You have seen the stats and heard the stories about how difficult marriages can be for those in the pastorate. Have you ever wondered what makes a pastor’s marriage different than the rest of the population? I was asked this question by a group of people preparing for ministry and here’s some of what I shared with them.
There are no unique rules for a great marriage. Great marriages are always comprised of things like good communication, fun, intimacy, quality time, humility, and conflict resolution. Pastors know those things because they teach them to others. What I’ve learned is that once you can teach something you can begin to think you are an exception to the rule. Those in ministry are not exempt because they are eloquent or smart, and God hasn’t changed the laws of relationships for them just because they serve Him. When thinking about what makes a pastor’s marriage different, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the same rules of marriage apply to everyone. If pastors want a great marriage they will need to apply the same advice they give their congregants.
Although I started with the fact that a pastor’s marriage in many ways is not different, there are a few unique aspects I felt they should know as they were preparing for ministry.
Pastors do carry unique pressures. An occupational hazard of ministry can be the emotional weight pastors carry because there is always someone who needs them. Other occupations have pressures of deadlines or the volume of work, but there is something different and emotionally taxing about carrying the pain of others. Pastors encounter unique pressures that can impact their marriage, and they must learn how to deal with them. The answer for everyone will be different, but personally I’ve found that rituals can be helpful. As I drive home I pray through the difficult issues and people I am dealing with. I affirm that God is in control, and that He cares more about the people and situations than I do. I then imagine myself entrusting these people and situations to Him. I also trust that He will help me be present and engaged with my family and pray for energy and focus for my time with them. I told this group preparing for ministry that in every occupation, they would have to learn to balance work and family, but, as a pastor, they would also have to learn to deal with the emotional weight, or it would impact their marriage. I also encouraged them to continually ask their spouse if they were emotionally present at home.
Spouses also have unique challenges. Much has been written to men about how to protect their wives from the demands of the church and how to keep the congregation from feeling like the pastor’s wife is free labor. There is no doubt that a wife who feels she is there simply to support the pastor or be at the beck and call of the congregation will eventually become embittered toward the church and her husband. A wise husband will clearly communicate to the congregation that he is a team with his wife but that he is the only employee. I’ve also noticed that often the wife supports the husband’s ministry but there isn’t always reciprocation. This year one of my goals is to support my wife’s personal ministry. She has always done a great job helping me with my more public ministry but she really loves to encourage others one-on-one. One of my goals this year is to celebrate and support her ministry, which is more private, just as much as she supports my ministry, which is more public. Not realizing the unique pressures on your spouse can negatively impact your marriage but lovingly addressing them can actually be a big win for your marriage.
Your marriage presents a unique opportunity. Personally I love being a pastor and being married. Most days my wife would say the same about being married to a pastor. I love the way we get to pray for and see life change. I love that together we are doing something that will matter in eternity, and I love that our marriage actually impacts others. When my wife and I speak, I am amazed how often people will say something like, “I really appreciated what you said, but my biggest takeaway was watching the way you both related to each other. God convicted me that I need to be kinder and more respectful to my wife (or husband).” While there are many unique challenges of being married and in the ministry, I also think there are many unique opportunities and blessings if you are willing to look for them.
If you haven’t had the conversation with your spouse lately, a good question to discuss would be “What do you like about being married and in ministry, and what is difficult?” Their answers will give you some things to celebrate as well as some tangible ways you can help them, serve them, and build oneness in your marriage.