Our family was walking through the airport, doing our best to make it to our gate on time. Unfortunately, my two children werent moving at my preferred pace. Like most 9 and 12-year-olds, they were easily distracted and slowing us down.

There was a back and forth of me trying to lead the way walking ahead of them, then having to wait for them to catch up. It seemed normal to me, much of my life was trying to get them somewhere on time. So you could say it came as quite a shock when an airport employee called me out on it.

He was a giant of a man, a TSA officer with a booming voice and a South African accent. We were going through the security checkpoint and he was in charge. Like every other moment on the trip, I wanted to go through as quickly as we could. I made sure the kids were right behind me and started to proceed.

The problem was that families with kids needed to go through a special checkpoint….together.

I tried to go first and he stopped me,No sir, wait for them.” I waited a bit and then as they caught up a little more I started to go through, and he spoke louder, No sir, the kid goes first.” I let my oldest go, then started to move and he said, Both kids first.” I obliged.

Then, as if he was aware of the inner workings of my soul, he spoke in a way that felt prophetic. He announced, The Prince ready-to-be goes first, the Prince in waiting goes second, then the Queen can go, then the King who is ready to leave his people behind goes last.”

It was a humbling moment that brought me to a place of relational clarity. I wasnt with my family; I was in front of them.

As leaders, we are driven, looking to the future and leaning into it. Our planning and foresight are things that make us a blessing in church, but that forward lean is often the last thing our families need.

They need someone who is with them in the exact moment they are in. They need someone who can laugh with them, be bored with them, or be spontaneous with them. They need someone who is quite good at the things we are typically bad at. This realization was something I was deeply convicted of last summer. Below are some insights into how I reset my internal drive to be much slower when I walk through the door to our house. It was the only way that I could give my family the best me – not the perfect me, just the one that is fun and unoccupied.

FILL YOUR FAMILY CUP

One of our elders is always asking me whether or not my cup is filled. He doesnt mean it in some theological way, but in a practical, are you enjoying life?” way. He says there are things that empty us and things that fill us. If we only have things that empty us, well then, were emptied. The things that fill us could be anything that refreshes us. It could be a hobby or an adventure, a good book, or just a time of meditation.

We can apply that same question to our families: What are the things that fill our familys cup? Maybe it’s a trip together, ice cream for dinner, watching a movie, or going to a game. Our families need those cup-filling experiences because they get emptied as well. Ten years from now, those are the things they will remember and we need to be able to prioritize those, making sure they happen on at least a monthly basis.

DEVELOP A SKILL FOR SAYING NO

I like to please people, so saying no is a challenge for me. To help, I came up with a plan for how to respond negatively more easily. My plan was this: Buy time, value the person, and decline. Simply telling them that I would get back to them alleviated the pressure to agree in the moment. I needed to discover a way that I could express value to the person without giving them 4 hours on a Saturday.

Yes, people may question my love for them, but more importantly, my family knows that I love them because I declined something that would have stolen their time.

Holidays are a key battleground. We cant forget that major moments in church life are also major moments in family life. We need to get our job done, but we also need to enjoy our families and give them the chance to enjoy us. In ministry, our role is to serve God, not the expectations of people. I am quite positive that God wants us to enjoy our family.

TURN YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DUMB PHONE

Dumbing down your smartphone can be freeing. Try deleting all mail apps and silencing all notifications. The only way that someone from church can get a hold of you at home is by text message or phone call. If you get a message that isnt urgent, simply put it on the to-do list and reply first thing the next morning.

If you want to go the extra mile, most phones have screen-time settings that limit how much they can be used. The best part is that those settings are password-protected. Set a screen-time limit for the evening and let your spouse set the password.

WATCH FOR TIP OF THE ICEBERG TIME COMMITMENTS

There are some things that we enjoy doing that seem innocent up front but consume more time in the long run. Coaching, counseling, and side projects can all be good things, but they also end up taking more time than you would think.

Now, ask yourself this; where does that extra time come from? Its usually not coming from our work. Maybe it comes from our personal free time, but too often it comes from our family time. I have learned over the years that we are better off avoiding commitments and promises in these areas. Statements like, I can help some but dont count on me as a regular,” serve as good boundaries to keep us from the added time commitment waiting underneath the surface.

GET USED TO IT

The scary reality is that for many of us, being in the office is more familiar to us than being at home. We know our way around a passage, can always perform busy work, or stop in and talk to a staff member with ease. Being engaged with our family directly? That can actually feel unfamiliar.

The good news is that this can change course in a hurry as we learn to walk through life with them at their own pace. We can take the time to discover their emotions and join them there. We can take part in a hobby with them…one that they enjoy. We can by all means get used to it, it just takes time.

WISDOM BEFORE IT’S HINDSIGHT

Wisdom is doing the best thing before we have the benefit of hindsight. To be wise with our families, we need to wrestle with our workism, our need to impress others, and our struggles to connect with our family in the moment.

Several years ago I surprised my kid by taking them out of school to go see our favorite baseball team. They were thrilled even when I explained to them that we would have to leave by a certain time even if the game wasnt over. There was a worship night at our church and I was supposed to be there. Fast forward to the 7th inning and it was time for us to leave. The game was close but I felt obligated to be elsewhere. This is the part I really dont want to type. On the way home we listened to the remainder of the game on the radio only to hear, not one, but two home runs hit directly into our seats. Not in the same section, not in the same row – into our exact seats. One of those was hit by my sons favorite player.

But dont worry, we made it back to the worship night just in time. There were even 25 people there…none of whom really needed me to be there

Wisdom makes the best decision before its something we regret.

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Matt Saxinger has served in the EFCA for 14 years. He currently is the Lead Pastor at Susquehanna Valley Church in Harrisburg, PA. He has a heart for the gospel and seeing the next generation rise up in leadership.

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