With all the talk regarding marriage, gender and sexuality in our culture, a not-so-subtle temptation lurks for those who love and lead God’s church. We can spend much of our time on the defensive—attempting to protect our flocks from the onslaught of forces that wage war against God’s design in our broken world. This is without question an essential part of what God calls leaders to do.
The temptation, however, is to invest the majority of our energy defending marriage and the family and fail to put forward the same effort to build and strengthen the marriages we have. A defensive posture not matched by an equally effective offensive strategy may communicate to the world much about what marriage and the family is not, but it falls short of demonstrating the beauty of God’s plan for these areas of life.
That’s where church planters have a unique opportunity. It’s not that all planters will be married or have kids. Some will not. Yet, the vast majority are or will be one day, which provides these men with a public platform to portray marriage and family as it was meant to be.
Selflessly lead your family.
There’s little wonder why Paul places one’s leadership of the home as a prerequisite for pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 3:4–5). A man who cannot care for a wife and children and lovingly lead them to maturity in Christ as a shepherd does for sheep will not likely possess the ability to do so for the larger flock in the church. The epicenter of the disciple-making mandate is the home. It’s there that pastors learn to die to themselves so that others can hear and see the gospel and be called to faith in Christ. God’s brilliance is clearly on display, as those who seek to lead their families will find that it requires humility, perseverance, love and prayer—the very things these men will need to lead God’s church.
Passionately love God’s Church as a family.
Next, church planters model for others a family that, together, loves and serves God’s church. Sadly, there is far too often a stark dichotomy between the family and the church. We’re prone to hear others react to pastors and leaders who crushed their marriages and families under the weight of church ministry, by saying things like, “My family is more important than the church,” or, “I’m not willing to sacrifice my family on the altar of church.” While well-meaning, these clichés pit the church and the family in a conflict that lies outside of biblical norms. It’s never meant to be the church vs. the family—it is always the church andthe family. They are meant to work in tandem—with investment in each fueling a reciprocal love for the other. For this to happen, church planters and pastors must engage in church ministry as a family. The church isn’t something dad does while everyone else in the home looks on as disinterested spectators. The church is the context where the entire family lives out their God-given design and utilizes their gifts and abilities to serve.
Actively live on mission with your family.
Finally, church planters can strive to engage their entire family on mission. The work of planting a church requires active engagement in the Great Commission, yet it’s far too common for various members of a family to pursue missionary living in isolation from one another. Far better would be for the family, as a whole, to seek out intentional ways to leverage their shared lives to model for others a healthy family in action. A monthly dinner with non-believing neighbors could go a long way to presenting the biblical pattern of a healthy family to those who may never read our books or blogs, or hear our sermons.
These three steps aren’t new to most planters, but sadly they are apt to slip down the priority list. Before we know it, we’re consumed with all sorts of good work that obscures the critical work to which we are called. We’re not likely to end the debates about marriage and sexuality anytime soon, so while we continue to defend God’s design, let’s make sure we are also working to live out His plan for all the world to see.