When my husband and I walked across the stage at our Bible College graduation, we were hopeful, excited, and motivated. We were confident in our abilities and our calling and were ready to change the world for Jesus. Now, almost 10 years later, I look back at who we were then and wish I could have slipped us a note about what we could really expect from ministry and marriage. Things they don’t really teach you in the classroom. So, learn from us, young grasshoppers. Here’s what I wish I could have told us.
Always have each other’s back.
This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. My husband and I have an excessively jokey relationship. We tease each other all the time. We were best friends before we fell in love and often times people tell us we act more like friends than married people and we’re ok with that! It’s all good natured and very rarely does either one of us have hurt feelings. But we’ve learned to not let that playful relationship carry over too far into our ministry for one important reason : If the people you’re ministering to see you teasing and making fun of your spouse, they will feel like they have permission to do the same – and they will take it farther than you ever would. It’s shocking how much weight our words carry, but full support of your husband or wife will encourage others to fully support, respect, and engage with their ministry. Support every idea your husband has. Support every bible study your wife leads. Do not criticize or joke around about their ideas and endeavors or say anything that would compromise the respect their position requires. Full support, always.
Pray with each other and for each other.
A couple that prays together stays together …. and slays together. Your ministry will be unstoppable when you are standing together in prayer. Never, ever, underestimate the power of praying for your spouse. You will see God work miracles in your marriage, in your community, in your family, and in your ministry when you stand together in prayer. It can be hard to make it a habit, especially when your marriage is struggling or when life is busy, but if you make a habit of it early on in your marriage, it will become second nature. I can’t think of a better habit and routine than praying together every day!
Keep your marriage private.
As someone who toys the line between transparency and T.M.I., this is something that I’ve always been hyper vigilant about. It is not wise to confide your marriage struggles to anyone in your church. Speak with a trusted mentor, a close friend, or even your pastor, but never the people you are ministering to. When you tell someone what’s going on in your marriage, that becomes the thing that they see when they look at you. It can and will affect your ministry in a negative way. It’s not about being worried about what other people think. This isn’t fear of opinion or fear of repercussions, it’s about using wisdom in choosing your confidants. Establish boundaries in your relationships to protect your spouse from unnecessary criticism. This will also help protect the people you’re ministering to from missing out on your spouse’s ministry because they can’t see past what you shared with them.
Your marriage and your family comes first — always.
The demand on your time will be almost unbearable at times. You will have seasons of non stop momentum and you will have seasons of monotony and repetition. In every single season, your family comes first. You will have to decide daily not to sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry. You are called first to your spouse and to your children. Many ministers forget this in the early years of their ministry because they’re so excited and eager to reach the world for Jesus. That’s not a bad thing! But your family is your first kingdom responsibility – steward it well. That means learning how to say “no”, setting boundaries, turning off your phone, and disciplining yourself to be fully present. It’s not easy. The call to ministry requires a lot of sacrifice, but your family should never be the thing that you lay on the altar.
Wives – encourage your husband.
Pastors are often the recipients of harsh criticism and judgement, but as his wife, your voice carries the most weight. He will get discouraged and tired and hurt and he needs you to remind him of who he is and what God has called and equipped him to do. If encouragement is not something that comes naturally to you, you’re gonna have to learn, sister! It feels kind of awkward at first, but I promise you, you’re the only one that feels awkward about it. I am not an encourager by nature and I’m not ashamed to admit that I have set reminders in my phone to remind myself to encourage my husband. He needs it! Your words have the power to reset and recharge your husband’s heart. He spends a good portion of his day listening to other people’s struggles and helping them walk through intense struggles. Pastors get involved in people’s lives in deep ways and it’s emotionally draining and mentally taxing, but you have the opportunity to be a constant source of encouragement and life for him!
Husbands – empathize with your wife.
Being a woman in ministry carries a different weight. Not more, not less, just different. The best thing a husband can do for his wife is to empathize with her emotions and problems. She doesn’t need a toolbox of solutions, she needs a listening ear. Your wife needs you to be on her side and empathize with what she’s going through. Sometimes she just needs to hear, “That sounds really, really, hard.” Logical solutions and problem solving can come later, but make an extra effort to empathize, understand, and listen. A little goes a long way, trust me.
Always default to each other.
Your strongest asset in ministry is your spouse. You will experience SO many things and go through many different seasons together. You’ll rejoice together when things are going well and you will lean on each other when things are not. No matter what, always default to your spouse. When decisions need to be made, work through them together. When you are hurting, lean on each other. When things are going well, celebrate together. When your spouse succeeds, cheer them on. When your spouse fails, encourage and comfort them. If your spouse is uncomfortable with something, listen to them. If you always default to each other and stand together with Christ, your marriage and your ministry will be unstoppable.