The Biblical Call for Integrating Family, Work and Ministry
by: Stephen Beck

For most men today, our lives resemble one of those TV dinners you get at the frozen foods section of the grocery store. The kind where you pull the foil back and the lima beans are in one compartment, the corn is in another and the “meat” covered with that nasty gravy is in yet another. Each component is separate and distinct, carefully crafted not to touch the other. And yet, there is something characteristically unsatisfying about this meal. Your hunger may be abated for a while, but you will not be fulfilled - there is no richness. As with the cheapness associated with a TV dinner, there is a corresponding cheapness in our lives when we arbitrarily separate our lives into distinct “manageable” areas. The Bible teaches that our lives, as opposed to a TV dinner, should be more like a stew with the areas of family, work and ministry being ingredients carefully blended together. A stew that is described in Philippians 4:18 as a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

But given our current culture, how is it possible to integrate family, work and ministry in a biblical manner? How can we please our God and King in the three areas that affect every waking hour of our lives? The answer can be found in Mark 12:28-31. In this passage, one of the Scribes came to Jesus and asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Here is a man asking God which is the first commandment. What an insightful man! We would do well to ask God the same question. Of all the things that are written down in the Scriptures, which are the most important - the ones not to be missed? The ones that if missed, will affect all other decisions made afterwards. Although we are required by Scripture to know the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), we would be foolish to not identify and understand God’s priorities. Are you surprised that God has priorities? Are there actually commandments or principles that take precedence over others in the Bible? There certainly are and we would do well to identify them and implement them first! Take the example of elders in 1 Timothy 3:4-5. If a man does not fulfill the first priority of ruling his household well, then he should not even consider (or be considered) for the subsequent priority of shepherding the church.

Why this focus on godly priorities? What do God’s priorities have to do with integrating family, work and ministry? Everything! How else will we know what is most important? How will we know where to best spend our time, money and energy? We, as a people of God, have done a very poor job of identifying what things are most important to God - what things are closest to His heart and in line with His will. It is no wonder then when we, as the modern evangelical church, tend to major on the minor issues and treat lightly or ignore the major ones.

The First Great Neglected Priority: Training Godly Children

This brings us to the first great neglected priority. When Jesus was answering the scribe’s question as to which was the greatest commandment in all of Scripture, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-7:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

The greatest commandment in all of Scripture is to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. How are we to implement this greatest of all commandments (as well as the rest of the commandments)? We are to memorize them, obey them and diligently teach them to our children! And when are we to do this? When we are at home, away from home, lying down and rising up. Basically, we are to instruct our children in godliness at all times - during normal activities. Are we to teach our children about God for only one hour a week during Sunday school? Or are we to turn the instruction of Him over to a youth pastor when our children reach the age of junior high? God forbid! God charged parents, and especially Dads, with the ultimate responsibility of instructing their own children in God’s ways and promised to hold them accountable through blessings and curses. It is the same today. Fathers are to rule their households well, passing the commandments and principles found in the Word of God down to their children who will then be equipped to pass them down to their own children. This is God’s plan. This is His priority, for this is how God has chosen to subdue the world for Himself.

Of course, this presupposes that parents spend time with their children. How can we train our children in the ways of God during our normal activities if we are never around them during those normal activities? How can we give godly instruction in God’s prescribed manner if we leave for work before our children wake up and come home after they have gone to bed? Even if we make it home before they go to bed, we must wade through the baseball practice, then dinner in shifts because all of the kids have different activities, then homework for two hours, baths and finally the last fifteen minutes before bedtime to pass on the godly heritage that we will be held accountable for!

and He said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe-- all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life.” (Deuteronomy 32: 46-47)

Did you catch that? It is not a futile thing to command our children to obey all of God’s word, because it is our life! What is your life’s work? Is your profession? It had better not be! Your life’s work as a father had better be training up godly children who will in turn be able to train up their own godly children.


How Do We Get There From Here? 

How do we get there from here? How do we fulfill one of God’s highest priorities by raising godly children? First, make sure your own relationship with the Lord is deep and abiding. How can you pass on what you do not possess? Second, is your marriage based on sound biblical principles. Unfortunately, most “Christian” books about marriage at your average Christian book store should really be titled, “How to be Your Wife’s Sentimental Fool!” However, one good book on biblical marriage is Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson.

Aside from the “givens” of a good marriage and a good relationship with God (and they are anything but “givens“ today), we must begin by molding our children’s world view. Are they thinking and evaluating as a Christian? For example, Scripture states that if a man does not provide for his household, he is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). But what are parents required to provide? 1 Timothy 6:8 states that we (and our children) are to be content with food and clothing. Have you taught your children that? Although a college education may be desirable, it is not your child’s inalienable right. And providing that college education is certainly not a good reason to send your wife to work, leaving your little ones unprotected!

