Church Planter - Your Marriage
The church planter's second most important relationship - his wife.
For church planters who are married, many questions come up related to marriage and church planting. How will church planting affect our marriage? Is our marriage strong enough for church planting? What will be the financial impact? Will my wife need to be a leader of a ministry in the church? This is just the beginning.
All these are good questions but lets look at marriage through the lens of Scripture and focus more on the attitudes of the heart. Then we will have a few practical suggestions and tips for having a healthy, marriage relationship.
For the church planter who is married, a healthy marriage is crucial for ministry success. The danger then becomes that we are tempted to make our marriage and family life look better than it really is - especially during the assessment phase of the process. Later on, the demands of church planting and pastoral ministry reveal the cracks in a marriage.
Biblical Foundation - a few thoughts
So, lets take a look at what Scripture says about marriage. The foundational passages for the context of a biblical marriage are
Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... (Ephesians 5:25)
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves is wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:28)
From these two passage I come to some Biblical foundations for marriage
#1 The marriage relationship is permanent and changes a person profoundly. A person's family identity is no longer defined by his or her parents but is now defined to this new family unit. The man and woman form a new family that is connected to but separate from their parents. They are to leave their parents and cleave to one another.
#2 In a healthy marriage their is a transparent honesty. The man and woman do not hide things from one another. When there is not onging, rebellious sin their marriage is marked by freedom from shame because of the power of the Gospel.
#3 Their sexual relationship is more than merely procreation and more than merely physical pleasure. Their is a spiritual dynamic to it as the two become one flesh, reflecting the unity of their marriage and in a very mysterious way the unity of God.
#4 As Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the "head of the wife". He is responsible for leading his wife and family as Christ leads the church - with loving sacrifice. The husband is to sacrifice and give himself up for his wife. The husband is to lay down his life, his needs, his wants, and his pursuits for his wife. It is not a dominating over leadership but a servant leader who protects and shepherds his wife and family.
#5 As the church follows the leadership of Christ, the wife is to follow the leadership of her husband. This does not mean that she is a doormat. She is to speak openly and honestly and the wise husband will not move forward until they are of one accord. Major decisions are to be reached by consensus and compromise between the husband and wife so that the unity and harmony of the household are protected and maintained.
#6 The husband is to love his wife as his own body. Just as we care for our own bodies, the husband is to care for his wife - for her spiritual, relational, and emotional needs. Spiritually, he needs to make her spiritual growth a priority in their relationship. Relationally, he needs to make their relationship a priority and also give her the time she needs to maintain healthy relationships with other woman. Emotionally, he needs to help keep her emotional tank full.
Practical Suggestions and Tips for the husband and wife:
#1 Pray. Pray together. Praying with your spouse is very powerful. It is where we take our praises, sins, joys, and concerns before God himself. I am very careful not to counsel couples to have devotions together because this can be a great blessing to some and a great burden for others. Praying together on a regular basis is very important. If there are sins to be confessed to one another, this is the time to do that to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
Pray for your spouse. This is so important. In your regular time with God, pray regulary for your spouse. What is on her heart? Take that to the Lord. What is on his plate that is overwhelming. Take that to the Lord. When we pray with and for one another God is honored in this and our priorities shift from ourselves to the Lord and one another.
#2 Practice the weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath was made by God for rest and reflection. It is a time where we enjoy the blessings of the Lord together. Maintaining the weekly Sabbath is next to impossible in today's hurried, overly committed society - especially with kids in activies. Don't allow the day off to become merely a day of chores or a frantic day of activities. Instead, fit chores into the other 6 days as much as possible and make those kids activities part of the Sabbath. Don't forget the Lord on your Sabbath.
#3 Worship Corporately together. This can be a challenge for the ministry couple. As much as possible, be together for congregational singing during the worship service. God works powerfully when we worship God together. He knits our hearts together as we covenant together with other believers to follow Christ wherever he leads.
#4 Know your spouse's love language. Gary Chapman has identified five love languages: (1) Words of Affirmation; (2) Acts of Service; (3) Receiving Gifts; (4) Quality Time; and (5) Physical Touch (www.5lovelanguages.com). The danger for many of us is that we give love the same way we like to receive it. If our spouse has the same love language that works out well. If our spouse does not that can lead to a lot of hurt and relational turmoil.
Do you know your wife's love language? Do you make it a priority to love her according to her love language apart from pursuing sex with her?
Do you know your husband's love language? Do you make it a priority to love him according to his love language to show your love and respect for him?
#5 Schedule time together. The demands of ministry can overtake a marriage. If the church planting couple has kids, their time together can disappear completely if they are not careful. Schedule and routinize time together. Guard time together each day. Schedule a weekly date night. This might be a late dinner and movie and a popcorn at home for the ministry couple combined with going out for date night.
#6 Retreat together. Get away with just one another for a few days each year. Make this a time where you enjoy the love of your life. Read the Song of Songs. Enjoy each others companionship. Enjoy each other physically.
#7 Give each other the gift of a retreat away. Men, give your wife the gift of a weekend away with her friends. Women, do the same for your husband. Men need time with men and women need time with women.
#8 Make your marriage a priority. A healthy marriage will not just happen. We must work at it. Our life is constantly changing. If we don't work on our marriages, we will wake up one day and wonder, "who is this person next to me?" We don't want that to happen. For a check up on your marriage, go to Couple Check Up and take the online inventory. A book is also available for purchase. This is part of our assessment process.
Read books on marriage. Attend a marriage conference together. Talk about your marriage with your spouse regularly. Work at it like you work at anything else that is valuable - with the guidance of Scripture, with daily discipline, and with a desire to honor God with your marriage relationship.
Warning and Encouragement
It is tempting for the aspiring church planter and his wife to put the issues of their marriage on hold. It is tempting to say that we can work through these things on our own. It is tempting to lie to cover up sin and unhealthiness in your marriage. If you plot together or silently agree to live in denial, you might be able to get through the assessment process and be approved. But when the demands of life, marriage, and ministry are greater than the strength of your ministry your cracks will be exposed. This will create great pain and turmoil in your life.
Instead of letting that happen, I encourage you to address your issues now. God and His Word can work through even the worst of circumstances. Although your start date for church planting might be delayed, you will be serving out of a healthy, strong marriage. This is honoring to Christ and His church.