Family First? (RJS)


A couple of times last week Scot advertised a conference on Evangelicals and the Early Church to be held next week at Wheaton College. I wish I could attend, as it looks fascinating. But one of the things I noticed immediately when Scot posted the agenda was the ratio of male to female speakers and respondents (17 men, 1 woman). Now I don’t think that this rather lopsided agenda is the result of discrimination on the part of Wheaton or the conference organizers. In fact I’ve been told that more women were asked. Rather, I expect that it reflects, at least in part, a deeper problem – and the subject of this post.

Perhaps the title of this post should be “Family First!” but the question I wish to address is not the importance of family or the commitment of parents to invest time and energy in raising rearing their children.  Those are a given. Rather I would like to consider how this plays out in our world today, especially within evangelicalism. For those who would like to see a diversity of voices both male and female represented in evangelical thought, making use of the gifts of all, it is a particularly significant question.

Family commitments play a significant role in the decisions women make – and these decision influence the availability of women to contribute to the intellectual life of our church. Within evangelical circles there is a pressure, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, to focus inward on family commitments at the expense of outward commitments. This can take many forms – none of them wrong in and of themselves – individual families make decisions that are best for their situation. But there is an underlying implication that a woman has somehow failed by putting an outward focused goal over the milestones, small or large, of family life; not over family, but over some ideal of what family commitment should be.

There is no one right answer or easy solution – but I would like to open this topic up for conversation. Perhaps the following questions will help guide the conversation:

Is it important to have both male and female voices represented in evangelical thought?

What does it mean to put family first? and What are the relative merits of an inward focus and an outward focus?

Should a mother’s focus be first and foremost inward? A father’s?

How does this play out in your life?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Peter

    I have a friend who says, “There is no LESS family-friendly institution in your neighborhood than the local church.” She refers, of course to the demands placed on individuals to “run the machine,” and this is a little different from your topic, but is the basis for my response to the question, Is it important to have both male and female voices represented in evangelical thought? It is. But it is more important to have male and female voices in a child’s daily life, so as we approach issues like this, my emphasis would be on the priority of children and family and how their parents must live a balanced life (with “margin”) so that they can take care of one another and the children AND make a contribution to evangelical thought, etc.

  • Anon

    A balanced life for sure – but children should learn that sometimes a balanced life means outward looking. They are not the center of the universe.
    Some of the pressure within evangelicalism creates an unnecessary guilt trip. A professional women who must travel will feel this acutely.
    It often leads to micromanagement (helicopter parents) as a opposed to an approach that trains kids how to go out.
    It deprives the world and the church of, as the post suggests, a diversity of voices.

  • It would seem that Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 are the most specific teachings on the ministry of mothers. From them it seems that priority in the ministry of mothers is given to the home and as she grows in wisdom it extends to other mothers.
    So in my family my wife supports my provision for the family by tending to the needs in the home. As she grows in wisdom she will her ministry will extend to other mothers.

  • AprilK

    I feel this acutely. My oldest is almost 8 and slowly, over time, I’m coming more and more to terms with my limitations as a woman (mother of young children, anyway) in church.
    What’s crazy is that my husband isn’t nearly as interested in leadership or pursuing a close mentoring or discipling relationship as I am. Yet, he has many more opportunities by virtue of the fact that he can meet another guy for lunch or breakfast. Not only that,
    We are in a house church, so I do have more flexibility than women in conventional churches. Also, our model of doing church lends itself to more creativity. I’ve found ways to contribute despite the pull and distractions of home. (See my blog for more. I disciple the children in our group, and since we’re intergenerational the adults also participate in the kids’ time. It’s a sneaky way to disciple the adults, too!)
    Last week I had a very encouraging experience, though. My husband and I were meeting at a restaurant with the couple who oversees the network of house churches we belong to to talk about some leadership shifts. Our youngest daughter (4) was with us. It was late in the afternoon and more cumbersome to arrange childcare than to just bring her along. She needed to go to the bathroom (as kids *always* seem need to do at a restaurant!!) I took her (though my husband did offer). I fully expected the conversation to go on without me. When we got back to the table I found they’d waited for me to return. I felt affirmed and that my voice was valuable enough for them to wait. Sadly, I’d become resigned to missing out on conversations and knowing that would mean my voice wasn’t as prominent, so I expected them to carry on without me. It made me feel really good that they waited for me.

  • AprilK

    Sorry about the extra words in my post…my kids interrupted me and I didn’t edit before I posted!! Funny considering the topic. 🙂

  • RJS

    I put up this post today – to open a conversation on this issue – because the fact is that if I had taken the inward approach I would not be here writing on this blog today. I would not have developed the discipline, understanding, perspective, and position to make it possible. It isn’t just education, it is a whole stack of factors.
    I have turned down opportunities for family reasons, especially repeating commitments. But I also took many opportunities – including, for example, speaking at a meeting while my husband took our daughter to the first day of kindergarten (many years ago now). We are a team – and our kids have priority – but I am not the one who is always there. This is a hard problem … and it is made harder, I think, by unreasonable expectations of family in evangelical circles.

