Nov 1999   
Next Wave: Nov 1999
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Ministry & Marriage

If marriage is the foundation for ministry,
how do you build foundations in your marriage?

by Kevin N. Springer

When 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 similar.

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 marriage harmony.

Ministry Foundations.....

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 lives.

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.

Ah, Romance!

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, long talk.

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 premise.

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 you!"

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

Kevin N. Springer

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