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When My Wife Had Enough!
Balancing Family and Ministry

I'll never forget the moment when my wife had HAD ENOUGH!  She scooped up our kids and walked for the door . . . and she wasn't just going to the grocery store.

It was about 7 years ago.  My son was a toddler and my daughter was barely a month or two old.  Ministry was going incredible.   Maybe that's why I didn't see it coming.

It was just a typical Sunday afternoon.   We finished the chaos of transporting all the kids to church, a staff person dropped by to tell me that a kid accepted Christ, and a mom called asking if I could talk with her daughter.  Despite my wife's pleas for help, I was off to rescue another family, not aware that mine needed rescuing. That's when she picked up the kids and gathered her things.

I asked her where she was going.  She said “I don't know- but I can't do this anymore.”  And she started walking for the door.  I was shocked.  It was one of those Alfred Hitchcock moments where the background slowly pulled back from the foreground.  I had seen this familiar scene on movies and T.V., but never thought it could happen to me.  Pinching myself, I asked for a clarification?  “Are you leaving me?”  She didn't even look at me- she just stopped and said, “I just need some time.”

I didn't come to my senses until she was in the garage loading up the kids.  I ran outside and literally fell on my knees, begging her to stay.  The only thing that worked was when I promised her that we would go in the house right then and I would make ANY change to my schedule that she desired.  I was desperate.  I was willing to quit my job if she wanted me to- a gesture she would have gladly accepted at this point.

So we went inside, got the kids situated on the floor playing with the Ernie and Bert jungle gym, I opened my planner . . . and we made a list of what was going to change.  I consolidated staff meetings, moved the outreach programs out of my house, blocked out Sunday afternoons and added a date night once a week to name just a few . . . WE MADE SOME SERIOUS CHANGES.   I still have the list.  I saved it as a reminder of what I almost did.  I almost lost my family because of the way my ministry ran me.

If you were to walk up to a plumber who happened to be a Christian believer and asked him to make a list of his priorities in life, it might look like this:

1.  God
2.  Family
3.  Friends
4. Job
5.  Football

We youth-workers often get this all confused.  Why?  Because we're in the ministry.  And since we're in the ministry, we sometimes make our list like this:

1. God/Ministry-job/students in need
2.  Family
3. Friends

What are the ramifications of this.  I'll tell you what they are.  They are losing your family because you told them that they need to get in line behind every other needy kid in the city who doesn't happen to have your DNA.

How do we balance family and ministry?  Or maybe we should ask, "How can I love and nurture troubled kids with out troubling and abandoning my own kids?"  That's a difficult balance to keep.

On one side of the coin, as ministers, our entire family needs to understand the call of the minister and be ready to make sacrifices for the Lord.  Anyone in ministry knows that one of the biggest sacrifices is time. Yet, on the other side of the coin, the minister must not neglect loving his or her spouse and raising his or her children correctly.

God didn't give us a special license as youth workers to give our families the short end of the stick. Before we can even lead, we need to make sure we're raising our own kids right.  We need to make sure that we're loving our spouse, putting their needs on our VIP list. 

It's obvious that we need to make our families a priority.  The question is HOW?

Let's face it . . . life is full of balances.  And to make things worse, we are bombarded every day with tasks we feel we should add onto our plate.  As youth workers, we need to be cautious of getting over committed.  There are certain things in life that we have to say "no" to.  But how do we know what to cut out?  Who's going to get deleted?  My family?  My volunteer staff?

Bottom line: How do we choose where to focus our time?

My dad teaches time management seminars in the corporate world and he still uses my favorite ‘time management' illustration THE ROCKS IN THE JAR.  My dad takes out a very large jar, over a gallon (several liters) in size.  He then talks about many of the small tasks we have throughout the day.  He illustrates these tasks with sand, pouring several inches (5-10 centimeters) in the bottom of the jar. Then he brings up the tasks that come up throughout the day that can take up a chunk of time.  These are represented by small pebbles, which he drops in the jar on top of the sand.  Then he talks about the big time grabbers that we have to do like work, school, chores, etc.  These are represented by a gravel rock. Once these are poured in, over half the jar is filled.

