Children aren’t an addition to God’s plan. They are part of it.
– Mike Lawrence, Missionary Pastor, Jaco, Costa Rica
I remember being a Bible College student, early twenties, ready to conquer the world for Jesus. I was passionate, full of energy and conviction. Even then I felt the missionary call in life, but I unknowingly approached it from self-empowerment and emotional excitement. I knew and loved Jesus, but in looking back, I see that my drive was fueled more by emotions than a commitment to God’s calling and leaning on His grace.
At that time, I had moments of “I shouldn’t get married and have kids. It’ll hold me back from all God has planned for my life.” Ha ha. Couldn’t get much more arrogant, could I?!
But in all honesty, how many people have these thoughts toward family life and ministry, or family life and missions? We think that getting married and having little ones ties us down somehow. That we’ll be less effective for the kingdom of God if we’re worried about making dinner, getting home to our spouse and kids, or that load of dishes in the sink.
I said those things. Others have said those things. And now I am deeply convicted that this mentality as a general rule is wrong.
Now, let me say this: some people are called to be single. Some are not called to have children. I believe that and have no qualms with it. I’m NOT declaring in this post that God’s ultimate plan for every person is to start a family.
But, what I am saying is that God loves family – on and off the mission field. Choosing to marry and have kids is not settling for a lesser calling or accepting that my missionary work will now forever be hindered or less impacting.
Let me explain.
Family is a Vehicle for Ministry
I recently attended a missions conference in Florida. One of the speakers was Mike Lawrence, missionary pastor for over ten years in Jaco, Costa Rica, along with his wife and four kids.
I attended his session on Juggling Family and Ministry, and I was surprised by the content. It wasn’t a 45 minute “how-to” session chalk full of practical suggestions on managing both areas of life efficiently. There was some of that.
Most of the session was a convicting call to listeners that we reckon with this idea: God is a God of family. He created family. Loves family. Even the relationships within the Trinity demonstrate family roles in the Father and Son (paraphrasing Mike’s words on that one).
A few statements that Mike made rang loud and true with me:
One: “the idea of forsaking all for Christ has been romanticized.” God’s intention was never for us to abandon our marriage or family in the name of missions.
All the passionate emotions of my youth came bubbling up at that statement, and I realized – this is exactly where I was in those days. I was going to forsake the idea of family in order to “better serve.”
Only one problem: that wasn’t what God would call me to do in life. And therefore, I’m no less spiritual or dedicated to missionary life now that I have a husband and small kids.
Statement Two from Pastor Mike Lawrence: “Marriage and family should be a vehicle for ministry.”
Let me tell you a story to illustrate.
My four-year old is…well…strong-willed. To put it lightly. I’ll fully confess that it’s my genes that cursed her there.
A few months ago, a girl from our church in L’viv was visiting our house. It was one of the worst days of battle with my daughter on record. I must have spent half the day dealing with fits and tantrums, taking REALLY deep breaths, and begging God for mercy!
The girl who was visiting is young and in ministry herself. She wasn’t raised in a Christian family. She is not married. She doesn’t have kids. We’ve talked about those things, and I’ve encouraged her that if it’s God’s will and her desire to have a family, it’s a great thing.
By the end of that day, I was sure that my ongoing battles with our daughter had spoiled any desire for family life in this woman (and probably her opinion of my abilities to parent at all!). It was one of those moments when you think, “I am absolutely FAILING here. In every way. Parenting. Ministry. This day was a zero.”
And as my friend walked out the front door, she said, “Nicole, thank you for letting me be here today. I needed to know that some days will be like this.”
I was floored. Amazed at the grace of God to turn a seemingly horrible family experience into ministry. And I had nothing to do with it. Just living my life, trying to figure out how to raise a strong-willed child.
I realized that my family was a vehicle for ministry that day.
No matter where you or I serve, there are people with histories of broken homes, abusive families, absentee parents, divorce, single parenting…these individuals are crying out for real life examples of doing family by Biblical principles. By the grace of God, those of us called to family can be those examples. And that is part of our ministry.
We’re not perfect, don’t have it all figured out. We make mistakes and fail. We have moments of triumph. But in all these moments, God can use our families to minister to those around us and speak of His grace, His love, and His promise to never leave us.
When we stick with our spouse through the good and bad days, it speaks of God’s covenant to love us no matter what. Marriage is the earthly example of God’s divine covenant with His people. Our marriages tell the story of a God who loved us enough to give His very life for us.
The parent-child relationship is a poignant illustration of God’s dealings with us every day. I don’t care what my child does – I’m never gonna love him or her less. And no matter their stubbornness, arguments, whining or fits, I’m always gonna seek their best. Even when their best isn’t what they were hoping for. Sometimes I see farther down the road and know better. And isn’t it the same with us and God?
All of these things and more are a living testimony of the salvation plan. Those of us called to family are daily demonstrating God’s grace, either by showing it or receiving it. The people around us are not less impacted because we are “tied down.” They are impacted for God by the very calling He has placed on us.
And so, my friend, if you are called to family, be encouraged, as I was. Your family truly is a vehicle for God’s ministry in and through your life! May HE be glorified.