Marriage & Ministry
It’s been difficult for me to balance ministry and marriage. Ministry seems to have so many demands that my marriage has suffered. Can seasoned pastors share some tips with me about what they’ve done to keep their marriages strong and vibrant in the midst of ministry responsibilities?
Pastor T. R. Harper – Jacksonville, AL
The title of the question is marriage and ministry and I believe that says it all. Your marriage should always be your first priority. Without a strong marriage your ministry won’t be as effective long term and what good is a ministry if your marriage suffers. If you are a pastor, realize that you are part of a team and the team can share the load. Learn to delegate the things that can be done by others. It is important that ministers take time away from their ministry and spend time with their spouses (I’m talking vacation and date nights here!). Another point is that your spouse must realize there are times that ministry is more demanding than at other times and you must learn to be flexible during those times.
Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
Sherlyn and I have been serving as Pastor at Worship Center for 31 years. From the beginning we decided to put our marriage relationship needs before church and ministry needs. When the Pastor’s marriage is strong and solid it brings a healthy security to the congregation. We schedule regular times to get away for a few days, usually 2-4 times a year. Also, we take off Mondays and spend time together going out to breakfast etc. We also have a weekly date night which is Friday nights for us—we may go to dinner, go to a movie, go out with friends or spend an evening at home—we allow only emergency situations to interfere with our date night. It was a choice we made to put our marriage first—there are always demands on our time as Pastors so we have to intentionally make time to keep our marriage strong and vibrant. Marriage needs must be at the top of our priority list.
Pastor Jeff Jones – Kalamazoo, MI
Years ago we realized that the only people we were guaranteed to have with us at the end of our ministry was our family. So, why were we sacrificing time with them to overextend ourselves to people who are with us today but gone tomorrow? It was then that we decided that our family always, and we mean always came first. Kids events, field trips, practices, games, annual vacations and get-aways found their place in our calendars first and other meetings were scheduled around them. It sure seemed to help. I think it’s important to remember that when Jesus was hanging there on the cross he wasn’t pondering an additional beatitude… his concern was for His mom.
Pastor Jerry Weinzierl – Sterling Heights, MI
I’ll try to add some insight…by the way, I like what has been said by many: “God instituted the marriage, then family before he ever instituted the church.”Biblically, the life and health of a church often parallels the life and health of the marriage/family, yet the family is given priority. For instance, Paul never said that if the church is not running right, you should not have leadership in the family!
#1. Realize that your marriage and ministry will go through many phases. Being able to adjust to and “survive” each phase is critical.
a. Start-up: is going to take serious dedication and time investment from each of you. Although that does not diminish the responsibility you have to your spouse and family, the cost must be counted. There is no way to successfully navigate the start of a church and it not cost you something of time and great effort. Ministry never will be a 40 hour work week. There were many days over the first two years that I was at organizational meetings until very late and got called away to the hospital and could not be there right at our predetermined dinner time of 5:30pm. My wife had a particularly hard time with that at first, but realized that adjustment was needed. I also needed to learn to say “no” or “later” to more things than I was used to.
b. While you have a young family: The children (and your spouse) must never feel that they take a back seat to the ministry, especially at times you have made a promise to be there for them. I missed many ministry opportunities and my wife stayed home from years and years of special events (outside the church) to make sure the kids didn’t come home from school to an empty house with no parents. My son once drew a picture of himself with the dog for me to put next to my desk….”so you won’t forget what I look like!” OUCH…double ouch!!!
c. As your family gets older (mine have now all graduated high school) things change and get easier to balance…because there’s not as much to balance!
All of this is with the understanding that following God on your priority list is your wife. If my wife is feeling neglected because of all the demands on my time, I’ve had my secretary cancel all my appointments so I could spend some extended time with her. My wife is extremely low maintenance and requires so little of me that I have to be very strategic in my planning for time with her. One time she was feeling particularly bad about our relationship and I did call into my secretaries office and cancelled everything for the next week and took her out of town for 3-4 days. We didn’t need to talk through much…I just said everything I needed to say through my actions. (I sound so smart….the grace of God is alive and well in my life!!!!!)
One more thing, never allow the church, people, board, etc. etc. determine for you what role your wife, family should play in the life of the church. All pastors wives are not created equal (all special, but not equal), and the pressure to perform should be addressed by you. Ed Cole said, our role is to “Guide, govern, provide and protect. Our family needs to feel those from us. I have actually dealt with that from the stage during a Sunday service many times over the years: “My kids are not perfect because they hang out with your kids!” and when they have had pressure put on them to follow in their father’s footsteps…I’ve actually told people not to say that to them. “One Holy Spirit is quite enough for them to be led by!”
