Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nancy Leigh DeMoss on ministry outside the home

The first place that [a woman] works is in her home. Until she has cared for the needs of her home, she has not got the right to go out and tend to the needs elsewhere. The core, the central place of her ministry, of her work is out of her home. ...

But what does that mean for us as women today? Well, I have looked into the eyes of women and listened to the stories of women who are so busy serving God outside of their own homes that it’s obvious by the condition of their health, or the condition of their husband, their marriage, their children, that they have neglected the first things: their priorities in their home. ...

Your good works ought to first be done at home. Ministering to the needs of your family. Then as God gives you time, opportunity, available resources, or in a different season of life, to take those gifts and those abilities and expand them, as we’ll see the Proverbs 31 woman does, outside of your own home.
If you want to read more see the full transcript at Revive Our Hearts.

image available at AllPosters


Nicole said...

Do you think the language of "first" and "until" is the best way to talk about the relationship between ministry within and ministry beyond the home? ("Priority" is a slippery concept, isn't it!!) After all, when do you ever get to the stage when you can say that everything on the home front is [perfectly] under control and taken care of?

I worry that this sort of language gives us permission to indulge a selfish perfectionism about our cooking, cleaning, home decorating, 'quality time', etc, while neglecting to show our kids a model of outward-looking, sacrificial service, and failing to help our husbands in any other way than by keeping the home fires burning (important as that way of helping is!!).

I don't get the impression that the widows in 1 Tim 5 had the option of saying "I just never felt that I had got to the stage where I had properly cared for the needs of my home enough, so I didn't feel I had the right to wash the feet of the saints or relieve the afflicted or do good to anyone except my husband and kids".

I know there are some family situations (eg. kids with disabilities) where you can pour your life out in ministry without ever stepping outside the front door. But I think those kinds of scenarios should be the exception, not the paradigm.

I agree with you in your earlier post that "the balance between ministry inside and outside the home will differ according to the season of life a woman finds herself in", but I also agree with you when you go on to say that "'kindness' or 'good deeds' will always reach out as well as in". If we want to be driven by Scripture and not simply by a reaction against the culture we live in, I think we need to keep emphasizing that!

Jean said...

I agree, Nic, it's probably not the most helpful way to talk about it. And yes, "priority" is a slippery concept. Like you, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that we might try to get things perfect at home before we move outside the home. I agree with you about the widows (I'm doing a lot of agreeing here!). And that models which over-emphasise home at the expense of outside ministry are probably reacting against our culture, perhaps at the expense of outside "good works".

Which is one reason I like your model of "missional motherhood": it shows how the two meld together. But also (and I think you agree with me here!) there will be ministries not done directly from a home base - e.g. serving in church, leading Bible studies outside the home - which may come at some cost to our family. My home has a lot more cobwebs because of my outside ministry! Perhaps too many - I think I've gone too far the other way this year.

So, somehow, it's always a matter of balance, and this is always tricky: if you're anything like me, you tip too far one way, and then the other, at different times. Always trying to do ministry and help your husband in his, always trying to serve the needs of home and family. Never with enough time to do as much as you'd like in either! (well, that's how I feel) Trusting God that he gives us the time we need to do what he wants us to do.

I'm rambling. Have you got any more coherant ideas about this, Nic?

Liz said...

I think that there is a point in "first" and "until, although some can lean towards perfectionistic tendencies. I think that any outside "missional" commitment that causes you to neglect your responsibilities at home is wrong. However, that doesn't meant that you can't leave the house to serve until your home is spotless! I would never venture outside my home if that were the case, as three children five and under ensure that I am kept busy in the house-keeping department.

I think that the home is our first mission field. So we are fulfilling part of our responsibilities for mission-mindedness in our homes. We can also welcome others into our homes and serve them. There may be seasons of life where very little is done outside the home (as far as mission-minded stuff goes).

In my current stage of life, I don't have the capacity to make a big commitment to an ongoing ministry, in a formal sense. However, I do seek "good works". No,that's not what I'm trying to say.

