Moving the family

Moving the Family

One of the realities of ministry is that God’s call might move you to pastures new. What effect can such a calling can have on your family?

I was recently asked: “How have you coped with moving your children from one ministry situation to another?”

The question gives voice to fears many ministry wives wrestle with: are we doing what’s right and best for our family by serving in pastoral ministry? Is it fair for our children to be impacted by the demands and challenges of ministry life? Is it reasonable to expect them to make sacrifices for the sake of our ministry? Do we risk making them bitter towards God and disinterested in following Christ themselves?

For me, moving my children to a new ministry situation wasn’t especially difficult. They were aged 3 and 1 at the time, and not enrolled in a nursery or any regular activities apart from the church toddler group. My daughter had friends at church, but the friendships of a 3-year-old are not as established or integral to life as those of a 10-year-old, so leaving them behind wasn’t especially upsetting for her. She is still very close to two of her infant friends we have kept in touch with and considers herself blessed to have close friends in both church families.

Moving with young children provides many easy opportunities to get to know people – both within the church family and within the local community. My happy 1-year-old boy was a magnet for attention and affection at church, in the park, at the supermarket, in the street. My daughter was ready to start nursery which made it easy for me to meet other mums in the community, many of whom were looking for friendship and support. We quickly forged new friendships and became part of a new community and, although I missed my old friends, my children were barely aware we’d moved!

I’m grateful we moved when our children were young, but the question has given me pause for thought. How would I have coped if they were older and more affected by a move? Or if we had moved further away and were less able to keep in touch with close friends? Would I still be able to say it was good for my children to be uprooted from their home and church family? How would I address their sadness or anger or resentment towards us and towards ministry?

The Big Picture

Psalm 139 teaches us that all our days have been ordained by our sovereign heavenly Father who created us perfectly, knows us intimately, and is with us eternally. Before he created us, he chose us to be his people and purposed that we would live to serve him. Our days were ordained by him and written in his book before one of them came to be (v 16). His plans for our days are already determined – where we will live; what we will do; how we will serve.

This should give us confidence for two reasons:

  1. We can’t mess up God’s plans for our lives. We worry about making wrong decisions – especially when considering ministry moves. But the good news is that God has already prepared the places for us to live and the people for us to serve. We need to be prayerful and wise in our decision-making. We ask questions, seek advice from those equipped to guide us, and consider a ministry call both objectively and subjectively. But we do so with confidence in God’s plans and in his power in bringing them to fruition.
  2. We can’t mess up God’s plans for our children’s lives. If our days are ordained for us by a good, wise and loving Father, then so are our children’s. As we seek to obey his will for our lives, we do so confident this is also his will for our children. As we trust him to do what is loving and best for us, we do so confident this is also what is loving and best for our children. As we trust him to provide for our needs, we do so confident he will also provide for our children’s needs.

As we consider a ministry move we can trust God to provide for and care for our children in it. We can entrust their fears, anxieties, disappointments, sorrows and anger to him; he is more than able to work through each one.

But I wonder if it’s entirely right to say we trust God to work for good in our children’s lives despite the sacrifices of ministry. I wonder if the sacrifices of ministry are the good gifts he has given both them and us to enable us to live our lives here as he intends.

Not Home Yet

Most Christian parents I know are rightly concerned that their children grow up to know and love God for themselves. We want our children to love and obey his word; and we want them to flee from sin and pursue holiness. These are good and appropriate desires. Most of us work hard to prepare and equip our children to live godly adult lives. We teach them how to make wise decisions; we encourage them to discern between right and wrong. We show them how to love others; work diligently; and live peacefully.

But many of us, perhaps, also work a little too hard to protect our children from changes that might unsettle or upset them. We work hard to protect them from anything that may worry or confuse them. And, as a mum, I understand why. We want our children to feel safe, secure, confident, happy. But surely, we also want them to live with their eyes on eternity and not on the temporary things of this earth. We want them to understand they are aliens and strangers in this world; exiles who don’t belong.

Our children need to know that none of us are home yet; that our true home is in eternity on the New Earth. Like us, our children should be looking forward to and longing for that home. And that inevitably means feeling unsettled and not “at home” here.

There’s a sense in which it’s good for our children to experience the loneliness of being new or not quite accepted by their peers – so they begin to long for the welcome of the Father who will always accept them. It’s good for them to feel they don’t quite belong – so they begin to long for the place where they truly belong.

It’s good for them to feel they are different to those around them because if they belong to Christ they are different. They should think differently, behave differently, live differently.

As Christian parents, we don’t want our children to settle easily in this world. We don’t want them to be completely satisfied with their lives or free from struggle and difficulty. If they are at home here – if they are too settled, too satisfied, too content in this world – they won’t long for eternity.

Being part of a ministry family may mean our children experience a bit of moving around. Perhaps they’ll never make a lifelong friend – a BFF (best friend forever) they grow up with from nursery to university. Perhaps they’ll live in several different houses, know several different neighbours and be part of several different church families. But what if this is God’s gracious gift to them?

In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller writes,

“We are all exiles, always longing for home. We are always travelling, never arriving. The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home.”

This is a truth we so often forget. We settle into our temporary dwelling places; we enjoy making our houses beautiful and comfortable; we look for opportunities to become part of our communities. And there’s nothing really wrong with this. Except that, we forget we’re not home. We forget we’re exiles, travelling home but not yet having reached our destination. We forget we are meant to feel the restlessness of travelling but never arriving. We forget we are meant to feel a longing for our true home that can’t be satisfied until we reach it. So what if our “ministry move” is not so much a costly sacrifice but one of God’s gracious gifts to enable us to remember to long for home? What if it’s his gift to equip our children to understand and experience this longing for home while they are young?

Truly Home

Our earthly homes are temporary dwelling places that prepare us for an everlasting home. The restlessness we experience while we live on this earth inspires hope in the perfect rest we will know on the New Earth. The loneliness we struggle with serves to remind us that we are exiles in this life, but our exile ends in the New Jerusalem. We need to remember this, and our children need to remember it too.

So how do we cope with moving our children from one ministry situation to another? We remember our heavenly Father is sovereign over our lives and theirs. We trust in his good, wise and loving plans for our lives and theirs. As families, we remember we are exiles in this world and we allow the symptoms of exile – loneliness, insecurity, a lack of belonging - to serve as reminders that our true home awaits us.

Article image by Fantastic Removals (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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