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How to Stay Married and Stay in Ministry

How to Stay Married and Stay in Ministry

It seems on an almost weekly basis there is another story about a pastor who gets into hot water over infidelity, to or another ministry couple who splits up for any number of reasons. Every one is simply heartbreaking to read.

To be sure, being married with any job is hard. Being in ministry isn’t necessarily harder than being married to an accountant, but it makes it different. Being a pastor’s spouse has its own unique challenges.

Katie and I have celebrated 12 anniversaries as a couple. And there are eight things we’ve learned about being married in ministry and how to survive. These are applicable to all couples, they are especially important for a married pastor

1. Deal with your baggage quickly

Everybody has hurt and baggage from their past. What many people don’t realize is how much that hurt, when not dealt with, how it affects your present and future.

You quickly see yourself through the lens of your baggage. You hear what people say through the lens of that baggage. Most fights in marriage come from someone hearing a parent or sibling or teacher in the voice of their spouse.

Because of the emotional stress that can come in ministry and church planting, past baggage has a way of popping its head into many situations.

2. Grow together spiritually

Most pastors do not have a plan for how they will grow spiritually or how they will lead their wife spiritually. They spend all their time counseling others, leading bible studies, preaching, teaching and yet, when you ask, “How will you grow spiritually? How will you as a couple grow spiritually?”

Sadly, many pastors give you a blank stare. An easy way for you to help your wife grow spiritually is to help her find good books to read. On a regular basis Katie and I will talk through areas she’d like to grow in and I’ll be on the lookout for books in that area.

3. Spend time together

Most ministry couples think that because they are spending time together working on the church or their church plant they are spending time together. You aren’t. You are together, just not actually building into your relationship. You’re working.

You need to carve out time just for you as a couple and then as a family if you have kids. No church talk, no church work, no church thinking. Yes, it’s your calling, I know. It is also your job. Turn it off.

4. Understand the season you’re in

Many church planters have young kids and so they find themselves in stressful seasons that seem to come one after another. Ministry seasons run long and it is easy if you aren’t careful to pile them on top of each other.

Sit down and figure out when you will be the busiest in the year and when it is the slowest. For me, the slowest month is June because school is out—so I take my summer break then. If you are in a busy season, name it, talk about it as a couple. Make sure you plan to rest before it and after it.

5. Take a break

Along with identifying the season you are in, you should be taking a weekly day off, a weekend off from preaching, a retreat day each month. I know, church is so busy and you are needed by everyone so you can’t take time off and no one preaches as good as you do. All of that is also a sin because you didn’t die on a cross for anyone and you aren’t building your church, Jesus is. So, take a break.

Protect your schedule because no one in your church will, it isn’t their job. You are in charge of your schedule. On top of that, most church planters are workaholics when they don’t have to be. No one knows what you do all day and yet most planters easily put in 60-70 hours a week.

Delegate, take your day off, play with your kids. A lot changes when a leader decides to use his schedule wisely instead of letting it use him.

6. Spiritual warfare

While every Christian experiences spiritual warfare, there is a heightened level of it for a leader in a church—whether that leader is paid or unpaid. You are moving towards the front lines of the battle and your target is bigger.

For a leader, this typically is anything that keeps peace from being in the home. Poor sleep for kids, night terrors, sickness, petty battles from friends and family.

7. Get some friends and hobbies

I’ve written before about how pastors can make the worst friends, but pastors typically don’t have any hobbies outside of ministry or reading leadership or theology books. Those aren’t hobbies, that’s your job.

When we planted Revolution church, I started mountain biking and it not only helped me get healthy, it kept me grounded in my stress level. It might be birding, coaching your kids team, hunting, working on a car, or knitting.

You need a hobby and some friends who won’t talk about church to do it with. You need a place where you aren’t the pastor or the pastor’s wife, just a person.

8. Have a vision for your family

Every good pastor has a vision for their church. They can tell you what the preferred future is, where things will be in 12 months or 18 months. If you ask that same pastor where his family will be in one year, what the goals for his family or vision for his family is, you will get a blank stare.

At any given moment, you should be able to say the goals your family has for the next 2 – 6 months. What are you trying to accomplish? This vision helps you decide what kind of vacations you take, what activities your kids do, what gets your time. Here’s a post to help you put yours together.

While it seems like every week another pastor falls out of ministry, his marriage going up in smoke, or another pastors kid makes the headlines for hating Jesus. Staying married and loving it while in ministry is possible.

