How have I managed to last in the ministry? I’ve saved the most important thing for last…
I’ve been able to keep going in the ministry by keeping my priorities straight. The ministry has a way of messing-up priorities. You figure that because it’s God’s business, the ministry must be the most important thing, right? More important than say, a date with your wife or attending to your kid’s school play, right? Wrong!
I heard that it was once a common saying amongst ministers back in the day that if you take care of the church then God will take care of your family. That isn’t true. Over the years I’ve watched lots of marriages and families sacrificed on the altar of ministry. I’ve seen spouses become embittered; children cynical and families break apart all because of putting the ministry ahead of family.
Fortunately I was taught early on that my marriage and family was my first ministry and to honor my family was to honor God. I also learned that if I couldn’t care properly for my wife and children how could I possibly say I loved God. How could I care for the church family or the lost if I couldn’t care for my own family? I learned that a minister’s time with his or her family is an incredibly important thing.
But it’s one thing to know what to do and another thing to do it. So in order to get it right I’ve worked on making sure of two things: 1) That my family always knew they weren’t in competition with God or the ministry for my love and 2) That I expressed my love in time spent.
One of my sons was a baseball player. My wife and I tried to make all his games, peewee, little league, and high school. We even made special trips to see him play in college. One time he had a championship game on a Sunday morning. What were we to do? We made an exception and let him play because he had worked so hard. Char took off from church to be there for him. My other son played in a band. Char and I followed them around the city like groupies, to every bar and dive they played in just to show our support. Years later when he ran in the NY Marathon I played hooky from church so I could cheer him on to let him know that he was more important to me than my ministry.
The best way to let your family know they come first is by simply spending time with them away from the ministry. Having family mealtimes together. Taking regular weekly days off to do fun stuff. Breaking away form my church responsibilities to make all their events. Going on family vacations. Most importantly, going out on dates with your spouse. Book these things into your schedule and set them in concrete so that other appointments and meetings wouldn’t get in the way. I learned that most needs aren’t so urgent that they couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
Putting my family first has paid off. I’m at peace. No matter what happens in the ministry I have my family. And because of that God smiles.