Something that has often taxed my mind is the responsibility christians have towards their families.

There is obviously a strong idolatry of family in our country and in our churches. The ‘needs’ of our children govern where we live, what school we send them to, what we spend our money on etc etc. rather than the gospel shaping and defining these things. We often use the phrase ‘I just want what’s best for my children’ when what we are really doing is teaching them that they are at the centre of the world and deserve a comfortable and successful life, at least in the world’s terms – which of course is not what’s best for them at all.

We end up teaching them the way of comfort rather than the way of sacrifice and so it is no wonder that we have a lack of gospel-centred leaders and sacrificial church planters in our country.

But how much should I ask my family to sacrifice and how much should I protect them? This is particularly pertinent for my family as we consider going to South Africa where there is a high rate of violent crime towards women and children.

At the Acts 29 Conference I was at over the past few days Scott Thomas talked about a decision he made not to go and plant a church at one point because his ‘children needed a father more than that city needed a church’. The utmost thing in his mind was to care for his family. Is this falling into the same idolatry as the world? I think not… but why…?

It was quite clear throughout this conference that Scott Thomas and the others at Acts 29 are gospel centred men, who have faith in God and so take risks and are extremely generous at cost to themselves and their families… They are not seeking comfort or ‘success’ because they believe in a God who became flesh and died for us… so naturally this got me thinking…

Church planting is going to be difficult. There will be suffering. Your children may not be able to go to a ‘good school’, they may face physical threats and discomfort because of where they live. All part and parcel of gospel ministry according to Jesus. Surely if we are seeking to bring up our children as followers of Jesus and present our wives radiant reflecting Christ’s beauty then these are the things that we must face together as family. I presume then that these things were not what Scott was referring to in terms of ‘protecting’ the family.

As I thought about it and talked about it with my wife a distinction started to become clearer in my mind. I think many of us leaders, and me especially, see our ministry as our own. And so as I go off doing my own ministry my family will suffer neglect. I am then not taking my responsibility to my family seriously. I am in fact showing myself unfit to lead a church according to Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus. So if me church planting means that I am going to do this then I need to stop, turn round and sort out my household first. This is protecting the family in a gospel-centred way and is infact gospel centred as we take our responsibility seriously to love our wives as Christ loved the church.

But the suffering that comes as we enter church planting together, ministering together as a team, with gospel hearts and gospel priorities – this is a suffering that surely we need to face as a family together, for the sake of the gospel. It is in fact a suffering that will help my children and wife grow as we together share in the sufferings of Christ. Christ, in loving the church does not ‘protect’ her from suffering for his name – this is the means of growth for God’s people (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:13). If this is not the case then no family will ever be involved in pioneer church planting, which I don’t find suggested anywhere in the Bible.

So the distinction is that suffering by neglect as I go off doing my church planting is in fact a disqualification of me for that task. However suffering as plant churches together, growing more like Christ as we share in his sufferings for the sake of the gospel is surely what we need to face and rejoice in.

These thoughts are by no means exhaustive or conclusive. I’d be very interested to hear other people’s thoughts and have your input.