  • dopderbeck

    On the question of “evangelical voices”: yes, we need more women.
    On families: I think this is at least in part a generational thing. My wife and I are in our early 40’s, and we’re both third-generation evangelicals. I’d say we’re more of a “team” than our parents were, and certainly more than our grandparents. But for us, in all honesty, my wife has borne much more of the child-rearing load than me. Partly this is a pragmatic thing — I’m a lawyer and she’s a pre-school teacher, so I’m the one with income potential as well as the one with crazy work hours. But partly it’s also a set of choices.
    Our expectations for our daughter, however, are that she’ll go on to train for some kind of career. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up becoming a lawyer.
    On “unreasonable expectations”: I dunno, in my present church setting I almost feel that the expectations are more realistic than those of the professional circles I run in. Our church has a strong family feel, with tons of support for parents and kids. Either a man or a woman who made career decisions based on family considerations would be supported. In my professional world, working less hours either as a man or a woman for family reasons is still at least tacitly frowned upon.

  • Nitika

    For me motherhood has meant the practical death of my career. Aspirations of academics beyond the M.A. I squeezed in during my 1st pregnancy (and with carry along infant) are dashed for the forseeable future. Actually I’m quite thankful for this blog as it affords a taste of an intellectual life even when a formal one is impossible.

  • Randy G.

    Although you don’t play it up here, the context is an academic conference at Wheaton College, which considers itself a flagship institution of evangelicalism. This means that the ratio of speakers issues includes that of evangelical academia.
    When I was in campus ministry, our ministry supported an already-existent group of female faculty who met monthly to offer support to one another as female evangelical faculty that they felt they did not receive in their churches. Of course the whole issue of churches’ support of academics in their membership is larger than just gender.
    What our ministry in particular did was to offer opportunities in a monthly brown-bag forum for male and female faculty to tell their stories. Particularly relevant to your post was that we regularly let them tell stories of how they balanced their lives between church, profession and family. Here female faculty and students actually heard stories of husbands sacrificing for their wives’ academic careers as well as the other way round.
    Randy G.

  • MarkP

    Peter says, ‘I have a friend who says, “There is no LESS family-friendly institution in your neighborhood than the local church.” She refers, of course to the demands placed on individuals to “run the machine,”‘
    There’s truth to this, but I need to add that part of the reason is that we as a culture have given so much priority to our professions, hobbies, and participation in consumer culture that the church has been marginalized. Often we hear complaints about an evening church-related meeting or two once or twice a month, as if we didn’t care about the demands of the family. But the truth is it’s the demands of their careers, email, extra curricular activities, and so on that leaves so little time. It used to be that Saturdays and Sundays were available for shopping and family time, but now a lot of that has to be packed into evenings. And the church stuff, at the bottom of the list, gets the guilt about being “the least family friendly.”

  • Paul’s letters make it clear that the faith community (the church) as a body has priority over “the family.” Only after addressing the community does he turn to address wives, husbands, children, parents, slaves, masters. The elevation of the USAmerican nuclear “Christian” family borders on sheer, unadulterated idolatry. As a pastor I’ve heard the family priority used time and again to cancel out engagement with the local body of Christ. It is not GOD-FAMILY-CHURCH in the New Testament; it is GOD-CHURCH-FAMILY… Check it out for yourself; and, yes, I anticipate strong push-back on making this New Testament observation known.

  • And my vision of the faith community/church (comment #11) is not one of “the machine.”

  • #11 & 12 John Frye — If you have time today, I’d love to hear you explain more. Have you read When the Church was a Family by John Hellerman? I haven’t read it, but a friend of mine blogged about it and I read his synopsis. I’m intrigued by this idea, and agree with you that the family is an idol among Christian evangelicals. Ironic how we segregate ages and fracture the family as soon as we arrive at the church building, though, isn’t it? One of the biggest challenges in our house church is the intergenerational aspect of it. It’s messy, noisy, full of distractions, but rewarding, and I hope to see more rewards as my kids get older. On topic, it allows my voice to be more present though, because it’s alright for my kids to accompany me to a meeting (like I mentioned above).

  • Rick

    John #11 and #12 brings up a good point. However, I do see family as the front line under the umbrella of church/mission.

