Ministry is a Life Lived Together, Not “Your Husband’s Job”

Warning..I’m going to call out the women in this one. Which I can. Because I am one. And I’m 50 too. Which means I have been a woman for a long, long time, so I know some stuff. And I’ve been a mother for 22 years and a wife for almost 28, so I know some stuff about that too.

Recently Curt and I spoke on a panel about living overseas. Our audience was prospective international church planters. When I learned about a very serious issue facing the global organization we worked for when we served in Southeast Asia, I jumped at the chance to address it. The problem? The prevalence of families serving overseas who (in the organization’s words) “want to recreate a middle class American family existence overseas where the wife stays home and the husband does the ministry.” In short, they are finding that wives do not want to be held to the same expectations as their husband when it comes to learning language and sharing the Gospel. They want to have the freedom to stay at home to raise their children, be a housewife, and leave the “work” to their husbands.

WHAT?!

Since you can always count on me to have a strong opinion (I wasn’t born and raised in NYC for nothing), let me preface this the way I did that night to the people in attendance: In the 22 years that I have been a mother, I have been both a working mom and a stay at home mom. And yes, I believe that being a stay at home mom was the far more rewarding role and the one that absolutely was best for my family. So this is not a stay_at_home_Mom_hater post. Read on.

When you become a follower of Jesus, your life is no longer your own.

” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV).

In addition, all of Jesus’ followers are called to make disciples.

 “And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

Although disciple-making is something every Christian husband and wife is called to do, when you are called into full time ministry, and become “professional Christians,” 😉 you don’t take on a new job, you begin a new life. If you then compare your husband’s work  hours with someone who has a 9-5 corporate job, it won’t be long before the “overworked and definitely underpaid” aspect will get to you. Don’t ever look at it as a job. Remember, its a life, and one that is being well spent!

But that applies no matter what side of the world we find ourselves on. So specific to those serving overseas, I broke my response down into 5 of the roles that I now play..

GIVER

My family and I financially give as generously as we possibly can to the organization that sent us overseas for one reason.. so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel. Remember that. Your salary and benefits are a result of people giving “sacrificially.” (I’m not such a fan of the whole ‘sacrificial giving’ description..Jesus is the only one in every equation who made a ‘sacrifice’) As international church planters, you made a committment to devote your lives to seeing the Gospel transform entire people groups. In the case of our sending organization, both the husband and the wife sign the contract. No one financially gives so you can transplant your American life overseas, brag about being “bilingual” to your friends back home, and post exotic photos on your blog.

SENDER

In Curt’s role at the Summit Church of training and leading international church planters, he will not send anyone who is not a well equipped disciple maker fully committed to the main thing, male or female. People who are not already actively engaging unreached people in their own culture won’t do it in a foreign one. We expect both husband and wife to be doing this, while they are still in America. There are only missionaries, not ‘missionary wives’ (which sounds like a bad reality show). If you aren’t both called, then you aren’t ready to go, because you don’t yet fully understand calling.

WIFE

As Curt’s wife of almost TWENTY EIGHT YEARS, I was designed by God to be a helper to him. That’s why I participate in helping him train and equip others to take the Gospel to places where Jesus is not yet known outside of America. Although I still have a child at home, who is homeschooled, I don’t use that as an excuse not to join my husband in the work God has called us to do. As my husband and spiritual leader, Curt is called to encourage me in my own giftings in our ministry. We are one another’s first partner in the Gospel.

