The Inner Battle: Balancing Family and Ministry

September 15, 2015     Keith Parker    

inner battle youth ministry

“Daddy!” My 5-year old boy Matthew came running, arms wide open, plowing into my legs at Mach 3 to welcome me home for the evening. He had experienced his first day of kindergarten, and was eager to tell me about all the amazing things he had done and new friends he had made.

Sounds like a perfect picture, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t, because as I had pulled into the driveway, a parent from our church had called me about an upcoming event. I answered the call, gathered all of my things, and walked into the house, phone to my ear and stuff in my hands. As my little one came running, seeking my attention, I was completely unavailable, distracted by everything else that was going on and the “task” that needed to be tended to.
If you’re anything like me, the inner battle of balancing family and ministry can be an all-consuming one. I spend a lot of my “thinking time” feeling like I am falling short as a father, neglecting a portion of my ministry or taking my wife for granted. These thoughts come crashing in like a flood when I allow myself the time to just ponder. I would contend that balancing family and ministry is one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of ministry.
As we seek to navigate these difficult waters, here are some small steps I’ve taken to try to balance my life a little better. I certainly have not mastered this, as I’m sure my wife and boys would attest. But my prayer is that these might spur some creative “balancing acts” in your own life and ministry. We may never “arrive,” but hopefully we can improve.
1. Schedule sacred family time and be present!
I get it. “Scheduling” family time sounds awful, doesn’t it? They are family, we shouldn’t have to schedule our time together. But the truth of the matter is that there are countless things battling for our attention every day. When it comes to ministry tasks and distractions, they are endless. Students needing counsel, parents asking questions, leaders wanting information, to-do lists piling up – all of these things are constantly before us and have the potential to zap all of our time if we aren’t careful.
For this reason, I have tried to carve out some “set” family time to ensure that I am focused on my FIRST ministry at home.  This isn’t something formal that I schedule on a calendar, but instead just chunks of time that I’m committed to being a dad and husband.  For instance, my family ALWAYS sits down and eats dinner together.  I always try to have a little “down time” with my wife after the kids go to bed and before we retire for the night.  Some days, before my kids go to school, I tell them, “Tonight is a daddy night – whatever you want to do, we’ll do.”
The key is then executing and sticking to the plan.  Once you’ve scheduled and carved out the time, make sure to follow through.  Your family needs to know that, despite all of the distractions of ministry, they are still most important.
2. Turn off the phone!
When it comes to distracting me from my family, my arch-nemesis is my cell phone.  Between texts, emails, phone calls, and social media, there is always something on my phone that seems to need attention.  I find myself saying things like, “Hang on, I need to post this reminder on Instagram” or “Wait, I need to respond to this student.”
But the truth is I am just trading interaction with my wife and boys for interaction with students and parents.  That’s not ALWAYS a bad thing.  Sometimes, you just need to take the time to be available to your flock.  But when the phone wins out EVERY TIME, there’s a problem.  I have found myself turning my phone off or into Do Not Disturb mode more frequently in an effort to be present with my family.  I have also made the commitment to be off the phone when I walk in the door.  Even if I stand in the driveway an extra 3 minutes to finish the phone call, I want my attention on my family when I walk in the house.
In short, power down every once in a while.
3. Learn the power of pruning!
I recently listened to a seminar on proper pruning of a plant.  I know, that sound awesome, right?  The speaker simply made this application – when you prune a plant, you are cutting away healthy parts for the overall health of the plant. Sometimes, we need to do some pruning in our own lives.  Sometimes, things that are healthy and good need to be cut away so that we can be more healthy and focused overall.
One of the hardest words to say in ministry is “No.”  We want to say yes, and we want to encourage people and try everything we can to make Christ famous.  But not everything is helping us be healthy overall – pruning may need to be done.
Try some pruning this week.  Maybe it’s an extra Bible study you lead or something you’ve volunteered for.  Maybe it’s a hobby or something you enjoy doing that takes time away from your family and your ministry.  Pruning can be painful, but in the end, it will help you balance things more effectively.
4. Love and date your spouse!
I don’t think this requires a great deal of ink, but loving your spouse well is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your ministry, and your family.  By making the time and making your spouse a priority, you communicate how important they are to you.  Your kids are blessed to see you loving your spouse.  And your church is blessed by the healthy marriage you exemplify.
The benefits also ENHANCE your ministry in the long run.  When you are making your spouse the priority, they will be more in tune with your ministry, more invested in the ministry that you are doing together, and it’s always easier to focus on ministry when other areas of life are “clicking.”
5. Trust your team!
The last tip I would love to share with you is to trust the team of people involved with your ministry.  When I first began in ministry, I felt like I needed to be involved in every single element of student ministry.  If a teenager was involved, I felt like I had to be present and in charge.  I even felt twinges of jealousy when I heard that students were spending time away from church with other youth ministry leaders
We need to realize that this is God’s ministry and that Kingdom work was never meant to be done alone.  When you trust your team, you don’t have to be involved in everything.  You don’t have to oversee every single aspect of your ministry.  You don’t have to be everything to everyone, because you have a great team of people who are co-laborers in Christ.
What freedom!  What joy!  I have learned to rejoice when I hear that students are meeting leaders and texting them outside of church.  I rejoice when an adult leader baptizes a student – that is such a healthy sign that God is moving in the hearts of students and using others to do so.  And it gives me the freedom to focus on my family just a little more.
In the end, Kingdom work requires sacrifice, time, energy, resources, and attention.  You will always have to work to find balance between ministry and family.  But remember, it’s not a victory if you have a great ministry and lose your family in the process.
What has worked for you?  How have you found the balance between ministry and family?  Share your thoughts in the comments.
Categories: blog, Coaching, Discipleship, General, Grow
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