I just wish I could do ministry all the time, because this parenting and homeschooling stuff is just so hard!
As soon as the thought materialized, the Holy Spirit convicted me of the sinful attitudes from which it had sprung. It had been an extremely trying day at home with the children. We were coming off of an unusually busy few weeks that had held several ministry engagements for me, and frankly, my full attention had not been on my children.
They had spent a few days with grandparents while my husband and I ministered at a marriage retreat over 1,000 miles away. Then, as soon as we got home, I was busy preparing to speak at the launch of our new ladies' ministry, not to mention working hard to get all of the details ready for the evening. I was distracted, and they were taking full advantage of that. But now those events were over, and I was ready to get back into the swing of things at home. And it wasn't going so well.
Differing Atmospheres of Ministry
The difference between the atmosphere at the marriage retreat and ladies' ministry and the atmosphere at my home the day I finally turned my attention fully to my family couldn't have been more striking. The weekend serving with my husband had been wonderful. The people there were so gracious. We had such positive feedback and encouragement from our sessions. They were excited to listen to us.
Then at home, on the first night of our new ladies' ministry, the attendance exceeded my expectations, the ladies were eager to be there and hear from the Word, and they also were full of kind words about the message I had shared. But the next day I received no encouragement.
My kids weren't telling me I had done a great job when I taught them their math lesson. They weren't excited by the agenda of school and chores. They really weren't excited to go back to the rules and standards of Mom and Dad after so many days of the rules and standards of the grandparents. It was just a hard day all-around, and as the arguments and misbehavior and tears flowed freely, the overflow of my heart came forth in an exasperated cry.
And immediately in that moment, the Lord was merciful to me. He was quick to show me my sin—liking the praise of man a little too much and of being discontent with the beautiful season of life He has given me. And He was quick to show me that I am, indeed, doing ministry all the time.
The Same Joy?
Speaking at weekend retreats is not the norm for me. Most ordinary days, my ministry title is Mommy and Wife. God is graciously giving me a few more open doors of ministry outside the home, but my family is the main recipient of my ministry. And I was definitely not serving my family that day with the same joy as with the ladies at the marriage retreat and my church.
We are not all stay-at-home, homeschooling mamas, but we all have people in our lives whom we are called to serve outside the "official realm" of ministry. The people we live with definitely fit that description, and even those who live alone have family, close friends, and coworkers who are involved in their lives on an everyday basis. These are the people with whom we let down our guard. We aren't on a platform with them. We don't always put our best face forward with them, and sometimes we forget to even show them the love that we have for them. But these people are our first circle of ministry.
Getting Your Priorities Right
One thing the Lord is showing me is that all the ministry outside my home adds to nothing if the ministry inside my home isn't getting the same focus. If my husband and kids don't get at least the same care, love, and respect from me that the ladies at different events are receiving from me, then my priorities are way out of order.
There isn't much immediate gratification in the ministry of family. Your children will not often thank you for refereeing their arguments or making them eat their carrots. Your coworkers may not always speak words of encouragement for your kind manner or for doing your best on the job. Your extended family may not notice the little sacrifices you make to love them well. However, it's crucial to remember that while we may or may not be called to a public ministry, we are definitely called to graciously minister in the relationships God has already given us.
Over and over throughout Scripture we are called to love one another. A beautiful description of what that love should look like is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The ministry outside my home adds to nothing if the ministry inside my home isn't getting the same focus.
Living 1 Corinthians 13 Every Day
If we are in ministry leadership positions, we most likely know these verses, and I hope we are loving the women in our ministries with this kind of love. It's often far easier, however, to show this kind of love to women we may see only once a week, once a month, or only through a writing or speaking ministry. It's much more difficult to love like this in the relationships God has given us in our everyday lives.
So think about the way you interact with the women in your ministries and the way you interact with those in your home or in your closest relationships.
- Are you as patient and kind at home as you are at your weekly Bible study?
- Are you gracious and polite with the ladies at church, but you insist on your own way with your family and close friends?
- Do you bear all things when women sin against you, but you are irritable and resentful with having to serve your husband and children?
- Do you endure criticism, unfair judgments, and misunderstandings among the women who read your writing or hear your speaking, but fail to graciously endure the shortcomings of your coworkers?
That difficult day with my children served as a wake-up call for me, and I have been much more aware of the danger of neglecting to serve my family for the sake of serving others. Ministry opportunities in a public setting—however large or small—may come and go, but the people God has given us in our homes and daily lives are ours to serve and love daily in a selfless, sacrificial way.
May the Lord help each of us examine our own hearts and make sure we are loving well in our first circle of ministry.