I closed my laptop and allowed the tears I’d been holding back roll down my face. I’d been trying to speak to my then 3-year-old son on Skype, a format more suited to coordinating schedules with The Guys From Accounting than the intimacy of Father and Son. I was several thousand miles away speaking at a conference. Not just any conference, but one which might help Further-My-Ministry-Impact. My wife had called him into the room. “Daddy’s on Spike” (a family in-joke). I’d not seen him. I’d just heard little his voice. “I don’t want computer daddy. I want real daddy.”
Now I’m not going to tell you that since then I’ve cracked the family/work/ministry conundrum, or even that I’ve declined all overseas speaking engagements and projects. I haven’t. In fact since then I’ve probably done a lot more, but I have worked hard on strategies to try to avoid having to concede (along with Billy Graham) at the end of my ministry: I wish I’d spent more time with my family. We all need to be reminded to navigate the stormy waters of justification by ministry on the one hand, and idolizing the family on the other. This isn’t just limited to those of us with itinerant ministry responsibilities.
Every few months I write three words—Any, Few, Only—over my calendar and tackle them in reverse order. Only I can be the husband to my wife. Only I can be the father to my children. These are the first things I include (family days, holidays, weekends away). Then the Few. There are some things a Few people can do and I’m one of them. God has gifted me to do these things and he’s called me to serve others in the church and the world with them. They go in second. And finally there are things Anyone can do. They need to go into my schedule too so I’m reminded just how ordinary I am.
I’ve also tried to learn the lesson of the Grand Old Duke of York. His 10,000 men came unstuck when they were neither up nor down. When we’re with our families, we really need to be with them. Being fully present can be difficult. Our smartphones aren’t helping with this.
Finally, we need to remember that our spouses and children are not competing against the mission. They’re on mission with us. The distinction is that Your (singular) Ministry isn’t the same as Your (plural) Mission.
Sadly too many of us in positions of Christian leadership spend hours crafting vision statements for our churches and ministries, but don’t give the same attention to working out what our families are for.
It’s not easy to “bring up [our] children in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). It’s harder if we’re don’t give them our attention when we’re with them. It’s even harder to do via Skype.