In order for your children to obey God’s word, they have to know it first. Do you have daily devotions with your children? Quite frankly, this should come first - before you pass “Go” or collect $200. Dads, you must lead the way here. Let’s face it. When Dad is involved in something, the whole family perks up and takes notice. If your wife is the only one in your home who passes on the spiritual heritage, your kids will grow up with an incomplete view of the Christian life. Redeem the time. Are you engaging your children in spiritual conversations while driving to baseball practice? Are you giving them hypothetical situations and asking them how they would react biblically before those situations arise? Are you watching videos on apologetics together as a family and discussing them afterward? Are you training your sons and daughters to not just survive in hostile enemy territory, but how to overcome and take captives for King Jesus!

All of this training requires lots of work and lots of time. If your current lifestyle does not allow adequate time to train your children in godliness, then you need a new lifestyle! The Bible states that although many things are lawful, they may not be profitable. And if they impede the training of your children in godliness, they become downright sinful. Busyness is the mortal enemy of family discipleship. Take a long hard look at the activities your children are involved in. Your kids do not have to play every sport that your community offers. Let them choose one or two favorite activities and reserve the rest of their time for family activities. Dads, take a long hard look at your hobbies. Choose the ones you can do with your kids. Now I am not saying that you have to jettison all of your interests. If you spend time with your children, they will naturally gravitate to the things that you like to do. My daughter, Ashley, is the top female Skeet shooter in Texas for her age group. Why? Because she has been shooting with me since she was eight years old. I like being the father of a daughter who likes to shoot, because it means I get to shoot as well! However, remember that your free time is not your own. It belongs to God. There will be time enough to pursue your own interests when your children have grown and have families of their own. You were bought at a price - therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Deepening your relationship with God and training your children in godliness should be your highest priorities in life. They supercede all others priorities including work, ministry, church, hobbies, self indulgences, material possessions, etc. I mentioned earlier that you may need a new lifestyle, may I take it a step further? If your present job does not allow you enough time to train your children in godliness, then you need a new job! It may be a lower paying job or have less prestige, but look at the price of that job that does not give you the flexibility to disciple your kids. You will be failing at God’s highest priority for you as a parent and you will be disqualifying yourself for any leadership in the church body (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Am I being radical enough? Do you see the importance of raising godly kids? It transcends all other responsibilities, for this is how God has chosen to subdue the world for Himself! Now the point here is not to rush out to find a new job. The point is that we, as God’s people, must identify God’s priorities from His word and then do whatever it takes to make those our priorities. Are you willing to do anything it takes to obey God’s word? Or will you hold your own agenda above God’s agenda (James 1:5-8)? Are you willing to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2)?

Conclusion

During the heyday of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a reporter asked President Clinton’s press secretary how the President was able to deal with the scandal and still lead our country well. He remarked, “The President has great powers of compartmentalization.” That is the world’s way of saying that we can separate our personal and professional lives. I would submit that President Clinton was not able to “deal” with the scandal and still lead the country well; and neither can we. You see, our lives are like a stew with work, family and ministry being the ingredients. Each ingredient brings a different characteristic, but all combine to form one flavor. Too much of one thing or not enough of the other can cause the stew to be out of balance and have an offensive taste (to ourselves and others). We can not have problems at home and not expect them to show up at the office. At the same time, we can not have problems at work and be very surprised when they begin to follow us home. If our family and work have severe enough problems, then we are become disqualified for ministry. If we are not actively involved in other’s lives (ie: we have no ministry), then how will our children learn to serve the Lord? You see, it is all intertwined. God never intended for us to dichotomize our life into separate entities over which we have sovereign control. He is the Lord over all areas in our lives and He is the One to Whom we must give an accounting.

You see, I have a dream. My dream is that my work can bless my kids and not rob from them. That my kids can help me in my work and I would be willing to share it with them. That my kids will see me discipling men (and my wife discipling women) and the men whom I disciple will see the way I raise my kids and both will be blessed. That my work can include some of the men I disciple so that I can spend more time with them and that they would be willing to serve me in my work. I pray that all areas of my life would be brought under subjection to Him and that as a stew it would be a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18).
 

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Stephen Beck owns and operates a small business in Bryan, Texas. He is the author of A Father’s Stew: The Biblical Integration of Family, Work and Ministry. His passions are discipling his three children and leading younger believers to maturity in Christ, which he combines with his other passion of duck hunting whenever he can!

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