Next in this series on lessons being learned as a developing leader is recognising the importance of putting family first.
Before you start reading let me acknowledge that not everyone will identify with this lesson in the same way. We live in an age where family dynamics are incredibly varied. I understand there will be different situations regarding relationships. Whatever your unique make-up is with whoever you call your family, apply what follows as best you can. As expected, because I am married with children my personal reflections will come from that context. Either way, how well we lead those we call our families will impact how well we lead those in the church.
To begin with, I think there might be at least two general responses to this lesson, and I say two because I have had both, as I think many leaders have. The first are those who may feel initially uncomfortable with that statement, family first. For many valid reasons, such as upbringing, theological understanding, or first-hand experience, people can take this the wrong way. It can be met with a knee-jerk reaction such as, “Jesus comes first and then everything else comes after.” This might be followed with a mental reminder of perhaps Matthew 6:33, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these will be added to you.’ I had this attitude when I was younger.
The second response are from those who hear this statement and gladly receive it as obvious and would not think any other way. They know the responsibility they have to carefully consider the thoughts and feelings of their relatives, and take that as a given. I am learning this attitude in greater measure today.
Both reactions have their positives and negatives. Both have their extremes. For the first group, it is good to remember that Christ must always be first in our lives and that it is Him we must ultimately serve and please. However, there is a danger in being so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good. We can want to serve the Lord with as much time and energy that we can muster, but do so at the detriment of those who love us. The extreme of this could be that we get so focused on leading and taking new opportunities in the church that we forget about our families, leaving them behind and forgetting to include them. This can so easily produce a sense of isolation that can chip away at relationships.
For the second group, it is great to more easily acknowledge the importance of considering our family and taking the time to include them, making sure they are happy with all that is happening. However, we can find ourselves in trouble when we are so sensitive to any hint of friction from a family member or resistance to an opportunity in leadership, that we take very few invitations to step into areas of service where your leadership will grow. An extreme example could be that you have been recognised as a person capable of leading a home group, but your partner struggles with the idea of having people in your home every week. They give reasons such as the stress of trying to clean the whole house or they do not want to give up their space in the evening. So instead of challenging these attitudes, to keep the peace, you say no to the offer and miss an opportunity to develop your leadership and serve others.
While responding alternately at different times in these two different ways what I have grown to learn (and periodically am tested in to this day) is that to place your family before yourself is not to miss an opportunity to lead (or mis-lead by not putting Christ first), but is an opportunity to lead by example. To put your family first is not putting Jesus, or the church, second in the sense of what is important. Serving your family, along with all the sacrifices that will come with that, is an act of worship to our Lord and a great form of service to Him.
There have been three learning journeys I have taken with this, as someone who leads and continues to aspire in further leadership, and they continue to challenge me. Yet I know they are simple principles, but not always simple actions, that I hope will serve leaders well.
Speaking frankly, and with my wife’s permission(!), there was one leadership opportunity that I passed on which was a bone of contention between my wife and I. My handling of it created a stronghold of resentment. We had been married for one year and were thinking of starting a family soon. An advertisement came across my way online for a new assistant pastor in a town 30 minutes away. It was part of Newfrontiers, although a different apostolic team from the one we were currently part of. The position was new, with a good salary for a growing family, and advertised opportunities that gelled with my gift mix of pastoring and preaching, whilst also being an opportunity to develop under the oversight of the lead elder. Needless to say, I was very excited. I had a couple of Zoom conversations with the lead elder and we got on well. He explained the process he wanted to take me on, and encouraged me to pursue it. To cut a long story short, I did not go any further. The sting stung worse when, after I shared the update with him, he fed back to me saying he was hopeful of my acceptance to the role.
Without going into the details, the gist was that my wife did not hear from God on the matter, felt uncomfortable with the opportunity in that season, and ultimately did not believe it was the right choice. I was heartbroken. All my hopes, all my dreams, all my desires, now possibly in front of me to reach out and grab with both hands, gone. Of course, it is never about a leader’s hopes, dreams or desires only. It is equally, and for the leader more importantly, about his family’s too.
Resentment brewed. Inner conflict boiled. Yet, it was through many conversations, prayer (together and apart), trusting in God’s sovereignty, learning humility, and growing in my recognition that my partner’s calling, feelings, and thoughts are equally valuable, that resentment subsided. I wanted to desperately step into further leadership, but my actions spoke loudly to me that at that time I could not even lead my family, or myself, first. Instead of leading well in responding to my wife’s concerns, I led poorly and demonstrated that I was not ready to step further in leadership. I now look back on this situation as a test from God. Not a test designed to make me fail, but one He orchestrated to show me where I was in my leadership and how much I had yet to mature in.
