As I write this post, I’m preparing for marriage. I’m courting a beautiful Christian lady who has a good spirit and loves the Lord. But I’m also preparing to serve God in playing the piano and in preaching. I’m reading lots of material on what it takes to be a proper Christian husband, and one of the things that stands out consistently is the need for spiritual leadership in the home.
One of the mistakes, I think, that ministry leaders make is in thinking that their main mission is their ministry. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth! The apostle Paul makes it very clear that the primary mission of ministry leaders is their families! I Tim. 3:1-5 makes it clear that a man must first be a leader of his family if he wishes to lead in ministry:
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;”.
A ministry leader shouldn’t be a womanizer, but faithful to one woman, his wife (this should clear up the question about women in leadership positions, but biblical authority doesn’t carry the weight it used to). Also, a ministry leader shouldn’t forsake the rearing of his children to pursue the ministry. If you are a ministry leader, your primary mission field is your wife and children! If I may take a little liberty with a well-known Bible verse, “What doth it profit a ministry leader if he win the whole world and lose his own family?” Who is more important to you – the stranger on the street or your own children?
Would you feed strangers while leaving your wife and children hungry? Would you make sure they had shelter while your family had to sleep out in the cold? Hopefully, you would answer, “Of course not!” Why, then, would you put their spiritual needs ahead of those in your own family?
Sometimes our priorities just get out of whack. And it happens very subtly. The devil doesn’t come at us and say, “Hey, I want you to neglect your family for this.” Instead, something will come our way that seems very important at the time. It may even be an emergency! A very prominent and busy man once said, “If it’s an emergency now, it will still be an emergency tomorrow.” If someone comes to you in an emergency situation, that does not necessarily mean you have to respond, or respond right then. You don’t have to drop everything every time someone asks you to. Things must be prioritized by order of importance, not by order of necessity!
In my life, there are several people for whom I seem to be the only means of transportation, including my roommate (a fellow Christian man). But no matter what the situation, nothing takes precedence over time I choose to spend with my girlfriend! If someone is having a true emergency, then surely there are others who could help them out. It doesn’t always have to be me, and it doesn’t always have to be you. The bigger your ministry, the more people who will try to make you responsible and dependable for their needs and wants.
Schedule time with your family, and then stick to it! Make sure your family knows that they are the most important people in your life. I made a decision several years ago, and I have never regretted it! I decided I was going to forgo having a big job to make lots of money so I could live comfortably. Instead, I want to work less so I can spend more time with my family. Maybe you don’t have that option. Maybe your ministry is so demanding that you just don’t have a lot of time left over. But, honestly, does your family deserve your “leftovers” while others who are less important get the better “meals”? (Yes, that was a metaphor, in case you are wondering.)
Your children will have important events in their lives. They will have social events, sporting events, and school activities. And while your presence isn’t needed for the event to function, your child has an emotional need that requires your presence, if at all possible. And if it’s simply not possible, you had better not only have a good reason, but be able to make it up to them quickly and in a big way! And of course your kids will tell you they understand. They don’t want to lay a guilt trip on you, so they’ll tell you it’s no big deal. But guess what – they’re lying! It is a huge deal, and you will blow it if you miss it! There is nothing that can replace the amount of time not spent with your wife and children. If you want to get them a gift, give them the gift of your time.
We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church “and gave Himself for it”. He didn’t spend His time on some far-off planet, and then come to use with excuses afterward. He was here. He was present when we needed Him most. He showed true Christian leadership by being a servant to us, and by becoming responsible for our failures. This isn’t a post on Christian parenting or Christian manhood, but on Christian leadership in the home. We need to remember that the home is the first and most important mission field God has called us to.
Things come up. The pastor gives you a special assignment that takes more time away from your family. A member of the church has a crisis that takes way more time than you intended. You stay up late and as a result get up late, which means no time for devotions and a quick prayer as you get in your car, if you’re not eating a “fast food” breakfast. Before you know it, it’s been a week and you’ve barely spoken to your wife and children, and a month or more since you’ve spent any serious time with God. Now you’re irritable, cranky, tired all the time, and too busy to even think about pausing, much less stopping to catch your breath before going on to the next thing.
In short, life is a mess!
Sounds like you need to hit the reset button.
Step one: turn off the phone. If someone needs to talk, they can wait 30 minutes.
Step two: turn off your pager or any other device with which you can connect to the world (yes, that means your computers as well).
Step three: get on your knees and repent. Tell God you’re sorry for neglecting Him and His word. Take as long as you need to let God know you are serious about spending some precious moments with Him.
Step four: go find your wife and give her the biggest kiss since your wedding day. Remind her just how special she is to you. Plan an evening out with just the two of you, and then stick to it! I don’t care if it’s McDonald’s (and she likely won’t either)! Just get some alone time with that precious gift from God!
Step five: go find your kids and hug each of them, individually. Remind them that they are your top priority, and apologize to them for being an absentee father. Don’t make any promises to them, just do stuff. Be there for them the next time they have a game or other special event. As the Nike saying goes, “Just do it!”
Everything must take a back seat to your family. And your family must take a back seat to God. Our strength comes from the Lord, from reading His word and talking to Him in prayer. But we also gain strength from those we love, and they gain strength from us. Nothing lifts my spirits more than hearing an impromptu “I love you” from my favorite woman! And nothing will help her more than hearing the same from me. So we try to feed each other’s spirits with our words. It doesn’t take much. It’s not hard, but it does require doing things intentionally and with purpose.
That’s the way we must treat our relationships with those who are important to us: intentionally and with purpose. Everything else — everything else — is secondary! Remember that, and you will have a long, happy and successful ministry, no matter what else happens.