For many of us who choose to serve in ministry, it can become a full-time job, whether we're doing it as a paid employee or not. Serving can quickly become an all-encompassing, all-consuming way of life, many times at the expense of other priorities or relationships.
On the surface, this doesn't necessarily seem like a bad thing. We're giving of our time and effort to support the local church, reach people, and change lives. And in the process, we are also probably feeling relatively fulfilled, knowing that to some extent we are making a difference in people's lives.
No harm, no foul, right?
In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel may have felt the same way.
As one of Israel's prominent spiritual leaders, he was constantly traveling the country to serve as a judge and advisor to people all across Israel.
No doubt that countless lives were changed by his selfless leadership, and the nation was definitely better off as a whole. But the constant pull of his “work” had lasting consequences for his family.
As chapter 8 of 1 Samuel opens, we learn that an aging Samuel has appointed his sons to be the new leaders of Israel and serve as his successors. But verse 3 (NIV) notes that his sons didn't follow his ways and that they were actually dishonest and corrupt.
It's a sobering thought to consider that, for all of the good Samuel did among the nation, and despite being an incredible man of God, he was unable to direct the spiritual health of his own home.
How did it get to that point?
1 Samuel 7:17 (NIV) notes that after he had traveled his circuit across the nation to regularly judge the people, “he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel.”
For Samuel, the line between work life and home life got too blurry. When he was at home, he may have been there physically, but his mental energy was still being spent on leading and judging the people. As a result, his family was neglected, and he was unable to put the same amount of energy into the spiritual development of his home as he was putting into his community.
1 Timothy 3:5 (NIV) asks, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?”
In a ministry world, which we so commonly refer to as a “calling,” it can become easy to put our attention and effort into growing ourselves in that arena. We read blogs and listen to podcasts about how we can grow in our technical or leadership skill.
But how often do we put that same amount of effort into growing as a parent or spouse?
Despite how I feel led to serve in ministry, I am called first and foremost to build a healthy family and lead them spiritually. 1 Timothy 3:5 (NIV) asks, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?”
Samuel no doubt felt that he was doing the right thing by serving and leading the people. But his family's spiritual growth was forever being impacted by watching him choose to spend time with his church job instead of them.
This probably led to some feelings of cynicism among his children, and maybe they even blamed God and the church for taking their father way from them. The older they got, it probably got easier for their hearts to get hard toward the idea of being in ministry, and they probably started just going through the motions out of obligation or to keep peace in the family. Or maybe they just faked it to try and gain some measure of approval or acceptance from “Dad the Pastor.”
It's critical to learn from Samuel's mistakes.
When we are home with our family, we need to be home mentally, not just physically. Put the phone down. Check the email later. Leave the office and go home to have dinner with my kids. Take my wife on a date.
When we are home with our family, we need to be home mentally, not just physically. Put the phone down. Check the email later.
Our family needs to see us taking steps to prioritize my time with them and give them my full focus when we are there. The success of my calling as a parent and spouse depends on it.
To build a healthy, Godly home, I must be willing to sow the seeds of time, love, attention, and investment. Spiritual growth and health doesn't happen through osmosis. There must be focused effort to reap results.
W have to show the importance of taking a Sabbath to rest and recharge. We have to show my family what it looks like to have a healthy quiet time. Our kids need to see me worship. They should be able to watch me bless people in need. Our family will ultimately model the behavior they see in me.
Our kids need to see me worship.... Our family will ultimately model the behavior they see in me.
Our calling to build a unified and Godly home is more important than any career I will ever have, even if it's in ministry. Our family will become a picture of how I lead them, and if we do our job well and with God's help and grace, we will be able to do ministry together and make more of a difference than I could ever make by myself.