Pastor Mike Kalstrup – Oakland, IA
Admittedly, ministry has some ‘occupational hazards’ for the person who feels called to obey God through full-time ministry. But from a practical standpoint, some hazards are not much different from other ‘professional’ occupations. There are many demands that are placed on individuals due to their particular vocation. The issue in my mind becomes how we steward the gift and union of marriage we have within our lives.
Assuming that both spouse and minister have a heart toward pursuing successful ministry, we first need to realize that:
- God created the institution of marriage and the family before He created the church [ministry]
- Secondly, [again, assuming both are in agreement in pursuing the ministry] I don’t believe that God requires the sacrifice of our marriage or family on the altar of having a successful ministry.
- Thirdly, you can have both a successful ministry and a successful marriage, but as one minister put it, balance is the key to life.
When we first begin in ministry, there is a passion and drive within our heart to make a difference. It’s normal and proper; if we didn’t have it, being in the ministry wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun. But one of the blind spots that a young minister can have is being so consumed with ministry, that he/she is not caring for the things at home. It’s usually not intentional, but if you’re not careful you can inadvertently drive yourself out into the middle of nowhere in ministry, while your spouse and family wonder where you’ve gone.
In my opinion, there’s nothing more important to me than my relationship with my wife; outside my relationship with Jesus. But I consider my relationship with Jesus and the ministry two different things. My wife and family fit in between the two. To me, it’s a matter of priority. You can have both a successful ministry and a great marriage and relationship with your spouse. Jesus is in favor of both and I believe He can give you the wisdom to have both. Yes, the ministry is demanding, but it will always be there. Give yourself permission to spend time and have fun with your spouse. You’re going to be a whole lot more effective if your house is in order, than if you have neglected this covenant that you entered into with them.
Pastor Mike Cameneti – Canton, OH
I think a marriage relationship is like any other relationship; you determine daily what you will put into it. My wife and I started our church when we were in our twenties and our children were ages four and six. Without a staff or help, there were many demands on us, but we made a covenant with each other that we would always put each other and our children before the ministry. That did not mean if someone in the church had an emergency come up that we would not be there; instead, it meant that during the week, and during times when we weren’t called out or doing a funeral, we made time for each other and our children.
As the church grew and we developed a staff, we began to adjust our lives to our growing family needs. We arranged our schedules so that we could be at our children’s events. This might seem like very little, but now that our kids are grown, they look back and remember that we were there for their games, birthday parties, and plays.
As far as our marriage, we determined to do as much as possible together, and to never put the ministry before each other. Our mindset was that we wanted to be married and actually love each other, and be friends even when the kids moved out of the house. Now, our kids are both married and my wife and I are having a wonderful time with each other because we never grew apart. We still do ministry together and she is my closest friend. We love working together and challenging each other.
Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
I call my wife a couple of times during the day to just chat. We go out for lunch once a week and try to have a date night once or twice a month. I know some that have a date night weekly. This is too much for our schedule with our kid’s activities also. We take summer vacations, and short get-a-ways periodically.
Pastor Larry Millender – Tallahassee, FL
Over the years we have set a few guidelines in place to protect our marriage from becoming a casualty of ministry.
1.) Keep Jesus Christ as the centerpiece of our home and prioritize our spiritual life before all else. God in us is of greater importance than us in the church.
2.) Keep our home as our personal refuge and safe haven. Over the years we have had very few ministry events at our home (no bible studies at our home, etc.). I tell our church folks, do not just show up at my house to visit me. Do your best to limit telephone calls at home as well (not easy).
3.) Elaine and I set aside “together time” just for us (date nights, shopping, relaxation times, etc.). These are get-away times with no one tagging along. Divorce yourself of your cell phone for these times. Never take church folks on vacation with you.
4.) Never counsel the opposite sex without someone with you. This closes all kinds of doors for failure.
5.) Limit ministry times and events. DO NOT have church activities every day and night. Life is more than just about church stuff and ministry.
6.) Develop friendships with others outside of your church. Have some close pastor friendships and fellowship regularly with them. DON’T discuss church issues during these times. Enjoy yourself.
7.) Have friends to share your tough times with. Have a shoulder to cry on and an ear to cry into. Become accountable to others. Even cross-country pastoral friendships provide an outlet for you.
8.) Remember that people come and go. Don’t build your future based on other people staying around you. Your spouse is with you for the long haul. Prioritize her/him.
9.) Never allow ministry to become competitive between you and your spouse. Learn to work together as a team. Give each other honor before your church people. Be kind to each other before your church members.
10.) Never air your marriage problems within your church. Don’t tell church members “what you are going through at home.”