You’ve Got to Want It

Ministry isn’t family friendly.

I know people in youth ministry from the “biggest and best churches” in America. And I know people in youth ministry in the tiniest churches in America.

And both people have the same complaints and struggles– ministry life sucks for family life.

My response to that?

So what? Cope and deal. Do the best you can.

Ministry people aren’t alone in struggling to put family first. Any and every profession has the same struggle. Our desire to make full-time ministry this heroic effort and sacrifice to our family is humiliating to the people who make the same sacrifices to finance our vision. Not to mention– nearly half the people we are trying to reach are single parents who have to put work first in order to just keep their family afloat.

The reality is that “family first” is a marketing line that has been repeated to the point where we think it is some sort of biblical by-law. It’s hardly a biblical mandate. I seem to remember Jesus’ call to his disciples being to leave family and put him first. Offering yourself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) doesn’t have an out clause for parents of young children. On and on… there simply aren’t calls to a a life in ministry, biblically, that are “family first.

It is something we believe to be true which just isn’t in the Bible.


Even in an agrarian society, which you hear family-first people constantly refer to, it’s not like dad has a stay-at-home job. Have you ever visited a farm? Family-friendly workplace is not a description I’d use to describe a dairy farm. Or a family growing corn. Or even our local organic farm that supplies our CSA.

Family-first people also reference pre-Industrial Colonial times as this idealistic time of parenting where mom and dad patiently did homework or taught a skill to their sons and daughters. What history books are these people smoking? I could point to any biography of an early American success story and their life was hardly “family-friendly.” It’s funny how revisionism is a two-way street, isn’t it?

The Secret Ingredient of Success

Success, by any definition, has not changed in its core ingredient, since the stone ages.

You’ve got to want it.

Or you’ve got to steal it.

Let’s assume that you the type of person who prefers the former over the latter.

You’ve got to want it more than the person next to you.

You’ve got to outwork, out-hustle, out-whatever everyone you know.

You’ve got to wake up wanting it.

You’ve got to lay your head down in knowledge that you didn’t want it enough.

You’ve got to throw balance out the window.

You’ve got to Cats in the Cradle it.

The bottom line is that if you are driven by some ideal of success, however you define it… it’ll own you more than you own it.

And the reality is that once most people figure out that the dreams they had as children involved all of that– they redefine happiness around a new kind of success.

That’s why “family first” is a different mantra of success.

That’s why successful people get on Oprah or Barbara Walters and tell the camera that they chased success and they lost their family and now they have regrets. But they aren’t giving success back. They aren’t returning the awards or the money. They are spending their time on easy street trying to make up for lost time.

Can I be in full-time ministry and put my family first?

Call me a heretic. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus called me to. I think in the New Testament example Jesus called us to put family second.

Fortunately for me, I’m married to a woman radical and crazy like me. Together, we get it.

Jesus first, family second.

Don’t buy the lie.


8 responses to “You’ve Got to Want It”

  1. Jeffrey Dick Avatar

    Always interesting to check email in the morning and see what punches the gut. Thanks.
    I find it interesting that some of the folks who push the family-first agenda are the same ones who call me on my day off, question my taking sabbatical and other such fun things.
    I on the same page with much of what you said, and fortunate as well to be married to a wonderful woman who understands ministry and is willing to crave out the space for us to be family.
    I find many in ministry – youth ministry or otherwise – are not creative enough to find personal and family time. From my trip to Haiti, to long lunches with my wife, to being a Den Leader in my son’s Cub Scout Group, to attending most of the sporting events my children are in, to family vacations. We have family time. It can be there, but the schedule is different. My youngest son (10) enjoys an early breakfast with dad, or stopping for a shake after football practice. We make the time.
    A lot easier to make the time than to complain about what is missing.
    Speaking of which, the sun is shinning, I have a parent teacher conference with my daughter this afternoon – then it will be a time for a walk on the beach.
    Loving life and serving the Lord.

  2. Doug Ranck Avatar
    Doug Ranck

    Jesus first
    Family second
    Ministry third

    It’s worked for me over 30 years. I am in a church and on a staff that makes it work. We’re not perfect but it can be done.

  3. Mike Lyons Avatar

    Bravo, Adam, bravo! Most people don’t have the cojones to say it the way it is…good for you for not being most people.

  4. Patrick Avatar

    Is there a distinction here between “Jesus” and “ministry”? It seems like there is. I think there is, but I’m not sure if that’s what Adam is saying.

    Adam – is your post saying put ministry before family or Jesus before family? Or both?


  5. Chris Schaffner Avatar

    I’m reading David Platt’s book “Radical” right now and he makes the same claims. He points out that in Luke 9 Jesus tells about the cost of discipleship. He says, “You may be homeless and hungry if you follow me.” “You might have to let others bury your father for My kingdom’s sake.” and “Do not look back once you’ve made the decision to follow me.” Those are tough words but it seems He is testing their hearts. They all wanted to follow Jesus and he was asking them, “Will you choose me above everything else?” When it was all said and done and Jesus ascended there were only about 120 people left behind claiming to be his followers, yet he drew crowds of thousands throughout his ministry.

    It’s a challenge to love Jesus in such a way that it makes your love for your family look pale in comparison but that’s what we are called to do. If we don’t, Jesus says we are not worthy of the calling to follow.

  6. roy Avatar

    kinda agree with you Adam, although am not into the 1st, 2nd, 3rd stuff. Feel that it is Jesus that is everything (number 1 for want of a better expression!!) and a balance of life flows through that in a large melting pot of family, ministry etc. etc. The time that these other things receive will always be shifting – that said, the time spent on each will determine the priorities we have in our lives, all of which should be measured against the one who is everything.

  7. Josh Cook Avatar
    Josh Cook

    I agree with Doug…there’s a distinction between “Jesus” and “ministry”.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      They are two, made one. One is the bride and one is the groom. Or maybe I mistook the point of that metaphor… Help me understand how they a relationship with one is not a relationship with the other.

      Also interesting how we mix terms like “ministry” and “vocation.”

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