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Ministry Shouldn’t Destroy Your Family

By John Vandervelde January 15, 2018

As a leader in a growing church in the suburbs of Chicago, I interact with busy people on a daily basis. Like many affluent suburban communities, we have countless opportunities to get involved in our community. It is normal around here to spend nearly every evening out of the house at practices, rehearsals, and games. You’d think the busiest people in my community would be those in high-pressure corporate jobs or people trying to fill voids in their lives by packing their schedules full of meaningless pursuits. But this is not the case. Many of the crazy busy people I interact with work in full-time ministry. The truth is, many of the ministry leaders I know are either burned out by their job or have a suffering family life. Too few strike a healthy work-home balance.

I’m certainly not the first person to discover that people in ministry struggle with balance in their lives. There are countless articles, books, and blog posts written about this subject. But often those resources are too broad to address our specific situations. If you work in youth ministry, especially if you are married with young children, your role is particularly challenging. Your evenings are filled with events, and much of your work takes place during atypical work hours. Your children may not be independent yet, so they demand your time and attention. Youth ministry is a tough calling, and you need to work that much harder to balance ministry work and family time.

I’ve been in full-time ministry for 16 years, and I’ve been married for the same. I’ve made many mistakes along the way, but through them I’ve learned a few things to ensure that while my ministry thrives, my family does too. Here are three practical ideas that will help you be successful at work and happy at home.

1) Guard your evenings. This is tricky. Your ministry likely involves working in the evenings because people aren’t at work or school. But evenings are also crucial times to be together as a family. If you’re married and have young kids, you know evenings can be difficult. If you’re heading out the door more evenings than not, your spouse is left alone to care for the kids. That isn’t good. It puts a strain on your marriage and on your relationship with your children. Now, you may justify your schedule by promising to spend extra quality time with the kids on the weekends, but I can tell you right now, you’re lying to yourself. When it comes to spending time with your spouse and kids, quantity matters just as much as quality.

I work hard to make sure my typical weekly schedule doesn’t force me to work more than two nights per week. I know this might not be possible for some of you. But if you’re spending more evenings working than you are at home with your family, you need to start making changes. How can you do that? Let me offer some ideas.

“When it comes to spending time with your spouse and kids, quantity matters just as much as quality.”

You may think you need to be at all those evening activities personally, but the truth is, you don’t. Empower a capable volunteer to run one of those evening activities. You might be surprised by how well it goes, and you’ll be developing a leader in the process. You could also drop one of those evening activities or move it to a bi-weekly schedule. Regardless of what you decide to change, you need to guard your evenings. That’s the first place life and work can get out of balance.

2) Don’t do trade-offs with your spouse. By trade-offs, I mean something like these scenarios: you watched the kids while your spouse went out with friends, so now your spouse owes you a night so you can go out and do what you want. Or you went on a ski trip with your friends, so now your spouse is owed a weekend retreat as well. You were up late with a crying baby, so now your spouse owes you a night of uninterrupted sleep.

These trade-offs will poison your marriage. They will create constant competition, a victim mentality, and feelings of entitlement—not exactly markers of the sacrificial lifestyle Christ calls us to. When you’re constantly striving for fairness, you and your spouse won’t be working as a team. You’ll be living as individuals cohabitating under the same roof. That’s not a marriage; that’s living with a roommate.

If you make a concerted effort to live sacrificially in your marriage, you will begin to see health in your home. When you and your spouse go the extra mile, step up to do extra work, and strive to love and care for each other more than yourselves, your home will become a happier place and you will feel balance in your life. It may seem unfair at first, and it may seem like a lot of work, but it is a lot less work than repairing a broken marriage.

3) Talk to someone. If you feel your life is unbalanced with no signs of improvement, let your supervisor know what you’re feeling. Trust me, they’d rather help you before it’s too late than clean up the mess left by a burned-out staff member. Talk to your spouse. Don’t bury your feelings. Find a mentor, someone older and wiser than you who has walked the path of full-time ministry. Ask for advice from someone who has experienced the struggle of finding and maintaining a healthy ministry-home balance.

About the Author

John Vandervelde

John Vandervelde serves as the Executive Pastor of Glen Ellyn Bible Church in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. He and his wife, Kari, have been married for 15 years and have five children. When he’s not at the church or chasing his kids around, John enjoys running, biking, and competing in triathlons.