I missed another prayer meeting this week. Even though I am a church leader, and I know prayer is crucial to the church’s effectiveness and health, I still didn’t go.
Because it was either go to the prayer meeting or go for a run. Because I had been at church the night before and would be at church the night after, and will be at another meeting later on in the week too. Because I had gotten up at 6am and worked all day and was tired.
Once upon a time I would have been wracked with guilt over such a decision and I would be very worried about what others thought my absence said about me. Now, though I am OK with it.
When I first had my daughter I became aware of this contradiction in my thinking about how I ought to live my life for God. I believed and often said out loud that it was important not to be a Sunday Christian – someone who comes to Church on a Sunday saying “Yes and Amen” but then goes out and lives a completely different lifestyle Monday through to Saturday. A Christian should live their whole life for God’s glory, not just 10-12 on a Sunday morning.
And that is right, but I realised that even whilst saying those things I had a messed up head about what living for God looked like. Living for God was attending all the meetings you were physically able to attend, serving God looked like being part of every ministry team that needed a volunteer, supporting the church meant being at every church event – even if you weren’t interested in it, you should show up to be an encouragement for the ones running the event.
I could sustain that mentality when I was single – even if I often felt tired, and a bit frustrated that all the church hours I was clocking in didn’t seem to be producing a lot of fruit – either in my life or the life of others. But once I was married that mentality came under strain and once I had a baby – I couldn’t work it at all.
My daughter’s arrival meant taking a huge break from extra meetings, serving and evenings out altogether for a few months. And during that forced hiatus from Church busyness I learnt more about what living for God with our whole lives really means.
Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”
I began to see how caring for my little girl was the work of the Lord. Providing for her needs, holding her close, praying over her, being with her was all holy work prepared in advance for me to do. Once I truly understood that, I applied the same logic to other areas of my life; my admin work is to serve the Lord by supporting the work of the business and working honourably, I honour Him. Spending time building a good relationship with Rob is a Godly calling in my life. Even, taking good care of the body I have been given; resting well, eating well and exercising is to be done with good stewardship and gratitude to my Creator who knit me together in my Mother’s womb.
In the past I would deliberately sacrifice all the other areas of my life to squeeze in the next church meeting. But I think more purposefully now about what kind of life God is wanting me to live, and what kind of life I believe God is wanting my church family to have. If leaders are to set an example to the church, do I want to be setting an example where families never spend any time together because mum and dad are always at meetings? Or do I want to promote a culture that doesn’t value and support people’s careers because they work commitments clash with ministry obligations? I don’t think I do. I think I want to model a life that is confident that every responsibility I have is a God given opportunity to serve Him and His kingdom. I want to model being an attentive and present parent. I want to model a healthy lifestyle and I want to model a contentment in God’s goodness to me. I can’t do any of that if I am running from church thing to church thing out of a sense of obligation.
Now, I am not saying that church meetings are a waste of time, or serving in a church is bad, These things are good, necessary and powerful, and are worth some sacrifice. What I am saying is that balance and flexibility is important too. People should serve the church, and work together in ministry AND the church should provide good teaching and fellowship to equip people to honour God within their work, home and social life.
So what does this balance look like? Well probably it is different for everyone. Here are some ways in which we’ve tried to find balance in our family life, these might not work for you but are just some pointers to think about:
- Saturdays are family days – we keep it as free as possible to have fun together
- We both work part time to cover childcare and make the most of Orla’s pre-school years
- We only serve in ministries we feel passionate about – The teams I serve on; Leadership, preaching and worship are all time consuming and demanding but I love them. I don’t begrudge any time I spend on these ministries because that’s my calling. But I have learnt not to sign up for any ministry that has a gap in it – no matter how well meaning I think I am, that is a surefire route to burn out.
- We pray about our jobs and discuss our future plans together regularly
- We make sure to ask our Christian friends about their whole lives – not just about the Church stuff
- We don’t attend everything the church puts on but we value the fact that the church has a lot going on to reach a wide variety of people – just because it’s not for us at this stage of life doesn’t mean that it’s not doing a whole lot of good for others.
- On a Sunday there is always at least one parent, (or grandparent) available for Orla. For church leaders, Sunday is often a time for sensitive and serious conversations as people share what is going on in their lives. Often these conversations are not suitable for little ears to be a part of. But we don’t want Orla to see church as being the place where her parents keep shooing her away from them. It’s a tricky balance to find but is helped by having my parents at church, out of four there will always be one of us keeping an eye on her and being available for her.
- Two nights out during the working week is ok for us, three at a push for a special reason, four is a no. We have learnt as well, that even if a meeting finishes at nine (which they never do!), we often need time to process what was said afterwards and that makes it really hard to fall asleep before twelve which then has an impact on the next working day. Reviewing weekly evening commitments is a must.
- We adjust the balance as we go – we probably still haven’t got it completely right so this is a topic we keep on coming back to.
My final point is this; God is efficient and strategical, he didn’t give us so many hours in a day, and days in a week to just turn around and say ‘although you’ll be at work for eight hours a day, and five days a week, the only hours that are actually of any use to my kingdom are what you can give on a Sunday 10-12, and three evenings a week 7:30-9pm’. Our whole lives can be used for God’s purpose and glory. Church leaders have a responsibility not to overburden the flock and to instead model a balanced life that honours God with everything that we have.