An Immutable Truth: The Health of Marriage and Ministry Intrinsically Connected

I love my wife. For 15 years and counting, she has been my best friend, my confidant, my biggest cheerleader, and the person who I know will be honest with me about anything and everything.

I love being in ministry. Serving the local church, loving people and making disciples are a joy for me. I have discovered an immutable truth: the health of my marriage and the health of my ministry are intrinsically connected. Both are a deep part of who I am and trying to compartmentalize them can be difficult for a number of reasons. Practically speaking, there is no timecard in ministry. Pastoring people rarely takes place on a schedule, leading volunteers demands patience and the pressure to achieve goals and outcomes always looms in the back of my heart (and sometimes the front). This is truer with my family. Kids get sick, schedule commitments multiply and financial decisions can emerge that all have to be navigated with love and grace.

My point is this: Ministry happens within the context of my life, not outside of it. I exist in a holy tension of balancing both, and therefore I must commit to seeing that neither suffer because both are good things that can bring glory to God. However, I know for certain that the health of my ministry will be affected by the health, or lack thereof, of my marriage. Furthermore, an unhealthy ministry rhythm can disrupt the health of my marriage … and maybe even damage it permanently.

So, how can I ensure that both of these critical areas thrive in the order and way God intended? Here are three practical ways to answer that question.

  1. Fight for Integrity

In a kind of farewell speech in 1 Samuel 12, the prophet Samuel leaves the people of Israel with an assessment of how he has treated them through the course of his ministry. He invites people to come forward and make a case against him for any wrongdoing. What a risky proposition—Samuel had served God’s people for decades, so the sample size for potential sin and maleficence was extensive. But the people respond to Samuel’s challenge in 1 Samuel 12:4, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” Wow, what a testimony of a blameless man!

If you and I want to see our marriages soar, we must aggressively, relentlessly and intentionally fight to be people of integrity. We must be truthful, fair and gracious, and we must be these things first in our home. A tragedy for anyone in ministry would be for his spouse to see a stranger at church because how he lives at home simply does not match who he is in public.

  1. Synchronize Your Schedules

Over the years, my wife and I have discovered the power of waking up at the same time and going to bed at the same time. It’s a simple aspect of our relationship, but in a busy home where the day’s events are staring us in the face the moment our feet hit the floor, it’s a blessing for us. I learned very early in our marriage how seriously my wife takes Proverbs 31:15, “She rises while it is yet night …” and although I am more of a night owl, she has helped me to grow into a morning person! An even greater blessing is making sure we end our day together. This means we purposefully eliminate distractions like e-mail, texting, social media and television. It means reflecting on the events of the day together, talking about what we experienced in our jobs, the relationships that matter most in our lives, what our kids learned in school and praying together about things that are burdening us and rejoicing together over answered prayers.

By synchronizing our schedules, we are revealing a shared value to steward our time well and I am showing my wife that she is more important than an unanswered e-mail or tomorrow’s meeting. When I purposefully invest time in my marriage, especially at the beginning and end of my day, my wife recognizes she holds a first priority in my life.

  1. Learn from Each Other

I have discovered that my wife and I sometimes tend to see the same thing very differently. This can cause disagreements between us, but we have discovered that disagreements in our marriage make us better because they force us to surrender our own pride and preferences and apply the counsel of Paul when he says in Colossians 3:12–13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another.…” For your marriage to grow in Christlikeness, you have to be willing to see things through the other person’s perspective, not just your own.

I have learned to recognize that my wife’s giftedness, wisdom and Spirit-filled discernment are helps to me, not hindrances. I often ask my wife for her opinion about ministry, life, parenting and much more. After I speak or teach, her feedback matters most—even if it’s not what I want to hear! Too often we tend to view our ministry very myopically and this can hinder us from making wise decisions and can slowly place us on an island where the only opinion that matters is our own.

I want to live in such a way that both my marriage and my ministry are healthy. But I also need to realize I will forfeit both if I do not first place Jesus at the very center of my life and place my life in the very center of His will. I will forfeit both if I do not love my wife as Christ loves His Church by laying aside my selfishness and pride and seeking to serve and love her daily. I will forfeit both if I chase the approval of those in the church whom I serve, and worship at the altar of accomplishment while neglecting the first ministry God has given me in my home. You and I can fight for integrity; we can lead out in the synchronization of our schedules and we can discover the joy of learning from our spouse, and if we do, I believe we will discover a deeper joy in our marriage and we will procure the credibility to speak life and hope to a culture that demands authenticity and needs the saving power of Jesus.