When I was on staff at a large church I made a serious mistake, one that I swore up and down I would never make. Only a few months in to my weekly ministry routine I found myself missing out on family time with my wife newborn son. Needless to say, it was hard for my wife not to feel a tad bitter toward the church because for her, ministry was the thing standing in between me and quality family time. Sure we tried to integrate my mid-sized group teaching times with family time, but the results were frustrating (infants don’t like to participate in interactive Bible studies). And when I would visit various small groups for leadership meetings along with my wife and son, well that always seemed to end in tears…sometimes the tears were mine. At the same time, I realized that every family that wants to truly follow Jesus and be faithful to the mission he has sent us on, will make sacrifices as individuals and as a family. As a pastor to young adults, I found myself engaged in ministry at all times of the day and night, with all sorts of serious needs…some were very serious. I’m no longer ministering in the context of a large church, and have returned to the missional community that I helped start five years ago. I still, however, struggle with the dichotomy of “family time” and “ministry/mission time” and wonder if I’ve been missing something.
Given the odd texts I’ve quoted in part 1 and part 2 of this series, I think now would be a good time to tie what I’ve said above together with the textual study we’ve already mentioned. So here’s my proposal: If we look at the story of Jesus’ ministry we find instances where his family wasn’t on board with his mission (Mk 3:21). We also find instances of those who say they wish to follow Jesus, but wish to tend to their families first (Lk 9:57-62). And then of course Jesus declares that he will divide families against themselves…clearly Jesus is not a fan of Focus on the Family! (just kidding).
Jesus seems to insist that the Good News of the Kingdom will not be good news for everyone, but does following Jesus necessarily undermine our family-focused priorities? Perhaps it is more helpful to consider how prioritizing our commitment to Jesus over our biological family might actually benefit our families and our involvement in ministry. By this I mean, maybe the ministry you are pursuing is simply more convenient for you over other ministry possibilities and in the midst of that convenience your family suffers spiritually because they are cheated out of being on mission as a family. When we consider our family first and Jesus second, we end up side-stepping our commitment to both.