Teacups in the Jungle

Life stories from a missionary mama

“Philippa, how do you balance family life and ministry life?”

This is without a doubt the number one question I get asked on a regular basis. It’s a question I’m sure we all deal with, no matter what our vocation, or calling may be. We all seem to have so many things on our plates. We wonder if we are making the right decisions and following the right priorities, while being pulled in many different directions.

Are our kids getting enough attention?

Are we being successful in our jobs?

Do we have time to help out at church? 

For many years, I longed to know the correct answer to this answer, to know I was doing this life right and not to feel guilty about my decisions. Was I balancing family and ministry and how was I to go about calculating this? It felt like the goal posts were always changing when balance was the target.

Can I just tell you something straight up? 

I don’t particularly like the word balance, and I am not even sure it is something we are all meant to be chasing after, or should feel guilty about when things get, “out of balance.” 

I think the reason I do not like using the word balance in this context of family and ministry is that the very image I get in my head is of a scale. Something on the left weighing out against something on the right. It almost sets the two things we are weighing to be against each each other right from the start. In this case ministry and family. It’s a subtle message of my family will take away from my ministry time, or a more typical concern, my ministry will take away from my family time. If I put x amount of hours into my ministry this week, I need to be sure to put x amount of hours into my family to fix the scale, to keep things under control and therefore maintain a peaceful equilibrium. My family is entitled to this amount of time “off’ or these nights free from people, because we have put our ministry hours in this week. 

I feel like in the lives we have been called to in ministry, this is tricky thinking and will lead to unrealistic exceptions, and then further disappointment when the reality of life and its interruptions pan out. 

Thinking of balance and ministry in this way, even without realising it, can lead to so many frustrations, as so much of ministry and people cannot be controlled. How do we respond to the caller at the gate when it is our family day? Will we greet them with the same love and attention as on a ministry day, or will there be frustration because they are an interruption to our plan and our schedule? It’s very easy to have a spirit of entitlement about out family time, when in fact it too is a calling, just like we are called to serve the Lord via ministry, we are called to serve our family. The Lord is for us and with us and calling us to dependence on Him in both/all areas of our life. 

So, instead of talking about balancing life and ministry I prefer to think about it as, navigating family and ministry. This gives me a visual of a boat, and we are all in the same boat together, navigating this journey of serving the Lord and each other, and making decisions together along the way. They are both complimentary to each other. The Lord placed our kids in our lives knowing we would be missionaries, and he called us to be missionaries knowing His will for the kids He would one day place in our lives. His Sovereign will and grace are all over every complex area of our lives. We just need to learn to pay attention to how the Lord would want us to live according to His Word and directed by the Holy Spirit. There is no formula, because He wants us to come desperately to Him to lead us and guide us along the way. It’s not going to look the same for everybody. We are all created differently, have different personalities, different gifts, different levels of capacity, different health and emotional needs and very different ministry contexts. It also may look very different in our various seasons of life. 

The one thing we absolutely can be sure of as we navigate this journey together is we all have needs. We are needy parents and needy missionaries, with needy kids and serving needy people.

Therefore, we need rest. 

It’s a Biblical principal given to us by the Lord in His Word and by His example. 

We are limited people. We have weakness and blind spots and we need one another.

We are people who get overwhelmed and cannot possibly meet all the needs around us, in our family, or in our ministry. We need time to rest, not just to recover from our actual life, but in order to enter our callings to family and ministry from a place of worship and obedience. We should not be living from a place of drudgery and discontent. Paying attention to the tone in your home, your marriage, your ministry is so important. It requires discernement from the Lord and the ability to honestly evaluate our lives in their present state.

Is there a spirit of discontent and duty, rather than delight and desire?

If so, then we need to change course. We have lost our way, and need to seek new direction. Sometimes the Lord will show us through His Word, or as we seek Him in prayer, and sometimes we need outside help and care from the Body of Christ to show us some unhealthy patterns in our life that we are missing and that are causing to weigh us down. Ploughing ahead in pride is never going to reap a harvest of peace. We need to seek rest from a place of humility.

How we enter the rest we need is everything.

I love this quote from Hannah Anderson’s book “Humble Roots.”

“When we disregard our natural human limitations, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, or enough commitment we can fix things that are broken, we set ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness and anxiety.” 

Hannah Anderson

I agree. Unfortunately I know this from experience. 

In seeking to balance family life and ministry life we may decide to schedule one day a week and every Friday evening as family time. There is nothing wrong with this per-say, unless it has become our right, and then every interruption and distraction will cause us to feel we are being robbed of our time and energy. We will feel personally offended or affronted. 

