Friday, December 5, 2008

balancing homemaking and ministry (3) questions, questions, questions

I'm starting to feel like I've bitten off more than I can chew with the question of balancing ministry inside and outside the home. With so many wonderful comments from thoughtful and godly women, who have brought up issues I didn't even think of, I'm left with as many questions as answers!

Here are some of the questions you have raised, and some (very) tentative answers from me, which you should feel absolutely free to question!

Is our "first priority" as wives and mums to "meet the needs" of our homes and family? (see here and comments here)
Yes and no. Our "first priority" is always to glorify God and advance the gospel. But if we're wives and mothers, the primary sphere in which we carry out this wider kingdom responsibility is our homes. God calls us to help our husbands, to manage our homes, and to love and train our children, as well as to good deeds, often from the basis of our home (1 Tim 5:9-15; Tit 2:3-5; Prov 31:10-31).

As we work in and from our homes, we're advancing God's kingdom immeasurably, for we're helping Christian husbands in (paid or unpaid) ministry, reaching out to non-Christian husbands, training our children to live as Christians and share the gospel, using our homes and families as a base for ministry, and commending the gospel by our lives. Our families are part of a bigger family, our homes part of a wider world.

Is it helpful to say "until" a woman has cared for the needs of her home, she has no right to tend to outside needs? (see comments here)
Yes and no. It is possible to fail in our responsibilities as a wife and mother for the sake of outside ministry. The grandmother of one of my good friends was out every afternoon and evening leading ministries at her church, and was rarely there for her children: none of them became Christians. This is a temptation for those of us who are activists - like me! - who love to write, teach, and lead groups. If your husband is not cared for, your house is always a mess, and your children are neglected, you may need to do less outside ministry so you can serve Christ at home (cf. 1 Tim 5:8).

But this should never be an excuse for home idolatry. Many of us have the opposite temptation: we delight in the security of home-life, we're frightened of ministry, or we're obsessed with a clean and well-ordered house. If any of these are our temptations, the "until" message is not the one we need to hear! We need to be reminded, as Nicole says here, that we live in the last days, and time is short: "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."

Should outside ministry ever be done to the cost of home and family?
Here I insert a resounding "Yes!" My friend and her husband have just returned to an insecure and unsafe country as missionaries, even though their young son was very ill last time they were there, because they are driven by the need of the world for the gospel.

Another friend, also a faithful and attentive mother, leads a Bible study for young mums every Friday morning, even though her 5 year old doesn't enjoy going to creche, because it's an important ministry which would fail without her.

My friend with two grown sons worked as a cleaner so her young boys could be with her, even though she was trained for a higher paid career, to give them continuity of care while her husband was away for weeks at a time in pioneering university ministry. These are all good examples of managing the cost of ministry.

Is this really a "cost"?
Yes and no. Does it hurt our children if they have less toys and clothes, or a second-class education, because their Daddy is in a low-paid ministry job? What if their Daddy loses his life because he has faithfully preached the gospel in a country where Christians are tortured and killed for their faith? In temporal terms, our children may lose much, perhaps an immense amount, but eternally, we pray that they will be encouraged to put Christ first and live for him.

It's good for our children to share in costly hospitality, to help us reach out to our neighbours, or to occasionally have less of Mum's attention because she's preparing a Sunday School lesson. God calls us to love Jesus more than our children, but in doing so, we are actually loving our children. Not if we neglect them (for God never calls us to do this) but if they share the cost of kingdom service with us.

Should all our ministries "bless" our families?
Yes and no (again!). As wives, mums and homemakers, we rightly emphasise ministries we do with and for our families. But some ministries may not directly "bless" our families (except in the sense of showing our children how to serve Christ) but may still fit into our lives during certain seasons. It concerns me that we are sometimes encouraged to ask whether a certain ministry "helps" our husband or "enhances and enriches" our family (e.g. in the mostly helpful list in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal p.105). Some ministries will directly bless our families, others won't, but this doesn't mean they are always inappropriate.

What kinds of ministries are suitable for wives, mums and homemakers?
It's become clear from our discussion that there are 3 main kinds of ministries we may do.

  • Ministries which help our husband. For a minister's wife, this might mean lots of hospitality and jobs around the church; for a missionary, inviting women from another culture into her home; for a couple in secular work, reaching out together to church and community.
  • Ministries we do in our homes or with our families (missional motherhood). I think we've all agreed these lead naturally out of our responsibilities as wives, homemakers and mothers, but we may still need to limit how much we do them (e.g. if it means preserving some time to be alone with our husbands or children).
  • Ministries done away from our homes (e.g. teaching women) or families (e.g.blogging!). It's ok for these to be done at some cost to our families, for the sake of the gospel and the wider church, as long as our husbands are willing and supportive, but we may need to do less so we don't neglect our families.
I pray that God will give each of us wisdom as we love and serve our families, and reach out to others.

I'm painfully aware that I've only skimmed the surface of all your (and my!) questions and discussions! I'd love to talk more about these issues, but if I did, I'd be neglecting my own family, so I think I'd better wait for another day - which will be a relief given the length of this post! My new computer's not talking to the internet yet, so you may have to wait a few days; but I'd like to discuss how to figure out the balance in practice (clue: I'll be drawing on Lucy's post).


Nicole said...

Thanks Jean for all the work you've put into this. I think you've done a fantastic job!

Rachael said...

Thanks Jean, I think this is a really helpful way to think about it. "Yes and No"! We all have different gifts and can serve in different ways in different circumstances. Yes for me may be no for you.

One other thing I've been thinking about think is whether the term "home-maker" itself may be unhelpful. Paul encourages young women to 'manage a home' (1 Tim 5:14; in contrast to idleness, gossip and being a busy-body; not in contrast to "ministry") and to be 'busy at home' (Titus 2:5). I think that both these expressions give us more freedom than perhaps the term 'home-maker' allows for.

Managing a home, particularly in the times when Paul wrote to Titus and Timothy, would have included (though not necessitated) managing a household of servants. There would have been others (for those who could afford it) to clean and cook and perhaps even look after the children. So when we hear the term 'manage a home' in this letter, we mustn't think that it is prescribing the sorts of things I think we usually mean by home-making (particularly as described in Feminine Appeal). As much as 'home-making' might be good and helpful and right, I think it is too narrow and prescriptive, where there ought to be more freedom for different circumstances and different gifts. As you say... yes and no.

Jean said...

That is an extremely helpful observation, Rachael.

Jean said...

...about what "managing a home" means, that is.

Nicole said...

I agree! :)

Valori said...

Great job reflecting and summarizing, Jean! I really enjoyed today's post, and I hope your computer is up and running soon!

charissa said...

Thanks Jean for all your helpful thoughts. Like everyone else I struggle with the home ministry balance. A couple of things struck me as I was reading your posts. The first one was that maybe our expectations for what it means to care for our kids properly are too high. The emphasis thses days is on quality time with our kids and making sure we are doing the right activities with them at the right time and so on. I actually have very few memories of my mother playing with me. She would read to me at bed time and she would make sure I had things to do during the day. I never felt neglected and she was always there when I needed her but in my own parenting I feel that the bar has been raised much higher than that. The second thing I struggle with is the fact that I am not naturally a kid person and I find being a mother really hard work. I love my kids but I don't love the role of the stay at home mother. But I feel that to say that is a big no-no. It is a big no-no in the secular world and even bigger in the Christian world. I am convinced that it is important and a great mission field and I try to work hard at it, but even so I find it very hard to be content. Am I just being ungodly and need to learn contentment or is it the case that some people will just struggle more than others in this area?
Sorry about the length of this comment. These are things I have been thinking about for a while.

Lucy said...

Thanks Jean for your insights. I loved reading all your different yesses and nos - it's encouraging to think there are so many different ways to serve God, and so liberating that we don't all have to "achieve" the same things.

