Tuesday, December 9, 2008

balancing homemaking and ministry (4) making a decision

What I'd like to do today is to give some practical suggestions about deciding how much ministry to do outside the home: nothing earth-shattering, just some ideas. I'll admit that many of these are taken from Lucy's helpful description of how she went about making her own decisions: thanks, Lucy!

1. Pray and do heart-work.
Here's some excellent questions to ask of every ministry opportunity, from Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal (p.105):

  • What are my reasons for considering this opportunity? Are they selfish or God-honouring?
  • Will pursuing this venture glorify God and honour the gospel?
In all our decisions, our heart's desire should be to love, serve and bring glory to Christ.

It's good to pray for wisdom, and for God to guide us through the clear directions of his Word, godly discernment, and the wise advice of other Christians (if you want to read more about how God guides, there's a wonderful chapter in JI Packer's Laid-Back Religion). Are we willing to obey God whatever he wants from us, or at least ask him to make us willing?

Our motives will never be pure, and we can't wait until they are to do ministry. But it's also important to know we're not pursuing ministry "out of selfish ambition and vain conceit" (Phil. 2:2): because we don't get much praise or recognition for working at home, or because we love the excitement and respect which comes from ministry. This is an area God has convicted me about recently.

2. Work out how much time you need to spend at home.
Easier said than done, I know! I loved Lucy's list, because it's so human: "Aim to have time to read stories, play games, talk, sing, tickle, chase and generally enjoy my kids every day." Like her, I aim to have relaxed time with God, my husband and each of my children every day, on top of home duties.

We all have different responsibilities: some are pregnant or looking after a young baby, or care every day for an autistic child, or are single mums who need to work. We might need to be home 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 week days out of 5, to keep on top of managing our homes and caring for our family. I find I need to devote 2-3 mornings a week to home tasks.

3. Allow flexibility and rest.
Yes, we are to work hard, to labour with love, and to use all our energy as we serve our families and advance the gospel (Prov 31:17; 1 Cor. 15:58; 1 Thess 1:3; Col 1:29-29). But God also made us to need rest: rest with him, rest with our families, rest alone; holidays, days off, quiet evenings.

It's sinful pride to think God can't run the world without us while we take the rest he's made us to need. If we ignore danger signals like sickness, exhaustion or depression, a nervous or health breakdown may bring us to a quick stop. Better to be wise, to learn to say "no", and to make time for the regular rest which is an act of trust in God (see CJ Mahaney on sleep).

It's important not to book up every moment - you never know when a child will get sick, or your husband will need help, or someone will drop in. We need room to breathe! I set aside 1 morning a week to pray with good friends, go out for coffee with a neighbour, drop in on someone, or fulfil the extra responsibilities that pop up.

If next year is one of transition for you and your husband (moving home, new job, kids leaving home) try to keep it particularly quiet and flexible, until you've seen what the next stage of life will look like for you. I've been encouraged not to take on any extra responsibilities the year all my kids go to school, and I wish I'd allowed a quieter year in 2008 as I adjusted to the post-baby years.

We also need to be prepared to drop our plans for emergencies (a health scare, a father with cancer), unexpected demands (interstate visitors seeking a place to stay, a friend needing extra support) and family celebrations (an engagement, a pregnancy). Often, the burdens and joys of these fall on us, as wives and mothers. A friend of mine with grown children has learned to work in ministry one less day a week to allow for regular and unexpected family responsibilities.

4. See how much time you have left.
Can I stress again that this will be different for each of us? We all have different situations, personalities, health levels, needs for sleep and rest, husbands, children, gifts and preferences. Some of us live away from family, others have mums who look after our children regularly. Some are introverts who need time alone, other extroverts who are energised by time with people. Some have husbands who want to talk things through with us each evening, others have husbands who encourage us to minister independently. It's so important not to compare ourselves with other women!

5. List the possible ministries you could be involved in.
Here's some questions I ask myself, in order of importance:

  • How can I help my husband better in his life and ministry?
  • How can I serve more faithfully in my church?
  • What do the women and children in my church need? Can I help meet these needs, or look after another woman's children while she meets them?
  • How can I help our family reach out to the people in our community - neighbours, kinder and school mums, school children, work colleagues?
  • What needs do I see in God's wider church and world which I can help with?
  • What ministries are other Christians encouraging me to do?
  • What ministries am I gifted in, or do I have a burden for (notice this comes way down the list, after considering need!)?

