Posted on 13 Comments

Family First?

Family First?

Once upon a time there was a volunteer youth worker. She was committed to her church, had invested into the students of the congregation for years, and saw class after class graduate through the ranks of the student ministry.

And she lived happily ever after.

Until…

Once upon a time there was a spouse of a volunteer youth worker. He also loved his church and was thankful that his wife had found a place to use her spiritual gifts, share her heart, apply her abilities, maximize her personality and employ her experiences. She almost seemed to be a better person because of it.

The only problem was she never seemed to be home.

It didn’t seem like much at first to give up going to the same church service together since there was another one right after. Their young son really liked the class the church offered at the first service, though. Consequently, the husband would take the son to children’s church and sit through the first service by himself. Since his wife taught during that hour, it became common for them to never attend service together as a couple.

Then there were the times that he noted when she was home she wasn’t fully present. There was always another lesson to plan, another student to call or another meeting to be at. Even though he found his wife to be a much healthier Christian for all she was doing, he began to resent how unhealthy his marriage was becoming.

He spoke up a few times about it and asked her to cut back. She did at first, but then drifted back into the same load of a commitment. He thought about bringing it up again but felt like he was the voice of Satan himself for even thinking it.

Finally, the day came when he asked for a divorce. It was enough to scare her to back out of everything altogether. They had conversation after conversationover the next few months, eventually agreeing not to get a divorce. She eventually went back to teaching “a little bit.”

And they lived amicably ever after.

Until…

Once upon a time there was a paid youth pastor. He started to notice that his faithful volunteer was back in full force, although her husband was strangely absent at weekend services.

How’s your husband these days,“ the youth pastor inquired. “I haven’t seen him around.”

He started attending another church,” she answered. “I don’t like it, but at least we’re not divorced. Our son comes with me most weeks and I check him into children’s church before I go teach.

Wait, what?” the youth pastor again asked. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

We’re managing everything just fine,” she responded. “He has his life, and I have mine. Besides, this way I get to serve and make a real difference in the lives of the students. And we don’t argue as much. He feels closer to God than ever before.”

And they lived adequately ever after.

Until…

Once upon a time there was a senior pastor. The youth pastor reported all that he’d learned of the situation, asking what the most biblical response should be to the situation. It felt wrong somehow, and yet the couple seemed okay with it. After thinking long and hard and praying on it, the senior pastor offered this advice that he sensed was the most God-honoring way to proceed:

(fill in the blank)

Posted on 13 Comments

13 thoughts on “Family First?

  1. God made the family as a single unit, and I feel that God would want it to remain as such. I would feel that the youth worker should have either included her husband in on the service a long time ago, or she should have left the position long ago. Since we’re not talking about long ago, I’d advise right now leaving the church she’s at now and going to the church of her husband, even if it means plugging back in there again. A youth worker isn’t any help to the youth if her personal unit isn’t together.

    I could see how this would go a little further. If you were the youth worker, and you were to listen to my advice, then I could see some outcomes. You might say that your husband/wife doesn’t want to work with youth, that they don’t feel that it’s their calling. That’s fine, and entirely alright. Youth isn’t everybody’s calling. Find out what his/her calling is, and work with them. Maybe they like administration? All programs (notice, I didn’t say youth programs…I mean ALL programs) could use more organization. Maybe he/she does good with adults? How about a class for the parents of either the youth or the children? Plug him in at the same time that you’re missing “big church” and then attend “big church” together later.

    What about the other direction, the one of leaving the church that she’s at now? Again, if you were the youth worker, I could see some different outcomes. If you were to think that you are NEEDED by that youth program, then who are you to think that God can’t work with other members of the congregation to work with the youth program? It’s not a mean thing to say, it’s simply saying that God works through people, and if God wants that youth program to grow, then He’ll deal with it.

    Why go through such drastic measures in this case? Because whenever we become married, we become one flesh. You can’t be one flesh at two different points. Rejoin the flesh, and become one again.

    1. This is solid counsel. I really believe (as you indicate) that God is honored in unity and not division. The challenge may be that the spouse can’t feel like they’re a tag-a-long because they’re supposed to be in the ministry versus really wanting to be there. Your latter suggestion is also touchy – we all want to think we’re indispensable to the students, but there was likely a youth worker in place before we were and/or will be one when we aren’t there any more.

  2. Too often we have made the Christian life about what we do as believers, as ministers, as members of the great Country Club in the (Future) Sky. It’s easy to see how families can slip into a scenario like the one you described…and unfortunately in our church subculture…we often implicitly (and in some instances, explicitly) encourage volunteers to make sure OUR ministry is a top priority above all else.

    I may be a bit more hot-headed than some 😉 but the most God-honoring way to proceed in this situation, in my mind, is to coach the volunteer into recognizing her family is God’s first and foremost ordained ministry for her, the teens in the youth group are…well, not. The church is not here to exist as a product for people to consume, but as a community of believers moving towards Jesus, together. If her husband, son, and her can’t figure out how to make that work with the pressure and responsibility and balance of serving in a particular way, they need to step out of serving and pursue community together. Or serve together. But at the very least, be a family unit (the institution of spiritual formation that was instigated in Scripture, not youth group).

