How Much Should a Mom Minister Outside the Home?

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Tug of war.  That’s what comes to mind when I think of this question.  On one end of the rope, I see this narcissistic, household-consumed version of myself who dreams about Pottery Barn bedding and pre-school drama to the neglect of all the people beyond the four walls of my home.  On the other end of the rope, I see this frazzled, crazy version of myself delivering homemade casseroles to every sick family in church while my own kids eat microwavable corn dogs in front of the TV.

How do we find balance?  I always assumed I just needed to find the “middle of the rope.”  Which is a very vague way of saying, “just try harder to be, well…balanced.”  If you could see my schedule now, I think it would look fairly balanced on the outside.  I serve in two different ministries at church, which helped me say “no” to serving in a third ministry outside of church.  We spend a few evenings a week with others, and a few at home by ourselves.  But the truth is, this isn’t really an outward question.  It’s not a logical, “what does your schedule look like?” kind of question.  It’s an emotional and spiritual question, often laden with guilt, presuppositions, and preferences.  A heart question.  And as we all know, our schedule can look ship-shape while our heart is in turmoil.

On Sunday night I dropped my kids off at our church nursery so I could serve at a youth event.  It was a whiny, reluctant drop-off because “What?!  So-and-so-friend isn’t here tonight?!”  Being the godly mom that I am, I promised them each a cupcake when the event was over, and said good-bye.  As the youth band played I thought about…my kids.  And my kids, and my kids, and my kids.  “Oh God,” I prayed, “I want to be present here tonight.  I want to serve these high school students.  Help me recognize that I’m called to more than just my family.”  And as His peace washed over me, a new thought occurred.  Maybe ministering inside and outside the home aren’t on two different ends of a rope. Maybe, in God’s perfect design, they actually work together to make us better at both

Think about it like this: how do we become the kind of women who have the character and wisdom to shepherd those outside our home?  By first being faithful inside our home.  A reader once referred me to an article in which a married blogger was reluctant to have children because she didn’t want to shortchange her ministry.  The blogger explained that when she got married, she felt like she took a “back seat” to her husband in ministry.  The last thing she wanted was to have children and be rendered entirely invisible at their church.  The blogger’s conclusion was to abandon gender roles, whereby she and her husband could do all things interchangeably.

The reader who referred me to this article was understandably confused by it.  “Is this the right perspective?” she asked me.  In my opinion, no.  It’s not.  I can say that with confidence because the Bible flips this perspective upside-down.  In Titus 2:3-5, Paul instructs, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Clearly, God is passionate about the home.  So passionate, in fact, that one of the chief ways he wants women to minister to other women is by training them to be faithful in the home!  How can we fulfill this mandate if we’re never home learning these lessons ourselves?  In this way, our home isn’t an obstacle to ministry, it’s a platform and training ground for it.

On the flip side, I also believe that as we embrace God’s calling to serve those outside our home, we become better wives and mothers to those within the home!  Think about it like this: what message are we sending our children if we’re constantly consumed with them?  More importantly, is it a biblical one?  Growing up, my mom imparted many lessons to me without ever saying a word.  As she counseled sobbing women on the sofa, I learned that she was more than just my mom, and that there were things that were more important than playing tea party with me right now!  I learned that there was great suffering in the world, and one of the ways we could love Jesus was by loving others.

So how do we find balance?  I think it begins with that popular word we all love so much…submission.  If you resent the way your family limits your freedom in ministry, you need to submit to the biblical truth that God has called you to serve your family, trusting that as you obey Him, He will groom you to more effectively minister to others.  If you idolize your family to the neglect of the rest of the body of Christ, you need to submit to the biblical truth that the best way to love your family is to make Jesus primary, trusting that in doing this, you will be a better wife and mom.  Either way, the answer lies in submitting our own preferences and personal agendas to Christ.

Here are a few practical questions I’ve been stewing over as I check my own heart:

  • Do I regularly meet my husband and children’s needs for love, attention, and affirmation?  If they were honest, what would they say?  
  • Is the way that I manage our household a blessing or a burden to my family?
  • Does it concern me when I hear that others are suffering?  Does my prayer life reflect this concern?  Do my actions?
  • Am I open and sensitive to God leading me to serve others, or am I quick to assume “I’ve got my hands full”?
  • Is there an area outside my home where I have felt burdened to serve God, but have not obeyed?   Is there an area outside my home where my husband has challenged me to serve God, but I have been unwilling to even consider it? 
  • Has my husband, or a spiritual mentor, ever suggested I may be over-committed in ministry, to the detriment of my family or my own well-being? 
  • Why am I motivated to serve my family and others?  Am I motivated by love for Christ, or love for myself?

Clearly God has called us to both the home and those outside of it.  That can only mean these two mandates are not at odds with one another, but rather, working together to make us the women he wants us to be.  Forget tug of war.  Instead, picture a bicycle with two pedals pumping in unison.  One propels the other forward, and vice versa.  It’s the only way the bike can balance.

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12 thoughts on “How Much Should a Mom Minister Outside the Home?

