Key verses: Matthew 20:25,26
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...”
Let me start with sharing what I learned from Mother Sarah Barry. She taught me this very importance truth on how to balance family and ministry: “Love your children like your sheep and your sheep like your children.”
What does it mean? First, love your children like your sheep. Parents tend to have lots of expectations on their children. Parents expect them to be obedient at home, do well at school and become exemplary members in the ministry. Why not? After all, parents feed them, love them and provide them with all necessary things. Don’t they have the right to expect good things from their children in return? With all these expectations, parents tend to put lots of one-sided pressure on their children in the name of love and care rather than developing personal relationship and friendship with them.
Then how can we love our children like our sheep? With our sheep, we tend to be very patient and understanding. In order to understand and help them, we are willing to listen to their stories endlessly. We try to build a personal love and trust relationship with them. We should do the same with our children. Our children are our sheep whom God put under our care. They have their own individualities. They have their own sets of agonies and problems. One of the most common complaints of our children about their parents is this: “They don’t understand us.” The word, “understand,” has the meaning of “stand under.” When we put ourselves above our children, it is very difficult to understand them. In order to understand our children, we must stand under them. In order to understand them, we must give them our listening ears. There are different levels of listening. Most adults are ready to give an advice or a Bible verse after listening to others for five minutes. That is not really listening. One person I know is an excellent Bible teacher. She listens to her sheep for more than an hour before Bible study. She comes up with the following questions based on what her sheep said until her sheep feels that they found someone who is eager to listen to them and understand them. We should do the same with our children. They have their own agonies. To name a few, they grew up in a Christian home and in CBF and study at school, where most friends do not necessarily share the same faith or value with them. They had to share their parents’ love with their parents’ sheep.
Here is a story of a missionary who bought a birthday cake for her sheep and put it in the fridge. When her children saw the cake, they were delighted and asked their mom whether they could have some. Then the missionary shot it up, saying, “Don’t touch it. It is for my sheep.” Think about how her children must have felt. They will wonder in their hearts, “Then who are we?” In this case, it is recommendable for a missionary to buy two cakes: one for her sheep and the other for her children.
Another thing that we can do for our children and make them feel that they are indeed the primary object of our love and affection is to have a family time of worship, dinner outing or short vacation. My family used to allow every Wednesday evening as a family night and spent that evening exclusively for our two daughters, buying them delicious dinner, listening to their stories and spending time together. To this day, it became the foundation of our close relationship with our children.
Second, love our sheep like our children. We love our children no matter what. “No matter what?” Yes, no matter what. Most parents do not disown their children. Rather, parents love their children with an ever-lasting love. This is not necessarily the case with our sheep. We, as shepherds, are willing to sacrifice lots of things to raise them as disciples of Jesus. Yet the degree of our commitment to them largely depends on their degree of commitment. If they are faithful to Bible study and worship service and growing as disciples, we love them faithfully. Yet if they become rebellious and unfaithful, sometimes we consider them disposable. To love our sheep like our children means to love them no matter what. I know that this is easy to be said than done. In Galatians 4:19, Paul called his sheep my dear children and said, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Of course, this does not mean that we must treat our disciples and our children like children forever. Let’s think about how Jesus changed his vertical relationship with his disciples to a horizontal one. John 15:15 says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus set a wonderful model for us to follow in our relationship with our disciples and family members. I believe that discipleship or disciple-making is very important. At the same time, friendship or friend-making is also very important. Friendship is sharing thing together. Friends in need are friends in deed. It is not easy for us to change our mindset or paradigm in our relationship with others.
One fifty year old man greeted his seventy year old father and told him that he would go outside for a walk. Then the seventy year old father admonished the son, “Be careful when you cross the roads.” To the mind of the seventy year old father, his fifty year old son is still a child who needs his utmost care. Let me recommend a few paradigm shifts in our relationship with others.
With our disciples: we need two paradigm shifts. From the backseat to the front navigator seat and to the driver seat. Of course, we love our Bible students, teach them the Bible and pray and care for them. We nurture them in many ways. Then we should not treat them as our permanent Bible students or as our subordinates all the time. When they grow mature, it is necessary for us to change our paradigm and treat them as our equals. We must make friends with them just as Jesus considered his disciples as his friends. Later, in God’s right time, when they grow mature and responsible, we may entrust all things to them, though we may provide them with necessary advice when asked.
With our children: we also need the same paradigm shifts as well in our relationship with them. At first we nurture them in many ways, instructing them what is right and wrong. When they become teenagers, we must build a horizontal relationship with them, treating them as our equals and listening to them and trying to build friendship with them. When they become adults, we may ask them to help us in our ministry and family matters.
Third, the servant of all (Matthew 20:25,26) Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...” Whether to help our children or sheep or wives or husbands or coworkers, it is important for us to have Jesus’ style of leadership. The traditional leadership style looks like a pyramid. The leader is on the top by himself and everybody else is under him at the bottom. Jesus’ style of leadership is that of a servant. It looks like an upside down pyramid. The leader should be at the very bottom, becoming the servant to all.
Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." He came to serve as a humble servant leader and as our true friend. What is more, he came to give his own life for us. We love Jesus because though he was God himself and became a servant for all. We love his humble leadership. Thank God that we find many good examples for such humble leadership in UBF. When we become the servant to all including our sheep, our children, our spouses and our coworkers, then we may have the aroma of Jesus, our humble servant King and give good influence to people around us and build edifying and loving relationship with them.
By Henry Park