As I drive up into my driveway I see them. They cry out as they reach for the sky. I know the longer I put it off the more the machine will struggle to bring them back down to size. The weekday evenings are filled with activity and shuttling children to one activity to the next. While we hurriedly pull in and then reverse back out â€“ there they remain, taunting me.
Weekends are spent with even more activity and shuttling to activities. But eventually I begin to feel the burning stares of the neighbors and almost feel the breath of their loud sighs as if I alone am bringing down the value of their homes. Eventually we canâ€™t find the dogs, and the children begin to carry machetes to go to the bus stop in the mornings.
I say to myself, â€œI have got to cut the grass!â€
Cutting the grass is an activity that I enjoy and I do feel that to be a good neighbor I need to keep the bahia under control but where do I fit in time to do it? When I see manicured lawns I say, â€œwow,â€ and ask â€œwhere do they find time to make it look that good?â€
During the summer months and the early fall I have a lingering box on my weekly â€œto doâ€ list that often times does not get checked off; cutting the grass. I know I need to do it, but there are so many other things that seem to crowd out time to do it. There are only so many daylight hours of the day.
Do you have a â€œcutting the grassâ€ item on your â€œto doâ€ list that keeps getting pushed to next week’s list again and again? For some it may be â€œgo to the gymâ€ (and actually work out), â€œeat right,â€ or â€œspend time with my kids.â€
After the Christmas break last year my son Joshua wanted me to help him build a catapult for a school club that he wanted to join. We talked briefly about the requirements, drew out a design, and even made a mock up with a model. Then life stepped in and started stealing time. Weeks went by and every week continued to be filled with one activity and then another.
One important activity after another were placed on the calendar and religiously followed. Eventually we never ended up making the catapult â€“ I still feel horrible about it. He has never brought it up and we are on to another school year but the reality is that I allowed other things to take priority over our plans. I missed an opportunity to have a special time with my son. To be honest I donâ€™t even remember what those “important things” were that stole the moment away.
I have found that this is often the case â€“ the immediate â€œcrisisâ€ robs the long-term truly important items. I would not put Joshuaâ€™s project on the same lines as â€œget a haircutâ€ or â€œpaint the houseâ€ but if things are continued to be put off until another day then people will eventually start calling you â€œhoneyâ€ from behind and your neighbors will finally riot with pitchforks saying, â€œkill the beast who doesnâ€™t cut his grass!â€
So how do keep things under control where our homes are (somewhat) clean and neat, our personal hygiene is presentable, and our children know we love them? May I suggest the following:
- Everything has to have a priority order. Your children, spouse, and home are more important than anyone elseâ€™s â€“ because they are yours. You are responsible for them, no one else. So, therefore, your priorities will be different than your friendâ€™s. So when life happens, you have to measure this â€œcrisisâ€ in light of how it will affect what you alone are responsible for.
If it is happening to someone else it is always a â€œpriorityâ€ and a â€œcrisisâ€ for them â€“ but it may not be for you, and it doesnâ€™t have to be. How many times do you think you can miss your kidâ€™s ball games, performances, wedding anniversaries, etc. to rush off for someone elseâ€™s â€œcrisisâ€ before your family will know that they are not very high on your priority list?
What about the grass? Well, you may be getting an idea for why my grass is knee high and there are dishes in the sink.
Sit down. What I am about to say may cause you to become light headed. Ok. Are you ready?
- It is ok to say â€œNo.â€
. . . . .ok are you back with us? Here, put this cool rag on your head. Yes otherâ€™s priorities want an answer. Others want you to do stuff, constantly. But, there will come a time, when they will want you to place an item higher on the priority list than it should be (above family, wife, children, etc.) and you will know that you should say â€œno.â€ Itâ€™s ok. They may even get mad, but at the end of the day your kidâ€™s wonâ€™t resent you and you wonâ€™t be sleeping on the couch.
- Create margin in your life. I am a pastor, so my calling in life is to minister to other people. I am expected to be there during times of crisis in peopleâ€™s lives, and I am glad to be there. I am honored to be there, and for people to call me during times of crisis. But honestly, this doesnâ€™t happen every day.