I have been co-ordinating our church creche for many years now, and am stepping back from it to let someone better equipped and with more drive take over. I am currently seeking God on the appropriate ministry to serve in, in our church for 09. However, most of my "ministry" centres around "good works". One of my spiritual gifts is hospitality. I often take meals around to families who are sick, in need, just had a baby, etc. I tend to serve others practically. In this season of life, that is enough. As my kids grow older and more independant I will be able to serve in other ministries more, but never to the detriment of my home.

Am I making sense? LOL

Nicole said...

I enjoyed your ramblings!!

Here are a few of my own...

1. As you say, it's not always an either/or choice between outward-focused ministry and taking good care of a family. We are NOT taking good care of a family if we are allowing it to be selfish and insular. (I suspect our professionalised, programme-driven idea of ministry means that we don't take seriously enough the opportunities that we have for outward focussed ministry with our kids, inside - and outside - the home. eg. taking the kids with you to visit an elderly person, or practising genuine hospitality.)

2. Sometimes, however (as you say!) outward-focused ministry and caring for a family are competing priorities, and the responsibilities we have as wives and mothers will definitely place some limits on the ministry we can do outside the home, especially when the kids are young.

3. If 1 Cor 7:32-34 is the key passage here, then perhaps our expectation should not be that we will ever reach a comfortable balance between caring for a family and ministry beyond the home - our expectation should be not 'comfortably balanced' but 'painfully divided'!

Jean said...

"3. If 1 Cor 7:32-34 is the key passage here, then perhaps our expectation should not be that we will ever reach a comfortable balance between caring for a family and ministry beyond the home - our expectation should be not 'comfortably balanced' but 'painfully divided'!"

Goodness me, then I must be the godliest person on the planet! Only kidding - I suspect there would be less "pain" if I trusted God more and worried less. But maybe you're right, and there will always be a difficult tension between these two things during this life.

I do remember some times of peace during my mothering, when I was so overwhelmed with pregnancy and babies that I really did have to devote myself nearly 100% to family. But as soon as I try to do more outside ministry, I find the tension rising. Perhaps because my (perfectionist) tendency is always to feel uncomfortable if I don't do both inside and outside ministry perfectly: an impossible dream.

Bring on God's good rest in heaven!

Valori said...

Can a "foreigner" jump in here? :) I love how you ladies think everything through biblically and really wrestle with applying biblical truths. It provokes me to think through my convictions!

I may have misunderstood what you meant by "painfully divided" and be taking your words a little too literally, but I think we can definitely walk out this balance with peace and confidence. I agree that there is often a time of uncertainty while seeking the Lord's will regarding individual decisions in the differing seasons of our lives, but I think each decision we make should be done in faith and we shouldn't be feeling any guilt regarding our responsibilities to our families.

I have found that making these kinds of choices is often a matter of wisdom and discernment. I start with what I see as my primary areas of ministry -- my husband and family -- and then I seek to move outward from there. But I do always want to be thinking "outward" and I do not want my home and family to become "idols." I think this has more to do with evaluating my motives than anything else. Why do I want to do this? Am I content with where the Lord has placed me at this season? Am I in any way diminishing the importance of the small unapplauded tasks that go into caring for my home and family? Am I keeping my home a certain way for my own glory or self-satisfaction, or is it to serve?

Just a few thoughts which I hope make sense :).

Jean said...

Thanks, Valori, that's helpful, always feel free to jump in! I think it's helpful to have these discussions from one country to another, as we help each other to see things differently, and to question our assumptions.

I'll reflect further on the "painfully divided" (yes, it was largely tongue-in-cheek on my part, but I'd like to think it through further) and maybe Nic's got something to say here?

Liz said...

As a further to last night's comments of mine, I was reminded of this blog post :

Just a note that she is Catholic, so I don't necessarily endorse everything she says.

Another thought to ponder - this time from a sermon preached recently in our church. The preacher talked about how work is good and ordained by God - it was commanded for man to work before the fall and not after. We will be given work in heaven. On this side of heaven, no one will reach their "full potential" - that is something for heaven.

Obviously we should seek to serve God wherever we find ourselves and not use "we can't reach our full potential" as an excuse to not work.

Nicole said...

OK, I'll have a go at clarifying!

