Ministry as Treasure Hunting

I’ve been re-reading Paul David Tripp’s book Parenting.  Last time I read it, I was struck to the core by many of the things that were said, but I was reading it quickly, trying to get it done for a book review for Propeller Marketing Group.  If you’ve been regularly reading my blog, you’ve probably noticed that all the reading and writing reviews for various companies is done because I’ve decided that I just want to be free to read what I want, but I still write book reviews because I enjoy interacting with the books. (That’s a blog post for another day.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading through Parenting, and I have found so many good things.  There were already some things that I had underlined and thought about from my first reading, but on this reading, I have to admit that there is something highlighted or underlined on every page.

In the portion that I’ve been reading, Tripp has been talking about parents as treasure hunters because, as he says,

everything you do and say in your life, every choice that you make, and everything you decide to invest in is a reflection of a system of internalized values in your heart.

He urges us to examine ourselves and to see what, if someone were to take a video of us for the past two months, they would find to be of true value to us. Or to examine our parenting over the past few months and decide what value our parenting is to us.

I was already starting to feel a little embarrassed at this point, like I valued my books and my studies more than I valued my children. By studies, I’m not just talking about the daily Bible reading that I need to stay on course in my life, but the studies just for the sake of learning.

Tripp then goes on to give several specific examples of situations where parents might want to examine their motivations. Some of them are quite controversial. Such as, when both parents work to be able to buy all the new toys, etc, but their children are left in daycare because success in work and career comes before the children.  He gives examples where Dad is almost absent from children’s lives because he’s at work from when they get up until almost time for them to go to bed.

Then, he gets to the one that tends to be a sin for me. (It completely shatters me to call my ministry work a sin.)

I am deeply persuaded that for many people, it is their commitment to ministry that constantly gets in the way of doing what God has called them to do as parents. Perhaps this is the most deceptive treasure temptation of all. There are many, many ministry fathers and mothers who ease their guilty consciences about their inattention and absence by telling themselves that they are doing “the Lord’s work.” So they accept another speaking engagement, another short-term missions trip, another ministry move, or yet another evening meeting thinking that their values are solidly biblical, when they are consistently neglecting a significant part of what God has called them to. Sadly, their children grow up thinking of Jesus as the one who over and over again took their mom and dad from them.

I find that completely soul shattering on many levels. Ministry work is a good thing.  Every Christian needs ministry and service opportunities as part of the body of Christ.  However, sometimes I find that my identity is completely a part of my ministry commitments. Maybe it’s because I’m a stay-at-home mom that ministry is so consuming or identifying for me. My ministry can direct my Bible study and often be the reason why I open my Bible up on the morning. That’s a painful statement to admit. Here’s another snippet from this section that echoes how I feel

If you get your identity, meaning and purpose, reason for getting up in the morning, and inner peace from your ministry, you are asking your ministry to be your own personal messiah, and because you are, it will be very hard for your to say no, and because it is hard for you to say no, you will tend to neglect important time-relationship commitments you should be making with your children.

And just in case you still think your ministry might be important enough to place it ahead of your parenting commitment, Tripp tacks on these words.

The Bible is very clear that God is not so unloving, unwise, unfaithful and unkind as to call us to one command that will necessitate the breaking of another of his commands. HIs commands are not competing demands that flow out of competing value systems. They are a single fabric of threads that, woven together, define that it means to live in a way that is good, right, beautiful and pleasing to him.

I have found that I often put my energy and priority into my ministry and trust that what will be left over afterwards will be enough for the parenting of my children (which is the first and most important ministry that his has given me). It pains me to see that in writing. It pains me to admit that my ministry commitments often squeeze out my focus and energy as a mom. It’s especially painful to write that as a homeschooling mother because when we decided to homeschool, we decided what a big part of my life would be taken up with.

Again, I never want to denigrate ministry because I think it’s a good thing.  Also, since the first time I read this book, I have seriously paired down my ministry commitments.  I went from teaching 3 classes a week, facilitating a weekly Bible study and having a disciple to teaching 1 class a week and having a disciple (and providing support for my husband’s ministry commitments).  I have given serious consideration to each of my ministry commitments and how they fit into God’s plan for my life. I have pared down much of the physical preparation and commitment that I was needing each week for my classes.

Yet, I still find that I prioritize the ministry outside the home above the ministry in the home in time, preparation and love. I find that my heart attitude is to derive my identity from my role as a teacher and not my belonging to Christ. That is sin, not matter how acceptable and Christianized that sin might be. I can only pray that God will draw my wondering heart back to him and to the high calling that he has put before me.

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