Serving the world

Here's an interesting email exchange that happened earlier this week. Ashley gave me permission to publish her responses too, so there's more interesting conversation. Join in! (in the comments. No need to email me. :) )
this post made me think:
i was curious your reactions towards what she said

That was a really interesting post. I read it & all the comments.

I think it's a hard Biblical case to make, to say that a woman cannot have a ministry outside of the home, or be passionate about a cause outside of caring for her house, husband, and children. I think it would be hard to even make the argument that all the women in the Bible did not have outside ministries. In Acts, there are examples of women serving in the church, and Paul thanks women in his letters. These ladies were obviously doing more than just raising good children- and it'd be a hard argument to say that they were all childless & unmarried, considering the culture.

That aside, I'm confused by the disdain for leaving children for a few hours a week. Many of the examples given were for evening ministry meetings. There is not one mention of fathers in the article or comments. The fathers are capable, loving people, and the mothers (theoretically) are in love with them and trust them completely- why can't they keep the children while the mother goes to minister, using her gifts and passions for the kingdom of God while the father gets really good bonding time with the kids? And, if it is parents' job to be home for children at every available minute, can any parent (mother or father) have an outside ministry? Or does God not give gifts and passions to aid in his wider kingdom work to people with children?

These are just my observations. Like I said, I don't totally understand the validity of the argument. I'm also coming at this from a different angle because I see the biblical imperative to care about social justice and to care for the poor and marginalized around the world, inside or outside the church, alongside the imperative to care for home & family. These women see the biblical imperative for them to care for their home and children alone, without the larger "go into all the world" commission. I guess I don't see why it has to be an either-or stance. But that's true of a lot of things :)

As for me, I hope to involve my (future, theoretical) children in ministry outside the home. I see a few wonderful families do it every month at the Sunday Suppers we help out with, and it's awesome- the kids are learning hands-on, rather than just reading about, what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus- and seeing it modeled as a regular part of life, not just for special "mission trips". If I want to help out with a ministry at church that the whole family can't help with (like Josh, with choir or me, with the church library), is it such a big deal for one parent to be gone a couple hours every week? It will show our children God gave all of us different gifts, and we should use them to his glory, wherever we fit in the body of Christ.

I could go on, about the idea of 'calling' as talked about over the last few weeks at church, but I'll stop. What did you think about it?

I completely agree with you. I think it's really important for kids to grow up seeing their mothers (and fathers) serve others. And, consequently, I think it's also okay (and maybe even important) for mothers to have an outlet that doesn't involve their children. Of course, I'm not a mother yet so I'm sure my opinions will change when I am one. As you said - where are the fathers? However, one thing that I think is sad is that I've seen Christians who don't feel that it's important to be involved in ministry - especially outreaches. My mom and I once had a discussion about a family friend who believed the Bible commands us to only love other Christians, and so they were "liberated" from the need to reach out to nonChristians. I feel like for a lot of people, "ministry" only implies "helping out fellow Christians". While that's important, I think it's also important to help those in need, no matter what their beliefs are. Otherwise, we're the world's biggest clique. :-)

One of the comments I just read mentioned - "How can you say no to being a nursery worker when your kids are some of the main ones in the nursery? How can you not teach Sunday School/Children's Church when they are desperate for help and you have many kids in their classes? Is it fair to desire that your church run a Children's choir or Christmas program but then you refuse to help at all with it?" I think that was a really good point (of course, she was talking about how to get over feeling guilty for not volunteering, but I do think those words backed up my point of view). Why should you refuse to help out at all? Especially when you use those services yourself? Surely some sort of balance can be reached? Again, I'm not a mom, so I know my perspective will change, but that's what I'm thinking right now. I don't want my kids to grow up around only Christians - and what better way to expose them to other peoples' ideologies than when we are serving them through ministry, and I am standing right there?

Now, your turn.


Melissa said...

A couple things came to my mind when I read through this, the article, and some of the comments.

I don't think you should feel like you have to do some outside ministry as well. In some cases, your family may be your only ministry for some time. If you have a large family or special needs children, God's purpose for you may be just to focus on them.

Another reason I think it's important that you not feel you have to is Christians seem to idolize certain "ministries". Everything is your life's ministry. Some people may have seemingly more difficult or busy or more visible roles, but those don't make you a "better" Christian. As long as she is doing her best to follow God's will for her life, a wife who does need to stay home with her kids and focus on them has just as an important role as the missionary wife who is braving wild jungles to bring the gospel to a remote tribe. Yet Christians sometimes put the second one up on some moral pedestal as being "better".

