Important Points of Clarification
With that being said, before continuing this article, I believe it’s important to clarify a few things. First, I am NOT suggesting in the least that family is not important, or that it would be okay or should be commended for someone to neglect their family for the sake of mission. Second, I think it’s important for me to define a couple of words the way I’m using them. By “mission” or “mission of God” I am referring to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that this ought to be the primary objective for all Christians, yet sadly in our society it is neglected. By “idol” I am referring to an image or an object that takes a position of priority in place of God. The Greek work for idol (eidōlon) simply means an image or object of worship. In the Old Testament, God’s people were warned to not make for themselves any “graven image” – or idol – (Deuteronomy 5:8). A graven image was something that could be fashioned by men and put in place of God. In the Old Testament, God’s people from time to time would fall into sin by fashioning wood, or metal or other things into an object that they would worship. In modern times in our culture, people fashion ideas, entertainment, ideologies, and institutions as objects of worship. For example, people idolize the idea of their favorite celebrity, or they idolize the pursuit of the American Dream, or they idolize their jobs, or football, or pornography… the list of modern day idols can go on forever. In either case (both ancient and modern day idols), men are looking to something and holding it in a position of priority over God, and/or are being prevented from obeying God’s commands by them.
What does worshiping the idol of family look like?
With that being said, in what sense do I feel that Christians are worshiping the idol of family? I am suggesting that a widespread high view of family has been taught in such a way that Christians are devoted to their families more than they are devoted to Christ and His mission. I believe that many believers have more of a priority on developing a nice, Christian, picture-perfect family than they do on advancing the Kingdom of God to the ends of the Earth. How can you tell if you may be worshiping the idol named Family?
1) When is the last time you have intentionally invested time learning about how to have a better family, or how to be a better mom or dad (have you bought a book, taken a class, attended a seminar or listened to messages on family)? Compare that to the last time you have intentionally invested time learning about how to be a better witness of the Gospel.
2) When is the last time you have talked about your family to someone you just met? Compare that to the last time you have talked about Jesus to someone you just met.
3) How many family days or family outings have you had in the last 3 months? Compare that to the number of witnessing days you’ve had in the last 3 months.
4) How much money do you invest into providing a nice home and a decent life for your family? Compare that to the amount of money you have invested into spreading the gospel to the lost.
5) How often do you think about how you could provide more for your family? Compare that with how often you think about how you could provide more to fund the mission of God to the world.
The answers to these questions reveal what you care most about – what your priorities are. I believe that most people in the church care a lot about their families (which is good), but care very little about God’s mission (which is tragic). Therefore they fashion an idea of “family” (or what they think family should be) in their minds that they strive towards which leaves no room to have any thought or care for God’s mission. The result is that we have turned a God given gift into an idol which takes God’s place.
Aren’t there bigger idols to fry?
Why am I talking about this? Why not hobbies, or TV, or pornography, or money? As I said earlier, the list of modern day idols could go on forever; so why am I only talking about the idol of family? I’m talking about the idol of family because this is one of the only idols that’s preached about from pulpits all across our nation as something that should be prized above ministry. I don’t hear many sermons about how you shouldn’t put ministry before football, or how you should make sure to focus more on your money than on witnessing to others. However, you hear it all the time about family.
“Don’t put ministry before your family!”
“Make sure you spend more time with your family than you do with the church.”
“You know your family is your first ministry.”
“You know what they say about PK’s (Preacher’s Kids)!”
These sayings, along with the onslaught of warnings and horror stories of those who got it wrong and neglected their family for the sake of ministry, coupled with the fact that the other side of the story isn’t told – how people neglect God’s mission for the sake of worshiping their families – are all reasons why I believe that this topic needs to be talked about in the church today.
Family is important, it’s just not primary
I know how important the family is. The family was the first institution God established (Genesis 1). The family is the first institution the enemy tried to destroy (Genesis 3). Husbands and wives are to be a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:25-32). Fathers and their children are to be pictures of God’s love and care for us, even in the midst of discipline (Hebrews 12:6-8). If we don’t get family right, then we don’t present a clear picture of God to the world. God even prohibits men from leading in the church if they don’t lead their families well (1 Timothy 3:4-5). I understand the importance of family. I also understand that the family is being attacked today in our culture. With the decline of heterosexual marriage, and the rise of divorce and pro-homosexual “marriage” proponents, along with the lack of strong families – even in the church – I know that a message of family needs to be preached in the church of America. I say all of this to say that this article is not an anti-family article. I have a family that I love with my whole heart, and I would fight and die for my family against anything that would come in to harm it. Family is important, it’s just not primary.
