Working in youth ministry has taught me a lot, mostly how far I still have to go to become like Jesus. Still, the lessons I have learned are priceless and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. One of the lessons I learned is that if you want to know how a person truly serves the Lord, ask their family members. Ministry begins at home.

#Double standards

In our church youth ministries, I get to hang out with all kinds of people, teenagers and adults alike. Sometimes, I see a teenager who is looked up to by fellow teens and also praised by adults because of the way he or she accepts responsibility, serves others, and/or has a special gift for making people laugh. And sometimes another side comes to light, a side told by the people that live with that teen every single day.

Actually, if you are a parent, this won’t come as a surprise. Our teens often act differently outside the home than inside. They are quick to volunteer to help others, they say “please” and “thank you,” and they are kind and forgiving towards their friends. Yet, we just can’t seem to get them to pick up their dirty socks or treat their brother or sister with the same love and forgiveness that they do their buddies. And many of these teens are some of the very ones who want to go into “ministry.” They want to become preachers and missionaries, wives of pastors, worship leaders, Bible translators, and somehow they have drawn a line in their hearts that says ministry is something that you “go into” and something you do for “other people” in the name of God, people outside of your family members, that is.

Family first

Now if you’re like me, you are probably wondering where the kids came up with this idea. May I gently direct your attention to the moms and dads who are so busy serving others in the name of the Lord that their spouses and kids get the crumbs, the leftovers of their love, respect, and attention. I guess it’s easy to see why so many of our Christian kids have the idea that ministry begins outside of the home. Was that a gulp I just heard? It’s OK, I couldn’t tell if it was yours or mine.

Isn’t it ironic how much more patient, kind, and loving we are towards people we probably won’t have much to do with in five years than we are towards the very people who will be holding our hand when we die? Wouldn’t it be great if we poured the majority of our energy into our family first, before pouring it into the lives of others?

Wouldn’t it be life-changing if family members were included in those people that should be served in the name of God? What a difference it would make if we spoke lovingly and patiently to the very ones under our own roof, and instead of tearing one another down, we sought to treat each other like friends! And what if parents would treat their kids with the same patience and tenderness that they use with the kids in their Sunday school classes?

Put your family first. Give them the best, not what is left over.

As Christians, we are a light to the world; a testimony of the grace given us through Jesus Christ. Our neighbors are watching. What do they see when they look at our families? What do they overhear? Shouting? Laughter? What do the cashiers observe when we go through the checkout line with a tired and cranky two year old? A mom gritting her teeth and giving the “you’re-gonna-get-it-when-we-get-to-the-car” look, or a mom who takes a deep breath and prays, “Oh God, give me your love and patience to pass on to this child of ours! I am in need, Father.”

The Family Ministry Golden Rule

The solution is what I call the “Family Ministry Golden Rule” that goes a step beyond the regular golden rule: treat your family members as you would like them to treat you and see them as your most important ministry.

Yes, the actual practice is harder, much more challenging, and dare I say it … more humbling, because the people at church won’t see these good deeds. But remember that the rewards will be plentiful and are well worth the sacrifice of pride. Put your family first. Give them the best, not what is left over. Write them notes of encouragement as you would others in the Body of Christ. Offer to do their chores when they’ve had a bad day. Bring some soup to their bedside when they aren’t feeling well. Share with them the great things God is doing in your life just like you would share with your closest companions. Use the good china and fancy napkins for them. Think of all those neat things that you joyfully do for others, and then do them for your family.

I have to stop writing now. My husband would like to spend time with me because he has forgotten what my face looks like, since he so often sees the back of my head in front of a computer. Oh, and the kids? They went to bed already. But I stopped typing long enough to kiss them goodnight! Ugh. I did it again. Oh God, give me your grace once more and please keep teaching me how to be a powerful instrument of your love in my greatest ministry, my family.

Photo Credit: Caleb Woods