Emotionally Abandoning Spouse For Ministry

Some people protest that God alone meets all our needs. They believe that the Lord doesn’t need to involve a spouse to remove our aloneness. Philippians 4:13 is often quoted, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” They sing hymns such as, “Jesus Is All I Need” that celebrate God’s total sufficiency. They firmly insist, “I have God, and God meets all my needs. As a result, many are emotionally abandoning their spouse for the sake of ministry figuring God is all they need.

God IS the Source For Meeting Our Needs

Teresa and I wholeheartedly believe that God is the ultimate source for meeting all our needs. We understand both biblically and experientially our deep need for God. Nothing else —not possessions, not position, not success, not another person —can fill the God-shaped vacuum within each of us. God alone brings peace and order to the human heart. Yet God revealed a wondrous mystery in the Garden. In his unsearchable wisdom, he has chosen to partner with us to remove the “not good” of aloneness in our spouses. He is still the source for taking away the “not good” of being alone in our marriages, but he desires to enlist us as his colleagues in the process.

How About the Single Person?

What about people who are not married? Is God’s design for removing aloneness thwarted in those who are single? Absolutely not. God’s wonderful plan for removing human aloneness is fulfilled in three divinely appointed relationships. For those who are married, the marriage relationship is God’s primary means for removing aloneness. But some people do not marry, and some marriages do not continue. In such cases, loving family —parents, children, grandparents, and siblings —is a divinely provided relationship.

…And for those who for some reason are without close family, God’s “safety net” for removing human aloneness is his body, the church. Jesus declared, By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). God has graciously provided marriage, family, and the body of Christ so that no one should suffer the “not good” of being alone.

God Changes Our Heart

At age twenty-one, I was fully aware of my personal need for God and that is when I trusted him as my Savior and when his Spirit began rapid changes in my heart and life. As I began to grow as a Christian, I generally accepted the idea that I needed other people somehow. But I firmly believed that my only real need was for God. And I assumed that if others —including Teresa —would just become more spiritual, they would not need me!

This view skewed my understanding of God’s design for involving me in removing Teresa’s aloneness. And I certainly didn’t understand God’s desire to remove my aloneness through Teresa. Since God had not found in me a colleague to care for Teresa, the oneness she and I sought was elusive, and the blessing God desired and deserved from our relationship was limited.

The Pursuits of Spiritual Pursuits

As growing Christians eager to do God’s work, Teresa and I poured ourselves into spiritual pursuits. I memorized large portions of Scripture. I became deeply involved in ministry to students, and I led discipleship groups. Teresa became deeply involved in her own ministry, which reached thousands of women each year. Eventually Teresa and I conducted marriage seminars together. In our efforts to please God and serve others, our primary focus and priority was on ministry. I left Teresa alone. By placing our children and our ministry before our marriage, Teresa left me alone. Although our church viewed us as the ideal ministry couple, we continued to silently endure our relationship. We were very active and very busy, but very alone.

Focused on Ministry

In those years I was so focused on my spiritual life and ministry that I had little time or attention for my family. Teresa was left with the responsibility of caring for our two daughters, Terri and Robin, and our young son, Eric. Occasionally she would lament to me her desire for a more loving husband and a more devoted father for our children. But my attitude said, “Teresa, you don’t need more of me to have a fulfilling life; you need more of God.”

It is true that a relationship with God is to be primary in each of our lives. We are to trust Christ as Savior, yield to his Spirit, and obey his words: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT).

Our Neighbors are Important

Had Jesus stopped there, we might conclude that all we need is a relationship with God. But Jesus went on: A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT). In Jesus’ eyes, relationship with our neighbors —literally our “near ones” —is as important as relationship with God.

As we set our hearts on loving God completely, He desires to enlist us as His colleagues to remove the aloneness of our near ones, beginning with our spouses. Teresa and I often call this the Great Commandment marriage —loving God with all your heart and loving your spouse —your nearest near one —as yourself (also see Ephesians 5:28).

You Are to Be God’s Colleague

Removing aloneness is fundamental purpose of marriage. Are you showing yourself to be God’s colleague, actively involved in the process of removing your spouse’s aloneness? Is your spouse less alone today than he or she has ever been? This is an important biblical measure of a successful marriage relationship.

It is clear throughout Scripture that God, for reasons known only to Him, has opted to fill our longings for oneness through love relationships with both Himself and other human beings. God is totally sufficient in his provision. Yet He has chosen to share some of His love through the three relationships He has ordained: marriage, family, and the church. If we are not fulfilling the Great Commandment in our marriages, our families, or in our churches, the result is not good.

Misunderstanding God’s Design

…My skewed perspective of God, human needs, and relationships convinced me that I needed only God in my life to have a successful marriage and fruitful ministry. My misunderstanding of God’s design to remove my aloneness through him and Teresa fostered an unhealthy and unbiblical self-reliance that robbed our marriage of intimacy.

