I slipped into his room late one evening as I arrived home from work only to find him wide awake, snuggled under the covers.

"Hey Dad, it's Wednesday," my 12-year-old said. "Tonight was our date night, Dad! You forgot!"

Somewhere between the deadlines and the donors and the to-do list, I'd forgotten the most important ministry God had entrusted to me, that of my family. It had been weeks since my wife and I had a date together, just the two of us, without our work worlds on the agenda, and I knew things needed to change and fast. Instead of focusing on work, I needed to focus on my family and let them know they were just as important as my ministry work.

Family matters

We set out to meet our ministry goals and somehow in the midst of our work, we forget that waiting at home is that young boy waiting to play catch, that teen-age girl who needs to talk about boys or that spouse that needs to be treated with all the attention we used to give when we were dating. Why does it happen? How does it happen? How can you prevent it from happening to you? And why do we feel like we need to work so long and hard?

Recently, as I met for a cup of coffee with a ministry leader, in between the sips of Starbucks and the glint of the bright sunshine on that warm summer day, the truth about his family came out as it has many times before with other ministry leaders. The leader I was meeting with told me the real story of where things were with his ministry. You see, the ministry was doing wonderfully well; it was his family that was suffering, and so much so that he ended up stepping aside temporarily to focus on them until things turned around. I was glad he had decided to do this but surprised that I'd seen another scenario where ministry had edged out a leader's family.

Nobel Prize winning Harvard biologist George Wald has some thoughts: "What one really needs is not the Nobel laureates but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize. What matters is love."

Let me ask you this: If we were sitting at that Starbucks near your house and talking over our day, could I ask you a pretty personal question? What's the Nobel Prize you're striving for? Is it possible that the prize you're striving for has edged out your precious family or that spouse you were madly in love with during your courtship days? They need some of your best time, not just your leftover time.

Ten tips

Well, before the Starbucks gets cold and we've both gotta run, if it's time for a bit of a re-balancing of ministry and family, here are 10 ideas to jump start your thinking and help you get back on track. Got a pen? Jot 'em down on your napkin.

  1. Get your family together and craft a family mission statement. It's just as important to be intentional as a family as it is to do so where you work. We wanted our family to be on the same page as to why we were here on earth and what principles would govern our time together; we wanted a grid for decision making and conflict to pass through. Need a head start? Here's ours.

    "Our family is going through life's journey together, growing roots in Christ and wings for our mission, becoming equipped to make a difference in our world by learning to live like Jesus, for Jesus and in Jesus."

    We've designed other elements of this mission statement into the shape of a house with walls of laughter, doors of prayer and windows of other important character qualities.
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