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Sacrificing mission on the altar of family?

February 21, 2012

As I’ve said before, we are often creatures of overreaction. One of the recent things I’ve been seeing in working with pastors is an almost paranoia about bringing the life and mission of the church into the life and mission of their family. My observation is that clearly a generation or two of ministry leaders are ensuring not to do what they’ve seen some of their forebears do: Sacrifice their family on the altar of mission (ministry). And they should be commended for this.


What often happens is an unhelpful compartmentalization rather than integration of life. We’ve been given ONE LIFE so we should live ONE LIFE. So rather than working 60, 70, 80 hour weeks and leaving our families on their own, we’ve pulled the work hours way back (good!), but have put up impenetrable walls between the life of the church’s mission and the life of our families. There is often very little overlap between the two.

But is that what we really want for our families? Don’t we want the mission of Jesus to be their mission? Don’t we want the whole of our family to function in that mission together?

Here’s the problem. For far too long, many of us felt we were pushed into having to make this false dichotomy: Is it family OR mission?

Rightly recognizing we shouldn’t sacrifice our families, we started to put some healthy boundaries in place, but also some unhealthy ones. So we started to compartmentalize. But I believe it’s part of the progression. So for many of us, this is now the question of our time: Is it family AND mission?

But when we learn to integrate our life and live well as a people participating in the mission of God each and every day and as we listen to the mission God is calling our family to, this is the next progression: Is it family ON mission?

Yes there are still smart boundaries we put in place, but it’s integration that opens up our families to a new reality of life in the Kingdom of God.

It’s fascinating to watch the leaders we work with make this progression as their life becomes more and more integrated and their family is part of that calling:

  • Family OR Mission? …to
  • Family AND Mission? …to
  • Family ON Mission.

We have one life, so let’s live one life with our family on mission together.

Where do you think you and your family are functioning right now?

34 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 2:54 pm

    I suppose to my way of thinking, it’s more: ‘Family AS Mission’, or if you prefer: ‘Mission AS Family.’ Obviously there is a lot to unpack in that phrase, but I don’t find myself comfortable with any of the other suggestions.

    • Steve permalink
      February 20, 2012 10:14 pm

      Good way of looking at it Simon. But, curious, do you mean “Family AS Mission” in the sense that you view your family as your only mission field? Hopefully your scope of mission is beyond the cluster of loved ones within the four walls of your household, right?

      • February 22, 2012 1:31 pm

        hey, no sorry I don’t mean that – being a family is an act of God’s mission in the world, and that does not stop with those who are biologically related to us. One of Jesus last statements linked John with Mary (John 19:26), and throughout his life and ministry we can see examples of how he extends the familial structure to encompass everyone. I think that we can model love in our families, and we can extend the boundaries of those families to encompass the unloved and unreached etc etc.

  2. February 20, 2012 3:13 pm

    Great stuff Mike. Feel like we’re definitely breaking down the walls that falsely separate life & ministry & learning to integrate them in a healthy way, which is so much more life-giving than the dichotomy we’d learned in previous settings. It’s been great for our son to feel like we’re in it together…still room for growth, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been, so that’s encouraging!

  3. February 20, 2012 3:18 pm

    As you do so often Mike, you hit the nail on the head! I wish I had known these truths when I was 38, but I thank God that I learned them.

  4. Mike Evans permalink
    February 20, 2012 3:19 pm

    Good word. Through my years I have noticed my propensity, and that of others, to respond more like a pendulum than with the focus of Jesus (Jn 3:38) and Paul “this one thing I do” (Phil 3:13). I have seen that in our response to family. Some work with blinders on and neglect the call of God to love our wife like Christ loves the Church and shepherd our children in the love of Christ. The other swing of the pendulum elevates family to idol status and can make ministry an enemy. It is impossible to square that with words like Matt. 10:37.
    It seems that you have accurately challenged the understanding of a fully integrated life. That we live mission and family in the same breath.

  5. John permalink
    February 20, 2012 3:26 pm

    Perhaps yet another bit of evidence pointing to the historical tendency for the American church to function as a “corporate business” instead of an extended family? “Don’t bring the work home?”

  6. Stephen Lockhoff permalink
    February 20, 2012 3:36 pm

    This article rings true to me and mine as well . We are currently re defining our roles to being on mission together , This process is ; however, time consuming and is frustrating . Putting it simply , we do not like change !!! Thanks for the insights . Your Brother In Christ , Stephen Lockhoff

  7. john pitt permalink
    February 20, 2012 3:56 pm

    the church for so long has seen the pastor as having to say yes to everyone who comes. so the pastors say yes to all the very needy, all those who are ‘always poor’ and not focused on the POP who will become the leaders in this ‘family’ who can make a tremendous impact for the kingdom; and so they are weary, and guarded, and attempting to set up ‘boundaries’ – (a popular concept! in the self help library’ of today) and not trained to kindly say no, to go to the other side of the lake with disciples and leave the crowds; to build a healthy community and healthy extended family – not saying only ‘the movers’ but saying the people who are living in repentance/belief and growing….. If leaders had a vision for this, for working with a limited few, then their pastoral life would be different – it could become families on mission.