But when it does happen, I need to run to my car, and leave. For those times when this does happen, it has to be measured against many times when I was there. But not just there. I need to be engaged, present, and participating in what is going on in the family. When I do this, they will understand that when a crisis does hit, then I need to go. For some it may be business trips, sales calls, etc. so when you need to be away â€“ let that time away be balanced with other time spent with them. Donâ€™t overcrowd your schedule and â€œto doâ€ list. Give yourself time for those emergencies.
So what if they donâ€™t happen? Then cut the grass.
- Give yourself a break. Seriously. So what if your grass is getting high, there are dishes in the sink, or the beds are not made? Life will continue, the earth will continue to rotate, and â€œthis too will pass.â€
Your kids will not always be with you, they will not always come to you when they scrape their knee, and eventually will drive themselves to wherever they need to go. The schedule will eventually slow down when they drive off to college or walk down the aisle. There will be days later for clean houses, manicured lawns, and trimmed nose hairs â€“ for now I have to go. Itâ€™s time for Cub Scouts.
In the summer of 2000 my wife and I graduated from seminary and went to work for a church plant in Maryland. She was over the children’s department and I served as the associate pastor (which is basically over everything else). Because of several circumstances and other’s personality idiosyncrasies I found myself leading the children’s ministry with my wife’s help.
But let me backup. Before my wife and I moved to MD, we lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. We loved our home church and served as volunteers in the children’s department. This willingness to serve was rooted in both of our desire to have children. After two miscarriages and much heartache we found ourselves in a new place of ministry. This place of ministry dealt mainly with children. We could fool those around us (especially on Sunday mornings), but our hearts desire was to have children of our own.
Four long years went by and many doctor’s visits. Kimberly ended up have many painful procedures, tests, and eventual surgery that corrected our problem. Soon we found ourselves expecting twins. It is hard to express in writing, or even spoken word, how we felt when we saw the two boys, and heard their heartbeats on the sonogram. We both held our emotions because there was no promise that the pregnancy would make it all the way to delivery. As the months went by there was a baby shower, I assembled cribs, and we found ourselves driving around in a minivan.
Two years passed and a little girl came along, and then a couple of years later another boy. Fourteen years later we are still driving around in that same minivan, but praise the Lord the van is full. There are many times when I smile when I see that van. In our church in Maryland, I moved from serving as the associate pastor to the senior pastor. The church was small enough that I could preach, and still have a strong say in the direction of the children’s ministry. I continued my education and found that my doctorate focused heavily on children and how the church and family needed to work together. In 2010, the church where we had served for over a decade went through a major change, and I knew it was time for my family to move on to another place of ministry.
I had some time to do some soul searching and began to wrestle with some big questions:
- What does it mean to be successful? (I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school and it weighs like a millstone sometimes). Whatever this next move may be will more than likely determine if I “move up”, in ministry or slide into decline. I can not tell you how many people asked me, “Why would you go from serving as a senior pastor to a children’s pastor?” As if it were a step down, and I understand in many people’s mind it is.
- How will this move affect my family? Most families in ministry deal with this question “If our kids move to another state and have to start their lives over (new school, new friends, new church, new teachers, etc.) I knew this would be hardest on them. My kids were doing very well, was I going to mess that up? There was also a significant change in pay so would we make it financially? Do I accept a place of ministry because it will help us get ahead financially even if I know I am not called to go there?
- Am I clearly hearing from the Lord? At the end of the day I am a depraved sinner, and sometimes doubt. I doubt I am making the right decision. I doubt I have what it takes to be “successful” (whatever that is). I doubt that I will ever make a difference for the Lord. At the end of the day if I can know that I am following the Lord, nothing else matters because He will take care of the details. His will comes first, but what if I don’t hear Him clearly?
During the process of searching for the Lord’s will three separate churches approached me. One was about the same size as the one I was serving in, and I knew right away that I could not help them. Believe it or not pastoring in a smaller church is ten times harder than serving in a larger church. You wear multiple hats, work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and stay tired all the time. At this point in the journey I was burned out, exhausted, and needing a change. So a parallel move in ministry wasn’t going to work.
