Choosing to Live an Unbalanced Life
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“I need you to think about something and answer this question honestly for yourself and for us as a family: Are you are willing to be a better father than you are a Student Pastor?”
There it is-- the single most challenging and impactful ministry question that I have ever been asked and one that, even 14 years later, still comes into play at least one hundred times every single day.
And get this; it didn’t come from attending a conference, sitting in a breakout session, reading a book, or following a hashtag. No, this was a question my wife asked me on a random night while sitting and watching TV in the living room of our small Atlanta apartment not long before the birth of our first child.
After almost 20 years of marriage and close to 30 years of student ministry work, I’d never had this question or anything like it ever cross my mind. I had spent the many years prior to that fateful night in training to be the Student Pastor that I could be. I had already received an undergrad degree in psychology (only took 5 years and swapping my major with my minor). I attended seminary and earned a Master of Divinity. I spent multiple years serving in more than one youth ministry and even a large parachurch ministry while in college and attending seminary. I could answer questions about theology, developmental psychology, service programming, vision casting, team leading, evangelism, and even the hard ones from parents about why I allowed “that kind of music” to be played at an event or what was the point of the one-piece bathing suit rule.
But here it was, the one question related to student ministry that I wasn’t prepared to answer. The one question I didn’t want to answer. My first thought was that maybe I could pretend to pass out, and she wouldn’t notice. But for some reason, my pause eventually gave way to the truth and led me to respond with a humbling response, “I honestly don’t know.”
Have you ever asked yourself or been asked this question? Does trying to answer this question cause
you an awkward pause like it did me? Does it bother you if you hesitated before answering? Were you truly honest in your response? Did you consider what your answer or even your possible hesitation means for you, your family, and the ministry God has called you to and trusted you with? Did your answer at any point include the word “balance”?
A simple Google search of “balancing ministry and family” yields 114,000,000 results in only .52 seconds. Obviously, the concept of “balance” and the question of “how to balance family and ministry” is something many of us seem to be interested in. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t see so many people writing countless books and blogs about it, traveling around speaking on this topic, or hosting breakouts on the subject at almost every student ministry conference. However, this particular article, isn’t intended to be yet another “10 steps to better family and ministry balance.” There are already plenty of blogs and podcasts out there so, go get your Google on and “treat yo self” to your heart’s content. No, my purpose behind this post is just to ask a question and, maybe in doing so, raise a few more — or at least spark some healthy conversation.
QUESTION: Is there such a thing as a “balanced life” when it comes to ministry and family?
I would argue that the answer to this question is a resounding, “No!” Here are just three reasons I believe that:
- You Can’t Balance Passion
Not one of us sacrifices what we do for the pay, for the accolades, because we are too lazy to become “real pastors,” or because we woke up one day and thought, “Hey, I need more teenage and tweenage friends.” No, I have a feeling that everyone reading this deeply cares about students and has a God-inspired passion to reach as many students as you possibly can with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, while at the same time equipping and empowering them to grow in love and in the knowledge of their Creator.
We do this because we believe that when middle school or high school students experience true life change through Jesus, it creates a deeper love and commitment to serve this Jesus and share Him
with others. This passion burns at the very core of who God has created you to be and no amount of tired or beat down or lack of budget or upset parent email is ever going to extinguish it. God created you with a unique passion for ministering to teenagers. It was made by God and for God’s Glory. However, like many other things that were made by God and for God’s Glory (food, sex, music, art, relationships, freedom, etc.), we can struggle with keeping it where it was created to be and instead start to worship it.
- You Can’t Balance Calling
Along with a passion, God has given you a calling. Callings are hard to define because callings are so personal. In the New Testament (John 15:16), Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” I think Paul made this point best by saying, “For if I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast, because an obligation is placed on me. And woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
- You Can’t Balance Quality Time
The reality is this; no matter what your passion or calling, there are only 24 hours in each day. This reality is compounded as your ministry grows and there are more students, families, leaders, or staff
that are demanding a piece of your time. I can’t make this point any better than it was already made by Andy Stanley in his book Choosing to Cheat when he wrote, “Daily you make decisions to give up one thing in order to gain something else. This is especially true within the arena of your schedule. You face a variety of responsibilities and opportunities: work … family … hobbies … clubs … leagues … the list is endless. Each competes for your attention. Each competes for your most valuable resource, your time. But to give each of these the time it demands or deserves would require more time than you have.”
QUESTION: What if balance isn’t the right thing for us to be shooting for?
I would argue that ministry and family aren’t about balance at all. It’s about choice. Every day since that night 14 years ago, I have approached leading a student ministry, my passion for it, my call to it, and my time I give to it making a choice. Some 14 years ago, I chose to answer “Yes” — “Yes” to being a better husband and father than a student pastor, “Yes” to being a larger part of my own children’s lives than I am a part of the lives of other people’s children, and “Yes” to my wife and my kids being my first calling. I wish I could tell you that I am an expert at purposefully living an unbalanced life or that I haven’t failed miserably at times over the years. That would not be truthful. But what I can tell you truthfully is this; when it comes to the way I have approached leading a student ministry and leading those who labor alongside me in this passion and calling, I do my best to make a choice with my structure, make a choice with my planning, and make a choice with my priorities . . . and support my co-laborers in doing the same.
So, what about you? Are you still making the choice to chase the mirage of a balanced life? Maybe it’s time for you to spend some time reflecting on a version of the question that was asked of me so many years ago, “Are you are willing to be a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better worshipper, and follower of Jesus than you are a Student Pastor?”
Share your thoughts with the youthministry360 community:
What are your thoughts on work-life balance?
What choices and guardrails do you have in place to prioritize the things that matter most?
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