By Mark Dance
When I answered God’s call to vocational ministry at 16 years of age, I don’t remember considering any part of my biblical job description. I gave no thought to how my marriage would impact my ministry or visa versa.
In some respects, I’m glad I didn’t realize all of the challenges matrimony would inevitably bring.
It’s difficult to grow a marriage under normal circumstances, but for ministry couples, the stakes are even higher. A pastor’s marriage has an extra layer of expectation to manage both vocational ministry and marriage well (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).
So, with these high stakes in mind, what should we do when our marriage is struggling?
1. Fix yourself first.
If you’re both a husband and a pastor, you’re called to lead two families. The Greek word for “manage” is proistēmi (to stand before or lead). It’s the same word used to describe the gift of leadership in Romans 12.
If our marriage is coasting or even dying, we need to take personal responsibility for the problem since we are the primary leaders (Ephesians 5).
The Bible doesn’t teach us pastors to balance our lives—it tells us to manage our lives. For example, if you’re neglecting your wife because you gave it all at the office, you’ve mismanaged both your ministry and marriage by mismanaging your own life.
“Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
2. Broaden the conversation.
Since you’re a co-dependent member of the body of Christ, why would you hesitate to let others help your marriage get and stay healthy?
If your marriage is struggling, prayerfully consider walking through this difficult stretch with another couple or a counselor. It might surprise you to know how many ministry couples have benefitted from clinical counseling.
3. Fight for your family.
It saddens me to say I’ve yet to have an immediate predecessor or successor finish well. Four out of seven of these ugly exits were marriage meltdowns.
Janet and I write and talk about marriage so much people probably assume we live in a constant honeymoon state. We speak at about 20 events a year together, and some of our worst arguments have been on the way to those events!
I’m not talking about toothpaste and toilet paper arguments either. We do have a very healthy marriage, but as Janet recently told our married daughter, “We fought our way here.”
Pastor, don’t ignore or evade the problems in your marriage. Once your season of struggling is over, you may be tempted to forgive and forget.
Instead of forgetting your mistakes—learn from them. Love covers a multitude of sins; it doesn’t ignore them. Fight for your marriage, even if it means tackling the tougher issues.
5. Get equipped.
Recently, Janet and I created videos for a new tool for churches called Woo Marriage (coming in May). This digital tool will help you prepare couples for marriage, strengthen marriages, and restore relationships in your church.
You’ll find many helpful coaching videos from various couples, but the ones Janet and I worked on are specifically for ministry couples.
This tool will not only help you win at marriage ministry, but will bring your couples closer to each other and Christ.
Download their free guide on their homepage and be on the lookout for more updates.
6. Cover with grace.
Two strong words jump out at me in a pastor’s job description: they must be competent (1 Timothy 3:4) and blameless (Titus 1:6).
Neither implies perfection because perfect husbands and fathers don’t exist. Otherwise, there would be no leadership in any of our churches!
We must pastor our homes with the same gospel-drenched grace that we draw on to pastor our churches.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) serves as director of Lifeway Pastors. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net.