My parents felt called to overseas missions from the time they were teenagers. For years after they were married, they prayed and prepared, faithfully living their daily lives for God’s glory and doing what He put in front of them. Then, after their sixth child was born, God opened the doors for our family to go to Mongolia. After a few months, our lives were packed into about 20 boxes and moved halfway around the world.
Five of the six of us adjusted well to the change. I was seven at the time and remember embracing this new life overseas with enthusiasm. However, one of my brothers had a really hard time. For various reasons, including a sickness that went under the radar for months, he was very open about the fact that he resented living there and wanted to go back to our life in Colorado.
My parents had always felt strongly that whatever ministry God was calling them to would also be something their children would thrive in, too. They prayed that each of their children would embrace what God was calling us to as a family, not suffering in the process. They had committed to two years in Mongolia as a trial period, so they began praying that if God wanted them to come back after that time, He would change my brother’s heart.
Near the end of those first two years, we spent a few weeks outside of Mongolia for a conference and to welcome a seventh child into the family. When we came back, my brother said, “I feel like I’m coming home.” From that point on, each one of us fully embraced and loved living there for the next 10 years, and my parents knew the Lord had answered their prayer.
My husband, Judah, and I both are in active ministry in our church, and we have three little children (and one more on the way). So this is something we have walked through over and over again since the days we grew up in ministry families. We have also talked with many other young couples who are drawn toward certain forms of ministry but are torn, wanting to put the correct time and emphasis on raising their children well in their formative years.
It’s so easy to fall into extremes, either placing the family as the highest priority to the neglect of serving others, or placing ministry as the highest priority to the neglect of the family. Either one can be incredibly detrimental, especially in the lives of your children.
For those who put too much emphasis on the family, the children often grow up believing that everything revolves around their family. It can foster pride and self-focus and can easily become an excuse not to pour out their lives on behalf of others. This option elevates the good commands in Scripture to care for your family to an extreme that actually cuts out or minimizes the other things we are called to be doing as believers.
On the opposite side, there are those who put too much emphasis on ministry. It is tragic to see children from those families choose to walk away from the Lord as they grow up because their parents neglected their needs (especially spiritual needs) for other seemingly more important things. In the name of reaching people for the sake of the Gospel, they lost their children in the process.
How do we obey Jesus by both discipling and caring well for our children and fulfilling the other commandments we see in Scripture to love and serve others in the capacities that we feel called to?
This is not cut and dry; there is no easy answer that goes across the board for every family. Every couple is responsible to seek the Lord for what He desires for their family and trust that He will work in their children’s lives as they walk in obedience to Him.
It requires certain sacrifices of time, energy, and resources on our part. It often requires change—large or small—in our daily life. But our children must learn through the example of their parents that living in obedience to God, no matter what the cost on our part, is filled with joy and carries with it eternal blessing.
There are principles in Scripture that all of us can and should follow as we pray and evaluate what living in obedience looks like for our families. The methods for carrying these out will vary, but the outcome will be the same: loving obedience to Jesus Christ displayed inside and outside the home.
Here are a few ways Judah and I have walked through this process and have encouraged others to do so.
Seek God First
Seeking God in prayer and in His Word should always be our first turn if we feel that the Lord is calling us to some kind of ministry outside the home. It should never be rushed into without first waiting upon the Lord for His wisdom and guidance. Lamentations 3:25 says, “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” One foundational verse for my husband and me has been James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
We must remember that the way we use our time is more important to God than it is to us, and He is ready and waiting to lead us as we look to Him for every step we take. We must also remember that He cares more for our children’s hearts than we do, so we can entrust Him with our little ones as we walk in obedience to Him. If an opportunity to minister in a certain capacity arises and is from the Lord, He will make it clear.
Another aspect of this is seeking the counsel of godly people in your life, particularly mentors or spiritual leaders (such as pastors). As Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
When Judah and I are uncertain about what to do, after praying and going to Scripture, we almost always go to those God has placed in our lives who we know will give us sound, biblical advice, and so often it brings clarity and perspective that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
Think about those in your life who you know will give you wise counsel and help you to walk in obedience to what God is calling you to.
This is something we do on a regular basis. It seems that we are continually having to look at the things we are doing and either adding to or cutting back on what is on our plate. One of the main gauges for this is how our children are doing. If we sense that they are beginning to act out more or become insecure in situations when they are usually comfortable, these are telltale signs that they are feeling the stress of their parents being stretched too thin.
But when they are generally happy and peaceful, even when it’s a full season of ministry, we can tell we’re doing what God wants us to be doing and are being sustained by His grace. Because we know that our ministry begins in the home with our kids, we must first be caring for their little hearts well in order to minister well to others.
For example, I have helped with worship at various times over the years for the semesters at the discipleship school our church is associated with. Since having children, I’ve had to take each semester individually, depending on what is already on our plate. There are times it’s very clear that it’s a good thing to do and other times when we know it would be too much.
One time I committed to leading worship even though I had a check in my spirit about it and knew it would probably be too much. Sure enough, I soon saw it reflected in our children. They became clingy and would scream when I left, which is not at all usual. It was a very good lesson for me to realize that just because I am technically “free” to do something, it’s not worth it if it causes unnecessary struggle for my little ones.
We also have had times when we felt like the Lord was clearly asking us to take on something that we didn’t think we had the ability or time to do. But as we’ve walked in obedience in those circumstances, our family has thrived when it didn’t seem possible.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” As you evaluate each opportunity for outside ministry with your spouse, remember that God will clearly direct you in what you should or should not be doing in your particular season.
Don’t evaluate based off of comparison to what others around you are doing, either. This can be particularly harmful, because God has not called us all to the same things. If we take on something He has not desired us to do because of what others might think of us, we are subjecting ourselves to the fear of man rather than the fear of God. So look to the Lord, and walk confidently and joyfully in what He puts before you.
Involve the Family
In every situation that we have seen a thriving family in ministry, we have seen a common thread: the involvement of the whole family. The children don’t see the ministry as something they are excluded from but as something they are a part of. Children may not be able to be a part of the details, but they know that they are valued members of the “team,” so to speak.
I heard a great example of this from a family where the father is very involved in ministry and does quite a bit of traveling as a result. Whenever the kids express missing their dad, their mom acknowledges that it’s hard to have him away but that they have the opportunity and joy of sharing their father with others who will benefit from the wisdom and skills God has given him. And they enable him to do what God is calling him to by supporting him and cheering him on. This approach both acknowledges the challenges and helps the children feel a sense of being actively involved at the same time.
One way this comes practically into our family is in the realm of hospitality. We have people in our home on a very regular basis, which has the potential to take away from family time. However, we’ve chosen to use this as an opportunity to spend some of that family time loving and serving other people.
Before guests come over, we talk with the children about being a blessing to those who come into the home. They often help me bake dessert, and I give them other little tasks to help me prepare, trying to be very intentional about letting them know how thankful I am for their help and how much our guests will appreciate it, too. Over the years, we have seen them fully embrace the hospitality that our family is called to, enthusiastically welcoming all who come into our home.
Whatever your ministry may be, pray and talk with your spouse about how you can help your children feel involved. It will vary depending on the age of the children and the kind of ministry it is, but God will give creativity as you seek to include your children and teach them through example and experience what a joy it is to serve and love others.
The family is a God-ordained institution intended to display His love, joy, and hope to this world. When people see a family serving, loving, and giving of their time, energy, and resources together, it makes an impact on this world. When others see children that are thriving and joyfully entering into the ministry God has called their family to, it will be a testimony of God’s goodness in the lives of those who live in obedience to Him.