Keep in mind that there is no warning in scripture of being too sold out for God that you might neglect your family, but on the contrary, Jesus warned that “anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). When Jesus resurrected from the dead and was about to ascend into Heaven from Earth, He did not say “all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore go and raise good families”. He said “go and make disciples”. When we stand before God, He is not going to ask us how many family outings we went on or what type of college we were able to send our kids to. He will, however, ask us if we obeyed His clear directions to make disciples. Don’t get me wrong, we will give an account for how we raised our families; and again, I am not saying that we should neglect our families to obey the Great Commission. I am suggesting, however, that there are a lot of things that we assume develop healthy, godly families that are more cultural than they are biblical, and that are getting in the way of our obedience to the rest of what God commanded us to do. Anything that you allow to stand in the way of your obedience to God is an idol.
Your family is your first ministry
Though there is no verse in the bible that says “your family is your first ministry”, I still agree with it based on the whole scope of what the bible teaches about family. It’s true because as I stated earlier from 1 Timothy 3:4-5, a man can’t even serve as an elder or deacon in the church unless he first proves that he can serve his family. Though your family is your first ministry, it is not your only ministry.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us…”
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
That is the ministry God has entrusted to us, and our families are tools to be used in order to fulfill that ministry. God is making His appeal to the world through us. Our families are to be pictures of God to the world, not little compartments we stay hidden in. God is calling Christians to raise godly families, but remember this – God will never call you to do something that compromises something else He has called you to do. He wouldn’t call you to make disciples of all nations if He thought it would get in the way of raising a godly family. In God’s mind, both calls complement each other – the call to raise a godly family is in harmony with reconciling the world to Christ by preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth.
What about PK’s?
We’ve all heard the stories of Preachers’ Kids (PK’s). You know – the story where the preacher neglected his kids because he was so busy ministering to other people, and when the kids got older they ended up hating church and turning away from God. There are a few things I’d like to say about this. First, it’s true. There are several men in error who wrongfully neglect their family for the sake of ministry and wind up blowing it with their kids, or ending up in divorce court. However, the fact that some people get it wrong does not give us an excuse to throw out ministry all together. Every believer is called to make disciples, and you are only given a brief moment in time to do so and then your opportunity is over forever.
How many hours do you need to spend with your family for it to not be considered neglect? What activities do you need to do with your family for it to be considered helpful for the development of a godly family? I’m sure the answers to these questions vary from person to person depending on the individual circumstance, but is it possible to do both simultaneously? Is it possible to include your family in this ministry of reconciliation? Would it be possible to raise your family in such a way that they understood the importance of mission? Of course it is! There are plenty of examples of this being done the right way. For every story of a PK who went astray, you could get two more of believers who did it right. You don’t determine whether or not you will obey God based on the failures of those who did it wrong. You study the scriptures diligently to see how God has laid it out to do it right, and then talk to those who did it right and learn from them.
Also, have you ever thought about the fact that maybe, just maybe, PK’s exist because no one else is on mission? Put yourself in the preacher’s shoes for a minute. Let’s say you’re a pastor of a church, and you get it. You understand that people are dying and going to hell, so you need to get the gospel out to them. You try to tell people in the church, but they don’t get it. They are too interested with their lives and developing nice, neat, Christian families that they can’t get on mission – they have no time. After all, that’s your job anyways… right? So what do you do? You feel the overwhelming burden to work twice as hard to make up for the lack of ministry from other people, and you end up blowing it with your own family. That’s the tragedy of PK’s. The preacher feels obligated to take on all the work because the rest of us take on none of it. Have you ever heard the term, “many hands make light work”? If every believer was on mission, then maybe PK’s wouldn’t exist.
Should we look for a balance?
When I talk like this, I already know that some of you are probably visualizing a scale and trying to figure out how much of family, and how much of mission should go on each side to get a healthy balance. We always want to balance things out, but I believe that we shouldn’t think of it that way. I don’t believe we should develop a pie chart graphing out 20% church, 25% family, 17% mission, 15% work, etc… I believe we should just be 100% sold out to God and seeking Him with our whole hearts, and then He’ll balance us.
I believe that a healthy balance that God will bring us to will be a place where we are on mission with our families. Remember, God will not give you one aspect of His will at the expense of another. The goal of this article was not to say “do less family and more missions”. It’s not either or, it’s both and. It’s not mission or family, it’s family on mission. My desire for writing this article was to expose a hidden idol that many of us didn’t even know existed, and upon exposing the idol of family, redirecting our focus towards fulfilling the purpose of the family for which God intended. So what do you do after reading this article? You don’t let anything hold a position of priority in place of God in your life. Love God with your whole heart and devote yourself to obey His commands. Love your family and preach the gospel. Or better yet, love your family by preaching the gospel.