The below article will be published in the Journal of Family Ministry this spring, which is a Southern Seminary publication. The article is for the section Equipping the Generations and reflects theologically on motherhood. I wrote the majority of it before Jade was born, but added the application this week. I hope you enjoy!
A Triune Model for Motherhood and Ministry
When I became pregnant with my first child I realized God graciously gives nine months to prepare us for the life-changing experience to come. Since he established my ministry before giving me a child I began praying and scripturally thinking about what it looks like to be a mother and outward minister. I use the word “outward” because I firmly believe motherhood is a ministry in itself.
The biblical foundation for the model I began to see is the Trinity. If I am not careful at this point, I could zealously shoot off into all kinds of directions because the Trinity has proven to be the glorious foundation for many areas of my life, such as marriage and diversity/unity in the body of Christ. Thus, I celebrate the opportunity to relish and apply another profound implication of God’s Triune being for Christian living in the realm of motherhood and ministry.
The biblical teaching of the Trinity reveals that God is three distinct persons, each person is fully God, yet God is one being.[i] 1 John 4 tells us that God is love. But love is a relational term. In other words, in order to love you must have someone or something to love. One may initially think, that must be why God created us—he needed someone to love. But John 17:24 tells us that God was love before the foundation of the world. He was love before he created. How could this be?
The answer is the Trinity. At the core of God’s being, he is three distinct persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And these three persons are a community of love.
Scripture reveals that God did not create humanity because he needed us (Acts 17:24). Instead, he created out of the overflow of the joy and love that exists within Trinity. God’s joy is expansive. As John Piper says: “It wants to share itself.”[ii] Thus we read the striking statement in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
The plural nouns “us” and “our” in this verse refer to the Triune God. God created humanity in his Triune image to share in the fellowship of the Trinity (1 John 1:3). Indeed, we see in Genesis 1–2 (before the Fall) that humanity consisted of distinct individuals who formed a community of love.
The smallest microcosm of humanity is the family unit. Pregnancy is the way that new image-bearers of God are added to the original family unit (husband and wife). God designed this community to reflect the Trinity by each person finding their joy or satisfaction in God, treasuring each other’s unique individuality and roles, and letting this joy overflow into self-giving acts of love toward one another. In sum, humanity reflects the Trinity by being a community of love.
And here is where I believe motherhood and outward ministry merge. Just as the joy within the Trinity is expansive—it wants to share itself with others—so should it be within a family. As the father, wife, and child or children live richly in their community of love, this love should bubble up and overflow into outward ministry. Again, the joy and love of God is expansive. Therefore, the Trinity created. Therefore, the human family partakes in the ministry of reconciliation.
Having identified a Triune model, I will not adopt a model of motherhood that focuses “solely” on my children. And I will not adopt a model of ministry that focuses “primarily” on the outside world while neglecting my children. Instead, my model for motherhood will be one that focuses “primarily” on my children (after God and husband), while teaching them that they are not my “sole” love. They will see that I also possess a fervent love for the bride of Christ. My husband and I will seek to love our children fully as individual image-bearers and entice them to join us in letting our familial love bubble up and overflow into the lives of others together through the ministry of reconciliation.
The model I choose to follow will, therefore, be a Triune model for motherhood and ministry.
The practical application of a Triune model for motherhood and ministry will manifest in various ways depending upon the spiritual gifts and calling of each family unit. Every mother will have to prayerfully ask two questions: 1. How can I cultivate familial love? and 2. How can our familial love overflow into the lives of others? I will conclude with three examples of my own:
- During the first month of my daughter’s life I began cultivating familial love by meditating on the biblical teaching of God’s image upon mankind while a little image-bearer lay in my arms day and night. Before long the mundane activities of changing diapers and feeding were transformed into meaningful moments of nurturing the dignity of an image-bearer. This heightened love and respect could not be contained within my family unit because I began to see others as image-bearers, as well. Therefore, we decided to host a conference to refresh pro-life workers with the biblical teaching of God’s image upon mankind. My husband is the chairman of our ministry’s board of directors and our daughter was used as the feature on the conference advertisements. As a result, our familial love overflowed into familial ministry.
- In the first nine months of my daughter’s life we have expressed our love for her in many ways. One of them has been providing for her material needs: clothing, bathing accessories, developmental toys, and other items. Our expansive joy has moved us to ask our local pregnancy center to pair us with a young single woman who made a choice to give life. We will make this woman and her daughter friends of our family by walking with them through life spiritually and emotionally while also passing down our material goods that assist in parenting.
- One arm of my teaching ministry is to biblically encourage single women through quarterly letters to find rest in God as their heavenly husband. After taking Valentine’s Day pictures of my daughter to preserve for family memories we decided to make them into cards to send to single women with a message of God’s love on Valentine’s Day.
These are a few ideas we have discovered in our application of a Triune model for motherhood and ministry. May they open your minds to the vast possibilities you can implement in your own family outreach to the larger world.
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994),241.
[ii] John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 45.