Take Your Life Back From the Church

My heart just breaks for those who are going through difficult times in ministry. Over in the Kidology forums I read of children’s ministry leaders who are going through incredibly difficult times in ministry – budget cuts, conflicts with leadership, church difficulties, etc. But one common thread that surfaces often is how over worked and exhausted leaders are and how many hours they are working and how their family life is suffering and how on the verge of quitting they are.


I’d like to be a bit bold and issue a DECEMBER CHALLENGE to all children’s ministry leaders.

Church ministry is hard. Church politics is so easy to run into even over incredibly petty stuff – simple mistakes turn into major missteps. A kind favor can end up stepping on sensitive toes. Generosity can be perceived as selfish ambition. You can bump into power control without even intending to. What you think will be embraced can be pushed away and what you think will be received with gratitude can instead be greeted with skepticism.  It can be incredibly hurtful and discouraging if we allow it. It takes constant, even daily reminders of WHOM WE SERVE to keep sane. People will misinterpret – assume the worst, jump to conclusions, judge motives; all kinds of things, when you are just trying to serve the Lord.

LET ME ENCOURAGE YOU. EVEN ADMONISH YOU. I will say if you are doing too much (I’ve been there) you need to take drastic action and slow way down and get your family and personal life BACK at any cost. Slowing down a little doesn’t work. I’ve tried that. You must slow way down.

With the holidays coming – I’d say NOW is the time to pull away from the church and FORCE some family time. Set some office hours and stick with them. God will honor it! Here is a powerful concept: What doesn’t get done – doesn’t get done! Let what falls, fall! Seriously! Your family has fallen enough. THINK ABOUT IT: isn’t that what’s been happening at home? The bills that didn’t get paid? The lawn that didn’t get mowed? The kid that didn’t get played with? The laundry that didn’t get done? How come the home stuff was allowed to sit undone, but not the church stuff? How is that fair? How is that what God wants? Do you seriously think God wants that? Do you really believe family is first?

My pastor shared with me recently that he once asked himself, “When was the last time you canceled a church thing for family?” He knew family got canceled regularly. So he determined that church things needed to get canceled once in awhile for his family, instead of only the other way around. What a concept! It is time church got ‘hurt’ instead of family for a change!

MAKE THIS DECEMBER the month you put your family first!

I DARE YOU! And I seriously doubt God is going to let your ministry fall apart if you suddenly started putting Him and your family first.

I’m talking to EVERYONE READING THIS who knows that they have let the Monster of Ministry push their walk with God and/or their family aside. (Yes, YOU!)

IT IS TIME TO SAY NO MORE and make December the month you push back and say, forget it. “I’ve been pushed around by my job enough. I am taking charge. This is how much I am working. And what I get done gets done, and what doesn’t get done – too bad. Fire me. My family is more important to me than the church.” Them are fightin’ words! But them are godly words!! Them are words that will please God!! (and your family)

That attitude may sound like it will get you fired, but it actually might just save your job! If not, it will save your sanity.

And I’m not preaching from a mountain as one who has always done it right, I’m preaching as one who learned this the hard way, and has wounds and scars to prove it. So there is some anger and resolve in my passion. I will never let ministry hurt my family again.

It is time to stand up and push back and stop letting the church push you around! (but do it with grace)



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  1. Andy Stanley wrote a book titled “Choosing To Cheat.” It’s about how we and unwillingly choose to cheat our family by being codependent (my word) with ministry.

    You are totally right on! I also carry regrets from misguided ministry priorities. Guard your family time. There are no “do overs” at home.

  2. Color me impressed. Very good sentiment here, Karl. Family should definitely come first. On that we can agree.

  3. WOW! So totally confirms some of the stuff god has been saying to me lately! Hmmmmmmmmm…………………………. Decisions to be made I think!