By 'painfully divided' I didn't mean 'guiltily divided'. Sometimes there will be guilt feelings (either because our conscience is pricked by the awareness of real, sinful choices and motivations, or because we have weak consciences that get burdened when they oughtn't to) and when they come we ought to remind ourselves of the gospel, repent of anything that needs to be repented of, and thank God that he is a God of grace!

What I did mean by 'painfully divided' was that this side of heaven, as wives and mothers who seek first God's kingdom, we shouldn't expect to live lives that are 'comfortably balanced' between serving our families and serving (and helping our husbands to serve) the wider work of the gospel. If we are sincere and passionate about both desires, then we will often (always?!) feel ourselves stretched between them like a rubber band. It will often involve making difficult choices between options that are both good, living with less-than-perfection in both directions, knowing that there are things it would be wonderful to do that we don't have enough hours in the week to be doing.

That, I think, is the kind of 'divided' interests that Paul is speaking of when he describes the life of married people in 1 Cor 7:32-34. It's not ungodly; it's just complicated! And according to 1 Cor 7, it's only for a 'short' time - as Jean says, "Bring on God's good rest in heaven!".

And thanks Valori for the comments about idolatry and motives - I thought they were great!

Jean said...

Thanks, Nic, that helped clarify things.

So much wisdom on such an important topic! I only hope I can do it some measure of justice, being far less wise than the rest of you. And no, that wasn't false humility - what I preach to others, I preach first to myself, for I feel that I need it most!

Valori said...

Jean, I think we all feel that way -- or should, at least! By God's grace, we are all growing, but not until we see Jesus face to face will we be like Him!

Nicole, thanks for clarifying what you meant. I think I understand what you are saying, but I'm not so sure about how to apply 1 Corinthians 7 there. You all are much smarter than I am, so I am not going to attempt to try to take that one apart right now, but for some reason I don't think that that means that all married women will have a tension between serving the Lord and their husbands and family. I have found peace in knowing that I am serving the Lord as I serve my husband and family. In fact, I think it makes it somewhat easier because my role is so clearly defined for me (kind of like what Jean was saying about not having a choice but to focus on her family when she was pregnant). I am trying to reconcile what you are saying with my experience so maybe that's why I'm having a harder time. I am very peaceful and very content (not that I always was -- I wrote about that to Jean earlier on), and I don't feel any sense of striving regarding ministry because it really isn't all that much of a separate issue for me. The Lord has clearly shown me who my first ministry priorities are, and that brings me peace. But, we are still very actively involved in hospitality and in other forms of ministry in the church. And I have had seasons where my children have had to sacrifice time with mom so that I could work on a writing or teaching project. But even though I at times have to wrestle with whether or not I should say "yes" to an opportunity, I don't feel any kind of real tension. It is more a sense of, "Well, I guess this will have to wait until another season because my priorities are pretty clearly laid our for me right now."
And because I am confident of the fact that my husband and children are my primary area of service, I really do not feel pulled.

Are we both saying the same things? I am wondering if some of the differences in what we are discussing have to do with the way our particular churches function and what ministry actually looks like or involves. Maybe not.

Anyway, I hope you do not feel I am being contentious in any way. Just trying to understand you and clarify my own thoughts (which I fear I am being somewhat unsuccessful at doing).

Liz, I appreciated your thoughts, too. Are you all friends and do you all attend the same church?

Liz said...

Valori, I wonder if the differences also have a lot to do with our individual giftings and how content we have learnt to be?

Personally, I always struggle with how much ministry I should do, but that's because I want to help everyone and give generously. I am often prone to thinking that because I am *capable* of filling the role (such as teaching Sunday school) that I *should* do it. If I was to do that, I'd never be home! I have to choose carefully what church ministry I commit myself to.

And as to whether we know each other, I've never met Jean or Nicole although I *think* we both live in Sydney somewhere? Sydney is a big place anyhow. I discovered Jean's blog from her posts on the Sola Panel.

Jean said...

Hi, Valori, lovely to hear from you again.

I would like my life to look more like yours next year: devoted under God to serving my home and family, plenty of outside ministry mostly from the base of home but not so much that I can't fulfil my primary reponsibilities, the occasional time when I am stretched and my family feel that.