MOTHER

None of us lead single focus lives. For example, I am a Christ follower, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, an author, a pregnancy care center director, a volunteer, a friend, etc. I want to model for my children what I hope to see them do: make disciples. That is not “Dad’s job,” it’s who we are as a family. And before you say, “Oh Hilary, you don’t understand how HARD it is to learn language and do ministry when you have babies or little ones.” Yes I do. First of all, Jordan and Molly weren’t born awesome teenagers. They were babies too once. Secondly, I lived alongside wives and mothers who were actively engaged in what we were all there to do. Finally, don’t forget that during my term overseas, I transitioned a middle schooler and a high schooler who had lived their whole life in the States up until that point, and were having to be homeschooled for the first time in their lives while I did language and ministry. That was not easy or relaxing. When I was home with the kids in Southeast Asia,  I made my house helper my best language teacher by talking to her for extended periods of time every day. She was the first person I shared the Gospel with in SE Asia. In addition, Curt made sure I had time every week to get out of the house and be with friends that I was actively sharing the Gospel with. Your husband can and should do that too. And think about the great mothers who have gone before us all…Ann Judson, Elisabeth Elliot, Maria Taylor, Betty Stam, just to name a few..were they sitting at home while their husbands did the work? Definitely not.

 

TEAMMATE

I’m so thankful to have served on a highly successful and highly functioning team in SE Asia. Although we were (and still are) FAMILY, we were also employees of the same company. And as someone who has years and years of work experience in many different roles, one thing was the same no matter where I worked: employees don’t get to pick and choose what part of their job they will do. They call those people, “former employees.”  In our organization, during the first year we are paid to learn the language and culture so that we can share the Gospel in the local language and in culturally appropriate ways. If you make excuses about being too busy or tired with the kids to learn, then you are taking money for a job you were hired to do that you aren’t doing. Besides, in the part of the world where we lived, males and females were segregated for the most part. It wasn’t appropriate for Curt to share with a woman. So if wives don’t learn language and culture, how will the unreached, unenaged women hear? I wouldn’t want to be on a team with a woman who wasn’t actively engaged with the language, culture, and ministry.

In short it comes down to two questions..

Are you going overseas to facilitate a specific lifestyle? If so, do that on your own dime.

Or are you going overseas willing to do whatever God asks you to do so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel? Fifty percent of the unreached and unenaged won’t hear the Gospel if fifty percent of those sent to proclaim the Gospel are silent. So learn the language and culture and share the Gospel because ministry is not “your husband’s job.”

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8 thoughts on “Ministry is a Life Lived Together, Not “Your Husband’s Job”

  1. I agree with the heart behind this post: that women need to have the same level of burden for their host culture and the lost as their husband is right and Biblical. But there does have to be some balance. While a husband does have the full-time allowance to do language and ministry, the wife does not always. We DO have more home responsibilities, and therefore, can’t give the same amount of time as our husband. I think this is kind of obvious. And if we can’t give the same amount of time, how can we be held to the same expectations in terms of language acquisition in a certain amount of time, and number of people we’re sharing with? We simply don’t have the same amount of time the men do… I know some people who have split their lives 50/50 so they get equal time. That may work for them. That doesn’t work for us. I would love to join my husband on training trips, but with four kids under 8, really, that is not feasible right now. Do you think that families in our phase of life, with lots of (more than 2) littles who are in the throes of homeschooling and early character training and discipleship in our own home, should just wait in the US until the wives are more able to give their time to the “work”? That’s an honest question.

    • Hi Megan, I can’t speak for your situation. All I can speak to is my own – both in being on the field with kids myself as well as serving alongside families with very young children. The organization my family was with is very generous in providing for language acquisition by making it the only job requirement for the first year, by allowing the husband and wife to attend language school or study with a tutor while the children are cared for by another person (thereby freeing the Mom up to be able to learn). As paid employees, both are expected to then put into practice what they have learned – for the husband that may mean going out in to the community, while the wife then goes home but practices with a house helper or with a neighbor while the kids play outside. Language is a ‘you get out of it what you put into it’ thing. And language is hard and frustrating. It would be an easy excuse to use kids and home responsibilities to try to get out of having to learn. But its one of the responsibilities you know you have, up front, before you ever leave the U.S. More importantly, language acquisition is a key factor in a family’s ability to thrive and remain on the field, so it really is in the family’s best interest for both the husband and the wife to get it. I personally am not an advocate for the 50/50 split of responsibilities, but even if a mom has young children at home, is homeschooling, etc., as her spiritual leader, her husband should be encouraging his wife in her spiritual giftings and participation in ministry. Also as the spiritual leader/shepherd of the family, your husband should be participating in discipleship and character training of his first flock, which can happen while his wife is having time away from the kids. For my family, that meant on Mondays my husband and I would go over the week’s schedule and we would designate specific times where he would stay with the kids so that I could more actively participate in the work. Everyone has time to do that, and this turned into precious times for my family as the kids had concentrated time with their father, and then got to hear what God was doing thru the times that I was able to go out and share with friends. I know plenty of people serving overseas with young children who have plenty of time for facebook and pinterest and yet when it comes to language and the work, claim that they are too busy raising kids. I never ever said not to take care of your children. Remember I had an 11 and a 15 year old when I lived in SE Asia. They don’t need to be ‘abandoned’ for the work any more than a 2 and 4 year old should. I’m saying that when the husband and wife’s perspective of ministry is ‘this is a life we are pursuing together,’ then naturally you will find the ways that work for your family for that to be something that the entire family pursues, not just your husband.