  • Holly

    Wow. Oh Boy. This is a really tough topic.
    I feel that we do need more women represented in religious academia, and yet, feel that children and family deserve a heavy proportion of our attention.
    I grew up as a pastor’s child, then have been a pastor’s wife for most of the last twenty years. My husband and I have eight children.
    I would say that our family runs more smoothly when our children know they have our focus, our attention, and that they come first. Statistically, there is quite a bit of resentments from ministry children when they perceive that the church was more important to their parents than they are.
    I do feel there are solutions. I, too, think that a husband and a wife are supposed to be a true team, one not more important than the other. I think that if fathers do more in the home and with the children (such as RJS’s husband being willing to take their daughter to the first day of Kindergarten) then it frees the mother up to be involved on a higher level, if she wishes. There shouldn’t be a social stigma about this – as long as (for the most part) it is a parent who is caring for the children. I have, unfortunately, seen nurseries over-utilized (for hours and hours on end, for weeks on end) so that mom or dad could “serve God” in some way. I always thought that if I were the child in that situation, I too would become resentful.
    Another solution, from my viewpoint as a pastor’s wife: congregations could be a true help in equalizing the situation. They could help the mother to flourish – perhaps offering to stay with the children some or to do other needful things which would free her up for pursuits that important to her and that she is gifted with. What if parents committed to do this for each other? There is always a balance to be had, of course, and I think we need to be careful that children always know they are highly important – but there truly are solutions.
    I have always felt that it doesn’t do us much good to “win” or influence the world, if we “lose” the ones that are closest to us. The intense parenting years don’t last that long for most couples (‘tho they do if you have 8 children…) and there is much that can be done to make sure that mom’s voice gets heard and her gifts are developed. In truth, parenting DOES take great sacrifice – from both a father and a mother. All good things, all worthwhile things, however, take great sacrifice, time, investment, and hard work. There is little that is more important (imho) than investing your love and your time – truly influencing the next generation – in the ones God has put closest to you.
    John Frye, #11 , you do make a good point that in some quarters there is an elevation of family that nears idolatry. I think that is a pretty small section, however. We need to guard against it, but I still think it is very good for a mother and a father to invest, together, in raising their family. It is very important for their well-being. It is also important for the primary focus of the family to be to lift each other up, to say, “how can I help my spouse or my child achieve his/her goals?”

  • Jonathan

    As a child raised in an evangelical home and an evangelical church, I’d like to offer this observation:
    The nuclear family, precisely because it is atomized, is just a hell of a lot of work for parents. And if raising/rearing one’s children is seen as something that is set over-against church-life (which, at its best, is one’s work in the kingdom of God), one or the other is going to get left behind. No wonder Jesus was talking about those who follow him having to learn to hate their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters.
    However, I experienced in some small but significant ways, the phenomena of being raised at and by church. My parents didn’t have to bear the full weight of my upbringing by themselves because many adults invested in me even though I was not biologically their kid. Moreover, I felt the benefits of that, since there are just so many lessons you can learn from adults who aren’t your parents that you can’t hear from your own parents.
    So, I guess the long and short of my point here is that I hope we can someday overcome the task of managing a conflict between family and church. More, I’d love to see families embed their children in the church community and be willing to take responsibility for the rearing of each other’s kids.
    The difficulty for women in academia is another issue that weighs heavy on my heart and mind, but I don’t have much in the way of suggestions in that department. It mostly just frustrates me.

  • Sue

    It would be fascinating to get a better picture of what putting the church ahead of family actually looked like in the 1st century. I’m guessing it did not mean that church leaders should essentially abandon their families so they could attend to the “more important” tasks of running the church. Interesting that author Mark Riddle posted this quote on fb today: “Micromanaging is… the pursuit of ego in the name of excellence.”
    So while I’m sure that family can be an idol (#11), so also can be an individual’s need for acclamation from church members.
    Still, I believe that even in systems that strongly affirm women in leadership, there still can be a “double standard” when it comes to expectations regarding childcare.
    I wonder how many congregations with gifted women leaders have ever said to those women, “Look, your gifts are needed by churches outside our own, so if you ever have an opportunity to speak at a conference we will be more than happy to pitch in to house and to shuttle your four kids around for a week or two so you can have the extra time to prepare and get away.”
    And I’m guessing there isn’t a conference out there that has said to any church-leader-who-is-also-a-parent, “Look, we value your voice at this conference so much that we are going to additionally fund however much extra childcare you might need so you can be here. You find the best nanny for a week, and we’ll pay for it. Or if grandma/grandpa needs a plane ticket to fly out for the week, we’ll cover it and the cost of a rental van.”
    Does that ever happen?

  • dopderbeck

    John (#11) — I hear what you’re saying, but I wonder if churches today, at least in North America, can manage this kind of priority. When the NT epistles were written, it seems that the local church often met in homes. It became a sort of extended family. That’s hard to do when you’re 1000 people meeting on Sunday morning in a big sanctuary. If the “church” priority is all about keeping that sanctuary-complex moving, then it’s a problem. But if the “church” priority includes, say, small groups that meet in homes, then it makes more sense.

  • Pat

    Excellent questions and YES, not only do male and female voices need to represented, but EVERY voice–black, white, Latino, Asian, young, old, single, married, etc. When we minimize any one voice, we do ourselves as disservice because we do not get the privilege of hearing from God’s creation.
    As for women and family responsibilities, if a woman needs to be away for a speaking/teaching engagement, the man should pitch in. They are not only his children too, but it is his way of actively supporting the call of God on his wife’s life. However, I suppose one’s view of this comes to their view of the sexes and their accompanying roles.
    When you speak of family first, I’m reminded of Billy Graham who spent a lot of time away from his family, but he and Ruth both felt that it was needful for him to obey the call on his life. So, I think one has to think about each and every invitation and their larger call in the context of what would it mean to and for their family and if God is calling you, He will provide you with the resources needed as well as the wisdom to balance one’s time well.