I think it's possible, because I agree that when we're serving God faithfully, and prayerfully taking up the opportunities he gives us, under the leadership of a godly husband, and with the help of good advice of others, there is no need to feel anxious and guilt-ridden - although I also agree with Nic that there will always be tension during this life, just as work always involves hardship since the fall.

I'd like to see how next year looks and get back to you on it, though! The funny thing is, of course, during this life, peaceful happiness is a rare thing: grief and suffering intervene. We never know what God will bring our way. Peaceful happiness is the exception rather than the rule. And it's so easy to trust in our plans rather than in God himself.

I'll write during the next day or so about how I think decisions about the balance between home and family might look, having the advantage of all your wonderful suggestions.

As for your question about who we all are, Valori: Nicole is in Sydney, I'm in Melbourne, we met through our blogs and we're good friends now (online at least - we've only met once or twice in the flesh!), and the rest of us are spread all over Australia and the world - only some of us from my church! Many people who visit this blog are from the circle of my husband's university ministry (many now studying theology in Sydney) or from Nic's blog-reading circle. Many are from Melbourne and other places in Australia. Others are from much further afield: England, Vanuatu, Chile, the US, you name it!

Jean said...

Liz, I agree that our feelings about the balance between ministry and homemaking have a lot to do with personality and godliness. Some will find being at home with children easier than others. Also, as we grow in contentment, trusting God, and peacefulness instead of anxiety, we won't feel as troubled.

Nicole said...

Thanks everyone for this conversation - I'm finding it a really helpful way to try and articulate what I think and why. And thanks Jean for the pointer to Lucy's blog post - it was fantastic!

I thought I should add a few more musings, some of them personal and some of them more theoretical/theological:

- In my own situation, the 'painfully divided' experience is not really about feeling discontented with being a wife and mother and wanting something bigger and more glamorous to do with my life. There are always days (as there are in any job!) when the work is hard and repetitive, and I occasionally - very occasionally! - find myself wondering what life would have been like if I'd used my law degree and pursued a career in that direction, but I NEVER find myself wishing I had some sort of 'ministry career'!

- The main temptation I find myself fighting against is in the opposite direction. I'm an introverted person, I'm not particularly restless or adventurous; I love pottering around in the backyard gardening or reading or doing craft activities with the kids. I could happily do that all week!!

- I'm very, very happy to agree with others that peace and contentment and freedom from anxiety are amongst the wonderful gifts that come with knowing and trusting Christ, and casting our anxieties on him.

- BUT I think it is still important to note that the 'peace and contentment' passages like Philippians 4 and Matthew 6 are directed mainly against the anxieties that come from an ungodly chasing after material comfort and safety and an ungodly fear about whether God will give us what we really need. I don't think we ought to use them to hose down our feelings of anguish and urgency and responsibility about the cause of the gospel and the part that we should/could be playing in it. Paul had learned the secret of contentment about his own personal needs and their abundant fulfilment in Christ, but that doesn't mean he was free from feelings of 'unceasing anguish' (Rom 9:2). 'daily pressure' (2 Cor 11:28), 'fear within' (2 Cor 7:5), 'struggling' (Col 1:29), and so on, focused on the cause of the gospel and the demands of ministry.

- The kind of 'tension' I have in mind is not just the toilsome tension of living in a fallen world. It's the urgent tension of living in the last days. The life we are called to is not a peacetime lifestyle. The gospel is meant to be taken out to the world, as well as passed on to our children.

- I might be moving in the wrong circles, but I don't see a lot of families in the Christian circles I move in where the children are in rags, malnourished and neglected because their mothers are giving too much energy to evangelism and hospitality and serving the poor! I do see families where the discipline and instruction of the kids sometimes takes second place to the pursuit of a prosperous and comfortable lifestyle, but I don't see an excess of devotion to evangelising the lost, visiting widows and orphans, washing the feet of the saints, showing hospitality to strangers and caring for the afflicted. I think that context should have an influence on the way we say things and where we place our emphasis.

