Replacing our families with faith

I had an interesting email from a reader a few days ago. He said that he no longer considers himself a Christian because he doesn’t agree with living “some of the ways we should live as Christians”.

He says doesn’t feel bad or guilty about it, in fact he feels happy that he’s doing what makes him feel happy and what makes his family happy and secure.

He made a very interesting point.

I feel that so many Christians are so wrapped up in God, church, activities for the church, giving money to the poor, helping people in the church that they lose sight of their own brothers and sisters. It seems to me that Christians are too busy with all this Christian stuff that they forget about spending time with their own family (Mum or Dad, brothers or sisters and extended family).

While he didn’t want his name mentioned, he wanted me to throw this one out for some comment.

What’s your experience?

Have you encountered this kind of attitude in Christians? Have you found yourself so wrapped up in church stuff and ministry and everything that goes along with it that those closest to you have missed out?

Here’s part of what I emailed back in reply.

I’ve seen this kind of attitude far too often in far too many Christians. People get so taken up with what they see as their ‘Christian duty’ that they lose sight of what I consider to be their greatest ‘ministry’ and calling – their family.

This kind of attitude is especially prevalent in those working in full time ministry such as pastors. I made a decision when I started working in a Christian workplace that I would ensure that my family would remain a priority. I also make a point of not getting so wrapped up in ‘church activities’ that I don’t get to spend time with those who aren’t what we might call religious. A lot of the time I prefer the time I spend with those outside the church.

My relationship with God, through Jesus, is supremely important to me but all the extra stuff that people try to add onto Christianity isn’t.

The writer of the email is smart enough to know that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to all people, but it makes me feel unhappy with my own biological family. I have tried to talk to them about this in previous years and some change was there, but not enough to build a better relationship. Do I have to go back to God to have a better relationship with a member of my own family? Is this going to change anything? I don’t think it will.

What do you think?

So what are your thoughts? Are many Christians neglecting their families because they’re too busy doing what they think God wants them to do? Would God really want us to neglect family relationships? Are you able to maintain the balance between faith and family?

I think a lot of the answer could be found in the difference between what we ‘think‘ God requires of us and what he actually does require.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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  • Hi Rodney, yes I think at times we spend way too much time on church things. A few years ago I noted that I was doing something each night for church. Some of it was for God and some of it was for me or the church only. I had to really step back and pray and ask God what He wanted me to do, not what I thought I should do, or what people expected of me. Once I identified a few key things I have stuck with them and left all the other stuff behind. I did have to explain it to a few people in a way they understood, but people understood. I feel I have a much more balanced family, work and church life.

    In the end I had to prioritise my time. My faith first (my personal relationship with God), then family, then work, then church. Some people say we shouldn’t do this or that we can’t really separate these things as they overlap. But I have found you can. Church and church stuff is vitally important, but for me it has to come down the list. A lot of the times we keep pushing on with church things, especially during the week nights, when we should take some time out to spend time with family and friends.

    I firmly believe that after our personal relationship with God, our family is our biggest responsibility. Neglecting them to be busy doing church things is not what I think God intends or expects from us.

    God Bless,

    PS. Loved your response above too!

