I think it’s wise of me to start this post out with a little PSA.
Valentines Day is Thursday. Just so you know. So those of you who haven’t planned anything. Consider yourself warned.
When it comes to working in ministry as a paid staff member or even a volunteer there is a natural tension between ministry and marriage.
There’s an axiom that Sarah and I heard a lot when we got an engaged. Countless people said “The first year of marriage is the hardest”.
For Sarah and I the same year we got married was my first year in full time kids ministry. So after the wedding we moved in together, drove to work together, and worked in the same office (like same room) together, all at once.
That was an adjustment.
So with that in mind here are a few things we learned on managing the tension of building your marriage and working in ministry.
Here’s the thing. Your call to ministry may not be your spouses. But by marrying your spouse you are called to support them in their call to serve. For Sarah and the first year we were married she actually worked in another area at the church. But we found ways to help and support each other in the ministries we were in. Now we work together every weekend. Every couple is different so serving together might not look the same for you as it does for us. But finding a way to use your gifts while at the same time recognizing your significant others gifts has been very precious to us as a couple. It might look like you guys serving side by side in a ministry, it might be investing in a specific student or family together, it might be finding something selfless to do quarterly like donate blood or do something for a drive. Find a way to experience serving as a couple.
2. Worship together
Just as important as experiencing serving together, longevity in ministry is taking time to worship. If every weekend you are giving and you are not finding a time to receive and worship you’ll feel it in your marriage. Sarah and I make it a priority to go to a service one hour each weekend but on weeks that we can’t, we try and watch a service later and set time aside to worship together.
3. Pray together
This is one of the areas that honestly, I struggle with. But when Sarah and I take time to prioritize prayer in our marriage the stress and strain of ministry is lessened and we’re reminded of our priorities.
4. Remember who you married.
I had a pastor tell me once that his wife had seen her father and mother suffer through an affair. It wasn’t with a person though, it was with the church. He said that his wife’s mother felt as if her husband married his ministry and constantly put his family second. While it’s reasonable to have a spouse support a husband or wife’s call into the ministry, remember who you married. It wasn’t the church. And while God may have called you into ministry you stood in front of God and pledged your faithfulness to your spouse. Honor that.
5. Set guardrails
In keeping with the last one, set guardrails to keep your priorities straight. I’ve been called to follow Jesus first, love my wife second, our kids third, my own personal health fourth, and lastly my ministry. All of those things are great but if I don’t have guardrails ministry can headbutt its way to the front of the line. For so many people, ministry is deeply personal. That’s great. But because it is personal and emotional you need firm guardrails to set up.
Sarah and I set the guardrails of not talking about work on dates. (Valentines Day is not a creative meeting). We try and plan times for us to have alone time. We also have just recently put a quota on nights I’m allowed to work late. Talk these over with your spouse. And fair warning, the one that is not in full time ministry gets the loudest vote on where the guardrail goes.
6. Plan fun together
This may fit in the last one but as a couple take time to plan times to have fun together. Whether it be vacation days or even simple days off, take time to be specific and plan time to have fun. I’m excited about this because Sarah and I this year are doing something new. We are getting a yearly calendar for family planning. This isn’t for planning work trips or times that Dad will be gone, it’s for intentional family and marriage time.
I’ve mentioned before on here that I see a therapist to help me deal with issues including depression. Recently in talking with him we were talking about relationships and friendships. (My church just had a fantastic sermon on that too check it out here)
In that conversation my therapist asked who was in my inner circle. Without hesitation I said Sarah and then named a few others.
What caught me so off guard was how he stopped me and went back to her name.
“Jesse, I don’t think you know how special that really is. That’s very rare for marriages.”
That statement boggled my mind because I can’t imagine being anything short of transparent with my wife. She knows literally everything, good, bad, and really ugly of my past. The same is true for her about me. Transparency was always key.
I think that’s why for me our first year that I mentioned earlier, while an adjustment, wasn’t crazy difficult. So even though it’s last it may be most important. Give your significant other the gift of transparency. Especially if you’re in ministry. We have seen too many good men and women in ministry fall to scandals or moral failing.
Be transparent with them and if need be, find a therapist to help you get to a place where you can be transparent. It’ll last so much longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates.
(The above sentence is not a suggestion to neglect chocolate or rose buying)