The second and third were very similar, they were larger churches, who had been through tough times and were ready to follow a leader. Both brought me in, gave me the tour, fed me steak, and both offered me the senior pastorate. I declined. Both would require me to pour out my heart in the pulpit, but would take me away from my kids. I would not even see them on Sunday mornings. One of these churches was by the beach (I love the beach), and I took an afternoon to sit on the sand, and do some soul searching.
I have always been the front person of most of what my kid’s do. Serving in a smaller church allowed me significant freedom to be involved in my children’s lives. I led their Cub Scout dens (every year), led the children’s ministry in their church, I was the entertainer at their birthday parties, and if there was a field trip I was there (if I could be, or made the costumes for the plays). So as a I sat on the beach I knew I would not be happy serving as senior pastor right then. But it wasn’t until I read a facebook post by a friend (Brandy Moates) some time ago that helped me to formulate into clear wording why I am Children’s Pastor.
“Being a parent and “mommy” is a tremendous blessing, a huge responsibility and without a doubt the hardest and most demanding, yet rewarding job ever. Blessed beyond measure and filled with intense feelings of thankfulness and disbelief that these most precious and beautiful gifts are our daughters. Yes…I am that mom…there have been times when I find myself explaining why I don’t leave my children overnight for a break, get away for a weekend or even an extended vacation. You see, to ME being a mom means putting my needs aside even when I feel like putting myself first or even when I feel like I need “me” time. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of days when I want to lock myself in a quiet room and just read or sleep or go shopping without a tag along, or even be able to eat an entire meal without being interrupted. In those moments of frustration, I try to remember that this is a season. A season that will pass all too quickly, a season that for the most part, will be longed for when it is gone.
When I read her post, I was suddenly reminded of those months way back in seminary when I would hold my wife as she wept, or hear her crying into her pillow. I remembered how the Lord has been faithful to give us four wonderful children and how immense this responsibility and privilege remains to be. My love for them is unspeakable, indescribable, and touches me deeper than any thing else has in my life.
My heart ached when Joshua and Caleb stepped onto the school bus for pre-K (even though it was across the neighborhood, and it was only half-a-day). Every year of growth and change is bitter sweat. The twins have just transitioned into youth ministry, my daughter is going into fifth grade, and my youngest son is going into second grade this year. I still have them for a season.
There may be days ahead when I can fill the pulpit again, but for now I am a Children’s Pastor because I can lead my children toward the Lord, and I recognize that it is only for a short season. The church we ended up accepting the call to ministry was in Valdosta, Georgia. God has blessed me with a church that values ministry to children enough that they provide a staff position to lead that area. We are seeing significant growth, changed lives, and changed families. At the root of it all is the love of a father for his children.
I am thankful for a Father who loves His children.
 I know that there are many couples who have gone much longer than four years, many their entire marriage, so please know that I recognize their pain and that four years may not sound very long. For us, it was a monthly roller coaster of emotion. Expectation was followed by hope, then joy, then doubt, and then the pain of knowing that you are not pregnant this month. Up and down, up and down, month after month.
This is my son Joshua. We named him and his twin brother Caleb after the biblical characters in Numbers 13. Only Joshua and Caleb believed that God would be with His people and to help them do what God had called them to do (i.e. the conquer the Promised Land). My guys were born six weeks premature and were in a NICU unit for an extended period of time. We would visit them every day and there were times when I was greatly concerned for them. In the biblical account “they were like grasshoppers among giants.” And in many ways my sons have been playing “catch up” their whole lives. Â They were small in their early grades, small on their Upward teams, but in spite of everything they are doing great. We want them to be leaders who even though the world around them does not follow God, they will be bold and stand for what is right.
As a pastor, I sometimes find myself out of balance. God in His grace and mercy, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that I have a family, a wife, children. Â Balancing individual time with each child, time with my wife, outings as a family, even dinner in the evenings becomes a challenge. Calendars have to be mapped out, vacations planned, ball games juggled, or just time guarded to be at home. When dads get out of balance and don’t listen to God, it is their families that pay the price. I recognize that our (Kimberly and myself) desire for our children to be spiritual giants is in jeopardy when I fail to balance my time.