I think you're spot on Rachael. I don't think Paul was really seeing an apron-clad 1950s woman merrily pulling yet another batch of home-made muffins out of the oven in that passage (which is how I at least always picture a "home-maker" for some reason). I would love to know more about what he did have in mind though... I know nothing about that time in history.

Re: the "until" message - I'm wondering if maybe a better way to put it would be "alongside" or "while".... "While I care for the needs of my home I also care for outside needs". If I wait until everything is "done" for my home I'll never do anything else, ever.
I'm sure that's the way most of us think of it anyway :)

Sarah B said...

I don't think you've skimmed the surface on this topic I think that you have been extremely thorough, Jean. Let's all get on with the job at hand!

mattnbec said...

Great summary of the discussion, Jean. Thanks for pulling it all together. It is a marvellous freedom to have all the 'yes's and 'no's.

Great point, Rachael, re the managing bit. That helps me to remember not to evaluate how well I'm going based on the clutter/mess level of my house, but how well we're all going more generally. The last few days have involved rather a lot of managing, but less tidying, cleaning etc so that is a indeed great encouragement today as I survey my disaster zone!

The 'while' idea certainly captures the 'both/and' elements of the ministry areas, but it doesn't necessarily deal with the primacy of sorting things at home. There's a sense in which language fails us here, isn't there? It seems like whatever words we use, there needs to be some clarifying and explanation. But I do like your idea, Lucy.

I love this conversation, ladies. Thank you!


Pam said...


I've been thinking about this all day and now when I actually sit down to write, it's 11 o'clock and I can hardly type, let alone think!

It strikes me that the whole of Titus 2 is about character- what kind of person we are- much more than the things we are doing. It would've been a given that wives/mothers would've had certain responsibilites (varying, depending on their social standing). How the christians would've stood out and been different is *how* they were to do these things. The things that Titus expands on.

What difference, if any, does it make to make sure we are emphasizing character as much as Titus is?

Another thought: I think "margin" is important when we are thinking of how much we can do. I remember a godly older woman telling me that older children needed as much time and care as younger children but in different ways. So she and her husband chose for her to work part-time so she would be around for them when they came home from school, for example. She made sure she was sitting at the kitchen table doing something, just happening to be there as they got their afternoon snacks. And so on. She tried to keep some time freed up, just in case.

In the same vein a minister's wife told me that, in her opinion, one of the most important things she did was make sure there was a real home as a refuge for her husband. You know the kinds of things ministers are subjected to and what kinds of pressure they can be under. She also saw part of her job as making sure there was a bit of slack in her life so she could be less needy and more giving for him. Not being too busy, too preoccupied or too stressed, if possible.

Of course, this could be used as an excuse as well but it could still be a valid consideration, couldn't it?

On another note, Susan MacAulay, the daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, said that one of the great things her parents gave their children was a sense of being a part of something bigger than them or their family. They weren't the whole focus of their parents' world but they were definitely a part of what was going on.

Forgive hazy thought processes, please.

Valori said...


Valori said...

Okay, Jean, now I've got a million things floating around in my mind that I would love to write, but I will only say a couple of things (at least that's my plan!).

I think the part where you talk about whether or not ministry should always bless our family is very interesting. When I think of blessing my family, especially my children, I don't really think of wanting to serve them in an indulgent, pampering way as much as I think of wanting to train them up in a loving, godly atmosphere where they learn who God is and how they should walk with Him. Of course we do bless them with gifts, fun memories, etc., and there are always the basic needs that need to be met (food, clothing, education). But my overarching desire in all of this is to show them the love of God and to lead them to the Savior. I want to train them up in the way they should go. I want them to love the Lord with all of their hearts, so I want to be involved enough in their lives that they are hearing the gospel regularly and seeing the gospel "fleshed out" in real life. This part of devoting myself to them involves teaching them about sacrifice, teaching them about serving, and teaching them about the need to share the gospel with others. I also think it's important that I am with them so that I can help them grow in understanding their own hearts, their own need for the Savior, and to know how to apply the Word of God to their own lives. (And, of course, when I say I want to do these things, I am meaning my husband and I as a team, but since we are talking about wives . . . )