  • Interesting post, Rodney. I do agree that Christians often have the wrong idea about what they are called to do first and foremost. First we must have ‘our house in order’; we must take care of the people that are closest to us, otherwise we are not qualified to lead others (Paul writes about the qualification of deacons in 1 Timothy 3 – this passage shows that you must provide good parenthood and leadership at home first before you can play a leading role in the wider Christian community). It is so sad that many ‘church families’ disintegrate because of wrong priorities and neglect of their own relatives and loved-ones. The problem is that many Christians can hide behind ‘holy excuses’ (such as: “I am doing God’s work” and “it’s a sacrifice we’ll have to make as a family”).
    We should all ask ourselves: Is God really asking us to ignore our first responsibilities at home in order to look after ‘His business’? I once heard a pastor saying about his team members: ‘I’d rather have you stealing time from our Church than from your own families. Take care of your spouse and children first and then come back to work in this ministry”.
    We need to keep the balance right!
    Having said that, I think that the guy who wrote this email to you probably needs more than some wise words about ‘getting our priorities right as Christians’. It seems to me that he is projecting his hurt and disappointment caused by human beings on God, our Creator. I think this man needs our prayer and you need to find out about his deeper pain and bad experiences in order to help him with this situation.
    I can understand that he doesn’t want to ‘live a Christian life’ because of the bad examples that he has seen in his direct environment, but I don’t believe that he will have a better life when he tries to live it without God. Yes, human beings make many mistakes. Yes, Christians are human beings too. But you still need Gods guidance in your own life to stop repeating mistakes that other generations have made. In some areas you can do a better job, because you can learn from the bad examples. But we need to be humble too… we will make new mistakes of our own, because we all fall short of God’s standard as parents and partners.

  • Thanks for stopping by my site and adding me to your blogroll.

    It’s very easy for me to get wrapped up in church to the neglect of my family. Since I’m not married and have no children, my immediate family (my parents and brother) live thousands of miles away. It’s also hard sometimes because I have more in common with someone at church than I have with a non-believing family member. There must be balance, and I have been seeking to pursue spending more time with my family in person, on the phone, and by email.

  • Living the Christian life is not optional. What that actually means in practice is the question.

    It’s not optional because Jesus Christ really is the Son of God, by far the wisest teacher in all of history and the only source of true life; and because the Bible is the actual message from God to us, given in love so that we can have the best possible life.

    It’s also not optional because Jesus is the truth and brings the truth: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32). To follow any other path than his is to miss what is true and what gives true freedom.

    So the question is what it means to follow Christ. The previous comments have been very helpful on that. I would add this: that if your friend is in a church that says what he seems to have heard, that church commitments are more important than family commitments, he ought to find a church that understands that the truth will set us free from legalistic burdens.

    There’s a balancing perspective, though, too: following Christ means making genuine sacrifices, sometimes including a sacrifice of family time. These sacrifices ought to be made from that same position of freedom, however, and not from a sense that “you ought to be in church!” or “you ought to serve on this committee!” And they should never go to the extent that family members lose their connection of love and trust with one another.

    One more thought: sometimes families can serve together, and accomplish the work while actually growing closer to each other. We’ve been able to do that both inside the church and on mini-mission trips together, and it’s been great for all of us. Whether a family can do this depends on the family make-up and the kind of service, of course.

  • My initial response is “yes, we get too busy”, because I have struggled with this for much of my adult life. Raising a large a family, meeting extended family obligations, and “church” often seemed to conflict. But soon after the initial “yes” many other matters came to mind.

    It isn’t just Christians…what about the cliched “workaholic”? Humans tend to get obsessed with their interests, in whatever category, we shortsightedly weight our sense of what is important. The answer is not to “stop being Christian” as if it were an outside influence, but give ourselves honestly to a different standard. It won’t always go over well with “the audience” of others in our lives.

    Can we truly gauge our lives by others demands? Some families are reasonable in their ideas of time investment, others are not… if we do not strike some sort of inner balance, how can we know what is reasonable? Christian church activity and family time are not mutually exclusive. Does our family value the spiritual side of a life? That will make a difference in how those activities are perceived.

    The complications to all this are the many social pressures that squeeze family time out of our lives. We are “too busy” on many fronts. Modern Western standards of life tend to fragment the family, we are pressured into very individual schedules and pitched many lines about what we should spend time doing: making money, living a certain lifestyle, – the whole “information age” – enough said about that!

    Unfortunately, our corporate Christian lives have added to that pressure and reflected a worldly standard more than a godly one- which is exactly where you’re thinking much of the answer is found, and I agree. The trouble is if we don’t fix the problem that is “inside”, our living relationship with the Lord, how can we fix the other relationships of living?

  • There’s not much I can add to the above comments, but to the initial writer of the email I commend you for pulling away from the “wrong” kind of church. If one is truly wrapped up in things of God, we will love him, take care of our families and offer ourselves as holy and living sacrifices.