Joshua Reich is the Lead Pastor of Revolution Church in Tucson, AZ. He’s the area lead for Acts 29 in Arizona, speaks at a variety of conferences on church planting, leadership and marriage. His first book, Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More, came out in October, 2015.

Reposted with permission. Read the original post here.

How Ministry Will Test Your Marriage

How Ministry Will Test Your Marriage

I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:27-28

Picture Perfect

I wish someone would have helped me prepare my marriage for the daily difficulties of pastoral ministry.

While in seminary, I remember thinking that my future ministry and marriage would look like a Norman Rockwell painting; quaint, warm, full of beautiful colors, and fulfilling. At the center of that metaphorical painting would be a small home representing a peaceful, Jesus-following family.

After years of ministry, I can confidently say that I don’t believe Norman Rockwell ever painted Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 11. Such a painting would not be quaint and warm. It would be cold, harsh, and heavy because Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11 describe ministry with words like labor, toil, hunger, thirst, cold, naked, and pressure.

Pastoral ministry can be a constant kick in the teeth and that’s just describing the pastor’s plight. Somewhere behind the pastor, in the background and carrying their own burden, is the pastor’s spouse.

The Challenges of a Pastor’s Spouse

If a pastor feels the heaviness of pastoral ministry, so does the spouse.

If a pastor is sad and burdened for a church member, the pastor’s spouse sees that heartache and grieves in their own way.

If a pastor is trashed and humiliated by disgruntled church members, the words and snide remarks not only hurt the pastor, they deeply cut the pastor’s spouse.

If a pastor feels overwhelmed by the burdens of their church to the point of burnout, the pastor’s spouse must wrestle with what it means to have a spouse who comes home every night without the emotional energy to engage.

Hear me if you are a young minister considering marriage—pastoral ministry is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Pastoral ministry will test the very bonds of your covenant marriage many times.

When you as a pastor feel burdened, know that your spouse is feeling the same burden, sometimes in heavier ways. When you are emotionally exhausted at the end of the day and have nothing left to give to your spouse, know that they are often left feeling lonely.

When you as a pastor “face daily the pressure of (your) concern for all the churches,” know that you will often be tempted to not care for the one person for whom you should care the most—your beautiful, strong, loving, caring, and sacrificial spouse.

Start Your Ministry at Home

So, if you are a pastor entering marriage and ministry, know that Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians are just as meaningful and weighty to your spouse as they are to you. Do whatever is necessary to start your pastoral ministry at home.

If you feel as if you have been neglecting your spouse, move heaven and earth to re-establish a healthy Biblical rhythm of life that allows you to put your marriage first.After all, pastoral marriage and ministry may not produce a Norman Rockwell painting, but a healthy marriage could possibly be the most powerful testimony of a successful ministry.

3 Ways to Put Your Marriage First

1. Connect for 15 Minutes Daily

Find time every day to connect for 15 uninterrupted minutes. The goal of this time is to simply engage each other in conversation about whatever it is that you need to discuss. While doing so, listen to each other with your ears and your eyes. And, turn off whatever electronic devices that might distract you.

2. Date at Least Every Other Week

Guard this time ferociously. Do something that will help you connect with each other emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. (No movies, unless you are going to talk a lot before or after the movie.) And again, turn off the electronic devices.

3. A Weekend Away at Least Twice A Year

All couples need extended times away where there is ample space to reconnect and rekindle emotional and physical intimacy. A church led marriage retreat, a camping trip, or a trip to your favorite theme park could help you refocus on one another in a non-hurried way.

Remember what it was like when you first had fun together and work to recreate that laughter and joy. May your marriage as a minister be the most powerful sermon you preach every week.

Reposted with permission. Read the original article here.

Building a Marriage Ministry Beyond Yourself

Building a Marriage Ministry Beyond Yourself

I never wanted to be a pastor, but God has a way of working beyond my wants. Upon joining a church staff, I quickly realized that people hold church leaders on a pedestal. This may not be fair, but it’s the reality. In addition to that, church staff often function as wannabe superheroes solving the world’s problems.

This leads to church staffers leading from a place of self-reliance and doing ministry on their own. After all, church leaders step into dark places to bring the light of Jesus. Church staff get paid to tend to the needs of a church. And church staff have the flexibility to respond quickly to people’s needs.

When it comes to building a team, we often don’t want to burden someone else with the weighty duties associated with building a ministry. We think we can do it all ourselves.

4 Ways to Build Ministry Beyond You

I haven’t perfected building a team, nor have I seen ministry thrive beyond myself. But I’ve recently encountered a change that made all of this real for me.

