July 18, 2016

Being in Ministry Saved My Marriage

This morning, my husband and I prayed together with our kids. Before we walked out the door, we looked into each other’s eyes, and we kissed. Later, at lunch time, we had a significant discussion about personal priorities for our finances. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. We also discussed our church. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. This evening, we ate dinner as a family. We laughed a lot. I did the dishes. He paid bills in the family room. After the kids were in bed, the two of us ended the day by reading side-by-side on the couch.

Ours is the story of a happy marriage. 

We owe this to the grace and mercy of our Lord. And one of his loving means has been our place in the church. 

When yet another pastor falls publicly into grievous, soul-bruising, family-destroying sin, the onlookers can quickly line up to blame life in the church. I have read many articles in recent months that claim ministry life makes pastors and their wives inherently lonely or hypocritical or distracted or vulnerable to sin or prone to cracking from stress. The cumulative message is clear: when failure happens, it’s the church’s fault. 

I know that ministry life can bring unique, and sometimes intense, challenges to family life. (See: this entire blog.) I know that there are neither perfect churches nor perfect pastors nor perfect pastors' wives. Sin is a many-tentacled monster that can drag us toward death from many directions at once. 

But I also know firsthand the privilege of a ministry marriage.

And I worry that an endless litany of blame-the-ministry could cause faithful pastors and their wives to view the local church as their marriage's enemy rather than its best ally. 

The Prayers of Many 

I can’t count the number of times our church has publicly prayed for us and for our marriage. Sunday mornings from the pulpit. Wednesday nights in church prayer meeting. Tuesday mornings at Bible study. The people of God are regularly and specifically praying for us to have a loving, faithful, and happy marriage. 

These prayers are the arms of Aaron and Hur, holding up our marriage whenever it grows weary. They are an offensive weapon against Satan, cutting down temptation before it begins. And they are an open invitation to corporate rejoicing, allowing “the many” to “give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11). 

The Good 

In church life, we are surrounded by couples who are thriving in their marriages—loving one another, serving God, and pursuing faithfulness. We watch them work and worship together. And we see God’s grace to them when trials come. 

Ministry life has taken us to hospital beds and death beds, to moving trucks and waiting rooms, to drought-plagued farms and hard-hit small businesses. We have seen marriages walk through the sea billows and come out singing “it is well.” 

These couples are our cloud of witnesses: cheering us on, handing us cups of cool water, and pointing us to the same Christ who is also at work in them. 

The Ugly 

We have also watched marriages die. Too many times, we have cried together for a church couple who didn’t make it, who met the end in a dingy courtroom stacked with allegations. And we have doubled-over in fear and grief and anger for all the sins that led them there. 

But even the ugly is a grace for my marriage. Having seen the multi-car pile-up beside the road, I resolve to drive more cautiously. Having watched the house next door burn to the ground, I check the batteries on my smoke detectors. Having witnessed a friend falling off the cliff, I back away from its jagged edge.

Thanks be to God. 

God’s Gracious Constraints 

The blame-the-ministry posts are correct when they observe that ministry life comes with plenty of constraints. People are watching you. You have demands on your time. At every moment, you are expected to act like a Christian. True. 

Those constraints are God's grace

Because of the ministry, I must speak kindly to and about my husband. I must serve God alongside him. I must set an example for younger Christians. I must surround myself with more mature Christians. I must submit myself to the direction of the elders. I must show up twice every Sunday to worship God with him. 

And aren’t those the very things my marriage needs? 

I cannot say what my marriage would be like if my husband were not a pastor. I have only the life God has given. But I do know this: ministry life is, by God’s kind intent, good for my marriage.

July 5, 2016

Great Expectations in Ministry

Expectations are tricky things for pastor's wives. People in our congregations assume that we should act or think in a certain way, and we expect the same of them. Christians get into trouble when we take our focus off Christ and the truth of the Bible.

The scriptures tell us about the marvelous hope we have in God and the benefits of knowing Christ. They also show us how we ought to live with the power of the Holy Spirit to help us. However, we are not assured that our ministry will be always successful and without any pain. As much as the world tries to convince us, humans cannot expect to create their own perfect reality.

In a June 21, 2016 article on The Gospel Coalition website, Senior Editor Jeff Robinson writes about the "poison ivy of self-centered expectations" that he had for his church as a rookie pastor. He built a fictional church in his mind that was quite successful, filled with all agreeable people and void of much that caused him anxiety. Although this piece is written with pastors in mind, it has application to their wives, as well.

Robinson gives six reasons why having such great expectations for a church is lethal. For example in reason two, he says that the pastor can become disappointed when reality doesn't live up to fiction. According to Robinson, when you try to reach a standard that neither you nor your congregation can meet, "you will be frustrated with them, and they will be frustrated with you." Instead, he says, "...you are called to love the congregation you have, not the one you desire."

"6 Ways a Fictional Church May Wreck Your Ministry" is good advice for those who are right out of seminary as well as those people who are discontented with their current church and want to leave. Robinson gives convincing reasons why we should not create what he calls a "ministerial Disneyland," which has no basis in reality.

According to TGC's website, editor Robinson is also a church planter. In addition, he is a senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary. His article was accessed on July 4, 2016.

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