Marriage is hard enough, but add ministry into the mix and you have a recipe for a potential mess. My work with pastors and their families causes me to see the messiness that exists in pastors’ homes. There’s plenty of the same mess in my own home. The combined stress of marriage and ministry is a unique situation that demands intentionality to keep both a marriage or a ministry from imploding.
Here are 10 things to consider that might help a pastor and his wife stay married and in ministry:
1. Be safe for each other in an unsafe church.
The reality is most churches are unsafe for a pastor and his wife to be open and vulnerable. It is a real gift when a marriage can be a safe place for both a pastor and his wife to be themselves.
2. Establish boundaries together and keep them.
The pastor’s wife is usually the one with the most discernment on setting boundaries with the church. Pastors, listen to your wives on these boundaries and work together to keep them.
3. Learn to rest.
Take all the vacation time the church gives you. But even if you do that, it doesn’t mean you will rest well. Learning to rest is learning to let go of all church matters and burdens while you are away.
4. Carefully listen to each other.
I have spent most of my marriage not listening well to my wife. I am aware of this epic failure and am now trying to change that. Listen to each other so you both know when there are cries for help when drowning in ministry and life.
5. Laugh a lot together as a family.
Marriage and ministry are both very serious and heavy much of the time. Make sure you have times where your family is gathered around the dinner table or on the floor playing games or watching a movie, laughing and engaged together. This in particular is life-giving to all.
6. Encourage your children to be themselves.
Pastor’s kids feel such pressure to be who everyone thinks they are supposed to be. Encourage your children to be who they are with you and the church. Try to embrace the good, bad, and the ugly of it.
7. Be willing to walk away from your ministry.
I constantly battle ministry as an idol. It is amazing how much more enjoyable ministry actually is when I realize it doesn’t determine my value or define who I am. I perform a daily gut-check on this by asking, “Can I walk away today if needed and still be all right?” I have found that freedom makes ministry sweeter.
8. Find deep meaningful safe friendships.
My wife and I learned some painful lessons through nearly 20 years of marriage and ministry. One such lesson is that we cannot meet all of each other’s needs. You must find deep meaningful friendships in which you can be yourself and where you can bring your darkest struggles. Those friends might be in your church, but I would also look outside the congregation for those safe friendships.
9. Understand your roles.
Your wife in not your fellow pastor/elder. Don’t treat her like one. She is not to carry all the burdens the Chief Shepherd calls you to carry. Be mindful of this as you bring your ministry burdens home.
10. Love Jesus the most.
If you love Jesus more than your marriage and your ministry, that is a wonderful, centered, and freeing place to be. Your spouse will fail you. Your church will almost certainly disappoint you. Jesus is always with you and never fails you. He will be there to care for you if your marriage and ministry implode at some point.
I chose the words, “might help” intentionally for these are not at 10 rules that are guaranteed to your marriage and ministry from imploding. But they might create needed conversation between you and your spouse to keep your marriage and ministry pressing on a bit longer and in greater balance and health.
Brian Croft serves as senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville. He is also senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Seminary. A veteran pastor and author of numerous books on practical aspects of pastoral ministry, Brian oversees Practical Shepherding, a gospel-driven resource center for pastors and church leaders to equip them in the practical matters of pastoral ministry. His latest book is Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying & Divided Churches (Christian Focus, 2016).