At this point my dad pulls out three large rocks, so big that all three of them might only fit in the jar if it was empty.  These rocks represent our priorities in life.  Maybe our family.  Our relationship with God.  Something else that we wouldn't want to give up.  As he tries to get them in the jar, only one fits.  The second rock sticks out the top and the third one doesn't even begin to fit.

He then removes all the elements from the jar and clues us in on the whole point of the jar illustration.  "Put the big rocks in first!"  That's the secret.  Put the big rocks in first.  What are the things that we don't want to get bumped from our schedule.  Those are our big rocks.  Don't put them off- put those in your schedule first.

Then my dad drops the gravel in, which slowly fills in the space around the rocks.  Then he drops in the pebbles which pinball down to the bottom around the rocks and the gravel.  Then he drops in the sand, which fills up all the excess space.  It all fits in the jar if we put the big rocks in first.  If we go through the day running from chore to chore, trying to get them all completed.  We tell our child we don't have time to play legos with him or help her with her homework (I can almost here Cat Stevens singing “Cat's in the Cradle” right now) and continue on with our list.  But guess what?  If your list is like mine, you still go to bed with items on your list.   And you neglected the big rocks.

Schedule your "big rocks" first.  My big rocks are my family, my wife, time alone with God, my accountability group, and my bible study.   Schedule those in pen, and don't try to erase them.  Stop your list- your list can wait- and go roll on the floor with your kid.  Visit your grandmother.  Cook a surprise meal for your spouse (NOT Mac-n-cheese!).

I know a volunteer youth worker who dove into ministry 110%.   He opened his house to all the youth he worked with- I can't remember stopping by his house and not seeing youth group kids there.   They were ALWAYS there.   I would make a comment like, “Boy, do you have any time with just your family?”  He always implored that he couldn't turn these kids away at his front door.   “They need me.   They don't have a father of their own.”   So sure enough, his house was a ministry house and his family was always  pushed aside.   Eventually, one of his own kids developed a problem of stealing and lying.  One of his daughters also got pregnant at age 15.  Problems with his kids kept emerging- and where did they go for help?  Another youth worker's house?

Don't push your own family- your own priorities- aside.   That kid at your door can wait.  You'll be able to discern the true emergency.   But put the big rocks in first and don't move them out of the way.

If you've never took time to find what the big rocks are in your life, plan a day away. Get alone, or with your spouse if you're married, and ask yourself these big questions:
       How's my relationship with God?  Do I really devote personal time to him?  When can I devote time to him?   Who's going to keep me accountable to that?

*If married*
       How's my relationship with my spouse?   Am I making him or her a priority?  When's the last time I surprised them with something special?   When is one night a week that we will call date night?  (Even if you can't go out- a night by ourselves at home- swap babysitting with someone if you have to.)

*If you have kids*
       When's the last time I wrestled with my kids on the floor, plopped them on my lap and read a book, or -if they're older- took them out for a soda and just listened?  Do I talk to my kids even 10 minutes a day? How could I plan my schedule so I get at least 10 minutes a day with each kid?

       What hobby or area of personal growth can I develop? When can I do this?

       Am I going to die at age 52 like John Candy?   Do I look like John Candy?  Do my arteries look as clogged as Dennis Leary's?  What can I do to take care of my body better?

       What is one time consumer in my life that I might think about cutting?  How many hours of TV do I watch?  How much time do I waste on the internet?  What step can I make to cut this time waster?

       Besides any of the above things, is there something I'd love to look back on when I am age 60 and say, “I'm glad I did that!”  (eg: run a marathon, start a ministry, lead my uncle to Christ, go on a missions trip to Mexico, take a family RV trip across the country)  How could I accomplish that goal?  What can I do today to start that ball rolling?

Keep up the good work!  (And don't be caught singing “. . . the boy was just like me.  The boy was just like me.  The cat's in the cradle . . .”)

If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, you’ll probably also enjoy any of his numerous youth ministry books helping you reach out to today’s generation of young people. Take a peek at all of his books at a discounted price here.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of twenty books including the brand new 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; More Than Just the Talk; Sex Matters; The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   Sophia         4/15/2014 7:43:15 AM

Finally someone with discernment enough and guts enough to say it. Thank you!

   Omar Labra         2/5/2014 4:05:05 PM

Wow, love your article. It's like you lived my life. Thanks for writing this. God bless.


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