“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 minister?”
There it is; the single most challenging and impactful ministry question that I have ever been asked and one that, even five 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 hash tag. 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 seven years of marriage and 18 years of student ministry, I’d never had this question or anything like it ever cross my mind. I had spent the 18 years prior to that fateful night learning to be a good student minister. 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 secular 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, “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 4,580,000 results in only .26 seconds. It’s obvious that 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 then 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. But this particular blog entry isn’t intended to be yet another “10 steps to better family and ministry balance.” There are already plenty of entries out there so go get your “Google on” and read till your heart’s content. No, my purpose behind this blog 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:
1. 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 cares deeply about students and has a God-inspired passion to reach as many students as we 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 life change 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 is ever going to quell it. God created you with a unique passion, and this kind of passion is not easily caged.
2. 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, HCSB) 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, HCSB).
3. You can’t balance quality time.
The reality is that no matter what your passion or your calling, there are only 24 hours in each day. This reality is compounded as your student 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 to shoot for?
I would argue that ministry and family aren’t about balance at all. It’s about choice. Every day since that night five 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. Five years ago I chose to answer “Yes” — “Yes” to being a better 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 don’t fail at times. That would not be truthful. But when it comes to the way I lead student ministry, I do my best to make a choice with structure, make a choice with planning, and make a choice with priority.
As I write this tonight, I have a large multi-campus student ministry sixth-grade kick off that starts in the morning. It’s a big deal for our ministry every year and something we do our best to do very well. At the same time as the start of the kick off is also my five-year-old daughter’s first soccer game. Tomorrow morning I am making the choice to trust my team and my volunteers. Tomorrow I am making the choice to lead my young team by example. Tomorrow I am making the choice to say yes to what matters most. Tomorrow I am making the choice to be daddy first and student pastor later.
Kerry Ray is the student pastor at Hope Community Church in Raleigh, NC.