I can still see myself speeding onto the bypass, racing towards the regional Children’s Hospital Emergency Room with my son as I had the board member on the line. “Could you call the rest of the team and let them know that we will have to reschedule tonight’s meeting? I’m heading to the hospital right now, and I suspect he’ll be admitted.”
Another time, I recall wrestling my child with severe ADHD into the church only to be confronted by an unhappy parent. The woman running the special needs Sunday school was not only completely unreliable, she wouldn’t let parents know ahead of time when she decided not to show up. These parents had had enough, and so did the child on the end of my arm who was just entering the building.
If you can relate to anecdotes like this, you are likely trying to balance leading a special needs ministry while still managing motherhood. It can be a stressful, ugly undertaking, but I want to encourage you that it can be done while still maintaining your sanity. I can only say that with confidence now because I am able to reflect on things I might have done differently to save my own in the earlier years of my service.
While I have encountered plenty of parents who claim that they are unable to serve in disability ministry because they are “living the life,” I find it rare that having a child with a diagnosis automatically precludes a family from serving. Nevertheless, God calls different people at different times and to different areas of service as He has ordained. Yet, if you feel the calling, have jumped in, and suddenly find yourself wondering what you have gotten yourself into, allow me to encourage you with the following recommendations:
Have good boundaries.
People, whether they be the church leaders or the families in need, will let you give beyond what you are able. It is not uncommon for people to hound you for their own expectations to be met without regard to your own family’s circumstances. Have set in your mind what hours you will and will not take phone calls, and stick to those limits. Treat your family worship time as sacred. Have clear guidelines to when you will or will not allow yourself to be called out of a church service away from your family. Above all, remember your priorities are God (your individual relationship with Him, NOT ministry), family, then job and/or ministry.
Build a coalition around your work.
The people I have seen most successfully carry out their ministry service have others working alongside them. Having others who can take over when your family requires your attention is critical. It is also equally important to have someone else lined up who can step in if you have a leader who cannot show. This, quite simply, allows the mission to carry on while taking the pressure off of any one individual. Respite, special events, and Sunday School all seem to operate so much more smoothly when several people are involved and informed, and the entire activity is less likely to implode.
Have a core focus.
When I began serving in disability ministry over 10 years ago, everybody was expected to do everything. It thrills me to pieces to see how far God has brought this area of service in only a decade! There are enough of us out there in the nation where ministries can claim their own area of core competency. This means that you, as a leader, need to choose your area of focus as well. None of us can be good at everything. Is your leadership focused on serving the children in a church context? Is it camp? What about teens or adults? Whatever you do, be keenly aware of mission creep and do not allow people to drag you into activities that pull you off that course. It can seriously damage your role as a mother when you allow others to pile one more activity or duty onto your plate.
Involve your children in the work.
Not only can you enjoy your time with your children, you can kill two birds with one stone. You transform the way the next generation treats those with special needs when you involve them in your ministry work. Whether our kids are called to serve in ministry or just to walk through life in general, their attitudes and behaviors can be shaped by having them serve alongside us. I have had my own children help build gift baskets, work at a Kids Fest booth, serve at respite and act as a “shadow” in Sunday School. This has been a remarkable help to me with balance and parenthood. And it never ceases to amaze me how this engagement shapes my children’s worldview.
Adopt the attitude that “good enough is good enough.”
Now please hear me clearly when I say this. I am not suggesting that we should not strive for excellence or put our best efforts forth when serving in ministry. However, I am saying that we need to be flexible. Sometimes, despite best efforts, events will flop, volunteers won’t show or families will be disrespectful of our boundaries. This is when we have to keep the right mindset, realizing that we did our best, and it’s okay that our family comes first. There should be no guilt around that. Our children are our first and most important mission field. Do not let anyone else make you feel like you are abandoning God or your spiritual duties just because you didn’t bail out a program, or honor their request, taking on one more thing at the expense of your own family.
Leading a ministry while still raising children, especially if any of those children have a chronic illness or disability, can sometimes be the height of stress. However, with reasonable priorities, planning, and expectations, it can be a fruitful, rewarding pursuit. Keep your ear tuned to the Lord’s voice, and trust that using a balanced approach will still make you a sharp tool in His hands.
What has your experience been trying balance motherhood leading a ministry? We would love to hear! Leave us your comment below.