"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed -
right genes [to be a child of God], right diet [God's Word],
right exercise [involvement in ministry]
and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church].
The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"
Yet what does the practical outworking of this look like in real life and ministry? How do expats working, ministering and seeking to be Christ’s “…witnesses… [in] Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8, NASB) sustain long and productive careers?
Based off of a sermon by my home church pastor and subsequent study, I’ve identified seven essential priorities that help protect those in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry, from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direct and give hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God… ones that will hopefully allow us serve well for exactly the time God has chosen for us…
Those priorities are:
- Continuously and consistently seeking the Lord
- Praying without ceasing
- Balancing personal growth, rest and ministry
- Welcoming accountability
- Committing to marriage and family
- Choosing to be teachable, even in difficult circumstances; and
- Determining to be a genuine team player.
This post is looking at priority number five – committing to marriage and family.
Let me start off by saying that I do not believe there is one hard and fast way to do this… this commitment thing. How I demonstrate my commitment to my marriage and family might look quite different than how you do. Key is that 1) an intentional, purposeful choice to first made - choosing commitment, 2) a continuous effort is made - working on commitment, and 3) a covenant relationship is kept, clinging to commitment… regardless.
Regardless of the difficulties.
Regardless of the inconveniences.
Regardless of the words and opinions of others…
So what do I mean by commitment to family, in a biblical sense, if you will? I wasn’t exactly sure. It is something we talk about, casually throwing into edifying conversation – but what does God say commitment looks like? To try and find out, I searched both commit and commitment in an online concordance.
First, there are verses like “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37.5 ESV), and “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16.5 ESV). These verses remind that God has chosen to work through us, but He doesn’t need us to accomplish His plans. Believing and living according to this principle frees us to also minister inside our homes. Yes, we work and work intensely – but our work… our ministry… is no excuse to ignore (at one extreme) or slack off even a little bit (at the other extreme) at working on those family relationships and dynamics.
“Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife” (1 Corinthians 7.27) speaks of marriage as a being bound… a binding, knitting, tying and winding together of a man and a woman that should remain. That means I support my husband in the ministry opportunities God gives him; he also supports me, giving me opportunity to serve and work, using the talents and abilities with which God has graced me. It isn't 50/50. It is 100/100.Today, what did that look like for us? Less than a week after moving (and after an extended furlough/home assignment), he’s itching to dive into a new ministry. So I continue lugging boxes, unpacking suitcases, trying to fit our family into our new (and beautiful) home while trying to keep six kids (who’ve gone from friend-overload to all-alone-in-a-new-city-with-nothing-but-siblings-overload) at least moderately content and engaged all day. After his long day and taking apart a desk that we needed to squeeze down into the basement, he’s now taken all of the kids out and about, exploring our new city, but also giving me the time to put my notes and this post together. In Matthew 19, Jesus speaks of the marriage commitment – marriage is something God has put together and that men should not seek to separate. Our ministries, at least for this moment, are separate – but we need each other to do them well… sometimes to do them at all. Working together to help each other accomplish individual goals, works to further unite us.
Just a few verses later in Matthew 19, the disciples are rebuked for hindering the little children; in the previous chapter (and additionally in both Mark and Luke), a direly strong warning is given to any who would cause a little one (usually thought to mean a child) to stumble. Consider the list of qualifications given for “overseers” – above reproach in personal life, public life but also family life – husband of one wife, family managed well, obedient children, and mutual respect (i.e. by parents, spouses and children) demonstrated in the home (1 Timothy 3). Although not all missionaries are “overseers” in a biblical sense of the word, there is no doubt that we are often seen as such and considered ones among the people to whom we minister. Regardless of our ministry, our actions and choices should not cause our children to "stumble" and turn away from God. They must always feel confident that their parents consider them more important than "the work."
A few other passages (I’m sure there are many others, but this study was never intended to be exhaustive – especially as we are smack dab in the middle of transitioning to a new field of ministry and I sit typing surrounded by boxes and piles of clothes and disassembled furniture…) seem relevant. First, at the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua instructs the Israelites to make a choice… and then sets the example: “…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." To serve and minister as a family is the model we’ve been given. No one should try and carbon-copy my family’s “style” of service… those dated machines have no relevance today anyway. But do adapt principles and incorporate ideas, commit to making them work in your family and in your situation – not to make them look just like some other family that appears to have it all together. And frankly, even in our family, what worked before is no longer feasible. Opportunities change, ministries ebb and flow. Our goal should be to focus on the intentional choice to serve as a family, each one doing his/her part.
One passage I never fail to find inspiring and convicting when it comes to our commitment to our tck children: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments… are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6.4b-8). We learn to better disciple others as we take time and practice discipling our children… To serve as a family, we need to be taking these Old Testament words to heart.
Second Kings 19 contains a pretty amazing account – although it was a particular phrase that first caught my eye. Hezekiah is king and the Assyrians are after his people. It is God who miraculously delivers Jerusalem from annihilation. There’s also a prophecy given… what will be accomplished by and because of God’s zeal for His people. One translation renders that word zeal as passionate commitment. That was the phrase that grabbed my attention.
Passionate commitment for His people.
A commitment motivated by strong feeling, affection and belonging.
A choice motivated by selfless love and protection.
An intention of working for the absolute, very best for another.
God is zealous for His people.
I believe He wants us to feel the same - and not just about ministries or other peoples and cultures. He wants us to have a passionate commitment to our marriages, our children… our family.
Just as Hezekiah recognized He couldn’t protect or save his people, we must understand that it is highly likely our spouses, our children, our families WILL suffer at times because we’ve chosen to serve the Lord in cross-cultural ministry. Like Hezekiah, when we recognize and accept this reality, we are open to seeing our lives, our families, our situations for what they really are. We can see our abilities, but also our "helplessnesses." Then, like Hezekiah, we need to humbly seek the Lord and rest always aware of His continuous, sustaining grace, active and available. He wants the best for our spouse, for our children... even more than we do. Like Hezekiah, we need to seek the Lord and seek out guidance from His Word when it comes to finding those always changing balances between ministry within and without the confines of home. And last, but not least, like Hezekiah, we need to remember that our hope for our families and for our ministries lies in the Lord.
I’ve purposely not given a whole lot of “this is what it looks like in our lives and ministries” to describe "commitment to marriage and family" which is such a critical priority for longevity in cross-cultural ministry. But I do hope that some of these principles will be of help as you seek to discern what said commitment will look like for you in your place of ministry.
Series: Longevity in Ministry
- Just Think About a Horseshoe (26 July2014)
- Trusting in the Sufficiency and Sovereignty of God (9 August 2014)
- If you don't want to shorten your ministry... obediently abide (23 August 2014)
- The essentials? Or merely superfluous? (13 September 2014)
- Habituate yourself? (27 September 2014)
- One Priority that can Never be in Excess (11 October 2014)
- Of rest and rescue (23 October 2014)
- Dare to Disclose (8 November 2014)
- “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear” (27 November 2014)
- "Hoping to resume an abandoned but not forgotten study" (13 June 2015)
To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.