  • I find it interesting that so many of the comments have not addressed your very first question: is it important to have both male and female voices represented in evangelical thought.
    I believe it is crucial, as we attempt to reflect God’s image, Christ’s likeness, in the world. According to Genesis 1, it takes both the male and the female to bear God’s image… so when we are missing the second half, it is actually rather tragic– whether it be in the (where, in families with ‘traditional’ roles we are often missing the male presence), in church leadership (we are often missing the female), in preaching/theology/pastoral care (again, often missing the female).
    That said, I don’t think we need to become the egalitarian police who are ready to strike if there aren’t equal numbers of men and women in certain venues. But I do think it’s important to continue to vocalize the truth of the end of Genesis 1. We need to keep saying it and paying attention to the places where we are missing one voice/presence or the other. Whatever we believe are the differences between men and women (and there is much open for discussion there), we should try to watch and listen for the image of God in both.

  • Randy G.

    RJS #6,
    Your short little story about commitments and Kindergarten is wonderful to hear. More evangelicals — husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and daughters and sons — need to hear just that simple bit of story from some of the wives and mothers among us, just to know that this too is possible and beautiful.
    Randy G.

  • Terry

    I was formulating a comment in my mind as I was rapidly reading through the previous comments. John at #11 & 12 – you have nailed it from my perspective. Jonathan at #16 you completed it. As both a pastor and parent for nearly 25 years this is exactly what I’ve observed, and precisely the effort we’ve made with your own children in the community of faith. Our kids have greatly benefited from this effort, and we and they have been challenged at every turn by the families (and their priorities) within the Body of Christ since they were little.
    RJS at #6. You likely have dealt personally with the kind of challenge I am referencing (after all, how could a mother who calls herself a Christian not involve herself on a child’s first day or kindergarten… 😉 I am so glad for your effort and example. Know that there are those of us who are too-often considered part of the machine (when we’re really working and praying for something so much more) who are very much in your corner and thankful for your example.
    In these kinds of conversations, Scripture like the context of 1 Corinthians 7:29 is never very far from my mind.

  • Jeremy

    John (#11),
    The only pushback I’d give you is that the church spoken of in the NT looks absolutely nothing like the church in North America (for the most part). I’d even hazard that they’re so different as to be apples and oranges. The problem may be in part due to the general busyness of Western culture, but I think it’s deeper than that.
    If I had to pick reasons why I think we have these problems:
    1 – Consumer culture. 90% of the church shows up at 10 and is gone by 12:30. This means that all of the work, which is significant, falls on 10%. My dad is a pastor that’s particularly conscious of this problem and he’s found himself having to shut down different things to preserve the well-being of the volunteers.
    2 – Churches today are often institutions, not true communities. They are run by administrators and professional pastors rather than volunteer members of the community. In my experience, they also have a strong tendency to treat volunteers and workers as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.
    3 – As said before, the structure of the American family means extended family is something distant and maybe seen on weekends. For the NT family, you would have multiple generations under a single roof. Grandma and Grandpa weren’t people you saw at Sunday lunch or 2 weeks over the summer.
    There’s more, I’m sure. Anyway, I think churches as actual communities would resolve some of the issues RJS speaks of. As that’s probably an unreasonable thing to expect, I would just have to say that my parents formed a network of family and friends that helped each other out, sometimes requiring us to stay with someone else for a couple of weeks, and we all turned out just fine. We have really odd ideas of what the “christian family” or church is supposed to look like in North America in relation to what they would have looked like during the time of the NT.

  • Ann

    Thank you, RJS. I’ve struggled w/ these questions a lot. I come from an egalitarian, highly academic family. While I was in seminary part-time, raising 2 children, my husband was traveling extensively for his work. I thoroughly enjoy engagement in biblical languages, philosophical & theological studies, but it took me 10 years to complete my seminary degree, because of the demands of our home (and I was happy to be there for our kids and my husband!). While I had plenty of academic & theological insights in seminary that seemed to supplement and/or complement the writings of men who were theologians or linguists or academics, I didn’t take the time to write for academic journals or pursue a PhD, even though encouraged by family and professors. I had a complementarian professor once admit to me that he’d “not read that passage the same way again” after my exegesis. Honestly, I didn’t have the energy at the end of the day to write more. (I admire that you do have that energy!)
    Would I change my focus in retrospect? Not given my husband’s travel schedule, I think. Parenting for us was also real-life engagement in what the journey of following God means and lives out. My theological insights are all the richer for raising children, and for my previous background in business. However, I also recognize really clearly that I was never as supported & encouraged in ministry as my fellow male students were. I was never asked to preach at our church, although I interned for 9 months there. My academic achievement was perceived as challenging to many men, rather than encouraging and alongside them. My choices were also threatening to some women, who may have perceived my life as challenging their own stay-at-home decisions. It was easier for me to desist, withdraw and focus on parenting, when confronted with the push-back.
    So, yes, I think it is critical for the church to be the image of God in creation – representing both male and female in our voice to the world. The church, historically & today, has suffered from speaking with only the male voice, too often, in my opinion. I don’t see this change occurring, however, without concerted efforts by men to incorporate women theologians, at the local level (both supportive husbands, and churches which intentionally invest in & support gifted and called women), and at the broader level in seminaries & professors supporting families. Men who are married and fathers are seen & treated as individuals, but women are behind them, frequently carrying more of the family’s load so that the men are free to achieve more academically and professionally. If women’s voices are valued, how should local resources be deployed to allow them the time to parent AND to study, write and speak that would otherwise be spent on laundry, cleaning and taxi service? Would communities even consider that use of their resources to support gifted women to be healthy? (I’ve seen the unspoken answer, “no” in almost every context I’ve lived and ministered.)

