Years ago as I my wedding to Christin was approaching a good friend and fellow staff member humbly but firmly challenged me: be very careful not to sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry. Around the same time another close friend and pastor shared what may sound like very simple advice: keep dating your wife. Many times over these past fourteen years of being a husband and pastor, God brought these conversations to the forefront of my mind… Primarily because as a laser beam focused, 100 mph guy, I need the divine reminders.
A few specifics I am relearning:
- My wife is always my most important team member. The church may not give her an official title, role, or paycheck, but no one carries the load with me as a leader quite like my wife. When God made us one, she could not help but share in carrying my emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical burdens. She knows me best and cares about me the most. She’s the one person who made a covenant with me and God that we would stick together no matter where God leads us or what this life throws our way. If I believe she’s my most important team member, then I need to treat her like she is.
- Make time to have fun together. It has been well over a decade since I remember having day that didn’t involve guiding people through eternally significant decisions or walking with people through heavy real life problems. Both I and my wife need a break where we’re actually doing something that does not feel like someone’s eternity or present security is in the balance. Whether we go out for a dinner and an entertaining movie or head to the Champlain islands for a leisurely bike ride, the idea is to do something we both genuinely find fun together. For me to make time requires putting this on my task list and scheduling time on my calendar. As Steve Covey advised: “schedule your priorities.”
- Give her time for her. This was not obvious to me until one day I asked Christin to tell me one thing I could do to help her refuel. I expected her to say something like getaways with me, but she told me what she needed and wanted most was half a day with no ministry or family expectations- a half-day where she could do whatever she wanted. Now I come home almost every Friday around lunch time while Christin leaves and does not return until after I put the kids to bed. I think during this time her activities have included writing, praying, reading, shopping, watching artsy independent films, running errands, to just sitting and enjoying a latte. The point is it’s her time to do what she wants.
- Release her of unrealistic expectations. While I was a college pastor in GA and a church-planter in NJ, Christin was integrally involved in almost every aspect of those ministries. She even served as my administrative assistant for a few months until we both realized that being employed by your spouse is not all that fun. My wife is one of the most spiritually sharp people I know: she gives even keeled well thought out advice, sincerely cares about people, contains incredible amounts of untapped creativity, and she’d be my first choice to mentor other women. Other people see this too, and it can create the expectation that because she can do something that she automatically should- especially as the pastor’s wife. Simply put, she and others need to know I’m 100% ok with her saying no.
- Learn to let go and forgive. Over the years I’ve asked many couples with successful marriages what the keys were. Every one without exception mentioned that learning to forgive was foundational to them not only remaining together but remaining joyful together. A few years ago we were going through an especially intense time in our marriage where I was increasingly struggling with anger. I called up a trusted pastor who I knew would not shy away from speaking the truth in love to me. Within 30 minutes he stated with confidence that my problem was bitterness. Every time we would experience conflict or tension I would rewind in my mind to times where I felt Christin had not met my expectations. I was essentially bringing the weight of these past issues into present situations creating a weigh no one can carry. The solution may sound simple, but it requires supernatural intervention: I needed to repent of my bitterness and recognize the grace Jesus had already spoken into the situation to both Christin and me.
- If I’m not leading well in my marriage and family, then I’m not leading well in other arenas. The Apostle Paul purposely wrote to Timothy a rhetorical question to consider when selecting overseers in the church: “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Paul also describes in Ephesians 5 how marriage is the one relationship uniquely designed as a picture of Jesus’ love for His church. The implications appear clear: if I am not leading my family and loving my wife well, then I’m already not leading the church well.