Resentment is an ugly beast. Wholly unattractive and wildly destructive. But it is subtle. It is a dripping tap. It is a small but festering wound. However, before long it will pour over and do deep harm, and it will damage relationships. If you struggle with resentment, and (except for the Lord’s power) it is not a quick fix, reject it. Catch yourself when you wallow in it, and consciously reject it. Deny the lie that you have been treated unfairly by your family, when in reality you just did not get what you wanted. Trust that how the Father speaks to your family about various opportunities are just as important to listen to and discern as how He guides you.
Reject resentment and embrace your family.
Know the season your family are in
As leaders we can tend to suffer with impatience. Although it is not the case for many, I think most have a visionary edge and therefore have driven personalities. We like to be focused. We want to strive for things. We want to create and build with others. We see something in our mind and we want to work together with volunteers and fellow leaders to make it a reality.
As developing leaders, this impatience can feel even more strenuous than at other times. You want to jump into anything and everything that is given you. You cannot say no. Lead a home group? Sure. Anchor a gathering? Definitely. Oversee a site? Of course. Start that new ministry? Why not. Take two weeks of my annual leave to visit that country and serve churches there? Heck yeah!
This is me all over. A lot of the time I get a twitchy leg when I am sat down relaxing. It is mostly due to the fact my body still has energy and wants to keep going, but my brain says otherwise after a long day at the office. It is the same with leading – we get twitchy leadership legs. We want to keep going; pick up new things; and throw ourselves into everything – even though we know we are exhausted.
Another reason we need to say no to the twitchy leadership legs, is our families. Putting our families first means learning to assess what season they are in and if the opportunities being presented to you are compatible with them. Seasons change. As Ecclesiastes is famous for reminding us, ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This season you are in may not be what is best for your family right now. Alternatively, it may be just right. I am not suggesting that all your ducks have to be lined up and everything in order before you can take leaps of faith. With many things, there will be frictions to iron out and disagreements to lovingly listen to and agree on. Yet, it is wise to weigh the circumstances of your family members with where you believe the Lord is leading you.
Weigh your jobs, weigh your wages, weigh the ages of your kids, weigh your living situation, weigh your responsibilities in the church. Over and above these though, weigh where you and your family are at in your hearts together. Acknowledge any clear dynamic guidance of the Holy Spirit, but also discern what seems good to Him, and to your family – valuing their input.
I remember when I was leading the youth team at my church and an opportunity came to lead a new home group as part of a multiplication from the one we were part of. I would have loved to have kept doing both! But having a full-time job in the day, going to youth team planning meetings, several different youth groups and preparing for all these in the night; along with what would have been preparing for and leading a home group, would have been too great a strain on my family. I knew what season we were in, and it was not healthy for us to take too much on.
Know the season your family are in and love them in it.
Bring your family along for the ride
Lastly, be aware of including your family in whatever you are doing. This has been a big bug-bear of my partner’s in all honesty, again she does not mind me sharing. I am the guy who, in his excitement over something, will run away with an idea or agree to an opportunity before I have spoken to my partner about it. I do not necessarily promise I will participate in something in pen and seal the deal without mentioning it to my wife, but at times I have made it seem so to those I have served with, and then just mention it as a passing comment over the dinner table. I am the person who agrees with himself what to do and resolves to do it in my mind before fleshing it out with my family. I get ahead of myself and leave my family behind.
The opportunities to listen, discuss, consider, or pray with my family members was not something I was naturally inclined to do. I had to learn to let go of my independence and redirect my zeal to get on with things into a healthier conversation that included those who would be affected the closest to any decisions being made. s
Communication is key and opens a gateway into healthy dialogue that makes family members feel included, valued and connected to your goals and aspirations as a developing leader. This does not mean they will do everything you do. We need to respect their unique gifting and learn to support one another in our differences.
I know people close to me who have damaged their relationships, particularly marriages, through a lack of transparent communication, basic emotional awareness, and obliviousness to their partner’s feelings about a matter. Seeing family connections lost through an inability to communicate and include each other is a sad sight. However, it has reminded me of the importance to champion our families.
One of the elders of my church, whom I lived with for a couple of years, used to say that he learned to ‘champion his wife’. He also demonstrated it well. He would encourage her, include her, work together as a team with her. It was a good lesson in what it looks like to include your family. Help your family take ownership of what you are doing. It may be that just talking an opportunity over is enough for them to feel involved. Other times they may want to speak into it. Again, there could be occasions where they can play a part, or it is not really there thing so are happy to leave you to it. What is vital is that they are led to feel included, given space to express themselves, and invited into the adventure.
Bring you family along for the ride and do not leave them behind.
Rejecting resentment, knowing the seasons, and including your family. These are ways we can better place our families before ourselves and grow in leadership. For leadership starts at home.