Last year, I transitioned from my previous church to a new church and a new ministry. And I didn’t want to leave my existing ministry high and dry. I wanted to ensure I transitioned well. I wanted to do my best to equip them to continue succeeding even after I left.

And having a team in place is the only way that can happen with any degree of success.

Now that I’m back at square one with my new church, I’ve had a chance to evaluate what enabled success in my previous role. And I’m learning how to apply that success to building a new ministry.

Whether you’re brand new to your role or rethinking how to approach an existing task, these 4 R’s can be a big help in establishing a ministry beyond yourself.

1. Remove the Plank

It’s easy to be critical of something that discredits or disqualifies someone from participating in leadership of a team I’m on. And there’s certainly a time and place for that discernment. However, I too often discredit someone who’s exactly where I’ve been, or has a different weakness than mine.

When I remove the plank from my eye, I’m able to see clearly that differing strengths and weaknesses help strengthen a team. So before fully discrediting someone’s lack of experience or passion, ensure you’re doing so with a clear vision. If you’re being over critical, your team will never feel empowered and encouraged.

2. Recognize Success

After a couple years of being on staff as a youth pastor, I felt a strong conviction about starting a marriage ministry. The only hiccup I encountered through the process of launching Married People was the fact that I’d been married less than 30 months—the fact that I was still counting in months shows how new my marriage still was.

The blessing of still being a newlywed was the need to rely heavily on people who have experienced several phases of marriage. This meant I needed to learn what success in marriage looked like. Experience in marriage is helpful, but it’s not the only measure of a good marriage.

I knew I wasn’t a marriage expert. That allowed me to look for other marriage experts in areas where I was longing for growth. Recognizing success allowed me to be more attentive to the traits others had which would enhance my marriage and our team.

3. Rally the Troops

I knew that launching Married People would have a greater impact and credibility if I wasn’t the only one leading the charge. I needed to learn that my team couldn’t simply look and act like me either.

So I established a team of people who had been married for different lengths of time—from over 30 years to less than 10 years. Once met together, I quickly realized that I was no longer the superhero.  I was no longer the savior to the problem.

Creating a team enabled our ministry to start with more fervor and organization than I could do on my own. You’d think this is common sense, but I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to serve. I didn’t want other people to feel like they had to do “my job.”

However, you’d be surprised how many people are eager to serve if you’d only ask.

4. Remind the Purpose

Marriage ministry can quickly turn into casual event planning or responsive marriage counseling.  Success in marriage ministry is much more than cool events or being a wise counsel.

The CORE 4 of Married People give us a premise for our ministry and a tremendous reminder of “the why” behind each event, each small group, each date night, and each planning meeting.

Your individual purpose and our collective purpose in any ministry is to bring glory to God. With any marriage effort, that best happens when we:

  1. Have serious fun
  2. Respect and love
  3. Love God first
  4. Practice your promise

Be sure to keep ministry vision as your focus. Remind your volunteers why you do what you do. This will help to ensure everyone in the ministry is aligned and motivated.

It’s Not All Up To You

Marriage isn’t about you. Ministry isn’t about you.

All of our efforts are made in vain if we don’t allow God to use whomever he calls however he wishes to work in big ways. So don’t do it alone! Build a marriage ministry that extends beyond yourself so that it can have a greater impact and survive when you eventually leave it.

3 Data Trends in Marriage and What They Mean For Your Church [with charts]

3 Data Trends in Marriage and What They Mean For Your Church [with charts]

Many of us are familiar with Mark 10:9, an oft-quoted verse at wedding ceremonies or in relationship-themed sermons that reads, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Whatever one’s personal experiences with marriage, Christians can agree it’s a relationship that must be deeply understood and intentionally stewarded in our ministries and in our personal lives, especially in light of this charge found in Mark 10:9.

At Barna Group, we’re constantly keeping an eye on marriage trends and behaviors within the Church. Today, we want to share with you three findings (and some good news) uncovered within the past year, bringing valuable insight to how we talk about marriage—and, we hope, helping us grow in wisdom and understanding as we discuss this covenant.

1. Divorce rates among churchgoing Christians are lower than those of non-Christians

Over the past four years, Barna has conducted 14,000+ interviews with the intention of tracking the ever-changing religious practices and beliefs of Americans.

We classify our respondents based on their religious affiliations and have created a sub-set of self-identified Christians called “practicing Christians.” To qualify as a practicing Christian, a Christian must say their religious faith is very important in their life and they must have attended a church service within the past month.