By God's amazing grace (and it really is because of his grace), our boys are following the Lord (except the five year-old -- he's on his way, we pray). Our oldest son has a passion for world mission, and will be making his third trip to Ethiopia this January. Both of our older boys are reaching out to the lost on their university campus and have a passion to reach the unsaved. I say this not to boast, because I am aware of the amazing gift this is, but to just agree with the importance of teaching them that no matter what we are called to do, we should be thinking of how we can best extend the kingdom of God. Let's face it, for many people, this may mean being a light and a voice in the simple everyday context that the Lord has placed them in. That's what I think is often the case with us moms and with men and women who aren't called to full-time ministry, but to a career. They can be content with where God has placed them because they know he can use them as vessels no matter where they are!

All of this is kind of a rambling way to say that a warm, nurturing environment does not imply a self-indulgent, materialistic one, and where we are blessed materially, we always need to be seeking to pass the "test of prosperity," as my wise pastor used to always say. After all, the Bible is so very clear about worldliness and the love of money, isn't it?

Okay, I went on too long again -- sorry!

Jean said...

Thanks, girls, for your kind comments.

Charissa, I agree - we have some odd modern expectations for our parenting, which are probably quite unusual historically. I'm sure there are many reasons for this historically: when the assumption was that girls would follow their mothers and boys their fathers into the same roles / professions, children probably spent much of their time learning alonside their parents.

Our children are taught quite independently of their parents (unless they're home-schooled) and are expected to forge an independent path. So the emphasis is on educating them (through educational toys and one-on-one time) rather than working alongside them.

We also emphasise intimacy in relationships over mutual dedication to a task, which influences how we see marriage and parenting: the focus is on the intense relationship, not on working together to serve Jesus in our homes and communities. Just some ramblings!

And no, it's not a "no-no" to say what you said about struggling with contentment. We all struggle with different things: that much has become apparent during this discussion! Some of us (like me and you) struggle at times with contentment staying home with children when we want to be out working or doing ministry. Others love to be at home caring for our families, and may need to be pushed to reach out!

What I want to say to you is: well done for sticking at what, for you, is not always easy. I think God is honoured by your commitment to love your family in a way which is not always easy for you, even more so than for someone who finds it comes more naturally.

Yes, it's important to struggle to be contented, by reading the Bible regularly so you get God's perspective on things, fixing your eyes on Jesus, repenting of discontent and choosing instead to rejoice in God, learning verses which might help you to be more content, spending time with friends who encourage you in your tasks as a wife and mother, and praying for God to change you (all things I do regularly!). But you're no different to the rest of us: we all have areas we struggle in.

In other words, "Am I just being ungodly and need to learn contentment or is it the case that some people will just struggle more than others in this area?" - yes and yes! But this shouldn't lead you to despair, instead to gratitude and hope for God's grace to forgive and change you. I say this to myself more than to you.

It's also important to know yourself, and what helps you to serve God and your family faithfully and cheerfully. It may be wise to organise babysitting (if possible) for a day or half day a week so you can pursue work or ministry outside the home, and certainly organise a regular (monthly? bi-weekly?) few hours off so you have a break and some time to pray and reflect. I think this is just godly wisdom, as long as you are still caring for husband, home and family.

I thrive on being able to read, write, and teach women, also on a monthly morning off while my mum looks after our children, when I pray, read the Bible, and write in my journal about whatever I'm struggling with. I have to be very careful not to overdo ministry to the neglect of my family! But I think a certain amount not only serves the wider church, but keeps me fresher and more focussed and encouraged in my home duties.

I pray God will help you and me to grow in contentment as we serve him in family, home and the world.

