Publisher, speaker, and author Bill Carmichael explains that you can’t minister to other families if you don’t minister to your family first and strengthen your family ties.
No matter how good our ministry is out there, God isn’t nearly as interested in the things we do as in the people we are. He’s more interested in relationships than he is in accomplishments.
“We fail as ministers if we fail our family,” says Bill Carmichael, co-founder of Good Family magazines. Bill and his wife Nancie led “Habits of a Healthy Home” seminars. The Carmichaels have five grown children.
Children’s Ministry Magazine spoke with Bill about family fundamentals and how family ministry begins at home.
CM: What are the habits of healthy families?
A healthy family is more of an environment and an attitude than a style of parenting. I like to use Jesus’ parable about the soil and the seed. He didn’t say there was anything wrong with the seed. I look at kids as the seed, and there are lots of variations. But all the different types of children have a better chance to develop if they’re planted in good ground at home. The habits of a healthy home are attitudes and atmospheres we create that make the difference.
CM: Can you list those habits for us?
A healthy home is a place of refuge. It’s a safe place-a place children can let down their guard and be themselves. They have private places; they feel accepted; they can be vulnerable. Out in the world, there’s enough challenge, but at home they need to feel safe. A healthy home is a place of connection. We connect with our kids through listening and being together. Quality time comes out of quantity time; the magic moments come because I spend a lot of time with my kids. Togetherness and attentiveness are important parts of that connection.
A healthy home is a place of character formation. It’s where we really learn about life-how to work and how to play. We learn by example about priorities and about what character, morality, and integrity mean.
A healthy home is a place of celebration. It has to be a fun place-a place of laughter and joy. Every family needs to have feasts and form traditions-not just at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Little celebrations show our children that life is essentially good.
A healthy home is a place of purpose. It has a sense of mission; it has a calling. Children begin to understand early on that life is more than just “us three and TV.” We have a purpose for living that involves prayer, devotion to God, and growing spiritually. As God reveals to us our giftedness, we reach out to others and become kingdom-builders.
A healthy home is a place of boundaries. Kids must know and understand the rules-and face consequences for breaking them. I don’t like to have more than four or five major rules, but they must be applied lovingly, fairly, and consistently.
A healthy home is a place of legacy. Children must understand where they belong. Storytelling is a part of that when parents tell their history. It’s important for children to understand that they’re the “now actors” on the stage of this family continuum. How they live is a reflection not only of their ancestry but also of what’s going to happen to future generations.
CM: How can busy children’s ministers keep their families healthy?
The most effective thing parents can do is to be prayer warriors on behalf of their kids. In one Bible story, the disciples were unsuccessful at casting out demons from a man’s son, but the father didn’t give up. He called out and asked Jesus to pray for his son. Of course when Jesus prayed, the demonic spirits were cast out and the boy was made whole.
That’s parental persistence-standing in the gap on behalf of children. No one else in the crowd would’ve stood up on behalf of that man’s son-especially since the disciples had failed. But the father didn’t give up; he stood in the gap, which is the greatest ministry God gives us as parents.
Early on, my wife and I prayed for our children’s safety and health and problems. But one day it dawned on us that God is really interested in developing their character-a much larger agenda. While we have our children for 18 years or so, they’re his for eternity. So we began to pray broader prayers: that God would develop the fruit of his Spirit; that our kids would develop courage and faith; that they’d know what commitment means. This became the basis for our book Lord, Bless My Child (Tyndale).
CM: What pressures are unique to families with a parent in ministry?
There’s pressure to succeed in ministry even at the cost of our family. But my ministry doesn’t take precedence over my family. My home is my first church, so to speak. It’s extremely important for me to minister to my family members in an effective way, to meet their needs, and to love them even more than I love my “outside” ministry.
No matter how good our ministry is out there, God isn’t nearly as interested in the things we do as in the people we are. He’s more interested in relationships than he is in accomplishments. So he’s first interested in our relationship with him, then in our relationship with our family. And that forms the basis for accomplishing or doing things. But if we trample over relationships in order to do, we’ve got the first step out of order.
CM: If families are in trouble, what should they do?
Ministers are hesitant to get help because they’re supposed to have all the answers themselves. But if they feel their problems are unresolvable, that they can’t cope by themselves, then they need to seek Christian counseling to jump-start the process. This isn’t a sign of failure, because we all need support.
The author Stephanie Martin is a freelance writer and editor in Colorado.