Today, about one in four Americans (27%) is a practicing Christian. We find divorce rates are lower among this group when compared to the general population and other faith segments, including non-practicing Christians.

Currently, 23% of all U.S. adults say they have been divorced. Note, however, that this sample includes those who have never been married. In the charts below—built from FaithView, Barna’s interactive, online database—we have removed adults who have never been married, revealing that 41% of marriages in the U.S. have ended in divorce.

As you can see, this proportion varies across faith groups, with non-Christians on par with the average, and Christians diverging significantly depending on their practice.

When taking a deeper look generationally, we see that Baby Boomers have the highest divorce rates with about half of previously/currently married Boomers having been divorced. This percentage may be higher simply because Boomers have had more time to go through relationship cycles than the younger generations.

2. Less than half of unmarried 18-35-year-olds want to get married in the next 10 years

In Barna’s recently published study, The Connected Generation, we take a deep dive into the hearts and minds of 18—35-year-olds in 25 countries.

In analyzing data for this study, we learned that 31% of American young adults say they have already gotten married, while 43% of those who have not reached this relationship milestone say they want to get married in the next 10 years. Looking at the near future, becoming a homeowner is seen as a more urgent or desirable goal than getting married.

Christian young adults are no more or less likely to want to be married in the next 10 years (43% of non-married Christians; 40% of non-married members of other faiths; 44% of non-married young adults who are atheist, agnostic or not religious).

How can spiritual leaders best serve this generation? Understanding what they want for their lives is part of that effort. And we cannot assume that the majority of single young adults today is actively and presently pursuing marriage—at least not more so than other concerns or priorities like career or financial security.

3. Married Christians are significantly more likely than others to understand and embrace forgiveness

The complex institution of marriage often requires couples to mediate tension—after all, this sacred covenant asks individuals to forsake all others and cling to the partner they’ve chosen. Naturally, this includes giving and receiving forgiveness.

Barna’s recently released study, The Mercy Journey, indicates that married practicing Christians are following through in this area and carry a deep awareness of the radical concept of forgiveness.

  • Nearly three-quarters of married practicing Christians say forgiveness is about repairing relationships. Those who have never married are 10 percentage points less likely to agree with this statement, suggesting married couples more often anticipate the hard work of moving on after an offense.
  • When asked “Is there someone you can’t forgive?” single practicing Christians are more likely than married peers to say yes (33% vs. 24%).
  • Married practicing Christians are also significantly more likely to say that forgiveness is easy to give away. Forty-two percent say it’s one of the top two easiest things for them to give away out of a list of the following items: time, money, forgiveness, my pride, my schedule, being comfortable, safety, emotional investment. Thirty-five percent of never-married singles answer similarly.

As we look to the future as the Church, may we continue to invest time and effort in understanding and intentionally stewarding the present-day realities of the marriage unit.

© Barna Group, 2019

Why Lead Pastors Should Lead The Charge In Marriage Ministry

Why Lead Pastors Should Lead The Charge In Marriage Ministry

When most pastors talk about their marriage, they start by telling you how many years of “marital bliss” they’re celebrating. The truth is marriage is not always blissful, but with Christ at the center it’s always gracious if we allow Him to lead us. Meaning that during the seasons when bliss is absent, God’s grace is sufficient.

Some Marriage Advice

Every marriage has different seasons—good seasons, bad seasons, and testing seasons. If you stick with your commitment, your relationship will grow tremendously and you will pass the test. Unfortunately, some couples fail to realize that the covenant of marriage requires constant attention and a teachable heart.

The root of most marriage problems is selfishness. Love must be the dominant force and forgiveness must be quick. Communication is also key. Listening without talking is true listening and walking away with understanding is true communication.

How do I know all of this about marriage? How do I have the authority to give this advice?

First, this advice comes from my own marriage experience. My second source is listening to my pastor and attending marriage events over the years.

Why Your Marriage Ministry Matters

As a pastor, creating safe spaces for marriages to thrive is vitally important. Most marriages fail because there wasn’t a safe space for them. Like any living thing, marriages need to receive healthy nourishment to grow and be sustained.

As church leaders, you want families and married couples to participate in your ministry. But you need to put the right tools and programming in place for them. Otherwise, people won’t stay at your church. Or perhaps even worse, they will stay, but will remain spiritually unhealthy as a result.

Your members come to your church to get spiritual nourishment and encouragement. But they go home and still face challenges. They’re showing up, but are they getting what they need. Church leaders focus on growth, but what about church health?

