It is tempting in ministry to be busier than we ought. There are always more appointments to keep, meetings to attend, and programs to oversee. Our schedule can quickly become overloaded without us realizing it!
This is especially true in student ministry. All of our students’ extra activities are in the evening – concerts, games, ceremonies, etc. In an effort to be present for them, we can inadvertently become absent from our families.
In addition, the generation of pastors before us valued workaholism. Their role models for ministry were men who worked 70+ hours a week! They justified this by saying they were doing “the Lord’s work.”
A Harmful Trend
I often read books about ministry. Pastors commonly confess that they worked too much at first, and describe how it almost destroyed their family. Being a workaholic is self-destructive. This is true even for those of us in ministry.
A rallying cry for my generation has been, “I won’t sacrifice family on the altar of ministry.” In other words, ministry isn’t a higher priority than our families. We won’t neglect our spouse and children for the sake of the church.
You Only Get One Family
You will likely have multiple ministries throughout your career. That means there is room for error as a pastor. If you get fired for doing a poor job, you can always get hired at another church and try again.
But you will not have multiple families. That means there is no room for error as a spouse or as a parent. If you don’t put in enough time at home, you will wreck your one and only family. Your spouse may divorce you and your children will resent you (not to mention the Lord!).
Your Family Only Gets One You
Any church where you work will have multiple pastors throughout its lifetime. It was around before you came, and it will still be around after you leave. Chances are you stand in a long line of ministers at your church.
But your wife will not have multiple husbands. Your children will not have multiple fathers. Being there for your spouse and children is a job only you can do. Your church can easily replace you, but your family cannot.
Your Family Qualifies You for Ministry
Having a healthy family is a biblical requirement for church leaders. Paul says, “[An elder] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect…A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well” (1 Timothy 3:4, 12).
He asks, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5). The answer is obvious – he can’t.
The health of your family either qualifies or disqualifies you. God didn’t call you into ministry so you could neglect those He has placed under your care. If you neglect your family in the name of ministry, you don’t deserve to have a family.
Are you truly doing “the Lord’s work” if you have to neglect your family in order to do it? Share your thoughts with a comment below!
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5 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Sacrifice Family on the Altar of Ministry”
Why then does Jesus say, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)? Paul also says, “From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none…” (1 Corinthians 7:29). These scriptures apparently contradict your statement that “…ministry isn’t a higher priority than our families.”
At the same time, it has been popularly said that our first ministries should be our families; I suppose this applies especially to those families with unsaved children. I do not at all disagree with the Bible’s statements that say family qualifies us for ministry. But a family is not necessary for ministry because Jesus was single, but He did take care of his mother even when He was on the cross.
To quote a friend, “The Bible can be hard to understand. Its meaning isn’t always clear. And some passages seem to contradict each other.” Good thing that Christ gives us believers His mind and His peace in the midst of uncertainty! We now know in part, but we shall soon know fully.
God bless you, brother!
I think these Scriptures mean that although ministry isn’t a higher priority than family, family isn’t a higher priority than ministry either. Nor should you equate my devotion to Jesus with the priority of my ministry. I plan to address these Scriptures and develop this tension in a follow-up post next week.
As far as Paul’s comment, I’m not sure exactly what he means. He also says, “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (1 Corinthians 7:20). And later he defends his right to get married: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (9:5) The fact of the matter is that a believing wife can be a huge supplement to her husband’s ministry.
Paul summarizes it best, “So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better” (7:38). Is it better for the sake of ministry to remain unmarried? Yes. But is it sinful or wrong to get married? No. Just understand that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (7:28).
I had a few more thoughts. Having a family isn’t necessary for ministry, but neither is being single. When Jesus’ disciples said it would be better not to marry He replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given…The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:11-12). He doesn’t command us to remain single. Rather, He recommends it for those who can accept it.
Paul speaks the same way: “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Corinthians 7:7). He speaks of being single as a spiritual gift. God empowers some to do it but not others. So remaining single is advantageous to ministry, but not necessary. As he says earlier, “It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife.” (7:1-2)
In context, I believe that in Luke 14:26, Jesus is referring specifically to people who will be disowned by their family if they become a christian (see Luke 14:33 which says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”). Jesus is saying that if we have to choose between faith and family then we should choose him.
Also the parallel in Matthew 10:34-39 says, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
In the Matthew passage it is clear that Jesus is referring to one’s family rejecting/disowning/turning against them, because of their faith. This is in contrast to a family that supports/tolerates your faith, which we are to embrace and love (see Ephesians 6:1-4 and 1 Timothy 5:8).
As a man who has suffered some level of rejection from his family because of his faith, I have found much solace in Luke 14 and Matthew 10.
Thanks for the insightful responses! Paul, I especially like how you draw attention to the parallels in Matthew. And Zack, your comment “Ministry isn’t a higher priority than family [and vice versa]…” shows that at some level ministry and family are really the same thing, supporting the popular notion I mentioned before.