The Pastor and His Marriage
In Christian denominations that allow pastoral marriage, the relationship between the pastor and his spouse is important to the health of the church. Denominations that do not allow marriage and consecrate the pastor to the church have a great tradition and there is some benefit to this practice. Too often we see infidelity, dishonesty and lack of character on the part of the husband play out between the pastor and his spouse—sometimes on national television. A pastor simply cannot think his marriage is strictly person and not a part of his ministry. As Paul suggests, better not to marry at all.
Pastors who treat their wives in an ill manner often find their poor decisions in marriage thrust into the center of their ministry role. Where marriage is a part of the pastor’s life, it must be a central and crucially supporting part. A pastor’s marriage, then, must serve as a model, motivator and personal ministry.
Marriage as a model. As the church is the bride of Christ, so too is the pastor’s marriage an example of the kind of relationship Christ would have with His church. Your congregation will look to your marriage as a model and ideal to emulate. Cold or distant family relationships, and spouses who do not share interests or time with one another, make poor examples. If you cannot hold your marriage up as a model to your congregation, do your church a favor—stop what you are doing, right now, and work on your marriage. And for heaven’s sake don’t be so blind in your actions as to counsel or even marry other couples if your own marriage cannot shine in the light of day as an example of what two Christians in holy union should act like.
Even your fights or disagreements as a couple are areas where you can teach others Christ-like roles for husband and wife in how you handle these. The congregation will quickly uncover a pastor who speaks ill of his spouse in public, or does not love and honor her in a Christ-like manner. Is your marriage a model for your church?
Marriage as a motivator. The pastorate is a difficult and demanding life role. A strong marriage lends great support to the stresses of being a leader in the church. A pastor who is suffering at home quickly finds himself crushed by the roles of pastor and husband. Both the husband and wife must understand their roles, and this is especially critical in a pastoral marriage.
This is not simply giving in to the pastor’s need to be out at night at meetings or visiting hospitals, or his private time studying. A pastor’s support mechanism within his marriage begins with prayer, honest communication and a balance of ministry work and at-home time. The wife supports the husband’s ministry as the husband leads the marriage and home spiritually. How does that work, exactly? The balance is different in each marriage, but the key components of good communication, time committed to the marriage and a desire to see Christ glorified through the marriage are important in all cases.
Marriage as a ministry. Finally, the pastor’s marriage must itself be a ministry. Often couples do not consider their own personal ministry as husband, wife and family apart from the husband’s pastoral role. If God truly created you for one another as husband and wife, then your marriage has in and of itself a ministry component. What is God calling you two to do and be for Him in your marriage? Were you not a pastor, how would ministry look within your own marriage and family?
Often this is most viewed through the wife and family’s involvement in the church’s ministry, but it may take other forms, such as the family enjoying their own ministry involvement in an area of passion on a regular basis. As an example, I know several pastors and families for whom orphan care is an area of passion. The pastor and wife have adopted one or more children and involve themselves in orphan care causes apart from their church leadership role. This is but one way a marriage can have a ministry component.
Self destruction. We’ve all seen dysfunctional marriages within church leadership, right? Everything is going along, seemingly fine, then we witness an implosion. Divorce, infidelity, distrust, hurt. If we really go back and look closely at these relationships, we often find the telltale signs were there long before the house burned down. Lack of mutual love and respect, lack of time with one another, lack of communication, and lack of direction in the marriage—all of these have visible signs to your fellow leaders and congregation. Every married pastor must view their marriage as a key component to their pastoral leadership. If the marriage is taking on water in any area, the pastor must, for his own sake and the sake of his congregation, stop and right the marital ship as his first and top priority.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.