Over a decade ago when in the throes of parenting a preschooler, a toddler and a baby, I attended a regional ladies conference that had invited a prominent Christian speaker. By this point in my life, I had dabbled in Christian women’s speaking engagements and was trying to reconcile the high and full calling of motherhood with the sense that God might also be calling me to teach Christian women in some capacity. In my mind, the legitimacy of each calling wasn’t in question. It was their relationships to one another that I found murky.
Desperate for some seasoned advice, I took a moment in the dining hall to ask the speaker my burning question: How had she balanced the two callings when her children were young? Bursting with anticipation to finally learning the key to it all, I waited for the life changing wisdom to pour from her lips. Instead, my question was met with a slight grimace as she said, “Honestly, I wasn’t a very happy or content mother when my kids were little.”
And that was it.
She confessed to not doing a great job in the parenting department at times while she managed both callings. I thanked her and walked away initially disheartened by what I had heard. However, as I thought more about it, I understood that God used her transparency to provide the very challenge I needed for my journey. The slipperiness of getting it right, as evidenced by her response, drove me to scripture to find the biblical principles that would help me nurture peaceful coexistence between motherhood & ministry.
You see, I knew that if God had placed both callings on my life, he wouldn’t do so at the expense of either one of them. So the answer had to be out there. I walked away from that conversation resolved to never have to give that answer if a younger mom came to me with the same question.
Fast forward a decade to this past summer when a former pastor connected me with a talented young woman who had a proven ability to teach, and baby number one on the way.
Any guesses as to what her question was?
After our lunch discussion, I figured there might be more called and competent young mothers out there asking the same question. If that’s you, friend, then consider this your invitation to pull up a chair and join our conversation. Though this advice doesn’t come with a burger slathered in onions and goat cheese, these principles I commend to you as crucial in considering motherhood and ministry, not as conflicts, but as the beautiful complements God designed them to be when he gifted us with both children and a passion for ministry.
- The Prerequisite Principle (Luke 16:10, 1 Timothy 3:4-5)
Good stewardship in the realm of motherhood is a key indicator of our suitability for and probable stewardship of any broader ministry opportunities God might give us. If we aren’t faithful to model Christlikeness or be conduits of grace and wisdom to our messy toddlers or emotional teens, why would God entrust the women of our church or region to us?
Motherhood is not a hurdle between us and ministry. It is the testing ground that determines our spiritual fitness and heart motive. If we fritter away the hours and years of obscure ministry to our children while pining for more impressive or exciting ministry opportunities, we expose a heart that craves acknowledgement, not service. A desire to impress, not influence.
Our management of those invisible years and small opportunities is what God takes into account when he hands out bigger assignments. Our concern should be faithfulness. His concern is scope.
- The Audience Principle (Prov. 22:29)
Excellence in anything, parenting included, earns us an audience with people. Excellence in the small moments of everyday motherhood is never wasted effort. In addition to pleasing God and blessing the socks off our dear ones, that excellence produces the remarkable byproduct of expanded influence.
If we can display God’s wisdom as worked out practically in our marriages, in our parenting and in our homes, it lends validity to our message. Motherhood is not a barrier between us and ministry, it is a robust platform from which we can speak a credible message that people are willing to hear.
- The Expendability Principle (2 Tim. 2:20-21, Psalm 50:10-12)
We would do well to remember that God is not limited in any of his resources. People included. He can always find another person for any ministry role within the community of faith. On the flip side, there is no one on the planet who can adequately take our place as mother to our children. That being the case, it is purely logical to invest more heavily in the roles that only we can play.
If we pass over a ministry opportunity or hand it off to someone else, it will usually carry on and most likely, we will be forgotten in short order. If we leave a void in our motherhood role, that absence could be felt for decades or a lifetime – an abdication that I believe we will be held to high account for because of the specialized stewardship God has entrusted to us by giving us children. In ministry, we are expendable. In motherhood, we are not.
- The Patience Principle (Gen. 41:46, I Chr. 23:3, 2 Sam. 5:4, Luke 3:23, Gal. 6:7-9, Eph. 2:10)
It has helped me settle in to the more obscure seasons of ministry to my family when I remember that the opportunity to invest heavily in my children lasts for less than two decades, while the opportunity to minister broadly to the Body of Christ spans six or seven.
When I was younger, it wasn’t that I wouldn’t get to minister in the way I hoped to that troubled me. It was that I couldn’t do it when I wanted to do it. I wanted to do big things when I was young and cool. When I would hear phrases like “wise beyond her years”. When it was novel for someone my age to accomplish some great ministry feat. You know – before I started showing up to ladies conferences in permed hair, sensible pumps and a matching pantsuit.
Not to squelch the fires of youthful enthusiasm, but when I was younger, I clamoured for a broader ministry and called it “urgency”. But truth be known, I was over-spiritualizing my motives. My hurry was pride driven. “Let me at the world because I’m amazing and it needs me.”
Then I noticed in scripture that Joseph, David, the Levites and Jesus were all thirty years old when they began to rule or minister. I realized that God might want a little more life on some of us (and the accompanying wisdom and humility it usually brings with it) before he hands over ministry of greater scope. And, by virtue of the delay in our culture’s launch into adulthood, we could argue that 40 or 50 is the new 30. So we may need to sit tight and let God equip us a bit more through family life before we’ll know what we need to know, and become who we need to be.
Take heart in this: If we are living the way God wants us to live and being faithful in the small tasks and obscure spheres God has placed us in, he sees it all and he won’t ever let us miss any opportunity he has arranged for us.
- The Seasonality Principle (Psalm 1:3, Ecc. 3:1)
Late this summer I worshipped my way through a local Ontario nectarine, thanking God for creating these succulent treasures that literally grow on trees. As I leaned over my kitchen sink to catch all the drips, I thought, “How much sweeter fruit is in its season!” I had given up trying to buy certain fruits out of season because they were always dry, pulpy and tasteless.
It dawned on me that what is true of peaches and clementines is true of motherhood and ministry:
When we try to produce fruit outside of the season that creates the best conditions for it, we can get it done, but the fruit is dry and forced and lacks the sweet delight of fruit borne at the proper time.
Too many Christian women are exhausting themselves to produce fruit in the wrong season. If we could recognize which fruit grows readily in the environment and conditions of our current life stage, and focus on that for now, we won’t miss the strawberries of young motherhood because we’re trying to produce the pumpkins of the empty nest. And in the seasons to come, we won’t find ourselves reaching back to try and produce fruit in our families that we missed out on, only to grieve at the discovery that the conditions for that fruit to grow are no longer right.
Motherhood vs. Ministry. The stakes are high. If we allow these roles to conflict during pivotal parenting stages, we risk squandering irreplaceable years and undermining the health of family relationships which will ultimately weaken the credibility of the very ministry we have sacrificed the sweet fruit of family for.
In the end, both things we treasure may be stunted. In our well-meaning but misguided eagerness to bring glory to God through our life and ministry, we may fall short of the very objective we set out to achieve.
Dear sister who desires to make much of Christ – may these biblical principles guide you as they have guided me. And whatever season you find yourself in, may the fruit be sweet.