6. Figure out which ministries are suited to your family and situation.
I do less hospitality of the "having people over for dinner" variety than I would like, because my husband is an introvert who spends all day with people during his ministry job, so needs home to be a quiet place of rest. I stopped taking my children to play-group to reach out to mums, because they were clingy and miserable. On the other hand, my young boys aren't always impressed when I write for an hour each day, which is a cost I've carefully considered, and which may even benefit them as they learn to be independent. Lucy has her own list here.

7. Talk to your husband, and to friends and advisers.
Of course, this will be happening every step of the way, but if we haven't done it already, now is the time to lay our plans before our husbands, seek their advice, and follow their leadership. We need to do this prayerfully, willingly and cheerfully, ready to change our plans if necessary, remembering that God is in control of our marriages and our lives!

God has also placed us in a wider Christian family. We should never make important decisions without seeking the advice and input of honest friends who know us well, or godly Christians who can advise us wisely from God's word. Impressions or burdens about the ministries we feel God has placed on our heart need particular testing - we may be misguided! Others will often see things more clearly than us.

8. Trust God.
We make plans, but we're not in control of our lives. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps" (Prov 16:9). We have no idea what God has in store for us next year. It may be that he presents us with challenges we're not expecting, and that much of our ministry has to be laid aside. "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (Jam 4:15). We are in his hands, which is the best place to be.

I'm thinking about sharing my own decisions about ministry for 2009 in my next post - not sure if I'll bore you or not! - and then that's (more than) enough from me!

images are from stock.xchng


charissa said...

Thanks so much for a really helpful post. You have broken things down so well and made our priorites in decision making really clear. The questions you listed under point 5 I found particularly helpful. I am always tempted to give the last question, about ministries I have a burden for, higher priority because I get so passionate about things! I will definitely be using this outline to help me think and plan for next year. Unfortunately even the clearest thinking about priorities doesn't always make the decisions any easier!! Looking forward to hearing about your own plans for 2009.

Jean said...

Thanks, Charissa, glad you found it helpful. I'm like you, my big dreams and thinks I have a "burden" for tend to take over from other, nearer priorities!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jean - I will print this out and go through it when I get a moment (haha....).
Do you have any advice for the following scenario:
If, having followed all of the above, we need to drop a ministry that is good and vital, is it then our responsibility to find someone else to do it? I think at the moment I'm feeling like I'd have to challenge other people but its not really my business what they do and don't do.
Is it ok for it just not to happen if no one is prepared to do it?

Thanks for all your godly thinking - you are carrying out a massive internet ministry!


Jean said...

"Is it ok for it just not to happen if no one is prepared to do it?" Yes, definitely, it has to be.

My husband has to be very good at this: he is over-busy in his ministry job, doesn't have enough staff or leaders to cover everything, and has to prioritise very, very carefully. Many valuable ministries have had to be dropped in favour of more important ones. He accepts not doing many things, and doing many things worse than they could be done, because there are more important things which need to be done well.

At this point it's a matter of trusting God, that in his sovereignty, what needs to be done will be done.

"If, having followed all of the above, we need to drop a ministry that is good and vital, is it then our responsibility to find someone else to do it? think at the moment I'm feeling like I'd have to challenge other people but its not really my business what they do and don't do."

No, it's not your responsibility - although it would be great if you could encourage someone else into the role (assuming they have the time! ;) ). I think you'd be absolutely right to challenge someone else, if they are in the position of being ready to take up responsibilities, but aren't taking them up. Not to tell them what to do, but to lovingly encourage, challenge or even (if needed) rebuke them to step up to the plate (how about that? a sporting metaphor!).

Not knowing the situation, that's all I feel I can say. It's heart-breaking having to drop an important ministry, I know. I pray you will find someone who can take over from you.

Valori said...

I appreciate all of your points, Jean -- they are very good. You could turn this into a teaching if you ever decide to speak on this topic :).

I enjoyed point #6. It's funny because my husband's desires have affected my ministry in a different way -- he loves hospitality! Definitely defines some of my ministry for me :). Another example of why we should not compare ourselves to one another!

mattnbec said...

Thanks, Jean. It's funny how easy it is to forget point 8 about trusting God, isn't it?! So obvious, yet so easily forgotten. Once you've finally made decisions it's easy to just get on and get doing things and forget that.

Cathy - I think once a ministry is up and running, it's easy to forget that things were okay before it started. Sometimes, if it stops running/is more limited that might be the impetus for others to take it on/revamp it. By dropping something you'd like to be able to still do, it can still be a great way of serving others too in that it reminds us of the priority of home ministry and also of God's grace that he can work without us (especially in a vital, important ministry). It also models dependence on God. Of course, it's still hard to do though!

Jean said...

Thanks, Valori, yes, it's funny about hospitality, isn't it?

What helpful advice for Cathy, Bec. You're a very wise woman.