Of all the appliances and spaces we keep in our home, one specific, precious fixture sits above the rest for me — and it’s not even the coffee maker, which is a close second.
Strangely enough, it is our well-worn front door. Though it is merely a standard front door, that solid piece of wood stands at the top of the list.
As a stay-at-home mother of three growing boys, and as one who also has a passion for ministering to college students and others outside our home, I find myself living in constant tension between ministry within and without the home. In What Is a Family? Edith Schaeffer, a woman who knew this tension well, described family “as a door with hinges and a lock.”
The hinges should be well-oiled to wing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family. If a family is to be really shared, then there needs to be something to share.
As believers in Christ, we long for Christ himself to be the burning center of all we do. Sometimes that looks like closing the door and focusing on the eternally significant (but often intangible and tedious) ministry that happens within, under our own roof.
Other times, having Christ at the center will look like closing the door behind us to do significant ministry outside the home — for instance, a service project, a coffee date with a struggling soul, or a Bible study. Increasingly though (at least in our experience), it looks like the door hinging open to invite the outside into our home.
Ministry Inside and Out
“Christ, not our children, is the center of home.”
We live in a polemical society, one that loves to pull things apart and set them at opposite poles. Just watch fifteen minutes of any political news coverage. Living in a society like ours, we can be tempted to set ministry within the home against ministry outside the home, setting them in contradiction to and even competition with one another.
In the ideal world, ministry within the home and outside the home would work together symbiotically — ministry within the home overflowing into ministry outside the home, which would, in turn, fuel and strengthen ministry within the home. However, we all experience a gap between the ideal and the real. We dwell in an imperfect world and among imperfect souls (including our own). Life is not always simple, but we must fight to keep Christ central.
Ministry within the home and ministry outside the home do not have to be at odds, but the two do have to be ordered. Trying to be everything to everyone all at once often leads to not being anything to anyone. If we try to perfectly balance the two groups of people equally, both parties may lose in the end. In our family, after much prayer and wrestling and conversations, we came to the conclusion that my ministry to my immediate family will be primary, while ministry to college friends and neighbors will take a significant yet secondary role.
That being said, we try, as much as possible, to resist building high walls between ministry to our family and ministry outside the home. The concept of Christian hospitality, a vital theme in the early church, provides unique opportunities to join the two together in beautiful ways.
Challenge Your Comforts
In our attempt to have a hinged door, we intentionally stretch our family’s comfort level by inviting outsiders into our world. College ladies regularly fight through the distractions of errant Nerf bullets and constant interruptions while having spiritual conversations in our home. They join me in the chaos of car rides or the monotony of folding laundry. Visitors often join in on our mealtime conversations about ninjas, soccer games, and updates from the playground.
“Ministry outside the home should overflow from and fuel ministry inside the home.”
Our children learn to endure visiting babies who break beloved Lego sets. And they’re invited into conversations about Jesus with guests around the dinner table. As much as possible, we try to make these interactions honest and fun for both parties.
As we seek to show hospitality, we long for our guests (and our children) to see that Christ, not our children, is the center of home. At the same time, too much hospitality or ministry outside the home leaves my children feeling lost in the shuffle, as their own real needs feel unseen and unmet. Therefore, in our attempt to have a working lock, we intentionally turn down many opportunities for ministry outside the home.
We mess up. A lot. Sometimes too inward-focused, too bounded as a family. Other times, too outward-focused, leaving our household exhausted and exasperated. God has been consistently gracious to correct us by calling us closer to himself.
No Simple Formula
I wish we had discovered a simple (or even complex) formula to determine how much time and energy to spend within and without the home. Alas, Christ offers no such formulas. He does, however, supply his Spirit, who brings principles in Scripture to life in our circumstances.
God promises us through James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). He will offer us particular wisdom peculiar to each child and situation, if we ask and are willing to walk in humble and bold obedience — at times locking the door, and at other times swinging it open.
The following questions have helped me diagnose my heart, and discern when it’s safe, as a wife and mother, to dive into ministry outside the home:
“Trying to be everything to everyone all at once often leads to not being anything to anyone.”
- Why do I feel I need to do this?
- Will this provide a healthy model for my children?
- Can my children be included in a way that respects their needs and desires?
- Will this require so much of me that my own family will have the rest of me, rather than the best of me?
- Am I saying Yes or No to this particular person or opportunity out of faith, or out of fear?
We long to become a family that knows the profound beauty of an active front door — one that swings wide open and, in turn, locks tight, as we walk in obedience to Christ. He is our center.