  8. February 20, 2012 3:58 pm

    My wife and I have been wrestling through this very question this very weekend. I think you’re right on in seeing a pendulum swing here. Thanks for calling us back to balance and to an integrate life.

    I think that a struggle is that since we’ve seen the devastating results of mission (or any work) over family, the idea of family on mission *still sounds and feels* like mission over family. I think part of that is because we haven’t seen a real life example of this.

    But you’re really on to something here, especially as many are rethinking what discipling our kids really looks like.

  9. February 20, 2012 3:58 pm

    excellent reminder…Family ON Mission. We have always included our children (now teens) with the good-bad-ugly of ministry even though many well-meaning people advised us against that, they will often say “be careful”. However, we need them to see how God works in everyday life, not just on Sundays or when Dad is on the clock as the pastor. Thanks for this reminder today about one life.

  10. February 20, 2012 4:02 pm

    Mike, I appreciate your bringing this topic up. I’ve been writing on this for over 20 years that our homes are also mission outposts. Home is church too, it’s not either/or. My colleague (Dr. David Anderson) and I wrote on this in a book titled FROGS WITHOUT LEGS CAN’T HEAR: NURTURING DISCIPLES IN HOME AND CONGREGATION. Since then there have been a number of follow-up books. When we think of our homes as separate from our calls that’s a problem. In my life, my first call is to be Elaine’s husband. My second call is to my children and grandchild. My third call is my professional ministry at Vibrant Faith Ministries. But they are all calls! Keep up the good comments and thoughts. I enjoy your blog, even when I don’t always agree.

  11. Dave K permalink
    February 20, 2012 6:04 pm

    Mike there is a difference moving your family to wealthy USofA as opposed to lets say – a slum in Uganda! Whats your wisdom there?

    • February 20, 2012 7:22 pm

      I’m SURE there are differences in how it’s worked out in reality, but the principle would be the same. No matter where you find yourself, it’s about being a family ON mission. Clearly how to do mission and how to care for your family will vary from setting to setting.

      • Dave K permalink
        February 22, 2012 1:57 pm

        No my problem is keeping them out of mission!!! There is mission everywhere

  12. February 20, 2012 6:43 pm

    Thanks for bringing this up. I believe the real issue is the absolute lack of appreciation for and understanding of how to implement Ephesians 4; equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. If you want to do it all your self, or force your staff to sacrifice their entire lives as well, the results are well known, but so few have discovered the freedom and comraderie
    because of the existing paradygm fostered by their mentors. Break the box folks. There is an answer to working with volunteers. You’ll never find it if you stay locked in where you are.

  13. Debbie. Rhodes permalink
    February 20, 2012 10:17 pm


    Doc and I love this posting!! We may have done a lot of things wrong in ministry but we feel we did this one half way right. And now we get to see our son living it out!! This is so spot on!!

  14. Roy permalink
    February 20, 2012 11:04 pm

    Mike, this is a timely post for me as I’ve been wrestling with this for a while now. As a father of 3 young boys and a husband, we’re trying to find the balance like everyone else.

    I love your conclusions here! Allow me though to expand on this based upon what I’ve been wrestling and thinking with. I think THE problem for most of us in the past is we’ve confused “church work” and “mission”. Most of us who have experienced those 60-80 hour work weeks where we don’t see our families, if we were honest, would admit that our lives had very little mission in them. We had/have a whole lot of “church work” and at the end of all that, we don’t have time or desire for true mission. I think we have to distinguish between what many of us get paid to do (church work), and personal mission to take the life of Christ to those who have yet to experience it.

    You can’t do “church work” AND family. It just doesn’t work to have your kids in the corner while you lead a committee meeting, counsel people, etc… But if my evenings are truly mission, then I can do Family AND Mission, which I think will lead to Family ON Mission.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, I think we need to better define and distinguish Ministry (which I think is just another way of saying “church work”, this is our JOB) from Mission. We all need to have less church work consuming our time and taking away from our families and discover what Mission is really all about.

    At least that’s where I am…thanks for the post!