So, make sure your reasons for wanting some other ministry is not just because you want to look better in the eyes of the Christians around you.

I also think it's wrong to accuse women who have or want to have an outside ministry of being "dissatisfied" with their role as a mother/wife. That is actually "begging the question" and shouldn't be part of a discussion on whether or not a woman should have an outside ministry.

I think you can fulfill your mother/wife role as well as participating in other ministries. We are the body of Christ and we can all play a part. It would be good for you and your children to learn from serving others.

But DON'T neglect your family for another ministry. Your family is a priority.

One thing that worries me about those who think mothering is the ONLY role you should be playing when you have children is that they are overprotecting and sheltering their children.

Now, it depends on how old the children are, but at some point, even before your children are teenagers, they need to have room to grow. They don't need you hovering over them 100% of the time. You may think you are helping your children, but too much sheltering can be detrimental.

And your point about the husbands. It's a wonderful idea to have them watch the kids while you go out for a little while.

I think part of the desire to stay at home all the time with your kids all the time may come from some insecurities. It may make women feel better about themselves. "They're the perfect sacrificing mother and wife; look how they stay with and take care of their family 100% of the time. They're so wonderful!" Makes them feel good.

They could be lazy and not want to serve others outside the home, but that doesn't seem like the case most of the time. I could just see someone using that as an excuse to say no.

There is nothing saintly about choosing to serve only your family 100% of the time and I think God may call you to have other ministries as well. And I think it's beneficial for you, your family, and those you serve.

Lisa said...

I wish more church activities & ministry opportunities were "Bring-the-kids" friendly. I love the Sunday Suppers for this reason. The poor & marginalized seem to enjoy my child more than the people sitting in the back of the Sunday service!!

Joanna said...

Melissa- I agree with you about not feeling like we have to be doing something outside the home, but that if a women feels called to a ministry, she should follow that calling. There are definitely seasons where we need to be home and caring for the family. A friend of mine dropped her outside activities when her baby came early and in the hospital for a couple months, then needed more care at home. This was the obvious choice, and she served her family well. Your point about motivation is a good one. Are we trying to do everything to look like a Perfect Christian? Are we hovering over our children to look like the Perfect Mother?

Lisa- I enjoy your child! :) I'm glad our bible study is very child-friendly, and everyone doesn't have to juggle babysitters to come learn and grow and visit with one another. (I had this thought this week, with the blocks strewn about the floor and toys making duck-sounds in the background as we read through John. It was a joy.)

Anonymous said...

If you use the church nursery, then yes you should do your fair share. We had a signup sheet for the parents to rotate that responsibility.

Brett said...

I guess I don’t get any sort of anti-outreach message from the article. It’s pro-outreach as a family. It’s pro-outreach inside the home. What I see as the main point is that the author’s family takes top priority. Given the choice between serving outside the home and raising her family, the author is going to choose family. She makes that choice clear. She doesn’t need to look outside the home to have a ministry. She still loves the marginalized as God does but she realizes that God also loves her kids.

I would tend to agree with the author. Obviously, if God is calling a mother to serve elsewhere, she should follow it. But the calling of motherhood shouldn’t be ignored. And if pursuing the calling of motherhood means saying “no” to some things, fine. In fact, I applaud the author’s tremendous focus.

It interesting, I was on a church retreat a couple months ago and one of the guys in my small group was a business coach. Anyway, he was talking about helping a business owner (BO) that had hit a plateau in his work. The BO approaches the coach (C) and claims to be “overcommitted”. At that point, the BO produces his to-do list. This to-do list fills a legal pad. Seriously, tens of pages of things that need accomplished. Anyway, the BO can’t figure out why he can’t make any headway. I liked the C’s response which went something like “It’s not that you’re overcommitted…you’re undercommitted.” It was true. He had filled his life with anything and everything and there was no focus, no intensity. I’ve seen that kind of overextension a lot in churches. Sure, the church is full of people that simply don’t participate but there’s another segment of the church that tries to do everything. They’re involved in everything and they don’t say “no” to anything. They have good intentions but it can only last so long. So…anyway…I like the author’s focus. There’s a purpose and she’s zeroes in on it.

