A simple and direct question for you today — Pastor John, over the years, what things have been most apt to steal your joy?
My kids, my marriage, and my soul in response to my kids and my marriage. If things are sweet at home, you can stand almost anything in the ministry. At least, that is my experience. The hardest battles for me have been emotional battles within my family. Living by the Spirit or trying to minister by the Spirit doesn’t prevent hard relational things from happening in the ministry. It just gets you through them and gets you through them with hope, and, in the end, with joy in the sustaining grace of God.
Six Counsels for Joyful Family and Joyful Ministry
Now here are some implications of that answer. I mean, that is pretty weighty to say the biggest joy-stealers in the ministry are not deacons. They are not elders. They are not counseling issues. They are not people who leave the church. They are not notes you get in the mail from a disgruntled parishioner. Those problems are just nowhere near as emotionally depleting as conflict in a marriage, or your kids that are disappointing you, or you are disappointing them, or there is conflict. So, here are some implications.
1. Authentic Christian marriages empower ministry.
Investment in a happy, Christ-honoring marriage is not separate from ministry. For me, it was part of the power of ministry. And I don’t just mean that my ministry is legitimated because elders are supposed to have well-behaved homes. That is not what I mean. I mean the actual motivation for doing ministry rose and fell with authenticity of Christian living at home.
And so it wasn’t merely, Oh, do I qualify? like some external rule that I had to meet. It was rather, Can I survive? You know? Is the burden that I feel at home depleting so much energy I won’t have anything for Sunday morning? So, to invest in the family was to invest in my survival, not just my qualifications.
2. Hypocrisy at home undermines spiritual authority in the church.
Investing in the joy and welfare of the children — not just the marriage, but in the children — was not separate from ministry, because it was part of the power; a sense of authenticity rose and fell with them as well. Hypocrisy is not only a great sin, it is a great weakener. If you feel like you are inauthentic with your kids — like you are one thing in the pulpit, and your kids see you as another thing — it is going to be very hard to keep going. It is a power-depleter. It is an underminer of real spiritual authority in the pulpit and power in people’s lives.
3. Commit your family’s struggles to elders and believing friends.
When struggles inevitably come at home — and they will come with a wife and children — don’t go underground with them. Entrust yourself to the elders and to close friends. Enlist prayer. Get the counsel you need. This is for the sake of ministry, not just for the family. It is all woven together.
4. Weather the storm.
When the storms come, don’t quit. Satan wants you to quit. He is as active as anybody in this thing, and he wants you out of the ministry — or at least out of fruitfulness. He wants you paralyzed with discouragement. Tell him to go to hell, which is where he belongs, and then bank on the promises of God that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). That promise has been very precious over the years as I have gotten in Satan’s face about his temptations.
5. Do not encourage hypocrisy in your family.
When storms come — and they will — don’t manipulate your kids or your wife by telling them, “Now, if you don’t behave, you are going to disqualify me from ministry.” That is just an absolutely wrong thing to say because that kind of obedience isn’t obedience, right? You don’t want your kids or your wife thinking about your ministry that way. You shouldn’t ever jerk them around like that or use your role as a kind of lever to try to get their hearts to be right with God.
That is just counterproductive. It is not going to work. There are reasons to obey as children and reasons to walk in joyful holiness, and that is not one of them. There ought to be other reasons. If a kid is just containing his worldliness to keep daddy’s job, that kid is going to explode someday and do more damage than if he had been honest. So dad shouldn’t encourage that kind of hypocrisy in his kids.
6. Pray earnestly for God’s help.
And the last thing I would say is, Cry out to the Lord for help. That is what I did over and over again. He won’t let you be tested beyond what you are able, but with the testing — you know, we usually translate that temptation, and we almost always think of sex. The word pierosmos means testing as well as temptation. “He will not let you be [tested] beyond your ability, but with the [testing in the family] he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I have seen light at the end of tunnels that seemed impossibly dark. So that is God’s answer to that promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13. He will make an opening at the end of this tunnel. Trust me. Hold on. Don’t doubt me in the dark. I am a God of light, and I will be with you.