Winning the Lost Without Losing Your Family
“Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth.” Malachi 2:15 (NLT)
It was a tough goodbye. My first international trip as an evangelist, ten thousand miles from home. Our kids were young – and that last wave as I headed down the concourse was rugged. On both ends.
But when I opened my suitcase in Singapore, they were still with me! I kept finding all these little love notes their Mom had them write and hide in everything from notebooks to socks.
And so begins the Hutchcraft family saga called “Doing Ministry Together.”
As I write this, there’s a verse on the wall across from my desk. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John 4). Oh, how Karen and I prayed for that. Because we’ve wept with those in ministry who would say there is no greater heartache than knowing your children have wandered from the truth.
Hearing the stories of families lost to ministry, we knew we would have to be intentional about making Dad’s ministry our ministry. On mission together to help people be in heaven with us someday. Sort of the Hutchcraft Division of Team Jesus worldwide.
One of the most encouraging affirmations I’ve ever received came from my adult firstborn son. He said, “Dad, I think you were gone a lot when we were kids. But it didn’t seem like it.” That was God’s grace . . . a wife who was truly a full partner in ministry . . . and some intentional steps we took to make everyone in the family an owner, not just an observer.
If Mom harbors resentment toward Dad’s ministry, the kids will pick up the vibe. If she communicates excitement and ownership, they will pick that up, too. My Karen led our children to be the ministry’s most faithful prayer warriors. She used maps and restaurants and stories to “take them” to the place Daddy was that day. Oh, and she organized “love note” blitzes for every trip. She was the thermostat, setting the temperature at our house for how to feel about what their father was doing.
I needed to be intentional about keeping my wife and kids as connected as possible to what I was doing at the time. Those calls from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand weren’t cheap, but they were worth it to involve my family in what God was doing.
Then there were the cassettes of messages people wanted. Our basement became a little assembly line as our children helped duplicate and mail those to people. And pray for the people receiving them.
Whenever possible, I included them on a ministry trip. Like the time I was invited to do a week of ministry in Alaska and I declined because I had committed that school break week to them. An hour later, they called back and said they would pay for the whole family to come! It remains one of our great family memories.
When Moody Broadcasting asked me to do a pioneering national youth program, I knew that would mean one weekend a month where I would be gone to Chicago to record programs. I felt a little weird asking if, for the sake of my family, I could bring one child with me each month. I was deeply grateful when they said yes. We had some wonderful times together on those radio weekends!
If I had committed some time to my family, I shared that with those who invited me to speak during that time. Many times that was that. But a surprising number of times, the inviters were supportive of that priority and invited family to join me.
The Prayer Warriors
Being in ministry provides a wonderful opportunity for a family to learn about faith and a prayer-answering God. Like the time our ministry really needed a van. Our kids prayed for that miracle with uninhibited faith. A few days later, that miracle van was in our driveway!
Or the Thanksgiving week we had to explain why we couldn’t afford the usual holiday dinner. Together, we committed that need to the Lord. Later that afternoon, the doorbell rang. There on the front porch, was a boxful of makings for Thanksgiving dinner! Since the givers from our church were already making their getaway, it was literally like God Himself had delivered Thanksgiving!
Because I was in ministry, our children got to experience the adventure of living by faith. Today, they are experiencing it with their children.
The Balance Sheet
I pictured an imaginary ledger my children were keeping. On one side, the liabilities of being a ministry kid; on the other, the assets they enjoyed because I was in ministry. My job was to put as many pluses on that side of the ledger as possible. If they didn’t have me for a stretch, they got all of me for a stretch. They got unique gifts from where I ministered and opportunities to travel. But the biggest plus was having all of Daddy with no competition for his attention.
Honestly, you just don’t know for sure if you’re balancing the ledger. Until later. When your son tells you it didn’t seem like you were gone much.
Over the years, I’ve encountered two very different philosophies about ministry and family. One says, “I don’t want to drag all my ministry stuff into my family.” Keep your two worlds separate. Karen and I approached it differently – believing that it isn’t two separate worlds. It’s all “us.” A family, doing God’s work together. Sharing the burdens. The battles. The breakthroughs. The victories.
I am eternally grateful to God for the outcome. All three little Hutchcrafts (and their spouses) grew up to love ministry, to be personal evangelists, to be people of great faith – and to serve with us in a shared passion to bring the lost to the Cross. And nine grandchildren have joined Team Jesus, too.
And I have no greater joy.