Church/Family Balance

The Gospel Coalition blog have posted an excellent article titled ‘3 reflections on leading your family well’. Let me strongly urge you to read it.

We often talk about work/life balance in relation to secular jobs but we rarely apply this same logic to the church. If anything, church is often pushed to the detriment of family life and a lack of quality time spent with our family can be brushed aside as sacrificial service in the Lord’s work. The Gospel Coalition highlights the clear and obvious danger of this for church ministers and offers three reflections on how to avoid the problems of church/family imbalance. However, I would venture that this is equally significant for those not in the full-time employ of the church.

The TGC blog states ‘A day off is not just a good idea… it is essential’. I agree with the sentiment and, for most working ministers, this is a sensible and pragmatic step. However, for those not employed by the church, there is a secular job to take into account as well. The minister’s service in the church is tied up directly with their day job. Therefore, it is feasibly possible to insist, as a church, they take one day off during the week. However, for the majority of the congregation, at least Monday-Friday is eaten up with secular work meaning service in the church must revolve around evenings and weekends. This, in some respect, makes it harder for the average member to strike a balance between serving in the church, a secular job and spending meaningful time with family. Where a minister has to contend with balancing two things (job/church and family) the average member must contend with three (job, church and family). Whilst a minister may take one day off in the week, that option is often not open to the church member who holds a secular job and wishes to serve meaningfully in the church whilst not neglecting their familial responsibilities. 

For the minister, I suspect a major issue is feeling they must plug all the gaps that cannot (or will not) be filled through the service of members. This can lead to overwork, often at the expense of family relationships. For the average member, a secular job is generally considered a necessity. The church, quite rightly, encourages individuals to use what time they have in the Lord’s service. Unfortunately, with the immovable obligation of a secular job, this often ends up being at the expense of quality family time. Alternatively, one might set aside time for family and, with the pressure of secular work, quickly find themselves feeling guilty for a lack of service in the church. I suspect the sum of all this boils down to charity on all sides. Members must recognise the pressures of pastoral ministry and seek to help ministers strike an appropriate church/family balance by allowing them a day off and, more importantly, respecting it when it is given. Equally, ministers must be wary of pressing church members into service to the detriment of their family life bearing in mind occupational obligations.

However, all of this does very little to tackle the real issue. The central question is what does an actual work/church/family balance look like and what pragmatic steps can be taken to obtain it? I suspect those of us inclined toward introspective self-flagellation are always liable to feel we favour one thing over another. Turning down the opportunity to serve in the church because our wives and children deserve more quality time is liable to induce as much guilt as taking on such obligations. The standard church line, which essentially challenges individuals’ use of time as a means of encouraging service in the church, is not an unfair or illegitimate one. However, it is only valid when serving in the church is contrasted with our personal desires and pastimes as opposed to our obligations and responsibilities. Neglecting our familial responsibilities is just as dishonouring as a refusal to serve the Lord in other ways. Stories abound of individuals who hate the church because their parents’ seemed more concerned with meetings and the salvation of strangers than they did in the lives of their own children.

Ideally, one would put aside one day to be spent with our families alongside our secular work and service in the church. Unfortunately, the demands of secular jobs are ever increasing and the days of 9-5 are long gone. With most of the Western world in recession, those who do manage to hold onto their jobs are being asked to pick up the slack of the ones who have been let go. It is nigh on impossible to try and make dogmatic statements about how we reach an adequate balance in the modern world. Ultimately, it seems there is little more we can do than take a charitable view of others ability to serve and give an honest assessment of our own circumstances. It may even be that different things take priority during our different seasons of life.