Jean said...

Hi Pam! Good to hear from you again.

On character: well, I'm not sure. It's pretty clear that women in the early church were struggling, just like us, not only with character but with wanting to abandon typical responsibilities for women: see 1 Timothy 2:1-15, 5:11-15. So I think Paul does want us to have Christ-like character in whatever we do, but also to serve Christ in the specific ways God calls us to as women. But yes, you're right, it would be easy to get hung up on the "sphere" stuff at the expense of the "character" stuff. Although they go together, don't they? - in 1 Peter 3, it's the "quiet and gentle spirit which trusts God and doesn't give way to fear" which makes it possible for a wife to honour her husband. I may have missed your point here.\

I love what you say about "margin" (do you mean allowing a "margin" for flexibility and rest?) and I think your examples are wonderful. With a husband often exhausted by a busy ministry job, that is exactly what I try to do: make home a refuge for him. And I agree, it's incredibly important just to be there for kids. perhaps even more when they're teenagers! If I ever work (which I may need to) I am planning (God willing) to only work a day or 2 a week, so that I am there with the children before and after school. Again, this will look different for each of us. But that's what I anticipate it will look like for me.

Jean said...

Thanks, Valori, I love and heartily endorse everything you say about "blessing" - that true "blessing" is not materialism but a "warm, nurturing" home, where we serve God together in our context. I think that's what I was trying to get at with the stuff about "is the cost of ministry really a cost?" - it blesses our children (as long as we don't neglect them) to share and observe the cost of serving Christ. I'd love to hear from Carolyn more about exactly what she meant by the idea that our ministry choices should "enhance and enrich" our children's lives. She certainly does ministry outside her home, including when her son was young (not to the neglect of her family) so I assume she sees this as one way she "blesses" her family, even if indirectly, by giving them an example of what it means to follow Christ. You would know better than me here!

charissa said...

Thanks for the encouragement Jean.

Pam said...

Thanks for your comments, Jean. I will try to defuzz the first one on character, if I can, later.

I found this and thought it was encouraging and kind of on the topic:

A good reminder that what we do everyday can be spiritual worship and not just the "out-there-with-a-christian-label" things.

Pam again

Valori said...

Hey Jean -- I will have to read the part of the book that you are referring to where Carolyn made that statement, but I do know that, like you said, she serves and has served a lot outside of her home. I would guess that she meant it the way you said it. I do know that she has a strong conviction about her role as wife and mom, and all the ministry she does truly comes out of a heart to serve and not for her own ambition or self-fulfillment. I think in writing books like these where you are emphasizing a certain value, it is hard to address all of the nuances, possible questions, specific circumstances, etc., as we've talked about in the whole eating area.

Also, Pam, I read the blog entry at the link you suggested. I really believe this is true and the right way to approach all of our tasks. Elisabeth Elliot has really helped me a lot to see life that way -- and she is one who has served in one of the toughest missionary situations possible, has experienced the loss of two husbands, and has had a very public ministry. Still, she would say that cleaning a closet or tackling a to-do list is a spiritual act of worship!

Cathy -- I am interested in the perception of the American date night concept and where you picked that up. I am finding it intriguing to see another culture's perspective of the American Christian culture in general, so I really am just asking out of curiosity, and I do think it can be helpful to see through the eyes of others. I hope you don't mind if I try and share my perspective of the "date night." I think the principle is what's important here. It's easy to get so caught up with life, ministry, work, children, etc., that the marriage can drift. Being together in a focused way where we are continuing to cultivate our relationship is the point of the date night, but a date night is not necessarily the only way to maintain that. And I have known plenty of people who can't afford regular babysitting, dinners out, etc. They will do babysitting swaps or have at-home dates where they put the kids down and just focus on communicating or watching a movie or whatever! Anyway, I don't think the people I know feel entitled to a date night -- they just see it as a practical way of keeping their marriages growing and healthy. Does that make sense?