Family Matters

This week we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, which is a holiday that involves spending lots of time with family, eating enough turkey to put us into a mini coma, and watching the Detroit Lions lose at football. It doesn’t have the commercial appeal of Christmas or even Halloween. There’s no candy or gifts handed out. It’s just a time to pause and be thankful for what we have around us. Something we don’t do near enough of.

The most valuable thing we have around us is our family. It’s our most important ministry.

I think we would all agree, but for whatever reason it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of this.

Far too many pastors have lost their families in the name of ministry.

Don’t make this mistake. Take the steps necessary to make sure your family never feels like they’re competing with the church.

I’m a young father, and I’m sure many of you have far more knowledge on this subject than me, but I’d love to share with you a few things I’ve tried to do to make sure I’m appreciating my family.

  1. Limit the time I spend at work. I could easily work 60 hours a week. There’s always things that need to be done. I choose not to. I work around 45 hours a week. What doesn’t get done this week will be waiting on me next week. I’m gone one evening a week for student ministry and on rare occasions I’ll lead an evening small group. The rest of my nights are spent at home with my family. When my kids grow up, I’m sure I’ll work more, but for right now being at home is more important than anything I could be doing away from it.
  2. Be smart with money. I do my best to live on a budget and avoid going into debt. This means I live in a smaller house and don’t buy new cars. My 1999 Toyota 4Runner currently gets me to where I need to go. Saying no to a few wants here and there has allowed my wife to work part-time for most of our marriage and is now allowing her to be a stay at home mom. That means more to me than any purchase I could make.
  3. Prioritize my marriage. I’ve tried my best to have a monthly date night, although it hasn’t been as consistent as I’d like. Babysitters are sometimes hard to come by. The past four years we’ve taken a mini vacation by ourselves. We’ve been to Las Vegas, Cancun, and New York City. Each year we also make sure to be a part of at least one couples small group at our church.
  4. Create Special Moments. Thanksgiving for us can be hectic as we travel to spend time with different sides of the family throughout the weekend. So, I started a tradition of staying at a large resort hotel on Thanksgiving night with just my wife and girls. It’s a special moment for just us. We also try to take big vacations. We’ve been to Disney World three times in the past five years, and although my kids may not always remember it, my wife and I will.

In no way am I trying to say I’m a perfect husband or father. Please don’t think that. I don’t have it all figured out, and there are times my family would probably like to replace me. But I’d like to think I’ve made some wise decisions along the way, and hopefully some of them will help you as well.

If your family was rating you as a father or mother, what do you think they would say? Are there areas you need to work on? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget while you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

The Three Most Important Pieces to the Kids’ Ministry Puzzle

If kids’ ministry is an afterthought at your church, you are never going to grow. It is the single most important ministry of a church right now, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Parents are no longer dragging their kids to church, but if you have a great kids’ ministry, the kids will start dragging their parents.

Let me say this to all my small town pastors out there who prefer to have kids in the adult service instead of having a kids’ ministry, you are making a huge mistake.

Yes, there may be a small benefit in kids seeing mom and dad worship, but it pales in comparison to having a kids’ ministry that is fun and exciting and teaches kids about Jesus on their level.

If this is you, I would beg you to reconsider. The future of your church depends on it.

For the rest of us, it’s not enough to just have a kids’ ministry. Your kids’ ministry needs to be great.

In order for that to happen, we need to focus on these three pieces of the puzzle.