  15. Estephan permalink
    February 20, 2012 11:13 pm

    Ok, so we’ve had how many examples before us that “got it” and thrived within their individual families and “missions” and “ministries” (don’t get me started on what a ministry really is), and it’s been over 2000 years to follow these examples and we still are trying to figure it out. Hello, people!!! and I say this with love and all respect, if you haven’t figured it out by now, you ain’t gonna figure it out. And what really boggles my mind is that the answers are already given to us in Scripture and yet, mankind being mankind, always has to re-invent the wheel. I believe this dilemna is predominantly in the mainstream contemporary western emergent church movement. Cuz’ you won’t find those that have found the answers, and adhere to and live by them trying to come up with “something” different. Bottom line, if you can’t handle family and missions/ministry without going crazy or what ever, step away or from or get out of the missions/ministry. If you don’t think your replaceable, then that’s your first mistake. Follow the lead of our Shepherd, it really is that easy! Quit makin it so hard. Peace and blessings to y’all!

  16. February 21, 2012 4:09 pm

    So many of us need to hear this! Thanks for sharing it!

  17. February 21, 2012 7:27 pm


    I’ve been trying to be more inclusive with my wife and children about our mission, and acknowledging opportunities for us to be intentional as a family. I want this to become part of how we operate as a family. We teach our children in the way they should go, however we need to “show” them. This is where we may see the first fruits of what God is doing in our families. Good stuff, thanks Mike

  18. February 21, 2012 7:37 pm

    I agree with earlier commenters that one of the fundamental issues here is whether we’re looking at mission as “job” or “career” or as whole-life commitment that changes us to the core, including our lifestyle. The radical hospitality I believe we are called to means inviting the stranger INTO our homes: it means raising children who are used to having someone new at the dinner table on a regular basis and playing board games with them, but children who also know the rhythms of sabbath rest and retreat. It means children who are shaped less by “family devotion time” than by the shared habit of prayer with whomever happens to be in the house at that time … it’s a fundamental shift, a radically counter-cultural vision that recognizes households as spaces for welcome and mission into kingdom life.

    • February 21, 2012 8:27 pm

      Couldn’t agree more, Cindy. Wonderfully put!

    • February 22, 2012 9:46 am

      Read all these comments and appreciated them but this one stands out. Just got back from teaching at the YWAM base on a Principles of Children and Youth Ministry course and was impressed with how they live out what it means to be family on mission together.

  19. February 21, 2012 7:41 pm

    Amen. Amen. AMEN!

  20. February 22, 2012 1:51 pm

    Great post. My wife and I just had our 5th child. We are done now that we have our full house – jacks over queens.

    I think one of the keys to making this work is that the church needs to be more flexible and familial than corporate or professional. Planting and pastoring is not a cubicle or desk job.

  21. February 23, 2012 12:13 pm

    I wish I’d realized this earlier in life, and I’m not professing to be good at this even now, but… it helps me when I wake up and understand my wife as my very closest ‘neighbor’ (whom I’m to love as Christ loves the Church)… and those little neighbors inside our 4 walls… and think twice about the neighborhood neighbors before we drive over them with our 4×4… on our way to go do what? Ministry? Our families are the geo-closest members of the church & community… and the ones we’ll likely have the most impact with, positively or negatively. They’re not our exclusive focus, but clearly the closest, most frequent mission field & potential mission partners. And generationally, they’re the potential legacy partners who’ll carry on the mission after we’re long gone.

  22. February 23, 2012 12:50 pm

    Great thoughts, Mike! I love reading your blog.
    Thinking about Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
    I feel a great release in knowing that God’s kingdom doesn’t compete within itself. If I am truly doing what the Father does and saying what He tells me to say; if my mind is fully stayed on Him, I will have perfect peace, and He will lead me perfectly in all of the choices in life: within my marriage; with my 5 children; in ministry to children & their families.
    I don’t have to stress over what I should be doing; when I am abiding, He tells me where to go and what to do. He knows when I need rest; He knows when I need to work hard; He knows when I need to do the ministry, and He knows when others should step in. For all the books i’ve read on time management, the best take away for me is simply listen to God. He knows what time is best to go to the grocery store; when the laundry needs to be done; when meals need to be cooked – He knows everything! When I listen, I am fruitful and peaceful. When I strive and try to “self-manage”, I am stressed out, anxious, and too many things remain undone. The fun part of this now is seeing our children and other ministry partners take time to listen to God too. He is an amazing communicator!


  1. ONE LIFE | Missional Church Planting
  2. Sacrificing Family on the Altar of Mission | Breen « NC New Faith Communities
  3. Mike Breen’s February 9th Post « huddletime
  4. Learning Us Instead of Me | David Walker
  5. Families on Mission « SU Neighbourhood Outreach
  6. organic or organized? | Soma

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