By Matt Henslee
“Honey, let’s start packing.”
This isn’t how I recommend breaking the news to your spouse about wanting to take another church.
I’d just gotten off the phone with a search committee after accepting the invitation to come in view of a call. Please, by all means, please shake your head at me—I deserve it.
As my friend and co-author and I wrote in Replanting Rural Churches, “If you aim to revitalize or replant a church, you need to realize you just signed up to climb Mount Everest, backward, while carrying 115 years of baggage on your back.”
That kind of baggage means there’ll be some phenomenal days of ministry, there’ll be days when you can’t seem to win, and everything in between.
Therefore, you must not—you cannot—go at it alone. You’ll need pastors in your corner; that’s helpful. But what’s paramount is having your family in your corner. And you won’t get that by not including them—trust me.
When I hear “get your house in order,” I realize it’s more than making your bed, and I also believe it’s more than having well-behaved kids. I believe a huge part of having your house in order is creating a unified home.
Pastor, if you’re married (with or without children) here are three ways you can contribute to a unified home—a home that values transparency and harmony in responding to the next ministry call, whatever that looks like.
1. Begin well.
Involve your family during the search and start process. Yes, the church is hiring you, and there needs to be boundaries and appropriate expectations. But don’t make the same mistake I shared at the top of this article.
If you’re setting out to revitalize a church, it’ll be especially difficult. I’m willing to go out on a limb to say it’ll be impossible without your family onboard.
If you’re interviewing, ask your spouse beforehand if there are things they want to know. If the interview is virtual, even if they aren’t on the call, consider taking the call without headphones so they can hear the questions and answers.
If you can’t, tell them everything—and I mean everything—the moment you hang up.
Take time to do a virtual tour of the area of the potential new ministry assignment together, particularly if you can’t do one in person.
Look over the schools, dream about places to go, and find a restaurant in town (or within driving distance) and decide then and there you’ll have a date night there if God calls you to that church.
If things do proceed and you end up having the opportunity to visit the church, travel a day early and take the extra time to drive around, dream, pray, and get a lay of the land.
Along the way, continue to ask questions of your family. Get a feel for what they’re thinking. If there’s a significant “check” in their spirits, take it seriously, hear them out, and seek God’s wisdom.
Keeping your family involved throughout the search and start process will go a long way in setting the foundation for communication, unity, and support in the home.
2. Stay well.
Martin Luther wrote, “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
Church revitalization is hard, and certain things make it harder—one being difficulty at home. I’m not a marriage expert and have only been married for 15 of my more than 20 years in ministry.
Nevertheless, I’m learning a few things that go a long way.
Date your spouse. Hire a babysitter if necessary, but choose now to date every week. If you can’t afford a night out, pack a lunch and eat it at the park.
Communicate, but don’t overshare. There are certain things I don’t bring home. There are certain things I do bring home.
You know your family, but make sure what you do bring home doesn’t grow bitterness toward members.
Do ministry together. This requires balance, but I’ve found my wife develops more connection to our church when we do some aspects of ministry together, like having families over for dinner.
Take the kids on home or hospital visits when appropriate. Trust me; most of the people you visit will enjoy seeing your kids more than they enjoy seeing you.
3. Finish well.
Have eyes only for your spouse.
Don’t meet alone with someone other than your spouse. Don’t flirt. Don’t even entertain the idea, the temptation, of someone else. Stay above reproach so that you can finish the fight in the fight.
Want to finish well? Don’t finish without your spouse. Don’t limp across the finish line without your kids. Run with them, not from them, and you’ll go a long way towards a fruitful, faithful ministry.
As Luther said, “There is no more lovely, friendly, or charming relationship, communion, or company, than a good marriage.”
I’ve found that to be true, especially in the “dog days” of church revitalization when it seems like no one is in your corner.
When those days come—and they will come—will your family be in your corner? I believe they will if you take these words to heart.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, D.Min student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of a few books, including Text-Driven Invitation.