Many times couples feel as if marriage is in conflict with ministry. The attitude seems to be: “If I really give to my marriage what all these books and counselors say I should, my ministry will suffer. Marriage is important, but my ministry is for God, and he deserves 100 percent.”
This type of thinking translates into the resolve that “I will respond to anyone who calls at any time other than my spouse. Even if I have promised my wife (husband) that I will stay home, if someone else calls for my attention, my wife (husband) will just have to understand that God’s work comes first.”
Perhaps the bluntness of the above statement makes it seem like something that you would never say. However, this type of thinking can creep in subtly.
The reason for this error is a misunderstanding of how marriage and ministry fit together. Many couples believe and live as if marriage and ministry do not fit together. They view these two areas as being in irresolvable conflict and feel that one must be subordinate. Frequently, this translates into a severe neglect of the family, because “serving the Lord” is more important. Those having this attitude define service to God as “those spiritual things that take place outside the home.”
Other couples believe that marriage and ministry ought to fit together, so they run back and forth between the two. The fit is never comfortable or easy, but they enjoy some success from their juggling efforts.
The first approach, a neglect of the home, is clear disobedience to God’s standards for those who oversee his church. Paul tells us that “[an overseer] must manage his own family well” (1 Timothy 3:4). Obviously, a pastor cannot manage his home if he is never present. The second approach will work when both areas make major demands at the same time. Those who try to take on both equally are prime candidates for burnout.
There is a better way. I have seen it work for people who made a commitment to it from the beginning, as well as for those who first chose one of the above approaches and then struggled hard to change horses in midstream. This third option regarding marriage and ministry is that we view our Bible studies, our singing in the choir, our teaching, or our counseling as a part of our ministry, so we must see our marriage as a viable part of our service to God.
One of the most important assets in an effective ministry is a healthy and strong marriage. Many people in ministry are failing God because of problems in their homes that have been generated by their neglect.
One of the traps that many ministry couples have fallen into is that of separating spiritual things from earthly or mundane things. God makes no such distinction in our lives. We are to honor him and give glory to him in everything we do. Surely God would not have us neglect our families for the sake of his church. Rather we need to nurture our relationships at home so they, by example, can strengthen the body.
An example of this is found in a young pastor who believed that the things he deemed “spiritual” must be treated as being more important than those he felt were of this world. Early in his ministry he worked six long days in the church.
On his “day off” he left his wife and three small children at home and spent twelve hours in the streets passing out Bibles. This pattern was repeated for ten years, and his marriage and family suffered greatly. He said to me, “How I wish I understood that loving my wife and nurturing my children were also ministries!”
How we must grieve God when we neglect the very relationship that is to illustrate Christ’s relationship to his bride. What a greater affront is that we do it “in his name.”
Several years ago I was counseling a ministry couple whose marriage was on the verge of breaking up. This pastor’s neglect of his family was staggering. When I suggested to him that his pattern of behavior was not of God, he replied: “You do not understand. Whatever crosses my path is from God and requires my complete attention. I cannot say no. He will care for my family.”
This minister had defined ministry as absence from home. How sad it is that he never saw that his family had also crossed his path and that his ministry to them was as important as any speaking engagement!
Everything we do is to glorify God, and all that we strive for is to be in service to him. This is as true of listening to and encouraging our spouse as it is of being at the bedside of a dying parishioner. God makes no distinctions: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus“ (Colossians 3:17).
The idea that every area of our lives is to be considered service to God is powerfully emphasized by Peter’s exhortation to elders. He says that overseers are to shepherd others while also serving as examples to their flocks. Paul reiterates this idea many times when he says, “Copy me” “Be imitators of me.” We are to be godly examples to those we serve. This certainly includes all areas of home and family life as well as all aspects of our church ministry.
A perfect ministry and a perfect marriage are not necessary in order to glorify God. However, obedient hearts that strive to please God in every area of life are necessary if our example is to bring honor to the name of Christ.
This article comes from the book, Counsel for Pastors’ Wives -written by Diane Langberg, published by Zondervan. In this book Dr Langberg offers sympathetic and realistic answers to 14 questions submitted to her from pastors’ wives —ones that are often asked. All of the answers require acts of faith, renewed patience, and wisdom that must come from God. With these divine resources come healing and possible solutions.
Filed under: Pastors and Missionary Marriages