I was asked to write an article on marriage and young pastors, I
thought you, the readers, would wonder about my qualifications. My
wife, Suzanne, and I will soon celebrate our 31st
anniversary; we’ve been in the ministry for 29 of these years.
Just last week we wrote our last college tuition check for our last
child—we reared three in all, all now in their twenties. We’re
empty nesters, looking forward to becoming grandparents.
Suzanne and I have spoken to
hundreds of couples in Marriage Alive! Seminars, a marriage
ministry that we developed back in 1990. Many of the participants
are young couples in ministry, and their concerns, no matter what
part of the world or what denominational affiliation, are remarkably
Over the years I’ve served in a
variety of pastoral positions—intern (while attending seminary),
church planter (three times; I’m a glutton for punishment),
conference-center staff, parachurch organizational staff, associate
pastor, and senior pastor. Every ministry created unique
opportunities and pressures for family life, but Suzanne and I
discovered a few core principles that, if lived out, will build
How important is a harmonious
home life in ministry? Paul thinks it’s a non-negotiable:
"An elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He
must be faithful to his wife… He must manage his own family well…
For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care
of God’s church?" (1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5; also see Titus 1:6-9).
I’ve seen Paul’s wisdom
disregarded many times in ministry placement, usually with
disastrous results—both for the ministry and the minister’s
family. You see, the church isn’t primarily a corporation, an
organization, or an institution; the church is a family, the family
of God. And families don’t need good managers, they need leaders
with healthy marriages and happy children.
Paul’s point is that marriage is
the foundation of ministry. The integrity of your marriage
will determine the length and strength of your ministry. Each new
ministry assignment brings with it greater pressure, more weight on
your marriage, more opportunity to expose unresolved cracks and
fissures in the foundation.
Three Foundation Builders
If marriage is the foundation for
ministry, how do you build foundations in your marriage? We’ve
discovered three foundation builders, principles on which you can
build a marriage and ministry that will last a lifetime.
1. Pray Together: First things
first: Put God first in your marriage!
It seems so simple, but the pressures of ministry—like any
job—can crowd out the reason for ministering. I chatted
with a young couple the other day who shared their experience of
seven years in ministry. They had dropped out because, "Being
out seven nights a week was destroying our marriage and damaging our
kids." They weren’t able to spend time with God together;
life was a grinding schedule of ministry.
If you aren’t living the Great
Commandment in your marriage, you aren’t living it. So, how do you
put God first? Here’re a few thoughts…
To be connected with God as a
couple, you must be connected individually. Russ Busy, who has
traveled with Billy Graham since the 1950s, says there are three
reasons for why God has used Dr. Graham: Humility, right motives,
and "Billy spends time in God’s Word—the Bible—not just
to preach to others but to understand what God has to say to him and
to guide his life by its truth." Husbands should encourage
wives and wives encourage husbands to be individually
connected to God and his word!
And, I believe you must do the same
as a couple: read Scripture together daily, cultivate hearts that
hear God’s voice, pray together, and process what God is doing in
your lives. This takes time, and unless it’s scheduled, it won’t
happen. The tyranny of the urgent always triumphs in disorganized
The best time is the time that fits
best into the rhythm of your lives. But beware: If you don’t
commit and re-commit to doing it, it won’t happen. The number one
complaint I hear from the wives of young pastors is they rarely pray
with their husbands.
One other tip: Suzanne and I try to
attend a marriage conference, seminar, or retreat every year. We
always learn something new about our marriage in a retreat
environment; we have never come away disappointed.
2. Play Together:
By playing together I mean make time for communication, fun,
and romance. For most young couples this is best
accomplished through a regular date night.
My youth pastor, Garrett Rea, is
twenty-five years old. Starting with a dozen kids he’s built our
youth ministry to 100 in less than two years. He’s a busy man. His
wife Sandy is a school teacher, and they have no children. They have
a wonderful marriage. One of the reasons why is their religious
commitment to a date night. Friday is their night to play together.
Sometimes it’s a movie, other times a walk in the park and a long,
Merely one night a week won’t cut
it when it comes to play. Vacations—not working vacations—and
get-away days are critical. When Suzanne and I were in our twenties
we would leave our children with friends and take off for two days.
At an inexpensive hotel (we didn’t have much money) we’d pray
and talk a lot, and we’d do a lot of something else.
Which leads to the other kind of
critical communication for a healthy marriage: Make sure your sex
life is the best it can be! A healthy sex life with your spouse is a
fire wall against sexual temptations. It must be frequent enough and
good enough to satisfy the needs of both of you.
If you’re struggling with sex,
you’re probably struggling with communication, intimacy, and
friendship. And you’re headed for disaster. My advice: Get some
help, and get it fast.
A Promise with a Premise
3. Pay together.
In other words, get your personal finances in order. If
everything is working well in your life except finances, you’re
in trouble. Satan always exploits your weakest point, and money—along
with sex—is frequently that point.
If you want to get rich, don’t go
into the ministry. Salaries are typically marginal at best. And
there’s a reason for that: God—usually with the help of your
board—wants you dependent on him. He will perform miracles. And he
promises he will provide. But all of God’s promises come with a
God’s Promise: He will
meet all your needs. "My God will meet all your needs according
to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). That’s
an incredible verse, a slam dunk for your money needs. But, if this
promise is true, why do some many couples—yes, even couples in
ministry—have so many needs? What’s the problem?
The answer is simple: That promise
isn’t for everybody. Why? Because it has a premise, a condition,
an "if-you-do-this, I’ll-do-that" clause from God. The
premise, found earlier in Philippians 4:14-18, may be summarized
with these words: I must first be generous to others, and I must be
a good steward of what God entrusts to me.
For young pastors this is
difficult. At least it was for me when I was in my twenties. We
struggled quite a bit financially, until we attended a financial
stewardship seminar that taught us about the blessings of tithing,
saving, and staying out of debt. Following through was a real heart
check, a time of testing our faith. We learned God’s word is true:
Where ever he guides, he provides—provided we obey his word.
Debt, unfaithfulness in tithing,
living beyond your means—these are the great destroyers of
ministry. Money is the one area, the only area, in which God
challenges us to test him. After shouting down the Jews for cheating
God of his tithes and offerings (and as a result bringing a curse
on themselves!) the Lord says through the prophet Malachi,
"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse… If you do, I will
open the windows of heaven for you.. Try it! Let me prove it to
If you are struggling in this area,
I encourage you to attend a Christian financial stewardship seminar
immediately. There are many fine, biblical programs out there.
Remember, though, the longer you wait for help, the more difficult
it will be to dig out of your financial hole.
The biblical principles I’m
sharing in the article are the same principles Suzanne and I live by
today. By applying them to your marriage now, you’ll build a sure
foundation for ministry for many years to come.
Kevin N. Springer is Senior
Pastor of the Desert Springs Church in Palm Desert, California. You
may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org