The other, more tangible, side is simply time. My wife and I have a 1-year-old son. When he’s older and can participate, he’ll serve with us. In the meantime, the options are pretty limited. Is it a big deal for me to spend an evening with my son while my wife serves? No. I love the time I have to with my boy. Time is precious, though. And that’s not just time with our son, it’s time with each other. Time spent serving individually outside the home is time NOT spent together as a family or a couple. Believe me, when your time as a couple it limited to those hours after your kids’ bedtime, it really jumps in value.

Matt said...

As a father of small children, I resonate with Brett's thoughts. When a child is old enough to serve along-side you, then serving and leading by example in that way is great. We have some (very limited) contexts that we can already do that with our toddlers.

But, the phase between starting a family and having little co-laborers is a very brief one in the bigger picture, and I see no problem with mothers and fathers being wholly committed to raising their children in that time, even at the neglect of outreach outside the home.

Before we had children, we served a lot. When our children are ready, we will serve a lot with them. In the meantime, we will raise them and teach them and prepare them to serve.

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

As Joanna and I have talked about, we both have read many posts by the author of the linked blog post. So, what might not be apparent to someone reading it for the first time is more apparent to us.

I think Melissa's comment hit a lot of my thoughts. My concern is not that mothers are "selfish", but that it is the ONLY role they play. I know that the author discourages women (especially mothers) from having too many activities outside the home.

Some other thoughts: I'm not a mom, so part of me thinks I shouldn't say anything about this subject. I also think that when you have LITTLE kids, it really changes your ability to serve. I feel that as your kids age, so can (and should) your opportunities to minister. I guess I have more of a problem with the idea that a mother leaving her kids for a few hours is a bad thing. Again, I don't know, so maybe I'm misled about how much Mom Time a little child should get.

Scrawny Mommy said...

I agree that the role of mother and of father is very important, and can (for some time) supercede the need/ability to minister outside of the home. However, unlike Melissa, I can't agree that a mother's role of staying home with her children is "just as imporant" as the role of sharing and spreading the gospel. The Great Commission is a command from Jesus; being a stay-at-home is not.

Having children is a beautiful and God-given opportunity, but let us not equate it with salvation!

Tree said...

I would say, do what you feel God wants you to do, not out of guilt of what others think...
I've had to think of this a lot lately, because I've been over-exhausting myself working part-time teaching preschool. It's only until Christmas, and I've already decided I will do something less intense and only a few days a week (because I want to, not because I have to). Luckily, I can take my baby with me, so it makes the decision a little easier. I do believe that it is important to minister outside the home (although it can be done in the home by inviting people over), though it may not always be possible at every stage in your life. In many of Jesus' teachings He talked about the heart motive, and I think we too quickly forget that when we focus on "what" or "how much" someone is doing. The key is keeping our focus. I do believe that my first ministry to Christ is to serve my husband and child. How is raising a child to live for Christ any less worthy than telling others people about Christ!? Just because a child becomes a Christian at a young age does not mean that we can be done and forget about encouraging them to actually seek Christ. That being said, putting my husband and child as my first ministry may look very different than someone else doing the same thing. I do not think that we can ever say we know how God has told someone else to do it. As I said before, what matters is where our hearts lie. If we are loving Christ and keeping him first, and striving to do what He wants (not what others say we should do!) I know He will guide us.

Scrawny Mommy said...

Tree, I agree that raising one's child for Christ is of utmost importance; however, being a stay-at-home mother isn't a prerequisite for this.

Becca said...

Can I just say that when I hear of mothers wanting a "break" from their children, it makes me sad. Granted, I am dealing with not having a child.

Why not take the children along while ministering? Remember Marmee from Little Women? She took the girls with her when she ministered to the neighbors...

Matt said...

Yes, needing a break from children is sad. It's sad because it brings us face to face with our own fallen nature. I'd love to be a parent who can love my children the way God does, 24 hours a day, without tiring. But when I tire, the responsible thing to do is recover, while maintaining a consistent attitude of kindness to my child.

In my opinion it is necessary and healthy for a less-than-perfect parent to take some time in solitude and regain their composure. I would be afraid of a parent who felt so guilty about taking a needed leave from their duties that they refused to. That sounds like an abusive situation waiting to happen.

And I'll put in my vote too that life should be more like Little Women. That would solve a lot. But we can't generalize about the abilities all parents based on the success of one parent with one child, especially an imaginary one.


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