    Great post. Thanks Tony!

    1. Thanks, Sam! I really appreciate the distinction you make here on coaching. The challenge is even if the youth worker is told she can’t teach, the spouse may not appreciate her being home because she was forced to versus wanted to. I imagine that alone has ripples, too.

  3. If I was the senior pastor, I’d apologize to the couple for not being aware of the need in the marriage before it had reached this point and ask them for their forgiveness. If they accept, then begin walking with them to reconciling the marriage and the relationship with the church back to where it needs to be. It’d be a long process and this situation needs more of an artistic, assess and see what happens vs. here’s the 5 steps that have to happen now. Good thought provoking post.

    1. Really appreciate this, Len. What do you think is the responsibility of a church in knowing the vibe of every home among its leaders? How does that practically look, I mean?

      1. I think it’s the responsibility to have a system in place that cares for their members, especially those that are active in ministry. It’s not that hard to ask the questions. We may not get totally honest answers but we need to keep the pulse of the sheep in our flock. If we don’t, we’re not pastoring well.

  4. First thought is that the volunteer sounds like a lot of pastors: insecure and finding their fulfillment in “serving the Lord” and trying to show the church that they’re valuable.

    But from the sr pastor’s perspective, I’d get together and meet with the husband one-on-one and talk. I’m guessing the church isn’t the only reason for their divorce. There has to be some deeper or bigger stuff going on. Maybe the wife’s service in the church is just the symptom of what’s really happening: her insecurity, her need to feel valuable, making up for rejection she feel from teens turning her teen years, or even earning her worth before God. All those could stem from marriage issues, ya know? Either way, I’d talk with the husband about it from his perspective and take it from there, being prepared to ask this lady step down from being a volunteer so that together you can all work toward focusing on what her primary ministry is: her home.

    1. I like the idea of exploring if this is rooted in identity issues – i.e. “The kids need me… how can I leave?” Good catch. Likewise, that the home has to be healthy for ministry to be healthy.

  5. As a volunteer, this woman falls into the realm of authority, which qualifies her for deeper conversations than other church members. I would, as a senior pastor, make sure I have my associate’s back and let him know I’d like to take the lead as much as I am able. Taking the lead would look like talking to the woman one on one, getting her perspective. After, I would get with the husband one on one.
    The fact of the matter is that there is no way a man and woman living in such distance can experience a full God-honoring, and God-fulfilled life. Really, I would not allow a volunteer to continue serving in a ministry setting where she can influence others unless I see her
    1) Understanding God’s will for intimacy, openness, and oneness in marriage, and
    2) Making steps toward that intimacy, openness, and oneness.

    Calloused though it may seem, this is cut and dry to me. It’s a counseling situation that needs to occur, a committment by both to see the truth, and the courage to walk in it.

    1. Good catch, Brian. This may be “fine” in the short-term, but I wonder what the long-term ripples look like. Do you have a sense of that if it were to stay the same?

  6. Hi Tony – thanks for inviting me into this conversation.
    I’d say, there’s more to the story and it will all depend on the understandings and relationships the pastor and church members have as to what happens next. I’d say there is no singular biblical answer to this, just a community or leaders response. without more info on the community and the leaders, I’d be hesitant to answer.

    things I’d want to know:
    what are the rhythms of the church when it comes to belonging?
    what are the ways the pastor and youth pastor are doing life with others?
    Is it really inherently bad that two spouses go two different places?
    If so, what about it is bad?
    Do we trust people in their own spiritual walks and marriages or is giving advice simply tampering?
    Are their dynamics at work in the ministry that the pastors lead which contribute to workaholism in the volunteers. Could the husband who left the culture be the most healthy by escaping it?
    What makes a marriage healthy?
    what makes a youth ministry healthy?
    What do you see the role of the pastor in other areas of life?
    Does our preoccupation with “authority” in the church cause us to meddle in people’s lives?
    Does our preoccupation with church stuff cause us to be absent from people’s lives?
    How does a youth pastor miss this situation so dramatically? How is this a surprise? What is the youth pastors doing with his/her time that they are absent? What mechanisms might need to be in place to help the youth worker team be more connected, or at least have more opporunities to be connected to each others lives.

    just some thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I’m not surprised you answered this with great questions. 🙂

      Let’s assume this is a standard, modern-church. There are monthly leadership gatherings, training among the leaders and so on. Perhaps the climate is that people own their faith, and if something is happening they share it.

      I’m wondering what the long-term ripples would be between two spouses who are divided in their spiritual climate and church family. What message of commitment does that send to their household and others… i,e. “Church is a place you go to until you can’t get your buzz or feel frustrated, then you go somewhere else” versus “We’re a family with a stubborn love for one another, including the hard times.”

      I’m obviously slanted toward the latter, so my “What if?” here is less about authority and more about the big picture. Personally speaking, there was a season when I was employed at a church as its interim pastor and drove over an hour to get there on the weekends as well as once a week. It was tough on my wife to join in with our young kiddos, so she didn’t always come along. Over time, though, we found it was unhealthy for our family to be divided… so we started building ways to come together and there was a noted difference.

      I’m wondering if the real question here is who should make the sacrifice – both the husband and wife, or one or the other? And what does that look like?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *