Keep family and work in balance but don’t drink the Kool-Aid (a book review)

When work and families collideThis is just what I need! A self-help book written by a mega-church pastor! Originally this book was titled Choosing to Cheat because Stanley suggests you have to ‘cheat’ either work or family so you might as well go ahead and decide where your priorities are and ‘cheat’ at your job for the sake of your family. Waterbrook Multnomah wisely retitled this book for this edition to something less provocative. They did the same thing last year with their release of Joshua Harris’s Why Church Matters(previously titled Stop Dating the Church. Sometimes a less ‘sexy’ title goes along way towards countering misunderstandings.

I am deeply suspicious of self-help books and mega-church pastors, and doubly suspicious of mega-church pastors who write self-help books. Add to that, I am out of work. Why would I read a book about family and work? I could just read a book called When Family Collides. This would likely encapsulate my life.

Why did I read this book? While my suspicions aside sometimes mega-church pastors and self-help gurus have some good things to say and you’d be wise to listen. Andy Stanley wrote this book to address the common dynamic experienced in the modern family where commitment to work competes with our being able to give proper attention to our spouse or children. He’s absolutely right. I’ve seen this dynamic in myself. I went through seminary with a full load of classes, two and sometimes three jobs at a time and sometimes, my family got the short end of the stick. A book that addresses this problem is important and has value.

Stanley writes accessibly about the need for us to ‘cheat’ by allocating our limited resource of time, towards what really matters in life (our families). In order to help ease the fears of those of us stuck in the vicious rat race of career pursuits, he describes what Daniel did in Babylon (as in the book of Daniel) when he felt his vocation (enslaved wise-man) but up against his priorities. Instead of eating at the king’s table Daniel confronted the situation with his supervisor, listened to his supervisors concerns and set up a test (10 days no meat) to show that productivity would not be adversely affected. Stanley suggests you should use the same in your workplace (address the issue with supervisor, listen to their concerns and set up a liminal test) where you can limit your hours on the job and spend more time with family. There is wisdom in this approach, but I don’t think that this adequately does justice to Daniel’s situation.

Ultimately I maintain my self-help suspicions of this book. Self help books have some value in helping you overcome problems in your self, enact better self management and grow personally; yet when self-help gets a theological overlay problems emerge. The gospel gets short-shrifted. God’s goal for your life is not that you become more balanced in your vocational and family life so that you have a more satisfying marriage and better kids. God’s purpose is to reconcile you to himself through the work of Jesus Christ. See the problem with a blending of Biblical texts (misused) to illustrate a self-help principle, even one that is sound, we turn God into a means to a better life on our terms. Sure we should be healthier and more balanced in our lives (and there is some wisdom here) but freedom doesn’t come from establishing your priorities and following through, freedom comes when we experience our life (and families) as gift from God, and are set free from the tyranny of the urgent. That is Good news!

This isn’t a total write-off of Andy Stanley. He certainly is a good communicator and an effective minister of the gospel elsewhere, but I don’t think he delivers the goods here. It is an easy read and may be helpful for some people, but it didn’t do it for me. Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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