Furthermore, my attitude heaped condemnation on Teresa, communicating to her, “Ministry is my top priority, and it should be yours too. When are you going to grow up so you don’t need so much of my personal time and attention?” One day, in my frustration to pressure Teresa to become as intense as I was about my ministry, I confronted her in the kitchen with an ultimatum. I said, “Teresa, if you don’t come along with me in serving God, I’m going on without you.” Then I walked away.

Teresa’s View

Teresa explains her reaction to my statement.

“David’s pointed words pierced me like a lance. He left me standing in the middle of the kitchen wondering exactly wheat he meant. Was he talking about leaving me physically through separation or divorce? Was he talking about giving up on me spiritually and emotionally? He could not have known the terrible pain those words caused me. And it only got worse.

“As David continued to lose himself in ministry, he did leave me every way except physically. I was alone and floundering while my husband filled his life with his top priority: the ministry. As a result, I became increasingly aloof and independent I tried to play the ‘ministry wife’ role, but the more he pulled away into his work, the more I buried myself in activities at home with our children.”

Self Doubt

Teresa suffered tremendous self-doubt induced by the painful messages of my self-reliance. She often thought, “Maybe if I were more spiritual or sensed a deeper call to ministry, I wouldn’t need David’s love, acceptance, comfort, and encouragement so much. If I just had more of God, I wouldn’t miss him so much when he is away doing ministry.”

I expected Teresa to deal with her needs in a self-reliant manner just as I did. I chided her for not being spiritually independent. The more involved I became in the ministry, the more uncomfortable she became living in the fishbowl of congregational scrutiny.

Teresa Explains:

“As a fairly new Christian, I was still deciding what I believed. I was battling false with guilt and self-condemnation over how insecure I felt in the ministry. Someone once made the thoughtless remark, ‘I would never have believed you were David’s wife. You don’t seem to be as spiritual as he is.’ By this time I had developed a bubble of self-protection against the pain in my marriage and other relationships. I became extremely self-reliant in my own world. It was important to me to shut out the pain I experienced in my relationship with David and other Christians. I had mastered the skill of not feeling, not hurting.”

False Self Reliance

We had falsely equated self-reliance with spiritual maturity and emotional strength. As a result, our love for each other grew increasingly cold. We needed to change our twisted view of God’s design for marriage. But more than a renewed mind, we needed a humble heart.

The solution to self-reliance is humility. It is humbling for us to admit that we have needs we cannot meet on our own. And it is equally humbling to acknowledge that we are helpless to remove our aloneness apart from depending on God to minister to us. It is also humbling to involve other people in our lives, as he desires. Hunkering down in a foxhole of self-reliance and just waiting to become more mature will not remove our aloneness. Maturity and strength in our relationships come only as we humbly depend on God to minister his grace to us. This often comes through our spouse.

This article comes from the book, “Never Alone” by David and Teresa Ferguson, published by Tyndale House Publishers. It’s unfortunate, but this book is no longer being published. You can obtain it through used book resource centers. We hope you are able to do so because this is an excellent book!

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Filed under: Pastors and Missionary Marriages

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52 responses to “Emotionally Abandoning Spouse For Ministry

  1. What happens when it’s the wife that’s away? My daughter-in-law has discovered mission trips. She just returned from a week in Jamaica; she’s currently out of town at a special meeting until late tonight. She goes to a Helps ministry every December and now she’s talking about going to Panama next September. She’s also the Praise and Worship Director (her parents are the Pastors). All of this is wonderful, but my son is finding himself alone with their 5 children more and more.

    He works a stressful, full time job as a corrections officer. Whenever she leaves, I step in and help with the kids, but I gotta tell you, it’s getting old. It’s like nobody ever gives any thought to the people that are left behind to care for the children. Maybe WE would like time to get closer to God. But my son and I are always busy with the children. I used to do more in the church, too, but honestly, we’re both just watching the kids now. I’m actually finding it difficult to go to church anymore. But I also don’t feel like I can say anything. I have a friend who is a pastor. She came to one of,our services and noticed that our time was taken up minding the kids. She asked me “when is it your time to worship”? I don’t know what to do. I feel bad even complaining to complete strangers.

  2. My husband and I met when I was 18 at church. For a few years we became acquainted and he fell in love first. Long story short, we have that romantic fairytale story woven by God. We had so much counsel and discipleship with our mentors. We had so much encouragement to do ministry together from everyone that knew us as a couple. It felt so right.

    We started doing a youth group together for a year and I had never been so happy in my life. I’ve always wanted to be involved with ministry but didn’t know how or when I’d be, or where my purpose was. The idea of doing ministry with kiddos along side my husband was a dream.

    We’ve been married for under two years now and recently took a step of faith to come under a new ministry in a new state together. I left my entire family behind. But now that we are here, we couldn’t be more far apart. He works along side someone else with youth, and I feel totally alone and like I’ve been pushed away. He keeps saying I just need to wait on the Lord and that there is a place for me soon, but nothing is changing.