- Having said all those things, I should still add that our family is hardly a model of outward-looking, missional, sacrificial living. We're trying, but we've got a long way to go! And I should also say that I do still think that we will need to say no to some things outside (and inside) the home because of our prior responsibilities as wives and mothers, and the need to steward our health and energy. I really appreciated your latest post, Jean, about the changing seasons of your life over the last decade or so.

Anonymous said...

I think there is often an overlap of ministry to family and ministry at church. There are lots of ways of including the children in, for example, morning tea prep,
Scripture prep (and even bringing a pre- schooler along), welcoming, hopsitality, hamper delivery (that's something our church does prior to Christmas), music rehearsals (bring hubby to hold baby or sit kids in pew with activities), cleaning and so on.
The key point here is that we don't always have to be absent from our family in order to carry out other 'ministry'. We can involve them in it!
We often take it in turns to go to prayer meetings or other church events, while the other babysits which is a practical way of making it work.
Frankly, if all the mothers decided to remove themselves from the rosters that make church happen (and we have many at our church!) I don't quite see how the church would continue to operate.
Certainly in our previous church, if I hadn't played for services while my husband minded the baby, we'd have been singing to CDs! And there truly aren't enough people offering to serve on rosters (shown by the fact that the Pastors are down to clean - not that they are above it, but really they should be devoting their time to using their teaching gifts first and foremost I think).
Its the same for Scripture teaching. There simply aren't enough willing volunteers and when faced with the real possibility of this ministry door closing I find I can't sit back and not offer, despite the fact that it does take time and energy away from family and makes every Thursday morning before school very stressful for me and our family.
There are just so many opportunities to serve and I do fall into the 'run the risk of doing too much and burning out' camp, so I am interested to hear how others work this out. What are the right questions to be asking?
Do we try to do too much in our churches? Too many events and get distracted from our core business?
One final thought - our roster booklet at church proclaims
the 'Joy and Privilege' that it is to serve others at church and I wholeheartedly endorse that. Where I think the confusion lies is that people might think that if they feel it takes energy,sacrifice and
hardwork that its not authentic joy!
I think we need to be very wary of pronouncements such as the one in the Nancy Leigh DeMoss quote, which often don't have Scripture as their basis and are quite narrow in interpretation (and very culturally biased too - such as the American Christians' 'right' to a weekly date night with their husband! Where did that one come from? Such a sense of entitlement, not to mention the fact that most of the world don't have such resources (ie.funds for movies/dinner/babysitters)!
P.S. The context for these comments is that its nearly the end of the year and most of us and our families are very tired and ready for a summer break!


Jean said...

Dear Cathy,

Thank you for your insightful comments. What you said about the meshing between home and church is very true, also on the fact that mums are needed to keep things going at church! It's tricky, isn't it, because there also has to be a place for saying "no" when that's necessary for the sake of our health or our families.

On the American thing: I'm also uncomfortable with much of the teaching on family etc. from America, especially how legalistic, and influenced by a prosperous Western context, it can be at times. But we also need to remember it's easier to spot the cultural biases and holes in teaching from another country than our own.

I think it can be helpful to listen to teaching by godly women from other cultures for that very reason: we can learn things from them we may not think of saying (or may not dare to say!).

No doubt they can also learn a lot from us, which is one of the beauties of the internet. We won't agree with everything they say, but we may also learn to see things differently, and become more aware of our own blind spots.

Which "pronouncement" did you mean, BTW? - the same one Nic had problems with? How would you put it differently? I'm intrigued how this quote (which I wasn't 100% sure of myself when I posted it) has given rise to such an interesting discussion!

Great to hear from you as always,


Pam said...


coming out of lurkdom- where is the reference to Lucy's blog post?

Valori said...

Wow! This discussion has gone on for a long time! I won't write much here, but I did want to say thank you to Nicole for your last post. I see what you are saying, and I think we are saying the same thing in a way but coming from a different direction --possibly aware of our individual weaknesses? I am aware of my tendency to want to do more and not be content in my home, and you seem to be more aware of the tendency to be too content at home and not want to be reaching outward. Is that correct? It seems, on the other hand, that some of the ladies are coming from an angle of seeing needs and not knowing how and when to say, "no."