While navigating family and ministry together, and knowing the weakness and limitations, of our family, we may prayerfully come together as a family and seek to set aside rest time, family time or however you want to label it, for those same time increments. However, I have found something shifts within us when we see this as a gift provided by our Heavenly Father. We are in a better place to receive the time from the Lord, instead of trying to grab the time for ourselves. We are grateful for the provision of rest and not entitled to it. We honor and steward the time we have been given to rest well, instead of holding the time selfishly and wastefully to ourselves. 

I find it interesting that the New Testament speaks so little on this topic of balancing life and ministry while it is something we try to figure out and nail down so much. Maybe it is something about our way of life and culture now, which leads us to want some control over our schedule. We want to know a little more about what the future will look like for us. We want in some ways to protect ourselves, protect our family, and we also usually have a sincere heart to want to do all things well.

The New Testament is very clear though on how we are to live out our callings and maybe that is where we need to pay most attention to – the areas with very clear instruction. This is our starting point and we work backwards from these Biblical principles. 

Ephesian 4:1 tells us to; “walk worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Verses 1-3 tells us the behaviour that will be affected by this calling; humility, gentleness, love, unity and the bond of peace to name a few. 

Philippians 1:27 “Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” 

Put all this together and our goal of what we are to balance becomes a little clearer.

Live every part of our lives (famiily and ministry) in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus.

The homeschool hours – given to us to live in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus. A gift.

The hours serving our family in the kitchen or corresponding with supporters -given to us to live in light of all we have been given Christ Jesus. A gift.

The hours on the porch drinking coffee and chatting with tribal ladies about their vegetables and their relatives – given to us to live in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus. A gift.

The days of rest, reading a book, taking a walk, enjoying a hobby, exercising – given to us in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus. A gift.

Even the days of waiting out a medical situation at the guesthouse, wondering what life will hold – given to us in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus. A gift.

When we truly see each moment of our lives as a gift, that we GET to live this life, and every complex part of it in dependance upon Jesus and for His glory, our priorities have a way of falling into their rightful place. Give God His rightful place and everything else will fall into place. We then get a new vision for our ministry and our families as one complete whole, a precious life, given to us in light of all we have been given in Christ Jesus. We don’t need to protect ourselves, but we get to surrender ourselves to His good and perfect will and plans.

Let’s take a closer look at what it really means, “to walk worthy of our calling” and what it looks like practically in our lives.

This is what it means in the Greek.

514 áksios (an adjective derived from aksō, “to weigh”) – properly, to weigh in, assigning the matching value (“worth-to-worth”); worthy, i.e. as the assessment in keeping with how something “weighs in” on God’s balance-scale of truth.

I find it so interesting that the word “worthy” as in to “walk worthy of the calling” actually has the concept of weighing something out! So maybe instead of using our mental energy and putting our hope in a good balanced life of family and ministry we could concentrate more on weighing out each decision, philosophy, mindset with “weighing” or assessing if it is inline with God’s balance scale of truth. Is my perspective on the topic of “me time” worthy or, “weighing in” with the truth of God’s Word? Is my non-stop running from one thing to the next and always trying to be the one who meets everyones needs an example of “walking worthy in light of the gospel?”  Does it “weigh up” with the truth we have been given?

Suddenly, it is not just about how many hours I am spending on history or math, or the curriculum I use as I teach my kids, and more about am I teaching them from a place of humility, gentleness, patience and with love and peace? The second part always requiring so much more of the Lord and less of me. John 3:30.”He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is the real scale.

 Asking myself if I am walking worthy of my calling in light of the gospel should be my plumbline, not the hours on my calendar. I can certainly tell you, I fall short time and time again. However, my weakness just leads me back to total dependence on the Lord and His unlimited grace. His mercies are new every morning, no matter what my day will hold.

This beautiful life as a missionary and a Mama (grateful they still call me this) requires a daily, no, a moment by moment walking with the Lord and His Word, paying attention to the promting and convicting of the Holy Spirit. Schedules and calendars are wonderful helps. I love a good planner, but I am not to be led by it, or to feel bound to it. I am to be bound to the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord.

Our greatest ministry may not be the hours we teach the kids in class, but how we live our everyday lives as we seek to walk worthy of our calling as Moms, as teachers, as co workers, as missionaries, as children of the Lord. We are to be the example, not of a balanced life, but of a life worthy of the gospel. 

This is our goal. 

We can’t always schedule out what that will look like, which can feel risky. But committing to the way of the Lord and asking Him to help us walk worthy of the gospel as we live our days seems like the safest place to start. He alone is our refuge and strength.



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