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Communicating Your Ministry Ideals to Family Members

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When my husband and I first moved overseas to begin our work as full time Christian ministers, a lot of people asked us the question, “What does your family think of your move?”  We were moving to India, a place that is very far away, relatively unknown to us in North America, and culturally extremely different from everything we had ever known.  We were quite lucky at that time because we had parents, family members, and friends who knew our hearts for ministry and the world and saw our trans-continental move as the next logical step in our journey.  Others, however, find it difficult to convince their loved ones that God’s call on their lives is authentic and true.

Creating “buy-in” for your life of full-time ministry, whether you’re moving overseas or simply taking up vocational ministry at home, is incredibly important for those who love you the most.  They cannot feel as if their opinions don’t matter.  They need to feel a part of the process and that their input is valuable to you.  Let’s have a look at four key groups of people in our lives who will be affected by our ministry decisions and how we can help them buy in to what we know God has called us to do.

1) Your Children.

The minor children who live in your household are dramatically affected by what their parents decide to do.  A decision to move to the other side of the world for ministry uproots them from all they know.  They might be too young to understand what is going on or too immature to understand what it means to be called by God to make such a major life change.  Older children may feel betrayed or demeaned by a decision that has such a large impact on them, especially if it means leaving behind friendships and schools and a life full of activity that they love.  Children must be brought along in the decision making process intentionally.  Begin dialoguing with them early in the process so that they do not feel trapped by their parents unequivocal decision toward life change. Allowing kids to express their opinions freely is so important.  Presenting them with options for education, living situations, and ways to keep in touch with their friends is essential.  Helping them to understand what it means to be called by God and to live out our faith will make a huge difference.  Encouraging them to express their negative emotions is also extremely healthy.  The key?  Lots and lots of open talking and discussion.  The more kids can express themselves, the better they will feel.

2) Your Parents.

Yes, the Bible does tell us to “leave, cleave, and become one,” but when that leaving process includes moving to the other side of the world, even the most independently-minded parents find it challenging to watch their adult children and grandchildren move away.  The love our parents have for us at any age causes them to see dangers and disappointments clearly, and no matter how old we are, they long to protect us from those things.  Therefore, bringing our parents along in our decision-making process is a good idea.  Discussing the possibilities of us taking up vocational ministry with them early and often is a wonderful sign of respect.  While as adults we are no longer asking their permission in making our life choices, knowing that they still love us and want the best for us makes their opinions valuable.  Educating our parents about the new life ahead of us, whether overseas or in full-time vocational ministry at home can help them understand both the situation into which we’ll be venturing, as well as our heart for the ministry we feel called to do.  Creating understanding will help them to truly buy in to our life’s journey and see that they can also play a part in supporting us, praying for us, and encouraging us to seek God’s will for our lives.  Allaying their fears for our safety is also important.  Long talks over dinner and coffee can be meaningful and insightful.  Take the time to share openly with your parents and watch their eyes and hearts be opened to all that God wants to do.

3) Your Extended Family.

While many of us do not have close relationships with our extended family, their opposition to our choice of ministry may cause some stress and tension that can cost us valuable energy to resolve.  In my experience, the opposition comes from a lack of understanding.  Many of our extended family members come from different backgrounds, perhaps even different religious beliefs, despite the fact that we are all related.  Taking the time over a large-group family gathering to share from your heart will be meaningful and encouraging to anyone present.  Sometimes extended family members will not understand the need to live on financial support raised or to take a pay cut to enter vocational ministry.  Again, the lack of understanding is the problem here.  Spending time together gently educating family members and listening to their opinions can go a long way in ensuring positive relationships for the long haul.  Who knows, maybe some of your family members will financially support your ministry or come visit you if you’re living overseas.  They can become good prayer partners and faithful friends as you journey together.

4) Nay-sayers.

No matter how pure your intentions or how strongly you feel you are called by God to your mission, there will always be nay-sayers who can do nothing by speak negatively of what you’re planning to do.  As with others, a lack of education and understanding may be at the root of their negativity.  Differing religious beliefs or social opinions might cause tension.  Jealousy may also play a part.  Whatever the reason, a gentle, quiet, and spirited response is generally the best option when dealing with those who stand in opposition.  There really is no sense in arguing with them, especially if they are set in their opinion.  God can work in their hearts; we don’t have to.  Try not to be discouraged when you interact with these folks.  They are on their own journey.

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