  1. Kistibell

    This is so, so good. It is a balance I constantly struggle with, so I think I should come back and read this every couple months. Thank you for sharing what you are learning.

    Reply
  2. Anne Wenger

    This struggle has gone on for years. You gave such a Biblical approach to consider as individuals determine how much “ministry outside the home” to attempt. The church has suffered sometimes when women go to either extreme. Much of one’s ministry during child rearing years can be done within the home and including children. Visits to elderly, inviting others into the home, reading or teaching neighborhood children Bible stories along with your own children are a few ideas. I love how you reflect having learned from your sweet and wise mother.

    Reply
  3. Rebekah

    I saw the title of this post just before hopping into bed last night and gave a verbal, “YES!” with excitement. My husband looked at me. “This is EXACTLY the question I was asking myself today!” He gave me a weird look, but I didn’t care. SO this morning..I finally got to read it, and want to say thank you. Jeanne, this truly is what I am struggling with RIGHT NOW! I love my family, but recently have actually started caring about the world outside my home. They are suffering, hurting, and dying. I’ve been learning compassion is an emotion that is intended to drive us to action. But I feel torn because I want to do both, inside and outside the home. I feel like I NEED to do both. Do I just leave my family and run out to the parking lot of the strip club with my megaphone, yelling, “Jesus loves you!” Maybe. I’m not sure. I don’t want to abandon my role at home, yet I don’t want to forsake the world. I don’t want to be like the lady on the movie the Secratariat who just leaves her family in the dust, to watch a horse race. (She missed like 2 years of her kids lives! That movie was a tragedy!!!) Anyway, your article helped give me such perspective. I like the idea of the bicycle opposed to the rope. “How do we do this TOGETHER?” I am trusting The Lord will show us how to love the world outside, together. And also, I need to make JESUS primary, like you said. When He is in the center, John Piper says, that He is like the sun, in the center, making all the planets go in perfect orbit. When He is the center, I think it all becomes more simple, and clear. He brings a freedom element to the picture, and joy. He makes the yoke easy and the burden light. And I think what He calls us to do then becomes the inevitable thing, we know and feel we were born to do at that moment. I need to keep processing this. But thank you!!

    P.S. Please write a book! Or just print all your posts into a book. I need to read your words over and over again, and highlight them, and think about them. And live them. 😉

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      Love this! You made my morning with your energy and passion! I too am still thinking through it. I love the Piper analogy about Jesus being the sun/center that brings clarity and simplicity to life. Thank you for reading and for all the encouragement!!

      Reply
  4. Lauren Metzler Washer

    This is such a timely post! My sister and I were just discussing this ‘tug of war’ yesterday. You’ve touched on the double aspect of it beautifully. Yes, God is passionate about our family and about the world. I don’t know if there are any hard fast ‘rules’ to it, but I like the picture of a bicycle. If we are striving to teach our children what it looks like to follow Jesus, then they have to see that in action: loving our neighbor, giving to those in need, encouraging others within the body of Christ, and yes, being busy at home with our husbands and children. The questions you listed at the end are wonderful. And I think any woman who is struggling with this balance is in the right place. I’m asking those same questions with you and praying for God to continue giving the wisdom He promises in living out our God-given roles, whatever those might be.

    ps – I recognize you and your husband from CIU. I think I was ahead of you by a couple of years, but I definitely remember your faces. Looking forward to following along on your blog now that I’ve found you. Thanks for sharing your heart and pointing others to Jesus through this space.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Balance is compromise . Sin is compromise . Ask God about everything . Do not lean upon your own understanding . Jesus said I only do as I see my father do. Jesus asked the Father about everything he did. This is the picture of how we are supposed to live . Jesus life on this earth is the picture. Stop using your own reason . Ask God what He wants . He had a plan for you before you were ever conceived.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Well said, Anonymous. I was thinking the same thing. The “Experiencing God” Bible Study spelled out what you said to a tee and how that looks in everyday life. The relationship with Him is everything. He doesn’t call us to balance, He calls us to a relationship. As we daily walk with Him, He will show us where He is at work and through a combination of scripture reading, prayer, circumstances and the response of Godly people, we will know if we are to join with Him in His work. It is so individualized because He wants to have a personal relationship with each of us.

      Reply
  6. Emily Jensen

    This is one of the best and most clear explanations with this issue that I’ve ever read. I think you hit the nail right on the head – EVERYTHING must be submitted to Christ. If we gravitate to always being with our kids, we need to lean on him to look outward. If we gravitate towards always being away from our families, we need to know that God can do his work in and through our home life. I’ve shared this on my FB page with my readers, because I have wanted to write about this for a while but this really did it with so much clarity and I know it will encourage many moms to let Jesus reign supreme!

    Reply
  7. alivingflame

    Reblogged this on A Living Flame and commented:
    I found this article a blessing and I hope that you will too. I hope to write a follow up in the near future but look forward to your feedback first. All you single ladies, feel free to share your perspective of us moms too!

    Reply

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