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Healthy Marriage, Healthy Ministry

Four ways to pursue your calling as a minister by pursuing the person you married.

Marvin Gilbert on September 16, 2020

Pastors are skilled pursuers. They pursue highly qualified staff, visitors, and growth in general. Most actively pursue the lost in their communities. Some pursue higher education or other qualifications. But what of their spouses?

Ministry is certainly a worthy pursuit. So is a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, many married pastors prioritize the former over the latter — and invariably, both the congregation and the family suffer. Here are four ways to pursue your calling as a minister by pursuing the person you married:

1. Prioritize Your Marriage

Make the ongoing, lifelong pursuit of your spouse a high priority. Pursue your spouse when you feel romantic and when you don’t. Pursue your spouse when it’s easy and when it isn’t.

True pursuit is an act of the will. It is a choice — one that always reflects the value of your marriage. The more you cherish that relationship, the stronger your marriage becomes — and that is the foundation of your future ministry together.

After 48 years of marriage, I know I am at my best (as is my marriage) when I am lovingly pursuing my wife. True, she already said “yes” to me many years ago. I treasure that moment, almost a half-century ago, at First Assembly in Caldwell, Idaho.

But what I most want to hear is my wife’s next “yes” — yes to our shared dreams, our ministry goals, our romance, our partnership, our present, and our future. I must actively pursue that “yes.” I disrespect my wife and imperil my marriage if I assume it already belongs to me.

2. Practice What You Preach

Loving, intentional pursuit of your spouse is not a selfish, nonministry activity. It need not compete with your ministry; it is ministry!

Every time you preach, you call people to a close, personal relationship with a God who pursues both saints and sinners. Listeners will more easily grasp these truths when you model gentle pursuit as the central priority of your marriage.

Pastors often speak on family and marriage issues as well. When the love between a pursuing pastor and his or her spouse is rich, tender, and passionate, the congregation will know it. Your happy, deeply satisfied spouse will validate your marriage-focused sermons.

Make the ongoing, lifelong pursuit of your spouse a high priority.

Pursuit of your spouse is not just one more entry on an already full to-do list, however. It is a lifestyle that reflects God’s heart. In calling Jesus the bridegroom and the Church His bride, the Bible sets the bar high for marriage.

New believers who have had few positive examples in their lives need to see what a healthy, biblical marriage looks like. Your lifestyle and marriage will answer the inevitable question, “Does this pastor walk the talk?”

3. Invest in the Relationship

Pursuing your spouse means looking for opportunities to express your love and adoration. Whether through date nights, tender text messages, or unexpected gifts, intentionally investing in your marriage lets your spouse know how much you value the relationship.

Be creative, and keep it fresh. What truly matters to your spouse? Find new ways to speak to the heart of the one you love.

A few weeks ago, I told my wife as we drove down the road, “I want to give you a bath.”

She looked shocked until I explained my intent. On a whim, I had decided to “bathe” her with words of affirmation. For the next five minutes or so, I confessed how much I treasured and esteemed her and how grateful I am for her wisdom, kindness and graciousness.

Each time I paused, my wife eagerly let me know I had her permission to continue. I am continually amazed at the difference even the simplest gestures can make. Even if it might seem silly, she knows I am gently pursuing her heart ... again. And she affectionately approves.

4. Pass It On

Pastors may preach a few thousand sermons during a long ministry career. Yet their first — and perhaps best — ministry opportunity centers on those congregants who sleep just down the hallway, the ones who raid the fridge and who are watching even when we think they don’t notice.

Your children know far better than the average church member whether Dad is tenderly pursuing Mom daily, and vice versa. And what they know will define their view of both marriage and ministry for the rest of their lives.

Pastor, teach your children at every opportunity that a Christ-centered marriage is worth pursuing. This may be the greatest sermon you will ever preach.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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