Cheating Ministry, Not Family

I love you and I love your family. I want to share the love of Jesus with you and pray with you as you accept Christ. I want to stand in the water and baptize you as you make a public profession of your faith.  I want to disciple you and help you discover your purpose and place in ministry.  And when it’s all over, I want to stand rejoicing for all eternity on the streets of heaven with you and your family…

BUT I made a declaration a long time ago that I will never reach your family at the expense of my own.  “Wow, Anthony!  That seems a little harsh.”  Just hear me out.

In Andy Stanley’s book, Choosing to Cheat, he gives ministry leaders everywhere permission to “cheat” ministry for their family’s sake.  Stanley explains, “When we cheat, we choose to give up one thing in hopes of gaining something else of greater value.”  In this specific sense, cheating is a good thing.  More than that, it’s life-giving!

Now, after a little explanation, this declaration usually gets a lot of “amens” but actually living out that decision is often tough.

I was recently at the college graduation ceremony of an intern that I love like my own son.  After the graduation I was supposed to speak at his dinner banquet.  As I sat watching him walk across that stage and the excitement on his parents’ faces, I couldn’t help but think about my son who was about to take the mound in his baseball game. While I watched Matt graduate, I realized my son didn’t have his father to cheer him on.  I couldn’t take it anymore!  I hugged Matt and his parents and explained that as much as I wanted to be there, I needed to be with my own son.  They were so kind and gracious, and even encouraged me to go.  I broke a few (several) traffic laws, but by God’s grace and a brief delay to the start of the game, I didn’t miss one pitch!

Matthew 16:26 (NLT) says, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

To take that a step further, I often think, “What will it profit me if I will the entire world for Jesus, but I lose my own family.” 

Here are a few practical ways to balance the tough schedules of ministry and family:

Set aside weekly times to spend with your family. Protect that time and make it as much of a priority as if you were meeting with the person you admire and respect more than anyone else in the world.
Don’t schedule ministry or work appointments every night of the week. It’s unhealthy for your family, but it’s unhealthy for those in your church as well.  When you do that, you aren’t being a great husband/father and you are training an entire congregation just like you.
Brag on your wife and kids publically and privately. My father-in-law says, “It’s a sorry cow that won’t lick it’s own calf.” I’m not really sure what he means, but I think he means brag on your family a lot.  At least, I sure hope that’s what it means!
Don’t treat your kids (or allow others to treat your kids) differently because they are “the pastor’s kid”.  Teach them to live out Biblical principles because they love and follow Jesus, not because as the pastor you’ll be embarrassed if they don’t.
Pastor, be careful to not constantly dump the negative stuff on your family.  You can easily distort your family’s view of Jesus and the church by constantly complaining and dumping your frustrations with church people on your family.  While you are trying to lead them to Jesus, you may very well be pushing them away!

The important thing is that you keep your family a priority. There will always be busy seasons in ministry.  However, as you work hard, don’t forget to stop and play hard. As we operate on the principle, “Every soul matters to God and to us”, don’t forget that includes your family as well!

Give me some feedback!  Ministry leaders, what would you add to this list?

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