  • A very interesting post, i.e. it made me think.

    My thought is this: in a way I feel that the person have misdirected his unhappiness to God. I say that because if we were to substitute the church work with any other kind of work, say accounting work or even social work, can we say we don’t believe in the accounting system/social responsibilities or the bosses of the firm/setup anymore? We don’t.

    It has to do with the shall I call them workaholics themselves, there are many reasons why they would succumb to being so. God does not demand our “work” in the expense of faith, or spouse and family, clearly stated in the Ephesian household code.

    To answer his question, “Do I have to go back to God to have a better relationship with a member of my own family? Is this going to change anything?” I would have to say yes. We need to know what God has to say about it, about what comes first, and not what I or my family members think what God wants.

  • Hi Rodney, since I made my comment above I have had a chat with my wife and we talked about this issue and finding balance. I came back to put some more thoughts on here and found that they had been covered by others above. I think between them all they have covered a good balance of thoughts.

    It will be interesting to follow how the new comments come through over the next few weeks. I think this post will be a good resource for people struggling with the issue of church/family/work/life balance in future. Thanks again for posting on this topic.

    God Bless,

  • It can happen and we do need to be aware of it. A now retired Pastor from our previous church actually told us that our priorities should be like this:

    1. God
    2. Spouse
    3. Family
    4. Work
    5. Church

    My husband and I discuss our commitments to our church and work towards a family/life/faith/work balance as much as possible.

  • Rodney, without extrapolating to an entire community, I can say that my personal experience with friends who call themselves Christian (rather than Catholic, etc) is to have found them to be very loving people focussed on their family and friends. The Christian people I know have certainly been true examples to the rest of us of what living out your Christian faith might be. However, I’ve had different experiences with a group of people who are notionally Catholic! We are most influenced by what affects us directly – and that’s an important thing for us ALL to remember.

  • I know it was definitely a problem for me when I lived in Perth. In the country, I’m finding it not to be so much of a problem because the church seems to have less activities (by no means am I saying country churches do nothing). Or perhaps it’s because I’m new that I haven’t got involved in lots of stuf yet.

    I think it’s about finding a balance and that’s a struggle many of us will face for much of our lives. At one stage last year I was finding that I was doing ‘church stuff’ three weeknights per week and struggling to find time to spend with non Christians. It’s not a very good witness to say we care about non Christians but never have any time for them cos we’re so wrapped up in church activities.

    However, I wouldn’t NOT want to be involved in church…it’s more about thinking which activities will be most worthwhile. For example, I want to be involved in reaching people with the gospel whether that be as part of a church group or just catching up with someone 1-1 or getting involved in community events. Fellowship with other Christians is important too but not to the neglect of my marriage.

  • “I think a lot of the answer could be found in the difference between what we ‘think‘ God requires of us and what he actually does require.”

    If Jesus can command in Matthew the following:

    37. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    38. This is the first and great commandment.
    39. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    It sounds like he requires a lot. Then there must be a way to do them all.

    All thy heart, soul, and mind is a lot of love.

    He showed us how to love when walking on this earth.

    Just last Sunday at church, the preacher said that most of the work that we do for the Lord should likely be done OUTSIDE of the church.

    The activities at church are made available for us, and for us to invite our friends and unsaved friends. They are to glorify the Lord and edify the church, Christ’s bride. Not to be taken too lightly.

    God also tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the church.
    Wow, that is also a lot of love. So I take it to mean that we are to take our family lives very serious.

    The words “one accord” also strikes me here.

    We read in Acts they were of one accord.

    I don’t think church will hurt family life if we are all on the same path, or in one accord if you will.

    In the book of Revelations some verses speak to a church who had ‘forsaken their first love’

    Perhaps this is the kind of church your friend speaks about. They go through the commendable duties but there is no love.

    In any case it seems like a wake up call to examine yourself, make sure you are right with God, then take care of any matters inside His body, the church, if there needs correction.

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