  4. Amen brother! How true it is. My heart also breaks talking to fellow pastors and people involved in or working for the church that make such cuts to their family time for the sake of church ministries or programs. “Choosing to Cheat” is an AWESOME book that I would also recommend. Especially if you have your whole staff or team read it together and then discuss it!

    thanx for the great reminder Karl!

  5. Karl I couldn’t agree more. Having just been unceremoniously let go (along with several others) from a church that I poured myself in to, it was a hard realization (again!) of what’s most important…and it’s NOT my church ministry. I am thankful now for where we’re at…though it is less “secure”, it is more meaningful. My two junior high boys are and will continue to benefit from my re-ordered priorities.
    Thanks for the challenge!

  6. Right on Karl – I have had to take drastic measures in my own life and calling. Thankfully, my Pastor sees eye to eye with me and allows – should I say encourages his staff to be gone with family. And guess what? Our church and ministries here are still strong and growing

  7. Thank you Karl! Definitely what I needed to hear (from yet another source) at this time. I’m experiencing a lot of what you mentioned as difficult times. Thank you for the encouragement and affirmation of what I believe God is leading.

  8. AMEN! Fear God, not man or what man can do to you! Don’t fear failure or what you will look like.
    One of the most important things that isn’t highlighted quite enough is the importance of a SCHEDULE! Pray about it and get it written down. Include personal time, family time, office time, date night, one on one time with one of your kids, ministry time, ect…It may seem like you would loose some freedom and flexibility, but really it does the opposite and you gain more freedom! Your priorities will show to those around you when you do this!
    Also, there is peace that when things are undone that it’s ok because you have done exactly what God said to do. The part I am working on now is the discipline it takes to stick to it, which is where accountability comes in. My pastors, husband and even my own children have my schedule. It’s on my fridge and I go to it several times a day to make sure I am on track. It’s hard, but the effort pays off almost immediately!

  9. Karl, very deeply and profoundly affected by your post here. Still praying about more than just the holiday seasons. Pastoring is one of those jobs that is very hard “to leave at the office” we take it with us everywhere, at home to our kids activities and even on vacation. It also creeps into not only the amount of time we spend with God, but the quality of time we spend with Him. no matter how much we say it we in the ministry fight so hard against seeing our relationship with Him in terms of doing rather than being!

    God bless!

  10. Thank you so much for the challenge. My husband and I just talked about this issue this morning. We so appreciate you sharing the lessons learned. I needed to hear this. Merry Christmas, Brittany

  11. Great post Karl. I am really enjoying all the great comments as well to this wonderful reminder and incredible challenge.

  12. Great post Karl. I had to learn and relearn the importance of not letting ministry take over my life (especially as a single women – churches sometimes take advantage of this…).

    I read a book that drastically turned my thinking around – “Leading on Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro. I constantly fight aggressively for proper balance, not just in December, but have disciplined myself weekly to have at least one FULL day of rest and relaxation – I say no to lots of stuff on that day and even though not everyone in my life understands or accepts this practice, they still know to expect me to decline “doing” because I am taking time to “be.”

    Thanks again for the post…

  13. Excellent thoughts Karl. I did take the challenge this past year after a heart attack and subsequent heart surgery. Did great for the first five months and when the leadership in my congregation began struggling with the fact that I was no longer always available the pressure to conform increased and I crumbled back into my old ways. The economy continued to crumble and the offerings did as well. Staff people quit, or moved out of state. Leadership continued to pile more on my plate and I pushed back.

    I’m no longer at that congregation anymore. The economy forced my position to be eliminated and volunteers are now in charge of the ministry while the church continues to struggle to keep the doors open.

    In the last four weeks I have doted on myself. My closets and home are totally organized and neat as a pin. My laundry is never overflowing. My garden is planted and blooming. I actually get to the gym regularly and the chest pain that I lived with regularly is now slowly going away. In my next ministry position – or any position I am taking the words of wisdom from you and others and no longer choosing to be held captive. The concept of burning out for Jesus is no longer in my vocabulary. I will be a healthier person and a more powerful minister in the future.

