms me.” It overwhelmed my kids too! They had never seen the ugly face of racism before. They gathered round to see pictures of the converted shack of a garage which was his home.
They had never seen poverty before. They looked at pictures of his children and wanted to share some of their things with them and pray for them on the spot. The whole household spent Thanksgiving learning to serve! And I’m so thankful that to this day they have not forgotten that lesson and are raising their own families to recognize that the servant spirit is the environment in which mature families flourish and the family is the arena in which ministry is fulfilled.