Don’t sacrifice your ministry on the altar of family: Church as family

By Kent Bateman

Imagine this scenario with me; you’re behind the pulpit, preaching a sermon. You are approaching the crescendo of your message, and you point over to your wife and kids, sitting on the front row, and say, “For instance, I don’t even consider these people my family anymore! All of you—any of you who follow Jesus—you guys are more my family than they are!”

That would be more than a little awkward, right? And if it’s awkward then, imagine the mood in the room when you get home and your wife wants to talk to you about your sermon.

So isn’t it at least a little weird that Jesus does a version of that in Mark 3? His mom and brothers come to find Him; they send someone in to get Jesus so they can talk to Him. Jesus decides to respond with the question “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then answers it with “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

When truly considered, I think this statement by Jesus blows up some categories when it comes to how we think about the church in relation to our biological or nuclear family. If I had to illustrate the way most people think about the ministry/family balance, it would look something like this:

In this paradigm, my work for the church is in one circle, and my time with my family is in a different circle. And the goal for most people is to keep the overlap between the two circles at a minimum and to always make sure that the “family” circle is as at least as big as the “church” circle—if not a little bigger.

Part of the problem with this mindset is that if we’re not careful, we start to mentally vilify people in our church as people we need to protect ourselves and our family from. It becomes very easy to see perceive people in our church as potential threats to our well-protected circle of family. We find ourselves making conditions before we’ve even fully understood the pastoral needs of this person and start to play defense in our shepherding of them.

On top of that, we find ourselves constantly having to make the choice between church and family, and at least broadly keeping track of how many times we choose one over the other, because the point is to keep them both in balance.

However, from how Jesus describes it in Mark 3, it seems like he may have in mind something a little closer to this:

In this understanding, my family functions as a part of God’s family. It is a subset of it. So, for sure, there are going to be times where I need to spend time with my family apart from my church family. But there will also be times where we spend time as a family, together with our church family. They’re not opposing forces; they’re concentric circles.

So difficult people aren’t always threats; they’re often people to be loved. Pastoral care issues aren’t rivals to our family; they’re invitations.

Sometimes, part of the reason we feel like we have to balance church life and home life is because we’re thinking about church too much as an event. If church is mainly a constant stream of events that need my planning, executing and overseeing, then it becomes a rival, competing with the time, effort and energy that my family needs. But if church is a family that I’m called to lead and love, then it is simply a macro picture of what I’m already doing at home.

And according to the Bible, that’s exactly what church is—a family. The word Christian is only used three times in the bible. The word “disciple” around 240 times, but the word adelphos (“brothers and sisters” in English), is used around 342 times. So when we’re talking about what church is, it would seem we are primarily talking about belonging to a family.

So when you think about the ministry/life balance, don’t see them as competing forces; see them as concentric circles. Let that guide the way you love and lead your family and the way you love and lead your flock.

Published September 19, 2017

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Kent Bateman

Kent served as a communications director and pastor at Midtown Fellowship in Columbia, SC for four years before being sent out to plant City Church in Knoxville, TN. Kent has been married to his wife Ana for four years and they have one son, Whitaker.