  • I appreciate the responses to comment #11 and even Jeremy’s gentle push back (#23) was thoughtful. I am aware that the 21st century USAmerican evangelical church is a far cry from the 1st century experience of “church.” That was not my pastoral concern. It is the idolatrous nature of “family” used to negate the claims of the kingdom of God upon our lives. I think Jesus had some pretty serious things to say about “family” intervering with the claims of the kingdom. Behind the Apostle Paul’s teachings we must hear the echo of Jesus Christ.
    Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to hear more from our sisters in Christ at almost every forum where evangelicals gather.

  • Carin2Learn

    I want to remind this community that the Church does not consist of just the evangelical church. We cannot assume when someone says they grew up Christian what pressures they felt. I grew up in a church and small community where I felt expected to put career above family, like someone mentioned the professional world also does. Discovering the value of focusing on my children and husband instead of myself was a valuable lesson, and not one I learned from my local church.
    There needs to be a balance, not dictated by the church, but by patient listening by the individual, the family, and the community to God who will flourish his gifts as he wishes in whom he wishes how he wishes if we will stand aside and let him work.

  • rebeccat

    John (#25),
    I’m not sure what exactly you are seeing in terms of family as idolatry, but I’m a bit concerned about the separation between family and kingdom work which seems to be embedded in what you are saying. I’m a mom of 6 kids and believe it or not, I have six kids because 6 times God made it quite clear to my husband and myself that it was His will for our family. For practical reasons, as well as reasons of gifting, I am the parent whose time is primarily devoted to caring for the kids and home. However, I am also blessed to be gifted in many ways and one of the things which I have struggled enormously with is that I am not using my gifts outside of the family. I’d like to write, I’d like to teach, I may want to attend seminary, work with run away kids or at least put in regular shifts at the local food shelf. But I just can’t. And after a while I found myself becoming resentful of my family obligations and even of God for asking me to take them on. I want to be doing Kingdom work and not be stuck figuring out what to make for dinner! However, over time God has forced me to see that much of my desire to be out in the world doing kingdom work is ego driven. And that the work He has me doing right now is some of the most intensive kingdom work any of us will ever do. He gave these children to me to care for because He cares deeply about them and what I am doing is very important to Him. This is not glamorous and not at all what I want to hear, but I do think it is reality. So, again, I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to when you speak of people idolizing family over kingdom work, but please be careful. I’m sure there are many parents working very hard, making many sacrifices and walking a lonely path who already feel that they are failing the church and the kingdom. Perhaps some people are denying the work that God would have them do outside the home. But perhaps for many people the kingdom work God has given them to do is found in the home.

  • Carin – the post is specifically about evangelicalism and conferences/institutions within evangelicalism and whether or not women’s voices are fairly represented within that framework. For me, it’s good and healing to have a safe place to talk about these things with people who come from the same background and already “get” it.

  • Carin2Learn

    Good pt., April K. We do need safe places for discussion. I am intruding on a conversation of which I have not been part of the culture. I did go to Wheaton College for a time but what stuck with me as a student, coming from a small, rural community, was the vast number of perspectives and practices of Christianity that were different than what I grew up with.
    I find in conversations with self-described evangelicals that it is assumed that if you identify yourself as Christian and seem wholeheartedly devoted to God then you must also have an evangelical background. It seems like maybe there is some tunnel vision which limits the view of Christianity to evangelicalism. Therefore the solutions from other traditions which may already have wrestled with an issue are not considered, or that other traditions need the messages that the evangelical church has to share – like the importance of sacrifice for family. The difficulty is holding all these potentially opposing ideas in tension and allowing God to work as he wishes.
    #27 Rebeccat said: … I’m a bit concerned about the separation between family and kingdom work which seems to be embedded in what you are saying.
    I definitely like what you are saying. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • rebeccat

