I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:27-28
I wish someone would have helped me prepare my marriage for the daily difficulties of pastoral ministry. I remember thinking, while in seminary, that my future ministry and marriage would look like a Norman Rockwell painting; quaint, warm, full of beautiful colors, and fulfilling. At the center of that metaphorical painting would be a small little home representing a peaceful, Jesus-following family.
After almost sixteen years of pastoral ministry, I can confidently say that I do not believe Norman Rockwell ever painted Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 11. Such a painting would not be quaint and warm. It would be cold, harsh, and heavy because Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11 describe ministry with words like labor, toil, hunger, thirst, cold, naked, and pressure. Pastoral ministry can be a constant kick in the teeth and that’s just describing the pastor’s plight. Somewhere behind the pastor, in the background and carrying their own burden, is the pastor’s spouse.
Somewhere behind the pastor, in the background carrying their own burden, is the pastor’s spouse.
If a pastor feels the heaviness of pastoral ministry, so does the spouse. If a pastor is sad and burdened for a church member, the pastor’s spouse sees that heartache and grieves in their own way. If a pastor is trashed and humiliated by disgruntled church members, the words and snide remarks not only hurt the pastor, they deeply cut the pastor’s spouse. If a pastor feels overwhelmed by the burdens of their church to the point of burnout, the pastor’s spouse must wrestle with what it means to have a spouse who comes home every night without the emotional energy to engage.
Please hear me if you are a young minister considering marriage; pastoral ministry is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Pastoral ministry will test the very bonds of your covenant marriage many, many times. When you as a pastor feel burdened, know that your spouse is feeling the same burden, sometimes in heavier ways. When you are emotionally exhausted at the end of the day and have nothing left to give to your spouse, know that they are often left feeling lonely. When you as a pastor “face daily the pressure of (your) concern for all the churches,” know that you will often be tempted to not care for the one person for whom you should care the most: your beautiful, strong, loving, caring, and sacrificial spouse.
When you as a pastor “face daily the pressure of (your) concern for all the churches,” know that you will often be tempted to not care for the one person for whom you should care the most: your beautiful, strong, loving, caring, and sacrificial spouse.
So, if you are a pastor entering marriage and ministry, know that Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians are just as meaningful and weighty to your spouse as they are to you. Do whatever is necessary to start your pastoral ministry at home. If you feel as if you have been neglecting your spouse, move heaven and earth to re-establish a healthy Biblical rhythm of life that allows you to put your marriage first. After all, pastoral marriage and ministry may not produce a Norman Rockwell painting, but a healthy marriage could possibly be the most powerful testimony of a successful ministry.
Here are three ways to make sure you put your marriage first as a minister. (My wife and I first heard these ideas from Jennifer Degler at http://www.healthyrelationshipsrx.com.)
- 15 Minutes–Find time every day to connect for 15 uninterrupted minutes. The goal of this time is to simply engage each other in conversation about whatever it is that you need to discuss. While doing so, listen to each other with your ears and your eyes. And, turn off whatever electronic devices that might distract you.
- A Date Night at Least Every Other Week–Guard this time ferociously. Do something that will help you connect with each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. (No movies, unless you are going to talk a lot before or after the movie.) And again, turn off the electronic devices.
- A Weekend Away at Least Twice A Year–All couples need extended times away where there is ample space to reconnect and rekindle emotional and physical intimacy. A church led marriage retreat, a camping trip, or a trip to your favorite theme park could help you refocus on one another in a non-hurried way. Remember what it was like when you first had fun together and work to recreate that laughter and joy.
May your marriage as a minister be the most powerful sermon you preach every week.