Don’t Leave Your Kids as Ministry Orphans

Reading Time: 4 minutes

family ministry orphan

You’re headed overseas and the excitement–and sense of purpose–is sweeping and real.

Your kids may be struggling, but you’ve been encouraged kids are resilient: that they will find a home overseas just as you will.

And in general, this is correct. It took my kids about 37 seconds to adjust overseas, and they began to thrive.

But I also know well “ministry orphans” aren’t a myth–kids who’ve taken a backseat to the mission.

Missionary boarding schools–and there are some amazing ones (this is not an ad against them!)–amass their fair share. And there are plenty of ministry orphans in individual homes.

Even in Western cultures, you won’t have to look far to see ministry kids who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, whose parents consistently prioritized ministry above their own families.

It’s easy to see how this could happen. With another occupation, we might label this level of priority workaholism.

But it’s a lot trickier when your work involves a broken person at your door. Or a person who doesn’t know Jesus. Or language that involves “seeking first the kingdom of God.”

family ministry orphan

When Our Kids’ Needs Cost Too Much

When people are literally dying outside your door, or when there’s no other person who can do what you do for that newly established church, when the work is generally crucial–our families will naturally give and flex a little.

But when these sacrifices become consistent, third-culture kids (TCK’s) may gradually learn the message that their needs must be subservient to the mission. That saying “yes” to themselves may cost too much. That in our position as constant examples of Jesus, misbehaving could be costly, so we’d better behave.

This can leave ministry life feeling a bit hollow, leaning toward the dysfunctional. (A don’t miss book for parents of TCK’s: Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.)

As 16-year-old Abby Farran writes in her post 4 Things Missionary Kids Won’t Tell You,

[Missionary kids] feel guilty asking for more time from their parents, even though that’s all they really want. They feel like they’re asking their parents to choose between God’s calling and their own kids. Oftentimes, this guilt leads to MK’s resenting their parents’ ministry.

We make time for what’s important to us. And sometimes, family needs to move a little higher on the list.

The Flock Among Us

If we offer all we have to the poor but “have not love” for those God’s placed in the “flock among us” (1 Peter 5:2)–aren’t we in danger of being the equivalent of a car alarm people can’t shut off (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)?

Paul states strongly,

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

Surely if man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), this means spiritual and emotional provision, too–parental unconditional love, displaying God’s unconditional love.

To our children…and to those watching the Gospel play out in our homes.

Sometimes doing less “out there”–and trusting God to provide and accomplish in your absence–could mean the world to that child who will remember you at his soccer games, or will fall asleep tonight after you read her a story with a tiara on.

We demonstrate God’s presence to our kids through our own attentive, all-there presence. 

family ministry orphan

Running in the right circles

The “flock among [me]” occasionally felt overwhelming in Africa. Need was everywhere.

It helped me to think of my ministry as having concentric circles. In the innermost circle was the work only I could do; the people who depended on me almost exclusively in my role: my spouse. My children.

Chances are, when I moved ministry into that innermost circle, I was occasionally answering questions of my own identity.

I was sometimes trying to prove myself irreplaceable or vital in this work God could do without me. The “why’s” beneath my to do list were dark, yet revealing. (Don’t miss Simply Indispensable? On the Importance of Your Work…Or Not?)

What’s behind our overwork “for the sake of the Gospel”?

At times, I was thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3). I was attempting to do more than the good works God had prepared in advance for me to do, out of a heart of unbelief. And I was neglecting faithfulness to my own pastures, so to speak.

My husband gently reminded me that my overcommitment occasionally affected how the Gospel played out in my own home. Turns out “Exhausted Mommy” didn’t always look as much like “Jesus-filled Mommy” as I hoped.

What I didn’t want to happen: for my own children to develop a spiritual or emotional poverty because of neglect “in the name of Jesus.”

Jesus in Your Home Matters

The needs of so many around the world are great. But remember–the Gospel in our homes matters deeply. The laying down of your lives for one another, the communication that we are accepted by God not because of what we accomplish–also matters intensely.

We’re communicating to our kids, the world, and ourselves that our value and identity lie not in what we do, but in God’s peaceful, loving, restful acceptance of us. (You might like Never Forget: You are More than What You Do for God.)

Friends, let’s keep our children from becoming ministry orphans.

Be sure to catch Go. Serve. Love’s post,

8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.