    I kind of have a problem with the way that RJS has framed the discussion. Rather than questioning the appropriateness of women’s devotion to raising their children to the exclusion of focusing outwards, why is the challenge not to reduce the conflict between what the outer world demands and what families want/need? It is enormously frustrating to me that women have been in the workforce for several decades now, and yet have had very little impact on they system of workplace expectations and demands which was put in place by and for men. It is that structure which I think needs to be challenged for the benefit of everyone – men, women and children! Likewise for the church. If the church is demanding things which are not practical for families, then why is the assumption that this is a problem with families and not with the church’s demands? Yes, it is unfair that women are often the ones who sacrifice their careers and even voices in the church to take care of family. However, the reality is that success, opportunities and recognition require an absurd amount of time and energy. Because of this, not many people can afford to pick up the slack when our spouse needs to put in the extra time or travel without having it negatively affect our own opportunities and success. Yes, my husband is more than willing to go 50/50 with me on child rearing and such. Heck, he’d prefer it that way. However, the reality is that if we each had to sacrifice our careers enough to keep our family going, neither of us would be given the opportunity to fully use our gifts out in the world anyways. Which is ridiculous – the person who is most able/willing to free themselves of family obligations in order to be available all the time isn’t necessarily even the person who is best suited to do the work that needs to be done! I think the appropriate question is: how does the church step away from a male-centric model of doing church and being given opportunities to be heard? How does the church work to reduce the conflict between devotion to family and devotion to church to begin with? What accommodations can the church offer to both men and women to help pick up the slack created when mom or dad does have an opportunity to serve outside the home? If the church and academia were places where gifting and calling were as given even more weight than hours and face time, I think we’d see a lot more egalitarian families and hear a lot more women’s voices.

  • Carin2Learn

    I can also respond directly to the questions RJS put forward. Yes, we are stronger the more God-breathed voices we have contributing to the Church, like someone also said: old, young, child, male, female, evangelical, non-evangelical Christian, from all our various cultures.
    I agree with Rebeccat that we should not put inward focus and outward focus in opposition. Everything is in opposition to our upward focus unless upward is first. And I don’t mean to be “so heavenly focused as to be of no earthly use.” That’s just not being Christ focused at all. To the extent we focus on Christ first, do what he says to do, when he says, as he says, we serve both our family and our church. The more surrendered every part of our life is to him, the more he shows us this. The difficulty is sorting out his voice from all the other voices, including that of the church.
    Your story, RJS, about choosing to work and have your husband take your child to kindergarten is an example of the way a husband also can contribute to a wife following a call of God on her life.
    It’s not husband vs wife, career vs kids. That kind of thinking spells death to joy and life. It’s about daily, deeply depending on God for what he asks you to do next. Not that I have attained all this, but I press on…

  • Carin2Learn

    #30 Rebeccat said: how does the church step away from a male-centric model of doing church and being given opportunities to be heard? How does the church work to reduce the conflict between devotion to family and devotion to church to begin with? What accommodations can the church offer to both men and women to help pick up the slack created when mom or dad does have an opportunity to serve outside the home?
    Yes, these are the questions I have too. I think reducing the amount of time the children are segregated from the adult life of the church and restoring inter-generational relationships are part of the answer. We will only understand each other’s perspectives, gifts, and needs if we are in relationship with each other. We need less top-down, somebody telling everybody else what to do structure, and more listening.

  • rebeccat (#27),
    In a post and comments like this one, we make general observations that do not mean to single out specific people. I honor you and your husband and the choices you have made. Do not take my general observation (that I think is quite valid) as an indictment of you.
    I am pretty sure that you are aware of the numerous times Jesus warned about letting family ties negate His kingdom call to the new kingdom way of life (see, e.g., Matt 10:37-39). Jesus redefined “family” as “anyone who does the will of My Father” and that is those who respond in faith to the Gospel of the Kingdom. Belief ties are stronger and have priority over blood ties.

  • RJS

    Carin2Learn and rebeccat,
    I have no desire to question free choices made by others – we are all in different situations and feel different convictions. I don’t think we need quotas or “egalitarian police” (thanks KrisAnne #20 – great expression). I don’t think we will ever have a 50/50 ratio – nor should we. Nor do I think we put career above all – and in my case I am thinking of academia in particular (my field – in secular academia). We do have to make choices for the good of family.
    Scot has said in earlier posts that he made choices when his kids were young to avoid many kinds of commitments – but the studying and reading he did and environment he was in during that time put him in a place to have an impact today.
    But there is a pressure within some circles that will prevent women from being in a position to contribute to things like this Wheaton conference. While it is possible to step back for a while, it really isn’t possible, with rare exceptions, to step away entirely and come back. Even the 6-8 years of “intensive parenting” is too much – and the pressure on women to step way for much longer than this can be intense.
    Terry caught my point about missing the first day of kindergarten in his comment above. At that time I was not thinking about ministry – just about tenure, and without accepting such invitations I would not be in a position to be tenured. Was this simply a case of putting career above family – selfish self interest? (And there were many more such little decisions.) That is the argument that many would make.
    But without focusing part of my attention outward at that time I would not be in a position to contribute in a forum like this blog today.

