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You are here: Family Issues > Family and Ministry

Balancing Priorities

by Dora Pauls

Dora Pauls and her husband, Nick, served in teaching and administrative roles in Papua New Guinea, Canada, and the SIL international headquarters in Dallas. Nick has passed away, and Dora lives in Canada. They have four adult children.

Most days present us with more opportunities and responsibilities than we can possibly respond to. How do we decide what to do and what can be left undone? This question is particularly difficult when it involves choosing between family and ministry.

Dr. Timothy Warner says that the faith-based life is "the exciting process of trying to keep your balance.” I believe this statement applies to every area of life, including what is commonly referred to as “setting priorities” between family and ministry. I prefer the concept of “keeping balance” rather than “setting priorities.”

Priorities implies one being superior to another, whereas balance implies one complementing the other. Priorities speaks of competition for top spot; balance speaks of cooperation to achieve common goals. Priorities suggests that it has to be either/or; balance says that it can be both/and. Viewing family and ministry from a “balance” rather than a “priority” perspective helps us see that each can strengthen and enrich the other, rather than generate resentment that one takes time and energy away from the other.

In thinking of balance between family and ministry, I like the analogy of a teeter totter. Family and Ministry are either ends of a continuum, not distinctly separate parts. God is the “fulcrum” at the center—stable, secure, immovable. According to Webster, fulcrum means “one that supplies capability for action.” What a wonderful picture of God! He desires to be the Stabilizer and the Enabler in both our families and our ministry.

Teeter totter

Family within Ministry

But how does this apply when daily demands and pressures of life overwhelm us—the challenges of cross-cultural living, the urgency of “the task,” the growing stack of unanswered mail, the persistent demands of an infant, the requirements of an older child’s school lessons, etc., etc.?

Too often we forget that the Scriptures use the picture of family relationships to illustrate important spiritual truths—the love of a husband for his wife as a picture of the sacrificial love He has for His people, the loving nurture and discipline of a father for his child as a picture of the Heavenly Father’s relationship with His children.

I believe God intends ministry to take place in the context of family and for the faith-based family to function in the context of ministry. As you provide a living translation of the truths of His Word in the everyday joys and crises of your family life, those truths will take on relevant meaning for the people to whom you are seeking to minister long before they are able to read about them in a book. “Being family” is also ministry.

Does everyone in your family understand what you are doing and why you are doing it? One teacher in a field setting was surprised (and disturbed) to discover that few, if any, of the children in her classroom were able to articulate what their parents were doing. I suspect this was not an exceptional situation.

Ongoing, relevant, and appropriate communication about the What? Why? and How? of your ministry will help family members get a better understanding of their roles in it. Affirm each others’ unique gifts and abilities, and together explore options for how they might be used to achieve some of your ministry goals. Involving the whole family in planning and decision-making whenever possible fosters cooperation within the family and facilitates effectiveness in ministry.

But ministry is not something you only do outside the family. Family members have the privilege and responsibility to minister to one another in the “dailyness” of life as well as in times of crisis. Sometimes we forget that those closest to us have needs, too—and parents can forget that their own children are just as “needy” (spiritually, emotionally, etc.) as the people in their community. We do well to occasionally assess how effectively we are reaching the ministry goals within our own family.

One Impacts the Other

As we observe children playing on a teeter totter, we know that they are seldom, if ever, both suspended at exactly the same level. Rather, they shift their weight or apply pressure to establish an enjoyable “rhythm.” So it is in seeking to balance ministry and family—to establish a steady, workable, enjoyable “rhythm” that reflects flexibility as well as harmony.

We know, however, that there are times of special need or crisis when we experience more “weight” in one area. This requires the other area to “let up” for a while. The assurance that this imbalance is temporary will help make such times more tolerable.

Just like a teeter totter, what takes place in our family affects what happens in our ministry, and vice versa. It is easy to focus so much on either ministry or family that we forget to notice or consider the implications on the one that might be left “hanging.”

Unlike the teeter totter, however, the impact of the choices and decisions we make are not always felt or observed immediately. It is not possible to anticipate all that may come about tomorrow as a result of what we do today. However, prayerful planning with both the present and the future in mind and careful consideration of the implications on both family and ministry, help bring a wise perspective to our decision making.

Childhood Won’t Wait

With children, there is an urgency and significance about the present. Having four adult children, I realize how quickly the days of childhood slip away, never to be recalled. Proverbs exhorts us to “train up a child in the way he should go…” Childhood won’t wait for us to finish one more project, complete one more study program, achieve one more goal. Appropriate training and nurturing must take place now.

Psychologist Erik Erikson says that what has taken place enables what is to continue to be. The experiences, teaching, and values accrued during childhood lead to the alignment of motivation, abilities, opportunities, and beliefs in adulthood. Childhood is the foundation upon which adulthood is built—but the building blocks for that foundation are only available once! The challenge is to find the appropriate balance between laying a solid foundation for our children, while at the same time seizing the opportunities in ministry. With God as our “fulcrum,” I believe it is possible to do both.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.