Terrie will never let me forget our first couples retreat at Lancaster Baptist Church. Trying to save on cost, I rented a large house by a lake, rather than reserving hotel rooms. And I was such a rookie pastor that I literally had the men sleep on the first floor and the ladies on the second floor.
Actually, it was a great retreat—no couples fought in their rooms that night! Thankfully, however, I’ve advanced as a pastor beyond conducting separated couples retreats, and we now host our retreats in a hotel.
Yet, a pastor never advances beyond needing to invest in his own marriage. For as much labor and energy as you invest into teaching others God’s principles for marriage, you need to be sure you are applying those principles in your own life.
Satan fights marriage, specifically because God designed marriage as a picture of the gospel. And I believe he gives added attention to Christian marriages because these can showcase Christ’s love. Furthermore, spiritual leaders stand in special jeopardy of Satan’s attack because of their influence on others.
This should not evoke fear, because we know from 1 John 4, “…greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” and that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:4, 18).
But it should challenge us to not take our marriages for granted, but to invest in our marriages and to give to our spouses at least as much as we teach others to do.
How do we pastors and spiritual leaders encourage others to invest in their marriages? Here are three basics with specific applications for couples, and particularly for husbands, in ministry:
1. Love one another.
I know that sounds basic—of course married couples should love each other.
But where we sometimes fail is expressing that love.
We know, for instance, that God is love and that He loved us when we were yet His enemies (Romans 5:8–10). But God was not just a Being of love—He expressed His love on Calvary.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.—Romans 5:8
When it comes to marriage, God specifically commands husbands to the highest standard of love: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).
I know, on my part, that I fall way short of that sacrificial love model Jesus gave. But I truly desire to grow every day into the likeness of Christ, and that growth includes learning to express love to Terrie.
Think of this in practical terms.
It might be a consistent date every week. Everyone is busy, but the unpredictability of needs that arise when you are a pastor, can make a regular date night a challenge. Yet, working to have one shows your wife she is important to you.
It might be thoughtful deeds around the house. Even doing something relatively small that isn’t part of your normal routine to help with can be a blessing to your wife.
Perhaps you’ve heard the analogy of an emotional love bank. Ideally, you’re filling your spouse’s love bank every day. For us pastors, however, we have a tendency to become constantly hurried. Through a continually shifting schedule or little relational connection, we can actually be taking withdrawals from our spouse’s love bank. We need to take care to make deposits into each other day after day.
2. Labor together.
Although you can’t share the exact same schedule and have the same areas in which you personally serve, you and your spouse are a team in ministry. Work to stay engaged as a team.
The most obvious way to do this is to look for the areas where you can physically serve together. Make visits together. Host people in your home together. Disciple couples together. And pray together for needs within your church family. You can’t share every aspect of ministry, but look for and enjoy the areas you can serve together.
Even beyond this, however, you labor together as your labor complements each other’s. For instance, Terrie teaches the fourth-grade girls class at Lancaster Baptist Church. She loves teaching this class for the sake of the students and for how it connects her with our church family. Additionally, she teaches the ladies Bible study. I’ll probably never teach the ladies Bible study or her fourth-grade girls class, but her teaching in these venues gives us a way to be connected to the same goals and the same people in ministry.
Consider Priscilla and Aquila, who the apostle Paul called “my helpers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3). Undoubtedly, as this couple opened their home as a location for a local church (1 Corinthians 16:19), they each served in different capacities. One may have baked for the Sunday services, and another may have organized the logistics. But, however they each helped, they were a team serving the Lord and this congregation together.
3. Laugh together.
There are valleys in ministry—there’s no question about that. There will be times you cry together and pray with one another.
Yet, there are fun aspects to the ministry as well. It’s exciting to see souls saved. Enjoy ministry activities together. Attend a sharpening conference that renews your spirit. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” So learn to have a merry heart together.
Don’t always rehash every problem of the ministry when you’re together. Make sure that you’re not always focusing on which family left the church or which financial burden is most pressing.
I’m thankful for how Terrie has encouraged me to enjoy ministry and find fun in it. Learn to keep it light and to spend time praising God together.
With God’s Calling…
You’ve heard the saying: “With God’s calling comes God’s enabling.” This thought is rooted in 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” It’s a wonderful promise from God that He will perform through us that which He has called us to do.
When it comes to your marriage and the ministry, here is what you have to remember: they are both God’s calling.
Your marriage is a gift from God (Proverbs 18:22). And the ministry is a “trust” from God (1 Thessalonians 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:11). So we are responsible to invest in both.
We sabotage our success, however, when we start out with the faulty assumption that we are facing an either/or proposition. Don’t pit these two institutions of God—the home and the church—against each other by believing that you can only succeed in one.
These are not to be competing but completing responsibilities. And God promises to give us the grace we need for both.
This is part two of a three-part series on ministry families. In part one we looked at parenting and ministry. In part three, we’ll look at what it is like having grown children in the ministry.