When you are called by God to be a Pastor, you usually have a fairly good idea of what your calling will be and what will be the focus on your ministry. There will always be some surprises and “extra miles” that you will have to travel, to do what God has called you to do, but that is all part of your calling. You are a servant of God who ministers to those you are to shepherd —as an instrument of the Lord.
But have you considered that your marriage is also a ministry?
“We are all familiar with the idea that we are Christ’s body on earth —His hands, His feet. It is through us that He reaches out to the world. But it’s easy to forget that we are Christ’s hands and feet to our [spouse]. That’s why seeing your marriage as ministry may require an intentional shift of perspective.” (From the book, “Because I Said Forever”)
Your marriage is not something that you can compartmentalize as having less priority in giving your attention to it, in light of your ministry to your church family.
“It is clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit specifically appoints certain men as leaders by gifting them and putting it in their hearts to serve joyfully in the context of a local church (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Timothy 3:1). It’s a noble desire. It can be an all-consuming desire. But, with this desire comes the responsibility to humbly prioritize one’s life in such a way that prevents a subtle disregard for God’s written word. God has not commanded husbands to love seminary. He has commanded that we love our wives and strive to protect our marriages, even from something as noble as our ministry call.” (From the Crosswalk.com article, “Husbands, Love Your Wives More Than Seminary“)
In this context, your marriage is more important to tend to and keep healthy than even your pastoral ministry outside of your home, because you are representing Christ to your bride (just as Christ is the bridegroom to the church, His bride).
“Every Christian marriage holds that ‘great mystery’ (see: Ephesians 5:21-33). Yet, a variety of Scripture passages throughout the Old Testament and New Testament deal specifically with clergy marriage in such a way as to suggest that clergy marriage has an enhanced kerygmatic significance.
“While the marriages of clergy may be qualitatively the same and no more ‘Christian’ than the marriages of other baptized believers in Christ, the pastor’s marriage speaks more profoundly and loudly about the union of Christ with his body and bride, the church, because the pastor is in the office of the Holy Ministry.
“Holiness of life is to characterize all Christians as priests according to the priesthood of all believers. Yet, according to the Scriptures the pastor’s life—and particularly his marriage —is to be one of exemplary holiness.” (from the article, “Ministry and Marriage in the Scriptures,” formerly posted on the Concordia Theological Seminary web site)
When you married, you became covenant partners with your spouse and with God to help address each other’s aloneness. Your spouse, above other human beings, is to be your ministry focus because of the vows you made when you married. God Himself acknowledged from the beginning that “it is not good for man to be alone.” He said this even though He was walking and fellowshipping with man.
God knew that there are certain emotional and temporal needs that a human being —a marriage partner, is created to meet. And there are certain emotional and temporal needs that you are created to meet for your marriage partner. “And the two shall be one.”
That is part of your role in the covenant of marriage. It is a cord of three strands with God being involved right from the start.
Problems can arise however, when a pastor forgets or overlooks the importance of the partnership of marriage, which he entered into with his/her spouse.
“The rite of ordination does not override the rite of marriage. Both are noble callings, and one is not the ‘higher calling.’ Both were instituted by God for the sanctification of his people. By some curious act of his grace, this sanctification includes the clergy.” (Gregory P. Elder)
You made the choice to go into the ministry. And with that choice came certain “duties and obligations.” You also made the choice to marry. And with that choice, certain “duties and obligations” came with it as well. Your options changed as far as how much time you can devote to the ministry apart from your spouse and keep your relationship healthy and strong —one that strongly reflects the love relationship between the Bridegroom (Christ) and His Bride —which is what every Christian marriage is supposed to represent.
When you were unmarried, you had the freedom to be “undivided” in the attention you could dedicate to the Lord’s work. But in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul warns you is to realize that things change once you marry. And as he said,
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world —how he can please his wife —and his interests are divided.
“An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world —how she can please her husband.
“I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
When you marry, your ministry becomes divided between ministering within the home and outside of the home. BOTH become your concern and your focus at this point.
But keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that your ministry is lessened, it just means that it is redirected so that not only do you minister outside of your home, but also within it as well. You represent Christ to your bride, so don’t forget the calling of your ministry with your wife and family.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. And after all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church —for we are members of his body.
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery —but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself…” (Ephesians 5:25-33).
Not only is it important to love your wife “as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her,” because you have entered into covenant with her and with God, but also so that you don’t bruise her emotionally. Your spouse should not be any less important than others that you minister to outside of the home. When you hurt her, or neglect her, how will you be able to “present her” to God “as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish?”
“Remember that marriage is Gospel ministry. If you do not hold your marriage in high esteem (Hebrews 13:4), you do not truly hold Gospel ministry in high esteem. The size of your library is a poor indicator of how seriously you take the Gospel. Your marriage is where the audit needs to happen. I think this is what Paul is getting at when he asks, ‘For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church‘ (1 Timothy 3:5)?” (From the Crosswalk.com article, “Husbands, Love Your Wives More Than Seminary“)
Keep in mind that your marriage is a living example of Christ’s love for the church, both within your home and outside of it. As others observe how you treat your wife, the love of the Lord should be evident. It gives the Lord the opportunity to draw others to Himself as they observe your behavior. It’s another evangelistic vehicle that the Lord can use as you avail yourself.
Something that Ravi Zacharias said, in his book, I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah: Moving from Romance to Lasting Love is relevant to your calling in considering your marriage as a ministry and as an evangelistic “tool.” He wrote:
“Some time ago, I was lecturing at a major university, and by the tremendous response both in the numbers of students attending the sessions and in their questions, it was evident to all that God was at work.
“As the man who had organized the event drove me to the airport, he said something that was quite jolting to me. He said, ‘My wife brought our neighbor last night. She is a medical doctor and had not been to anything like this before. On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.’ He stopped and there was silence in the van for a moment. He continued, ‘She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his private life.’
“I have to admit it was one of the most sobering things I had ever heard. She was right. Did these lofty truths apply in private as well as in public discourse?
“The truth is that God calls us to first practice truth in private so that its public expression is merely an outgrowth of what has already taken place in the heart and not a decoration over a hollow life. Developing that strength of character in private is foundational.”
Your marriage is another vehicle that God wants to use to draw others to Himself. As Dr Charles Swindoll says,
“Marriage is the foundation of family life, and marriage is one of God’s greatest tools for ministry. Let me say that again … marriage is one of God’s greatest tools for ministry. Our goal isn’t to build stronger marriages. It’s to build stronger marriages for a purpose —ministry.” (From the Crosswalk.com article, “The Ministry of Marriage“)
The purpose is so that when others see how we interact with each other in ways that display the love of God, it could very well attract them to our lives, our homes, and ultimately to want to know our God better. And isn’t that the point of the ministry that God has called you to, as a Pastor?
“Pastors act out the Gospel as they sacrificially love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Likewise, wives of pastors too act out that Gospel as they, in Christian love and devotion, submit to their husbands even as the church submits to her Lord.
“The important practical application of all is that each of us needs to make it a high priority to love and cherish his wife. The best way to defend our church body from error is to proclaim the Scriptures boldly and to love our wives nobly. By strengthening our own marriages we set an example for the entire church and make it that much harder for the devil to break through our ranks.” (From the article, “Ministry and Marriage in the Scriptures, formerly posted on the Concordia Theological Seminary web site)
Make sure you strengthen your marriage behind closed doors and in front of open ones as well. How much of a “ministry” do you really have going on, when you aren’t ministering to the needs of your spouse as well?
“Always remember that God doesn’t need you, your gifts or your ministry. If He did, why did He create you so late in history? Cultivate your marriage behind closed doors because ‘your Father who sees in secret will reward you‘ (Matthew 6:4).” (From the article “Husbands, Love Your Wives More Than Seminary” which we highly recommend you read in its entirety by clicking onto the link provided)
We pray you will prayerfully consider these points, examine your marriage and ask the Lord to show you anything that you may or may not be doing that needs to be corrected in the present and future. You may want to pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:
“Search me O God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
This article was written by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.