  14. This applies to Moses (Exodus 4:24-26) as well as to us. The new Awana-at-home leader kit has a great DVD video message from Dr. Rienow on this. The price of the kit is worth this video alone.

    — Sean

  15. Hi! I am a product of a mother who had choosen to be more with the church than with me growing up. I’m surprised with how much I love going to church and how active I am, because normally I should’ve hated how it took my mother’s attention soo much. But I understand that it was just her human instinct to be away from my drunk father and find solace, but even as a kid I could have provide something for her or atleast had solace in each other cuz we were both there with him. Now that I’m a mother, I definitely try to be with my daughter more, no matter how much I love my children in ministry and my church family (but I do drag Elaina around with me as much as possible, the best part is that she loves being at church as much as I do). And thankfully people know now that family comes first and they don’t hold it against me if I can’t be there for everything!
    Thanks for your passionate message! I wish you could’ve been around for my mom!

  16. Thank you for this post. It comes a the perfect time. I believe my ministry to my family is very pleasing to God.

  17. I just read this…. Thank you!

  18. Thank you so much for the encouragement. With the busyness of the holidays, this is great. I wish I had found it in Dec when I needed the uplift for cancelling a service. God knew when I needed it…thanks for letting me know its okay. My family is very important to me. We are dealing with health issues in our family and it is taking me away from my ministry duties. I feel guilty because I am just part time, then not to carry thru with force?? Makes me feel like I’m letting the church and the kids down. Then I have to remember, my parents have always been there for me…I need to be there for them, along with my husband and son. I am missing meetings because they are scheduled the same time my son has basketball games. I don’t want to miss these school memories or son memories…I hate guilt!!!!

    Thanks Karl, for being there for us. Thanks for understanding. God Bless you:)

  19. Thanks, Karl, your words affirm what several people have been telling me. I have poured myself into ministry at church and continued to say ‘yes’; as I do that I am saying ‘no’ to my family and myself. Too busy ‘doing’; not spending time ‘being’! I need to make changes in my priorities. God bless you and thank you again for your heartfelt message.

  20. I left my children’s ministry job 5 years ago, in a very injured state. I fit the description in your article. It was something I loved deeply and was very committed to, for the right reasons. I do remember feeling so hurt that my sacrifices were not appreciated by the church management. Knowing I had given my best efforts in ministry and not having much left when I arrived home. I needed that time just to recover and go back again. Even my sleep was not my own, as I lay awake problem solving. So yes, I understand your point in the article very well. I am not sure what the solution is, because these positions do have so many demands. Children’s ministry never rests! I am grateful to not carry such a heavy load now! I am able to “be” not always in a state of “doing”.

  21. Hi Karl,
    13 years ago when I first started in Children’s Ministry a wise woman told me that the correct order is God first, Family second and your ministry job is down the list. I have had to put that advice into practice many times over the years and I believe that what you and this wise person told me is very true. I wish I could get a hold of every new children’s director and tell them that!!
    Thanks for all you do!

  22. Mary, you are so right – you are so right. The trick, is how to DO that. Most CPs would SAY that God is first, family is second and ministry is third (or lower down the list) but how to put that into practice in reality is something different entirely because the church often does not truly allow CPs to do that, the demands are just so great, it is so hard to put your foot down and KEEP family first. And God and ministry get mixed, when they are quite separate!

  23. You are right too! It is a very hard thing to do. I think that you have to make solid boundries for yourself and hold fast to them. It might sound harsh but I do not take work home and I only give out my cell phone number in emergency situations. People seem to respect that. I think when we allow our family time to be interupted by ministry time that’s when we make the mistake. Every CP family knows that during VBS they are not going to have you around. But that cannot be an every week occassion. It really is up to us to put the brakes on and decide what we are willing to say yes to and what we need to put on the back burner. Also, remember that ministry is helping to make disciples….if you are doing all the work…how is anyone else growing?

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