      • Thanks, Hilary. I have gotten the language as well, and use it in ministry on a weekly basis. I agree there is a balance to be had and both husband and wife should work together to achieve it. This is not exactly what I’m talking about. The problem I had was, this post *was* very prescriptive. Not just descriptive of your experience. Someone could easily read this post, and walk away feeling like they need to be giving full time to ministry, or just go home. Because you talk about equal expectations for men and women. Men are expected to be full time. You don’t spell out (quite enough in my opinion) that it can and should look different for people in different seasons of life. And I didn’t really find the tone of this to be unifying and encouraging to many women who are right now, struggling on a daily basis to find this balance. It seems to sound more like, “I know stuff. I did it. Everyone should be like me.” This is such a sensitive topic, and effects peoples daily lives. I think it needs to be handled with a lot of grace, humility, and encouragement, because anything any of us are able to accomplish, is due directly to the grace of God alone. Yes, women definitely need to get language and be involved in ministry. I just sense a growing feeling that a concentrated effort and a woman giving all she can and still keeping her family healthy, is not cutting it, if she doesn’t reach the right level in the right amount time. The expectation needs to be there definitely, and the support. Covered in grace and encouragement. Not threats of termination. Slow and steady wins the race… That’s just my opinion. Whenever I talk about this with people, I feel like they’re not really hearing me, and that I don’t think women should have any expectations at all. That is not at ALL what I’m saying. (I’ve talked about this with so many people, I can’t even count them anymore). It’s getting old being misunderstood. 🙂 I’ve been overseas for a total of 8 years, and have never once in that time encountered a woman like you describe here, who wants to set up a little American life and never leave her house for ministry. Maybe our experiences are different, but I don’t see this problem as a hugely prevalent one. Yes, there will be some people like that (I know others who have encountered them), and they should probably just go home. But this post makes it sound like a huge problem and the majority of wives are like this. Maybe I’m naive to the bigger world picture, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment, and leaves a lot of us, who are in that season of being home most of our time, quite stung. Maybe your intended audience was women in the states thinking about coming. If so, then maybe they need to hear it said like this. But for women who are overseas already, working hard, this comes across as a bit harsh… in my opinion. I’m only saying this because I’ve talked with a lot of women in the last 24 hours on this side who read this, and were sincerely hurt and discouraged. I don’t know you, but I don’t think that was your intention at all, and just wanted to balance the discussion with a little perspective.

  2. Megan, That’s great you have the language and use it weekly in ministry. That was exactly my point 🙂 that moms/wives can and should be doing just that! As I prefaced in my post, this issue was brought to our attention because it apparently has become quite prevalent. I chose to respond to challenge women to understand ministry from the perspective of a life that a husband and wife pursue together. Please understand that though I tell my own story, I also sought the experiences and opinions of others who have served long term while raising families to ensure that I was going beyond just what I experienced on my own team.

  3. Hey sister, can you please private message me who from the company made that quote? (the middle class America thing) I would like to chat with them. Thanks!

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