When I answered God’s call to ministry at 16 years of age, I don’t remember considering any part of my biblical job description. I gave no thought to how some day my marriage would impact my ministry, or visa versa. In some respects, I am glad I didn’t realize all of the challenges that matrimony would inevitably bring.
It is difficult to grow a marriage under normal circumstances, but for ministry couples, the stakes are even higher. If you are a pastor, elder, or deacon, your marriage has an extra layer of expectation to manage both your ministry and marriage well (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). So, with these high stakes in mind, what should we do when our marriage is struggling?
Fix yourself first
If you are both a husband and a pastor, you are called to lead two families. The Greek word for “manage” is proistēmi (to stand before or lead). It is the same word used to describe the gift of leadership in Romans 12. If our marriage is coasting or even dying, we need to take personal responsibility for the problem since we are the primary leaders (Ephesians 5).
The Bible does not teach pastors to balance our lives—it tells us to manage them. For example, if you are neglecting your wife because you gave it all at the office, you have mismanaged both your ministry and marriage by mismanaging your own life.
Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Broaden the conversation
Since you are a co-dependent member of the body of Christ, why would you hesitate to let others help your marriage get and stay healthy? If your marriage is struggling, prayerfully consider walking through this difficult stretch with another couple or a counselor. It might surprise you to know how many ministry couples have benefitted from clinical counseling.
Fight for your family
It saddens me to say that I have yet to have an immediate predecessor or successor to finish well. Four out of seven of these ugly exits were marriage meltdowns.
Janet and I write and talk about marriage so much that people probably assume we live in a constant honeymoon state. We speak at about 20 events a year together, and some of our worst arguments have been on the way to those events! I’m not talking about toothpaste and toilet paper arguments either. We do have a very healthy marriage, but as Janet recently told our married daughter, “We fought our way here.”
Pastor, do not ignore or evade the problems in your marriage. Once your season of struggling is over, you may be tempted to forgive and forget. Instead of forgetting your mistakes—learn from them. Love covers a multitude of sins, it doesn’t ignore them. Fight for your marriage, even if it means tackling the tougher issues.
The best strategies for pastoral care are preventative in nature. Strengthening marriages is are less costly and painful than restoring them. Janet and I recently helped LifeWay create marriage coaching videos for ministry couples called Woo Marriage. Several other Woo Marriage videos were made by several competent coaching couples for you to help strengthen and restore marriages in your church.
Cover with grace
Two strong words jump out at me on a pastor’s job description: competently (1 Timothy 3:4), and blameless (Titus 1:6). Neither implies perfectionism because perfect husbands and fathers do not exist. Otherwise, there would be no leadership in any of our churches! We must pastor our homes with the same gospel-drenched grace that we draw on to pastor our churches.