5 Lessons from One Couple’s Marriage and Ministry Redemption
By Justin and Trisha Davis
When Justin and I met at a small Bible college in the middle of rural Illinois, we had no idea what God had in store for us.
Our story would include ministry successes, personal failings, and a God who remained faithful through it all.
We were both first generation college students with no family history of being in ministry and neither of us had intentions of going into ministry.
He was there to play college basketball and become a teacher and coach.
I was there to follow my then-boyfriend.
God would use this little Bible college to not only allow us to fall in love with each other, but to ignite a passion for the local church.
We got married in the summer of 1995 and went into full-time ministry. We would spend the next 10 years growing ministries, as well as our family. We planted our first church in 2002 while expecting our third baby boy.
Everything we did went up and to the right. We had three precious little boys. Our church plant with an average age of 28 grew to more than 700 people in three short years. We raised over a million dollars to purchase the banquet hall that served as our meeting place.
People were accepting Jesus as their Savior, getting baptized, giving financially, and serving. It was as though the book of Acts had come to life.
But everything changed on October 9, 2005, when Justin came home from church and confessed he was having an affair with my best friend, who was also our children’s director.
It wasn’t a confession of remorse; it was a confession of resignation. He was done with ministry—and with me. We hit rock bottom.
We were separated for two months. During those two months, by God’s grace, we both became broken. We learned that even when you hit rock bottom, grace is still solid surface to begin to stand.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]We learned that even when you hit rock bottom, grace is still solid surface to begin to stand.[/epq-quote]We went through intense counseling and slowly began to put the pieces back together. Rock bottom now felt like a new beginning, not a place where all had been lost. We had a new identity–not in a title or calling but simply as children of God.
The next four years were spent moving to a new city, rebuilding our family, going to counseling, building healthy friendships, and being accountable to mentors.
We had no intention of going back into ministry. I was convinced that ministry had destroyed our marriage.
Justin became a successful executive recruiter making three times the money he did as a pastor. Life was good.
But God has a way of writing His story—even when we’re unaware a new chapter is beginning.
The small church near our house embraced our family. After we’d been attending for about two years, the senior pastor began to speak truth over us. One Sunday he came up to us with tears in eyes and said, “God isn’t done with you yet.” Justin and I looked at each with both shock and confusion.
Growing up in church, I (Justin) was told there was really only one unpardonable sin. The Bible says that’s blasphemy. But in the church world I grew up in, it was adultery.
When Trisha and I left ministry in 2005 due to my affair, I had no idea what the future held, but one thing I was sure of: God was done with me.
But two years after being out of ministry, our pastor’s words of affirmation allowed our passion for the local church to burn white-hot again. His words of affirmation were followed by one simple question: Would we be willing to submit to an 18-month long restoration process to go back into ministry?
His question left us excited and white-knuckled with uncertainty for the journey ahead.
We would spend the next two years dreaming and doing the hard work of living out Matthew 5:24; that meant laying our agendas at the altar and asking God’s spirit to lead.
It was a season of honest conversations with counselors, pastors, and mentors about our relationship with God, each other, and the Bride of Christ.
We had honest and healing conversations with the leaders and elders of the church where the affair took place.
Restoration birthed out of reconciliation.
In 2009, we stepped back into ministry. We started RefineUs Ministries with the mission to help couples restore hope in their marriage.
We’d like to share with you five lessons we’ve learned from our redemption journey back into ministry:
1. It isn’t necessarily your past sins that disqualify you for ministry; it’s the condition of your heart.
Here is what’s wild: I (Justin) was disqualified for ministry years before the affair started. The pattern of hiding and running and pretending and posturing existed in my life long before the affair manifested itself. Because things were going so well with my ministry, it was easier to hide my struggles.
Past mistakes don’t mean God is through with you. He cares so much more about the condition of your heart.
2. The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
This verse doesn’t mean the gifts and calling of God are beyond accountability or purity. But it does mean that just because you’ve made mistakes, God doesn’t just rip away your gifts and your calling.
If He called you, and He gifted you, then He has plans for you. It took me a few years to believe this.
Those plans may not always look how you want them to look or exactly how they looked for you in the past. Many are never restored into the positions or offices they once had.
But what I have seen is that the more I’ve sought brokenness, the more opportunities He’s given me to live out my calling. I get nervous when people desire the gifts of God more than they desire brokenness.
3. When your gifts outweigh your character, implosion is on the horizon.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]If you spend more time developing your gifts than you do deepening your character, implosion isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.[/epq-quote]If you are a gifted person, you’ll be given responsibility. If you’re a gifted person, people will be drawn to you.
But if you spend more time developing your gifts than you do deepening your character, implosion isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
Giftedness gets noticed, gains opportunity, and gives you reputation.
But character is often compromised so giftedness can take center stage. I know now my character is the most important aspect of my ministry.
4. Ministry was never meant to be your identity, but rather an overflow of who you are in Christ (John 1:12).
I (Trisha) am often asked, “When you went back into ministry, did you feel like your healing was complete?”
My answer is always “No.”
My life felt complete the day I chose Jesus over my circumstances. Jesus over Justin. Jesus over people’s perception. Jesus over my calling and title. The beauty of redemptive pain is experiencing Jesus in His fullness.
Your marriage, your family, your friendships, and your ministry are at their best when they’re lived out of the overflow of who you are in Christ.
Now, more than ever, ministry has become a battle between growing our personal platforms and pointing people to Christ. Individual fame can compromise Kingdom effectiveness.
When you are consumed with the life someone else is living, you miss the life you were meant to live. Someone else’s win isn’t your loss.
You don’t have to rush back into ministry to find your worth. Your worth is already found in knowing you are a child of God, regardless of the title you have or don’t have.
5. The currency to sustaining a healthy marriage and ministry is found in brokenness that leads to forgiveness (Ephesians 1:6-8).
Forgiveness is free, trust is earned, and both are the currency for healthy relationships. Trust is built on the foundation of brokenness.
Brokenness is a posture of surrender, a life-long commitment to do whatever it takes to walk in truth and forgiveness. Brokenness leads to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the sacred dance of giving and receiving. It’s living in the overflow of how you’ve been forgiven by God. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or negate the pain inflicted on you; it prevents that infliction from destroying your heart. Forgiveness resurrects what bitterness tries to destroy.
We’ve helped several former pastors be restored back into ministry after moral failure. In that process many churches ask us, “How do you know when someone is ready to return to ministry?” Pastors that have failed morally will ask, “How long out of ministry is long enough?”
The litmus test for restoration isn’t a checklist of behavior, it’s a posture of the heart and that takes time to cultivate. It involves others walking alongside you during the long, hard road and affirming that you are ready. I would love to say it only takes one year, three years, or six months—but it’s not that simple.
When you fail morally, it’s not one choice that gets you there; it’s a series of choices over time. We choose to justify small compromises that left unchecked became big compromises.
Restoration is choosing to be faithful in the little things to develop the character needed to be faithful in the big things (Luke 16:10).
Those prepared to take the next step have a willingness to serve God without a title, position, or pulpit. Wanting to serve without needing to be “in the ministry” is an indication of a restored calling and renewed heart.