I am resuming the periodic Q&A topics from blog readers. Today's question is from a college student who became a Christian in her sophomore year.
Q: Many of the college students who attend my church are encouraged to stay after graduation to continue developing relationships that we've formed here over the past four years. I am the only Christian in my family and I am struggling between making a decision to stay here or to go home in hopes of serving my family and building a better relationship with my parents and younger sibling.
Something that I am taking into consideration while making this decision is each Christian's role as a minister. At my church we are taught that second to our identity as a child of God is our role as a minister to those who don't know the gospel. As a result, our church regularly sends members of our congregation on short term missions trips and many of our couples' children attend daycare 5 days a week so that their parents (moms in particular) can be freed up to work at church and to minister to college students in the evenings. I know this is contradictory to the way many other churches have modeled family ministry as a priority, and in particular, the woman's role primarily as a wife and mother. At my church we are taught that time spent with family is a good and reasonable desire, but not at the expense of neglecting our responsibilities to bring the gospel to the unreached on college campuses in the area, as well as unreached nations abroad. In other words, for women to make family a priority, serving primarily our husband and children while others around us have need of saving, has been termed as an inappropriate way to live in view of the urgency of the gospel message.
I respect my leaders and consider them very godly, Kingdom-oriented people who want to usher in eternal life for as many people as possible. They're people who have personally devoted a lot of prayers, time, and energy into ministering to others beyond their own nuclear family and I greatly appreciate all the love, training, and spiritual guidance that I have received from them. However, I am having trouble understanding the role of Biblical femininity within the context of our church. I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on this? Why is it important for a woman to prioritize serving her husband and children during her marriage and parenting years -- does that limit one's potential to be a blessing to many? Is it a selfish desire? Is it appropriate for me to want to minister to my parents and sister at the expense of being more fully involved in a ministry within the church?
A: These are great questions to ask and I am glad that you are thinking them through at this stage in your life. You should be commended for having this kind of foresight as your evaluate the teaching and lifestyles of those around you. And I'm glad to share my perspective with you.
First, I don't think there is any tension at all with serving God, unbelievers, and one's family--nor should there be. It requires wisdom to know how to do all three well, and what happens when, but thinking that one is at the expense of another is false thinking right from the outset. I base my answer on the whole counsel of Scripture, and specifically on the passages that address wives in particular (Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, Titus 2). Those passages address issues for godly living as individuals and as a community of people who adorn the gospel. The idea that a wise woman impacts her family, church, and community is seen in these passages. Therefore, to split them up is not only unbiblical, but is actually the result of secular thinking. (See the chapter about the home and the private sphere in my book, Radical Womanhood, for a fuller explanation of that point.)
While I very glad to know that your church leaders are passionate about evangelism, I wonder why outreach to college students can't be done in the context of family? In a world of broken families, why can't a college student be welcomed into a family, to see Christ among a happy and whole family, instead of shuttling children into daycare and ministry taking place in fractured settings? I was nodding away with what you wrote until I got to how the model was taking place. It rather grieved me to think that all these children were being shuffled off to other people so that their mothers could be busy ministering to other people. The funny thing is that unbelievers are always measuring the quality of our gospel by the quality of our commitments. The divorces, fractured families, and broken children contradict the gospel message of redemption and reconciliation. And that's why building a solid family is never a limit to being a blessing to many unbelievers. The ministry that is required to go deep with a limited set of people over many years is MUCH more powerful than what is required to go an inch deep with a mile wide set of strangers. All of what you listed doesn't have to be done at the expense of family life. In fact, outreach should build family life. In my opinion, it helps children to have a better perspective of themselves and other people when they realize they are not the fulcrum of the universe--when they can see that their parents are also concerned about other people and expect their children to join with them in caring for them.
That said, at different points in life this balance will look different. The mother of young children will not have the same kind of outreach time/opportunities as the mother of older children. And for the record, I am not saying that mothers should not have some adult conversation time and outreach. In fact, I think it's great when husbands take the initiative to give their wives the time to have evangelistic and discipleship time apart from their children. It's the five-days-a-week-and-evenings-too model I am addressing here.