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When Life Gets in the Way

by Thor Ramsey

The school year is nearly half over. Thanksgiving and all the family pressures that go with it are behind us. Nearly. Christmas decorations are dragged from the garage. Family pressures begin to build again. Does life ever slow down? We all feel the busyness of life. It just seems to pull us along its current. One of the sad realities of the busyness of life is that the community of faith (as in the local church) is sometimes left on the back burner. “When life slows down, then we’ll have time to be more involved, or go more regularly, etc.”

I’d like to challenge you if this is the way you think about church.

None of us would ever say, “Children flourish outside the home, apart from their family.” (My apologies if you went to boarding school.) If you heard a mother say, “I wish I could see my children, but I just don’t have time to be involved with them right now,” you would think her a bad mother. But somehow we adopt this mindset with the local church and don’t think twice. Many of us assume that “children of God can flourish apart from their family.” Not according to all the letters written to churches in the New Testament.

Maybe you’ve felt this dilemma or maybe you’ve heard it stated in some fashion by another Christian, “Life just gets in the way…” of church or small group or ministry or giving or whatever having to do with the local body of Christ.

The issue with this type of thinking is that it’s another in a long line of evangelical clichés that just isn’t true. This viewpoint (“life is just too busy for us right now to be involved”) has many problematic roots, but one of them is a faulty view of the Christian life.

When we view church as an add-on or something that’s helpful if we have time for it, we lack a robust understanding of the Christian life. Ministry isn’t something we do if we have time. Life is ministry, not a facet of life. And life is ministry for all Christians.

Life Divided Against Itself

This idea of making time for church or community group or ministry comes from the faulty practice of compartmentalizing life. When we compartmentalize life, we place life in segments that we try to manage.

In one segment of life we have our marriage and family, so we try to prioritize that segment of life against these other segments, such as the career segment of life, which takes up a good deal of time. Then there is the extracurricular activity segment of life, which includes both our hobbies and all the activities our children are involved in. In short, all of this leads to feelings of overcommitment, so something’s got to give. That something is often church, because “Sunday is the one day I get to relax, etc.”

In a compartmentalized view of the Christian life, all these segments are spokes on a wheel and the hub of these spokes (the thing that holds these spokes together) is whatever we derive strength and support from. In most cases, we put family as the hub and everything else revolves around prioritizing the family (the hub) around life’s activities and demands (the spokes).

What's Important to Jesus?

There are several biblical problems with this practice. First, we are exhorted that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Col. 3:17) The statement “life is ministry” is just a biblical way of stating that reality. Everything then becomes an opportunity to minister the love of Christ in some setting. Life is just the context in which we do ministry, which amounts to loving the things that Jesus loves — lost people, the church, our families, our communities, etc.

Jesus said something so radical, that even within the evangelical church, we might actually recoil at His words. Let me paraphrase His thoughts in a more palatable way. Jesus basically said that family is important, but once we are His followers, even family is submitted to what’s most important to Him. Here’s how Jesus actually said it: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37)

All that to say, jettisoning church because life is busy is a clear sign that you may not be living life with Jesus as your hub. It is countercultural to say (sometimes even within the church), but when we begin to live life with Christ as our hub, then in one very true sense, His body (our local church family) becomes the hub from which all the other spokes in our lives derive their strength.

Unintentional Harm

Church is not a place we go. It is the people we are part of. Church is the local spiritual family we are on mission with. If we’re not engaging with that local community of faith, then we lack a basecamp from which to do life and fulfill our mission.

In the long run, in a compartmentalized view of life, because we are jealousy guarding time with our families, we often unintentionally keep them from what will do them the most good — the body of Christ.

C.H. Spurgeon, the great old Puritan, said it this way, “Their excuse is that they must care for their own families, and they forget that to neglect the house of God is the sure way to bring ruin upon their own houses.”

If “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), then I’m convinced that we can’t find a good excuse for forgoing her.

Life is not there to be in the way. It’s there as an opportunity to minister the love of the Father.

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