For the past several decades, I’ve seen example after example of pastors and church staff members and volunteer ministry leaders being forced to leave ministry because of a breakdown in their family. Church leaders come with a target on their back. Satan knows that if he can bring down a leader, he can often bring down a church. One of Satan’s favorite targets is the family of the pastor or ministry leader. Family struggle is one of the biggest burdens most pastors carry.
When you look across the ministry landscape and see leaders who are doing great things in the name of Christ, you can also see plenty of examples of their families coming under attack. Divorce and affairs and sexual temptation, rebellious and wayward children. Disease and ailments and accidents.
Satan knows that if he can get to your family, he can get to you. The bible uses a couple of words to describe Satan’s strategies. Sometimes he attacks through “schemes” which are “cunning arts, deceit, craftiness, and trickery that involves planning.” But Satan’s primary method of attack is deceit. Strategic lies. The devil is a slanderer who is the father of lies. Jn.8:44 says that Satan is by nature a liar and his primary method with which he attacks human beings is through lies to deceive them into believing something false about God or God’s plan. He lies about who God is, what God is like, what we are like, what God desires for us to do.
3 ways Satan attacks families
Satan loves plotting one family member against another, spouses against spouses, parents against children, siblings against siblings, and children against parents. In discord he perpetuates the lie that says, “Maybe I would be better off if I wasn’t part of this family.”
Satan tries to keep us so busy with unimportant things that we will neglect that which is most important. Like our faith and our key family relationships. The lie says, “I have lots of time to attend to my family’s needs later; but for now, this urgent thing needs my attention.”
Sometimes Satan wages a full-on attack. In addition to being a liar – Satan is a murderer. He would love to bring disease, devastation, and even death into our families. When this happens, a lie creeps in that says, “I think God has abandoned me / my family.”
Paul describes the Christian life in Ephesians 6:10-13 as a spiritual battle.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
That doesn’t sound like a walk in the park. I’ve always found it interesting that in light of all the armor we are told to put on, the conclusion is not to go take the next hill, or win the next battle. The call is simply to stand firm. To withstand the enemies advances and lies and to stand firm in the power of God’s truth.
But there’s another, more subtle lie, that creeps in and causes confusion and frustration for ministry families.
The lie is that family and ministry are inherently at odds with one another. It’s the idea that the two institutions always take from each other instead of enhancing one another. In response, many church leaders go to one of two extremes:
Extreme 1: Sacrificing family on the altar of ministry.
So many pastors have made this mistake. That when the moment of decision comes – “Do I skip family dinner to take this call? Do I leave vacation early to perform that funeral?” – ministry always wins. Family always gets neglected and deep wounds are caused. Seeds of bitterness are planted against individual congregation members, against the church, even against God Himself.
There is the other extreme that sounds very noble but can be a big overcorrection…
Extreme 2: Idolizing family to the neglect of ministry
I have seen pastors and ministry leaders who are so “committed” to their family that they don’t labor faithfully and sacrificially in ministry. When it comes to showing up on time, or fulfilling church obligations, or staying after hours to manage through a crisis they are unavailable because family always wins. If we come to terms with Jesus’ radical call to discipleship, we will have to embrace the fact that ministry requires a life of joyful sacrifice, and our families have been called to share in that sacrifice. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matt 10:37-39
I believe that both these approaches spring from the common error and lie of the devil: that ministry and family are opposed to each other. What if, instead of focusing on the conflicts between our families and our ministries in the church, we embraced the fact that this is a healthy tension? God is in charge of both things. God wants both to succeed. Your ministry and family are not designed by God to take from one another, but rather to enhance one another.
What if you did not draw such a stark line of separation between your role as husband or wife, father or mother, from your life as a minister at church. In fact, what if you believe that through your role in your family, God was also using you to lead in your church, and through your church leadership God was also equipping you to build up your family.
Joshua’s statement in Joshua 24:15 could provide a helpful framework for us to think about this issue, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Stuart Briscoe helpfully suggests that this passage in Joshua 24 is a model for how we should view the relationship between our ministries and our families. He writes: This statement assumes that a believing household will embrace “Service” as a dominant life principle. Furthermore, service as a dominating principle will inform the minds, govern the attitudes, and motivate the actions of the whole household. The family then becomes not a self-serving entity primarily concerned with its own well-being—but a committed community in which service and sacrifice for a cause even greater than the family becomes cohesive and normative. In this way, ministry ceases to be a threat to the family, and the family no longer sees itself as an alternative to ministry. Rather, the family becomes the arena in which ministry thrives and ministry becomes the environment in which the family matures.
What if we thought of home as a training ground for ministry and ministry as a training ground for home. Imagine what it would look like to take things you learn in ministry and apply them to home. Things like team building principles, counseling best practices, chasing after a vision and mission, goal setting, using biblical truths in decision-making. I thing most homes would benefit implementing some of those same skills. And also imagine taking things you learn at home and applying them to your ministry. Things like conflict resolution, division of labor, playing together, operating a budget, discipline and consequences, and family roles. I think many of our church teams would benefit from a skillful approach to these things.
Will it still be hard to manage family and ministry? Yes! But as soon as you think “this is hard,” remind yourself that you are in a battle. Don’t believe the lies of the devil. Lies like, “Maybe I would be better off if I wasn’t part of this family,” and “I have lots of time to attend to my family’s needs later; but for now, this urgent thing needs my attention,” and “I think God has abandoned me / my family,” and even, “my family and ministry are inherently at odds with one another.” Armor up and stand firm. The truth is God want’s both to succeed and He will be with you.