  • Trav

    In the comments here there has been a lot of rhetoric but little substance. People have suggested that church comes before family, but I’m a little perplexed as to how, practically, this could possibly be the case. Assuming that, like most on this blog, you’re an employee of some kind with a full time employment of some description, most of your time will be taken up with that (regardless of whether it’s a ministry role or not). On top of this, you have your extra time- You have ministries in your church- worship team or mens ministry or your small group or what have you. But how can one put this “ahead” of one’s family, when kids need constant care and attention? It’s not like you can leave the kids at home while you go and lead your small group together. If you did, I’d imagine you’d be quite negligible parents!
    I think what I’m suggesting here is where possible, find synthesis between church and family- become a part of the church, join with other families. But to paint them as “one being ahead of the other” is far too simplistic. And we definitely should not avoid giving kids the care and attention they thoroughly deserve whilst serving in church. Further I’d argue that looking after children is a kids ministry in and of itself.

  • rebeccat

    RJS: “While it is possible to step back for a while, it really isn’t possible, with rare exceptions, to step away entirely and come back. Even the 6-8 years of “intensive parenting” is too much ”
    My point is doesn’t this seem REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY flat-out, no-excuses-for-it WRONG? I’m probably coming from a different place because I’ve felt the pressure to do something other than parent much more keenly than I’ve ever felt any pressure to be home with my kids, but I don’t think the problem is with people putting family before other things. I think it’s that we live in a world that is so intolerant of and unwilling to work with parents (particularly women) in this regard. I think that the reality that there is no room for people to step away entirely, mostly or really partially is plain evil and what ought to be up for discussion.

  • rebeccat

    John Frye:
    I feel like I must have totally not done a good job explaining myself. I was just using my story as an example to make a much larger point: that pursuing kingdom work and serving one’s family are sometimes the same thing. And many of us who are called to serve the kingdom through our families struggle with this because it’s unrecognized, under-appreciated, unglamorous work. In that context, to be told that family is idolatry and real kingdom work is done elsewhere (which is what your original message seems to say is often your experience), can be very problematic. I totally get that as believers we can’t decide that our family ties have priority over God’s ways and calling in our lives. Of course, we can’t do that with our church commitments by declaring them kingdom work either. I guess I’d need more context to really get what you are seeing and where you are coming from with your comments though. As I said to RJS, perhaps I’m not getting this because I’ve never felt any pressure to be home with my kids or be devoted to my family in a particular way, but I’ve felt a lot of pressure to pursue a career or do kingdom work “that really counts” in the outside world.

  • kerry

    Thanks for this post, to which I would like to add a couple of thoughts
    This relatively modern idea of family, with a “working father” and a “stay-at-home-mother is a response, not to the Gospel but to the industrial revolution. In agrarian societies, vocation and family life are far more closely entwined. Yet, somehow this has been baptised as the Christian ideal, in spite of the limitations thereby imposed on both women and men.
    Women’s voices become absent from evangelical discussions for many reasons
    • Lack of role models – I have heard dozens of spiritually minded young women state a desire to be a missionary, which is an acceptable goal, but not one say they wanted to be a pastor or an academic.
    • Lack of “calling out” and financial support of young women, when compared to their equally gifted male peers by the churches that reared them
    • The critical years of pregnancy, breast-feeding and toddlers that leave enormous gaps on CV’s
    • Women’s ministries where the content is far too often twee and could rarely be described as academically rigorous. It certainly would not nurture a budding academic! They also formalise single gender discussions as the norm.
    • Little awareness in the elected leadership of the church that women may bring something of value to the table that is shaped by the lived female experience.
    • If there is any consciousness at all of the need for another perspective (I shudder – “a woman’s perspective”) the only voices heard tend to be those of the wives of deacons and elders (which is very problematic for a number of reasons)
    • The loneliness of being a trail-blazer
    • Disrespect shown by men towards non-traditional men who support their non-traditional wives in ministry or academic pursuits by sharing child-care more equitably.
    All of my examples pertain to the local church but I think that is where the battle is won or lost, only later showing up in the academy. I write from an Australian perspective.

  • Scot McKnight

    Kerry, what in the world does “twee” mean?

  • RJS

    Some of the problem is societal – an unwillingness to work with parents. But some of it is just practical, we only have so many years to live and only so many hours in a day – so a choice in one direction will limit options in others. I also don’t think that there is a “perfect time” for anything – all decisions require sacrifice and/or a balancing act.
    Most people (women) won’t return to try to get the degree or develop the discipline to write or whatever. Life just keeps on keeping on. But – there are exceptions, and exceptions happen when someone retains the desire and acts on it when the time seems right (not “perfect”). These days with on-line education options from reputable institutions there are more options than in the past. Many people can get a start pursuing relevant degrees (assuming that is the desire), although money can still be an issue of course.

  • JAR

    There is nothing better than being a stay-at-home dad, if you ask me. It might be against the evangelical ideal of the male-led household but I don’t care.
    I do think you can chalk up a lot of the bias against women taking time away from work for family to Christianity. Not that there’s anything in the Bible, but evangelical Christians typically vote Republican, and Republicans typically oppose laws that would do things like expand maternity leave or ensure women are paid equally for the same work.
    It’s fine in concept to say that God comes before family, but when the rubber hits the road it’s not typically God that’s asking for the time, it’s the institutional church in the persona of the pastor. And what they want your time for may or may not be something more important than your family. I’ve sat through too many useless committees going round in circles on church administrivia to ever regret missing a meeting because of family.