  1. Volunteers. Don’t make the mistake of putting just anyone into kids’ ministry. I know it can be tempting, but unless they are excited and passionate about working with kids, they can do more harm than good. Kids’ ministry should get your best. Kids also thrive on consistency, so keeping them around the same volunteers is ideal. This means I prefer kids’ ministry volunteers serve at least every other week, if not every week. And it should go without saying by now that every kids’ volunteer should be background checked. We use a company called Clear Investigative Advantage, but there are several out there. Just do your research and make sure they’re legit.
  1. Curriculum. Flannel graphs and coloring pages don’t cut it anymore. We’re not just babysitting kids. We’re pointing them to Jesus. This means we need curriculum that keeps their attention and helps them learn. We use a combination of KidSpring and Elevate Kids. KidSpring is completely free. It uses a combination of videos and live acting. You just need to have volunteers who are willing to act out the scripts. Our kids love the KidSpring series, and we would use them exclusively if we had more actors. Elevate Kids is a video based curriculum that is also very good but can be expensive for smaller churches.
  1. Parents. You better care about what parents think of your kids’ ministry because more than likely it will determine if they ever come back to your church. They want to know their child is safe, so it’s a great idea to have a check-in system that only allows the parent to take them out of the room. It’s also important to have policies regarding allergies, sickness, etc. After the service a parent will likely ask their child these two questions about the experience. Did you have fun? What did you learn? If their child gives positive answers, chances are they’re coming back. If not, you probably won’t see them again.

Subpar or non-existent kids’ ministries are one of the top reasons small town churches don’t grow. You can fix this by making kids’ ministry a top priority.

What does the kids’ ministry look like in your church? Do you think it’s attracting families or pushing them away? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment below. While you’re here make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

Six Reasons Our Marriage Has Worked

Cowrote by Samantha Stephens

This post was originally written for the LifeTravelers blog here.

This past December my wife and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I take that back. Our anniversary is on December 16th, and I’m pretty sure we hung out at home that night. We actually celebrated a couple months earlier with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun without the kids.

Now, I realize ten years isn’t really that long, but statistics show couples are more likely to get divorced within the first ten years of their marriage than at any other time.

Marriage statistics vary and are constantly changing, but from what I have found, it looks like around 35% of first marriages fail to make it at least ten years. I say first marriages because statistics get worse with each subsequent marriage.

So, what do I know that 35% of couples don’t?

Probably not much, that’s why I asked my wife to weigh in on the subject.

Here are the six things she believes has contributed to our success.

  1. Open Communication

Being able to tell your spouse exactly how you feel and why is vital to the success of your marriage. We weren’t great at this the first year or two of our marriage. We both had a tendency to hold things in until it created a much bigger problem. Over time we built up trust with one another and have become comfortable sharing exactly how we feel without becoming angry at each other.

  1. Realistic Expectations

As much as my wife would love for me to be more romantic and affectionate, she realizes it’s not how I’m wired. This doesn’t mean I should never try. It just means that she’s not holding me to a standard that I’ll never achieve. Putting unrealistic expectations on your spouse always sets you up for disappointment.

  1. Putting Your Spouse First

There’s a verse in the book of Philippians that my wife lives out. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself. She’s incredible at this. A lot of couples that have kids make the mistake of putting the kids first instead of their spouse. This can seem to make sense in the moment, but it’s a terrible idea and can lead to a lot of problems in the marriage.

  1. Have Fun

This seems so simple, right? But most marriages fail because the couple stopped having fun together. I don’t like spending money, and fun often comes at a cost. I’ve learned the importance of putting fun in the budget. We enjoy going to the movies. We’ll see a couple of concerts this summer, and we try to take a mini vacation by ourselves every year. Those things add up, but it’s a lot cheaper than a divorce.

  1. Take Divorce Off the Table

From our initial engagement, my wife and I have been adamant that divorce would never be an option for us. I know most couples say that, we meant it. When you take divorce off the table, you have no choice but to work things out. So, we’ve never allowed ourselves to even bring up the word divorce in arguments. We’ve also tried to always sleep in the same bed even when we’re angry at one another. This hasn’t always worked, but we try.

  1. Umm…Lots of “Alone Time”

This is a bit awkward to bring up, but my wife insists. And she’s right, sex is really important in a marriage. We have confirmed it through every couples small group we’ve even been a part of. Husbands almost always want more sex than they are currently getting, and wives almost always want more romance than they are currently getting. When you don’t get this part of your relationship right, it can have devastating effects as people start looking for that intimacy somewhere else.

This is in no way a complete list of why our marriage has worked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it, most importantly our relationship with God. But, hopefully, this will give you a few ideas you can use to improve your marriage.

How have you managed to prioritize your marriage while working in ministry? I’d love to hear your suggestions so leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.