Healthy marriages create healthy families, which produces more healthy marriages. Unhealthy marriages create unhealthy families, which produces more unhealthy marriages. We can decide whether this cycle is a positive or a negative one.

That’s why your marriage ministry matters.

The Landscape of Marriage

The culture and landscape of marriage is changing drastically. Culture is constantly redefining what marriage and relationships look like. And these changes make an impact on our church because they impact the people within your church.

Ephesians 5:22-33 gives powerful insights concerning the heart of God concerning marriage. These verses can also serve as the inspiration for our marriage ministries’ foundation principles. Your ministry can choose to follow culture’s view of marriage or God’s.

As pastors, your voice and example has the power to communicate the heart of God concerning marriage. When it comes to the trajectory of marriages, your voice matters.

How Marriage Ministry Saved My Marriage

Years ago, my wife, Shemika, and I were having some major challenges in our marriage. At that point, we’d been married about five years, but were on the brink of divorce. We couldn’t figure out how to make it work and how to get on the same page with one another.

I remember saying to myself that we needed some help. If that didn’t work, I was out of there. Shemika says she was at the same point. We decided to contact the marriage ministry at our church to set up some counseling.

This decision saved our marriage.

The wisdom we received in counseling changed the course of our marriage. The leaders in the marriage ministry gave us a second chance. It helped us understand each other’s role. Over a decade later, that advice is still carrying us today.

Now, we’ve been married 18 years and had three children together. That would not have been possible without our church’s priority for marriages. There’s still room for improvement in our marriage, but we’re in a much healthier place.

Shemika and I now travel together and speak at marriage ministries. We also have a premarital counseling program we conduct monthly with several couples a month.

6 Reasons Why Marriage Ministry is a Priority

  1. It provides wisdom and stability for the family
  2. It creates safe spaces for marriages to be vulnerable
  3. It defines the culture of marriage in the context of God’s heart
  4. It aides in creating a spiritually and emotionally healthy church
  5. It saves most marriages from divorce
  6. It helps grow the influence and impact of your ministry in the community

Make the investment and build a healthy marriage program in your church. Because there’s too much at stake if you don’t.

10 Questions To Ask Yourself After Your Marriage Events

10 Questions To Ask Yourself After Your Marriage Events

Marriage sermon series, events, and retreats and can be important and impactful on many levels. But after these larger environments, many married couples leave asking “Now what?” And often, we don’t plan for or don’t have an answer to that question.

  • For couples in crisis, event knock down barriers and walls. But if couples don’t have help dealing with the relational rubble, we can create more chaos than connection.
  • For couples living like roommates, events give hope of something more. But if couples don’t know how to start the journey of more, that hope quickly fades.
  • For couples who are good wanting to be great, events paint of picture extraordinary. But if we don’t give them a roadmap of how to get there, good enough remains just good enough.
  • For couples wanting to be involved in your marriage ministry, events inspire them to be a part of your team! But if we don’t have a place for them to help, they can’t.

As we prepare for marriage events and retreats, deciding who and what will follow the event is one of the most important parts of our preparation. So let’s get practical on how to do that.

Preparing For Event Next Steps

While only your team can ultimately determine what is best, here are a couple of questions that may be helpful in the process.

  1. What’s the one practical thing every married couple could do to immediately apply the content they heard at the event?
  2. Do we have the right amount of content? Or are we overwhelming couples?
  3. Is the content or application we’re sharing helpful?
  4. When is our next marriage event?
  5. Do we offer a small group or Sunday school class focused on marriage content?
  6. Can we provide date nights for couples to do on their own?
  7. Are there digital tools to help couples when they’re not in church?
  8. Programmatically, how do we plan to communicate these next steps?
  9. How are we using social media to inform and celebrate marriages at our church?
  10. Where can couples learn more about our marriage ministry?

Making This Easy For Couples

When I speak at marriage events, I love being able to tell couples that the event isn’t the only thing that church is doing for marriage. Marriage events are so much more effective when they’re part of something larger for marriages.

Practical next steps help to keep from overwhelming couples at an event. They give busy couples a way to apply the information and inspiration they got at the event. And these next steps answer the question most couples will be asking: “Now what?”

Next steps are a huge part of the Married People strategy we provide to churches. It’s important to give different steps for different couples in different contexts. This could be joining a small group, going on a date night, or joining the Married People Membership.

Most couples don’t have a plan, God does. And the church has the responsibility and privilege of hitching the hitched to God’s people and plan for their marriage.

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