I agree that we are to be reaching out, serving in our churches, modeling sacrificial serving and having our children learn to do the same, involving them in ministry and giving them a burden for the church and the lost. But in all this, I do still think the biblical teaching is that a married woman should have her husband and home as her primary ministry, and that this ministry is the main way that we serve the purpose of spreading the gospel and strengthening the church. That does not negate other ways we are to serve at different seasons, and the rest of Scripture clearly teaches against all of the hindrances that might keep us from seeing the broader ministry of the gospel -- materialism, laziness, selfish ambition, self-focus.

I would love to think about this and discuss more, but I think I must move on to my mommy responsibilities as my children's needs are calling! Nice chatting with you all!

Jean, I am enjoying your recent blog posts!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean

The 'pronouncement'(s) were the phrases 'needs of her home' and needs of your family'. Sorry to be so cryptic and unclear - it was late!
I feel that 'needs' is a very fluid concept. One person's (or family's) perceived needs are anothers 'wants'. Statements like those could potentially encourage mothers and families into an insular lifestyle, when I think many of us need constant challenges and reminders to look outward to the needs of others, especially the lost.
I guess the starting place is to work out what our husbands and families really need from us. There might be alot of good things in and of themselves that could equally be shed in favour of types of ministry that involve serving people outside our family circles.
I will go back and reread Nicole's thoughts and get back to you.
Thanks for your comments on learning from other cultures too.

I think I am quite driven by the urgency of our (the church's) mission (a favourite book is 'Don't Waste Your Life') and also the sudden death of my brother in law a few years ago. Its not easy to sit and cross stitch while I wait for the homebaked muffins to cook (not that there is anything at all wrong with these activities!)when people need the gospel. I also personally don't have high expectations/feelings of entitlement ('You are not your own, you were bought at a price') and the idea of just looking after hubby and children's needs would make me feel no.1 like I was on a permanent holiday and no.2very indulgent and selfish. I know I may need correcting, but I am really aware too of the 80/20 rule in churches and don't think its healthy.



Anonymous said...

I just remembered a really helpful list of Godly priorities in Carolyn Mahaney's book 'Shopping for Time' (page 54). The list is not exhaustive and nor is it the law but I think it is wise. Here it is:

Grow in godliness
Love my family
Serve in the church
Fellowship with Christians
Evangelize non-Christians
Attend to my work
Care for my physical health

She also suggests that as wives and mothers, homemaking is our 'primary work' but at no stage does she say our only work and thats a very important distinction.


mattnbec said...

Such a great conversation, girls! Thanks. So much I agree with and really useful for me thinking it all through. Only sorry I picked up on it all late.


Pam - in the comments on , Lucy mentions that she has responded at her blog -


Liz said...

Cathy, that list you posted is interesting. Is it in "order" - as in, is the top one the first priority... and the last one the last priority?

Just curious

Anonymous said...

Liz, yes its in order but it is Carolyn's list. Its followed by 'Although your list may look slightly different, its important that your priorities come from God's Word and not cultural or personal preferences. we should all have similar priorities stemming from our identitaly as Christian women...'

Hope that helps!


Jean said...

Hi Pam, welcome out of lurkdom! Always happy to meet a lurker!! :)Sorry, our computers are in chaos and it's taken some time for me to respond to your question - Bec's already jumped in and told you the link - but if you missed it, Lucy's post is balancing act.

Sharon said...

Wow! Thanks everyone for commenting on Jean's posts about this topic. I'm almost ashamed to say that I have taken so long to read them all when I was the one who posted the comment that led to this whole wonderful series by Jean... except then I remember that my family has needed to come first this last fortnight especially as Jeff has just finished his last year at college and is not at home for us to enjoy before he begins a full time job as a Pastor next year.

One of the things I need to balance is blogging, because it can take away from both family time and outside the family ministry time, but then it also helps me deal with both, so... anyway, thanks everyone for the discussion, I'm appreciating it especially as now I know that I really will be a "Pastor's wife" as of February next year.

~ Sharon

Jean said...

Hi Sharon, lovely to hear from you. It's pretty amazing what one question can lead to, huh?! I have learned heaps from all these wise and godly women, so thanks for opening this can of worms for us - we've all benefited, I hope!