    I never imagined him doing ministry with another woman and me being left out. And I didn’t know it would be like that until we got here. I don’t want to come off bitter or jealous, but he thinks that’s how I feel towards him and her and everyone up here. And I’m not; I just feel completely alone and like no one cares that I’m suffering, or left out. I feel like we are roommates and he’d rather be doing ministry without me, like I’m watching him from inside a snow globe. He doesn’t understand how I feel and continues to say there’s nothing wrong with what he is doing and it’s me, that I’m ungrateful for where God has brought us. He’s living his dream in ministry and I’m miserable.

    I don’t know what to do anymore. I pray to God and it’s the first time in my life I can’t seem to hear him. My whole life I’ve prayed for wisdom and discernment, but he says that I’m wrong in this. I’ve gotten some counsel about the matter but I still feel at war with all the different voices and opinions in my head including my husband’s. I don’t want him to quit doing youth, I just wanted to do it together as a team and not him doing it with another woman.

    He’s an amazing pastor and leader, and I love him so much. But I feel like we are falling apart very quickly and like it’s my fault. I’ve read my Bible so much and tried to find articles that match my situation, but I can’t seem to find anywhere where married men do youth with a single woman without their wife. I want to know that I’m not crazy. Is it normal?

    I’ve never not supported him in ministry, but now I’m getting angry at him all the time. I feel like I’ve been spiritually cheated on. I know it was no one’s intentions and I know it’s common for women and men to work together, but what about when it was us and now it’s not? I didn’t have a say in the matter and I was never given the opportunity to. I felt blind sided. I wonder if I’m being too legalistic as a wife? I just thought that we’d be doing this together.

    I also want to thank you for making your book available. I just found a used one and I’m excited to read it! Your article is the first I’ve found that made my heart feel better.

    1. Dear S, I’ve been praying and praying for you–that God will somehow work in this to help you and your husband get to a better place in this situation. I’m not sure why your husband is approaching this the way he is. He sounds like a good guy but I’m not sure that he is fully aware of the problems that can occur if you both are separated on this matter. It causes a wedge between you that will keep working its way into pushing you further and further apart.

      We’ve been in ministry for over 40 years, going towards 50. We’ve worked with a lot of pastors and their wives and it’s vitally important that they protect their marriage and put some mutually agreed upon boundaries down so the enemy of our faith is not given a foothold to push them farther apart and also fan the flames of temptation. We put this principle in place in our own marriage a number of years ago and I believe it has helped us to protect our marriage and also to grow our relationship all the stronger.

      I’m thinking that you may need to talk to someone who knows the dynamics of working in ministry. The ministry of Focus on the Family comes to mind that you may be able to talk to someone there and they could either help you and your husband get on the same page or they can refer you to someone who can. They have counselors on staff, so that is a great option.

      We also have a “Pastors and Missionary Marriages Links and Resource” page that could possibly give you a lead on someone you can talk to. You can find it at: https://marriagemissions.com/about-us-2/pastors-and-missionary-marriages-links-and-resource-descriptions/. It’s SO important to have safe ministry colleagues that you can go to when you need to iron out some of the wrinkles that you come across when you’re in ministry. We’ve had different ones throughout the years and they have been a huge blessing.

      It’s obvious that your husband is stuck on this point for some reason, and I’m not sure why. That’s why I believe you need to first reach out to find someone you can talk this through with and then someone or someone’s you can both talk to (if your husband will) who can guide you with this type of ministry situation. It’s important at this stage of your life together that you both find ways to work through these types of situations so both of you are satisfied. You will encounter a LOT of them through the years so now is the time to get on a better footing.

      When you are in ministry you automatically have an invisible bullseye painted on your backs. The enemy of our faith wants to find ways to shoot fiery darts at you and trip you up and keep you fighting among yourselves. If you’re conflicting and fighting with each other, you aren’t able to fight the enemy as effectively as you should. So, recognize this is from the enemy and work to find ways to bridge that, which is separating you.

      Also, don’t be discouraged that you aren’t hearing from God on this at this point. That does happen sometimes. When God is silent, there is a reason. His ways are not our ways, but there IS a reason. Perhaps He is expecting you to trust Him all the more right now. Trust His Word that He will never forsake you and trust His heart. He spiritually grows us up in different ways and works in a variety of ways to do this. Despite His silence, He IS with you and IS listening to you. He just is expecting you to keep trusting Him even in times of silence and persevere until you DO hear from Him. Pray up the Psalms, pray up scripture… just keep praying, waiting, and listening to His still, small voice through all the noise that is going on around you. I hope and pray you will and pray the Lord will talk to you and to your husband to find ways to resolve this.

      “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ —to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11) “May grace and peace be multiplied to you [and to your marriage] in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:2)