When I hear a mother say that her role in the church is to raise her children, my response is always yes and amen. Mainly because it is every mother’s role to raise her child no matter her location. We all intend to fulfill our role as mothers well because we are driven by deep love for our children. Ironically though, spending the majority of our energy raising children with deep intentionality can be just what overwhelms us as we face the stressful responsibilities of actual mothering. In the process, we can miss opportunities to serve within the local body in a helpful and effective way. While we long to serve the family of God, it can often feel like we couldn't possibly have anything left to give towards ministry outside of our immediate family during this season of life.
On the flip side are mothers who are ministering full time within the church as they raise their children. I am one of these women. More than once I have caught wind of backdoor conversations that I, as a wife and a mother, do “too much.” That between working a full-time ministry job and of course being a full-time mom, I must be spreading myself too thin. It is not uncommon for me to be asked how I could possibly do it all or at least do it all well (which I don’t quite frankly). But my question is, do any of us all do all these things (both mothering and ministry) perfectly? And if the answer is no (which I think it is), then how can we understand and fulfill our roles as mothers within the church better?
The struggle to understand where we fit in the church as mothers is not just something I am watching others endure, it’s something that I am experiencing every moment of every day. While there are a million different scenarios of how this struggle looks in our different lives, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful when considering what you, as a mom, should be doing for ministry.
Realize that parenting and ministry should not be separate.
I fully understand that my children only have one mother, and that’s me. It is my job to anticipate their needs and help them grow into mature adults. That is why there is hands down absolutely nothing else in this world I want my girls to know more than the fact that I love Jesus and that their parents desire to give their lives for Him. But the way they know that is by watching us actually DO that. They see us hanging out, having parties, teaching Bible studies, counseling and opening our tiny home to whoever needs the couch. They know the women I am counseling. Their babysitters are my students. Their favorite people on the playground are people I’m trying to help know Jesus more. A great benefit of this is that people I am seeking to minister to get to see me be “Mom” too. They see me get angry, they see me cuddle, they see me wipe rear ends, and they see me repent. They see me make dinner, they see me discipline, they see me pray for my children. I can promise you that those whom God has placed in my life for ministry are impacted 100 times more through watching me fail and repent, succeed and rejoice (all the while teaching or counseling them!) than if we just sit together for 2 hours a week. This is the pouring out of self, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the midst of parenting exhaustion for the benefit of the body.
The mixture of parenting and ministry however, is not simply a free for all. Rather, a balance is sought that includes protection for my children and also, seeking what is best for the needs of the disciple. Is it helpful for someone to spend time with me and my husband to see a Christian marriage? Yes! And this is not because we have it all together. Just yesterday a student sat with my husband and I as we had an argument. The argument got so involved that we even needed to go have a private conversation. Then we came back with her, explained that we had repented, forgiven and reconciled. She saw us love each other.
When ministering to the church while in our roles as wives and mothers, we should live intentionally. This means leveraging all of our gifts and talents (our personal roles as a unique help) within the ministry God has prepared for us. Consider practical ways you can care for those around you in specific ways. Is it more helpful to make sure I have alone time with a woman instead of a group? Should a specific woman be connected with another specific woman with similar needs? Are there two women who should read the same book? Does this dear friend need to spend time taking my kid to get ice cream because she’ll see the joy of small things in life? We are called to speak truth in love and part of that is being willing to help the people around us engage in the real life around them. We could call this “living truth in love.” After all, actions speak louder than words, right?
Your ministry is really about how you live your life.
One of the most selfless things you can do in ministry to those in the church is to let someone be a part of your actual family. No one is going to argue that boundaries are a healthy thing. But I’m fairly certain Jesus may argue about where some of us in our contemporary Western culture think boundaries should be drawn. Jesus didn’t teach the disciples over one hour of coffee a week. Jesus taught his disciples by living life with them, by teaching them endlessly in multiple ways and in many different scenarios. He didn’t spend his time in this world seeking his own comfort and just waiting for his suffering on earth to be over. But he intentionally engaged in living other-centered life with the people he was seeking to love and teach. I would venture to say that how we use our private time is quite indicative of how well our ministry time is going. Do you covet opportunities to hoard comfort apart from considering the needs and wellbeing of others? Or are you consistently open to offering yourself to the needs of those around you? Are you willing to sacrifice the former for the latter?
Know your own capacity.
Understanding and acknowledging our own limits and abilities, as well as allowing there to be freedom for other women to have limits and abilities very different from our own, is a mark of wisdom. It is wisdom because God the Creator has made us to be uniquely different one from another. So it’s beautiful and should be celebrated that we are different! His ability to not make one person the same is incredibly astounding. In the church, we are never seeking to make women look like each other (YIKES), but to help women look like Jesus. This means we must recognize that we have different capacities to do different things well . . . and that God has made us to be that way. Some will have a huge social capacity. Some can bake like nobody’s business. Some can teach. Some can encourage. Some can articulate brilliantly. Some can have 10 kids and seem like it doesn’t even faze them.
Knowing what your role in ministry should look like comes from the convergence of your natural gifts with the areas you need to be stretched. You should work with your husband to balance these factors so that your ministry engagement in and outside of your home works for your family. Because God’s capacity is infinite in creating such a variety of people, we should not expect this to look the same for every women in His church. With the help of our husbands and those around us, we need to know our own capacities. Then, we must be careful not to use our capacities as a standard for others.
One of my favorite things about watching God build His kingdom through the life givers around me is that it looks so different from mother to mother. Let’s love each other. Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge how amazing it is when our sister has a powerful gift that we don’t have. Let’s rejoice in a creative God. And then let’s pour ourselves out for others in front of our children, for God’s glory and for those little precious one’s benefit.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.