Every night as I turn off the light after our devotions JoshuaÂ asks, “dad, can I have a hug?” By the time I cross the room, he is already half asleep. I give him the “anaconda” hug, and he yells, and laughs, and then I give him a “real hug” and tell him that I love him. Â It is moments like these that I don’t want to miss.
Joshua is self-conscious about his teeth so when I take his picture he smirks (he really needs braces, but we are waiting until his “baby teeth” are all out), he is beginning to show interest in girls (that’s a whole other blog topic), and yells for his brothers to get out of the bathroom while he takes a bath. Joshua and Caleb will be ten years old in a few months. Kimberly and I are half-way to the point where we will send them off to college and they will be “grown.” There is still so much that I want to do with them, to teach them, and to experience with them, but time just keeps spinning by. I know that one night he will stop asking for hugs, and my little boy will be a young man.
Those that are called to ministry, don’t neglect your family while you are doing “ministry.” It is a challenge, and sometimes it seems like the entire world is working to keep you from being with them. You can’t control other people’s marriages and their need for counseling, you can’t control when others die and their family’s will be in of their pastors; you simply can’t control life. But knowing that your family is your top priority other than your relationship with God, consider the following:
4 Ways to Keep Your Family in Balance With Ministry
1. Build in Margin. Life in ministry is similar to being a police person. There are moments when there is nothing going on, and then in a split second “all hell breaks loose.” There are weeks when you are so busy that you feel like you are drowning in a tsunami, and there are weeks when you feel like you are only in a small tropical storm.
In those slow times take the extra time and spend it with your family. Have some “penciled in” activities thought out that you can do if time opens up (go to the park, fix something, clean out the garage, etc.) Â There is a saying, “if you don’t control your calendar, then it will control you.” The better you are able to manage your schedule, the better able you will can minister to others (including your family).
Also, when you plan out your week, don’t allow your calendar to get maxed out, build in margin. Don’t worry, life will happen and will fill in these gaps. But instead of being overwhelmed with so much to do, you have given yourself some extra time for these “opportunities.”
2. Take Them With You Whenever You Can. If it is possible and appropriate take your children (or at least one) with you while you do ministry. You know that there are times when this won’t be appropriate, or they will be a distraction from you being able to do your job — but there are times when they can come along, and may even help. This will allow them to see what you do, how you help people, build the church and the kingdom, and to know how they can pray for you the next time you have to leave them to do ministry.
It is now a family tradition that once one of children turns five they are then allowed to go with me on Sunday morning to church. We leave about 7:00am, stop by and get a quick breakfast and then we “set up” whatever needs to be set up for church. We have a set pattern and the children are able to predict their week. It is a special time that I have individually with my children. Isaac just turned five and is now going with me on Sundays.
3. Say “no.”Â Your family already knows how many times you say “yes.” But one way of showing how important they are is for you to say “no.” There are only so many hours in the day, and so many things that can be done in a given day, and so many relationships that one person can maintain. You have to say “no” but who you say it to makes all the difference in the emotional development of your children and the strength of your marriage.
If you say “yes” to a ministry concern, you are saying “no” to your family. If you say “no” to your family too much, then problems will arise. Â We are talking about balance, you have to say “yes” and “no” to both ministry and family, just make sure you are being guided by the Holy Spirit and the wisdom he gives through His Word. Also, your “yes” should mean “yes.” If you tell your children that you will be there, will do an activity,etc., then don’t make it a pattern of really meaning “no” because you have allowed a ministry opportunity to steal that time away.
4. Quantity verses Quality. I believe this to be an urban legend. Families need both extended time with you and your “being there” emotionally during that time. The most meaningful conversations that have occurred between my children and myself were in the moments where we were doing something mundane (sweeping out the garage, walking to a friend’s house, or just sitting under an umbrella on a beach).
Children can’t be rushed or scheduled to have thoughtful conversations, it just comes to their mind and you talk about it. Â You can’t block out time for that, it just happens as life moves from one context to the next. Your presence in the home can’t be replaced.