  • Carin2Learn

    It may seem like rhetoric to put God first but seriously, taking your particular situation to God in prayer works: “What should I do? How do I balance work, church, and family? Should I pursue that seminary degree now, later or never? Where should I put my energy?” He answers, and his answers are individual to us which is why we can’t judge other people based on the difference between the answer he gives them compared to us.
    God also expands our horizons beyond what culture or church imprints into us. He puts people into our lives to speak into it what we need. Hopefully as we get directions from him, we’ll have a family and a church that will help make it happen, like our job is also to help others fulfill God’s plan for them. If we don’t have that support, well God can work within those limitations, frustrating though it can be.
    As for the church reducing the limitations it places unnecessarily on families, men, and women, it sounds like a case of needing a broader understanding of the various ways God works with his people, which means getting out of the evangelical bubble to look at other traditions, cultures, and other time periods (more than just the last 80 years or the early church).

  • kerry

    twee = affectedly dainty or quaint, sweet

  • kerry

    “twee” = affectedly dainty or quaint, sweet

  • Ann

    Kerry, just so you can hear 1 evangelical woman say it: “I want to be a theologian/academic & a pastor.” Now, I’ll spare you the recounting of the number of times I’ve been smacked down for that calling! I’m still working at it, and it’s a much longer road than the young men usually take, but I’ll persevere.
    And, yes, to point # 2 (I wasn’t paid for interning at my church, but my fellow male intern was…)
    #3 is true, but I covered up that time with seminary studies!
    And, yes, to point # 4 — twee is a good descriptor!
    and, yes, yes, yes to the rest of your excellent points.
    An interesting note on your last comment — I came to Christ in the midst of a highly academic environment, not in any local church. As a matter of fact, I recall one pastor telling me that I should quit my college, quit school, and be a secretary until I was married. Thank the Lord, I was already mature enough in listening to the Lord’s voice that I could tell he wasn’t speaking as God spoke to me! I knew that wasn’t the God who called me talking.

  • rebeccat (#37),
    Again, I trust your judgment, your powers of discernment and do believe that your ministry to your family is kingdom of God work. However, as a pastor, I’ve heard people use “the family” priority to avoid kingdom of God work. If that does not apply to you, fine. I have discussed this with other pastors and we agree…the elevation of Christian family to an idolatrous place comes often from focusing on the family and all that kind of emphasis, if you catch my drift. So, what is good and a God-given gift (like family) becomes an excuse to avoid Jesus’ claims on our lives. The USAmerican idea of “family” is a marketing unit. God bless you, my sister.

  • He, His, Him

    As long as God is seen as exclusively MALE then there place for the women at HIS table will be limited. As long as everything is He, His, and Him there will always be the subtle (only subtle because it has been so prevalent) reminder that MEN, in particular are created in the image of God while women, well, they are the glory of man (whatever the hell that means.) But heaven help us, we wouldn’t want to open PANDORA’S box and consider that, occasionally, we might visit and possibly verbalize an image of God that was She, Hers, and Her.

  • Peggy

    …wish I had time to read all the comments, but there are just too many for this tired old mom!
    1. Yes, we need to have all the voices and perspectives represented, not just some.
    2. When I was on the pastoral staff, my precious husband was “pied piper” to our three boys when we were/I was at church functions. Couldn’t have asked for more. And he had a full time job, to boot!
    3. I have come to believe that we must live our faith out in our family at home first before we have validity in the neighborhood and the wider world. Not a cop out, John, but a balance between responsibilities as parents to our own children as a way of living in the Kingdom. Too many neglect the spiritual raising of their children, abdicating it to “the machine” or “the institution” that sometimes masquerades as the church. There’s a whole lot of history there that I don’t have time to unpack….
    Thanks for the post RJS…sorry not more time to interact.

  • RJS

    I agree completely that we must live our faith out in our family at home first. This is non-negotiable. But the real question is what this entails. I don’t think it requires a woman to focus all attention and effort inward.
    Personally I think this is seen in how we treat each other – are love and respect foremost, what kind of language is used, how are the children shaped and formed, and so forth. We need and open-handed balance. And this balanced approach will allow women, at least some women who are so inclined, to be in a place to contribute in venues like that Wheaton conference I opened the post with.

  • The conference at Wheaton will be less effective for the Kingdom due to the absence of women’s voices. Helping our churches learn to support and encourage women (and their spouses) who make a variety of decisions about how they steward their gifts and abilities is vital to seeing a shift here. Giving everyone some elbow room in living obediently would alleviate a lot of guilt and feelings of not fitting in to the gender boxes we’ve built in our church communities.

  • RJS

    That is a nice turn of phrase – “giving everyone some elbow room in living obediently.” This is exactly what we need – we cannot have it all – and an attempt to do so will inevitably go off the tracks somewhere. But we do need elbow room to allow different individuals and families to discover the best set of compromises for their situations. There is more than one way to live obediently.