“Dad, I think you were gone a lot when we were kids. But somehow it didn’t seem like it.”
This was our adult son’s unsolicited summary of what it felt like to grow up in the family of an evangelist. I was blown away, and above all, profoundly grateful to my Father in heaven.
Because when you’re in the thick of trying to balance ministry and family, you’re never really sure if you’re getting it right.
My wife and I were well aware of the “preacher’s kid” horror stories. She would come home sad from ministry wives’ sharing times because of the resentment and disillusionment those women shared from their home lives.
I listened to a lot to pastors and evangelists, their spouses and kids – and prayed a ton. I was trying to figure out how living in our busy ministry home could bless my wife and three children, not burn them.
When my wife or I have been asked how it is that all three of our children love Jesus and are serving him in evangelistic ministry, our honest answer is pretty simple: “Two imperfect parents and the grace of God.”
However, over the years, younger evangelists and ministry couples have asked about some of the practical things we did or did not do in our family life. Here’s some of what I’ve come up with.
1. BE ALL THERE
With so much of an evangelist’s time being given to other people, it was critical that my family had all of me when I was there. This meant closing my mental briefcase on the way home, focusing on where each of them was in their life when I left, being intentional about trying to give each family member all of me at least once a day. No distractions. Being all about what matters to them. And being “slow to speak and quick to listen” (James 1:19)
2. BALANCE THE SACRIFICES
With all of the ministry demands on Dad, my family sacrificed a lot. I began to think about an imaginary ledger that recorded my family’s losses from my ministry. And I asked the Lord to help me give them an asset whenever there was a liability. Consciously trying to offset, for example, time gone on a mission with focused time with them or some special experience together. Since kids keep short accounts, the “plus” needed to happen soon after the “minus.”
3. MAKE THEM PARTNERS
Paul called the Philippian believers “my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:5). I wanted my wife and children to be that, too. I’ve had brothers in ministry who preferred to have a sharp divide between their ministry and their home life. For me, I felt my family should feel ownership in this calling that kept Daddy so busy.
My wife had them write notes which were hidden in my luggage. She would tell them all about whatever place Daddy was ministering in that day. I called before I spoke so they could pray for me – then called the next day to tell them how God answered. They worked on duplicating tapes of messages people had requested. Whenever possible, I would take one of them with me on a ministry trip. We would pray specifically for needs as a family. They all still talk about sitting around our kitchen table, praying for a van the ministry really needed. Two days later, a donated van was in our driveway!
4. BE CONSISTENT
Perhaps the most meaningful compliment an evangelist will ever hear is when a spouse or child says that we are “the same person at home that you see on that platform.” There is nothing more disillusioning for a ministry child than to perceive that Dad or Mom is, in their view, a fake. But that will happen if they don’t see at home that loving, listening, godly guy they see in public.
5. BE THEIR SPIRITUAL LEADER
The heart-cry my wife heard most consistently from ministry wives was: “My husband’s a spiritual leader for everyone but our family.” It’s much easier to lead from a platform than in your own living room. Ephesians 5 makes it clear, though, that the man is the Christ-figure in the home. The Christ-like love and leadership of the husband should, for example, help his wife be “radiant…holy and blameless.”
The one who is proclaiming Christ to others must be leading his family in experiencing Christ. How? Initiating spontaneous prayer. Capturing teachable moments to bring Scripture to life. Studying God’s Word together.
An evangelist’s primary mission is “The First Church of My House.”
6. GIVE THEM JESUS.
For all the sermons I preached, I knew I had no greater ministry than to make Jesus real to my family. By consulting Him together in prayer. By sharing daily “God-sightings” from our experiences that day. By always making it all about Jesus – not about church or ministry or Christians. Ministry spouses and children hear more than their share of ministry drama and dirt. They need to live in a home where our Jesus is our reason for everything we do. Like Paul we make it all about “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
An evangelist’s family has the wonderful opportunity of having front row seats to see the glory of God, to feel the pulse beat of His life-changing work in the world, and to live the adventure of living by faith.
If we set that kind of climate in our homes as evangelists, we are not likely to be weeping over rebels, but rejoicing over world-changers.
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