We all know storms are part of life. And in accepting that reality, we can generally feel like we are shored up and prepared to withstand whatever storm might form over and pound on us. However, the most unforeseen and destructive storms are those that hit us in the home and heart.
The pain is unimaginable by those that have not experienced it. A pastor with a passionate heart for God and His people, in spite of all the high hopes he had for fruitful ministry, faces not only an unforeseen storm in his ministry, but also in his home as his wife, therefore, wants him to quit his ministry. In the hurricane force of this storm, he faces the possible loss of his ministry and marriage. This is happening to pastors right now. This could happen to you. You must be prepared for your wife to possibly want out if things go wrong.
PREPARE FOR YOUR WIFE TO POSSIBLY WAVER
Make sure to not confuse vision with illusion. While you should have a vision of a God-blessed lifelong marriage - while your wife should be a vision to you - do not let your vision of her and life with her lure you into a romanticized illusion of what could or would never happen.
A husband and wife not in the ministry will face much that will test their faith and tempt their flesh just in living for the Lord in this fallen world. A husband and wife that are in pastoral ministry will face much more.
Even if God does give you a beautiful, fruitful rose garden of a ministry, He will still allow thorns to grow beside the roses. And sometimes in His mysterious wisdom and providence, He allows a storm that strips away the rose petals, leaving only the many thorns to thrash and slash. If He allows this for you, the excruciating pain of those deep wounds may seem, to both of you, too much to bear. But while you, being convinced of your calling, have the impulse to turn your shoulder into the storm, she may have the overwhelming impulse to turn her back to the storm and escape to clear skies and calm waters. The fact and force of the storm may cause her to turn to you and tell you that you have missed something somewhere - that you have misunderstood the call of God - that something like that should not be happening if you are where He wants you to be, because surely if you were, He would be blessing your work, not allowing it and your family to be torn apart.
If your wife wavers this way, you may see a side of her you never expected to see. Therefore, it is imperative that you be prepared, as much as possible, to press ahead in your relationship with God and your relationship with her.
LOVE GOD FIRST
In writing this, I am taking for granted that you have no question of your calling from God to pastor. (If you do, you need to seek help beyond what I am offering in this article. I will say this, though: If you are okay with not pastoring, then quit.) With God's call being sure, you must obey Him in your love for Him, knowing that your love for God comes before your love for your wife.
While personal application will vary, this principle never does. We can trace it all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam was to pass on to his wife the command of God and should have persevered in obedience when she fell in deceived disobedience. Instead, he gave in to her allurement to abandon the will of God.
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Listening to your wife is generally a good thing to do - a necessary thing to do - for a thriving relationship with her. When she speaks, you should lovingly lean in to sincerely listen to what she has to say, with the intention of acting on what she says, if you can. You cannot act on what she says - you cannot listen to her - if she asks/tells you to do what is outside of and against the will of God. If she does, you must lovingly correct her in the hope that she will not chafe at you for doing so. However, she may, and as hard as it may be, you must stay the course.
Jesus promises abundant and eternal reward for "one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God" - when necessary to obey the particular, personal call of God to enter and advance the kingdom of God (Luke 18:28-30, emphasis added). Now, of course, we are not to take this as a free pass to initiate divorce, taking into account His other teachings on that subject (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16). The point is that the will and call of God is our first priority, even over our relationships with our wives. This is why Paul cautions those yet to be married to understand how their interests will be divided between each other and the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Therefore, you must prayerfully discern how to be concerned with the interests of the Lord and your wife without letting your wife become an idol, especially if she wavers and resists what the Lord is leading you to do.
I have heard well-meaning, godly brothers talk like a man can only pastor if he has his wife's permission. I do not see that position square with Scripture. If God has called you to pastor, He is not asking your wife's permission. Now, where and when may be another necessary discussion, in the Lord's time and place for you, regarding your family's unique situation and season. But if you feel the Holy Spirit pressing this call on your heart, and you are qualified to act on your desire (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), then you are to lovingly - gently but firmly - lead her in obeying that call, not in some artificial role of "pastor's wife", but as your wife - your helpmate. That leads to...
LOVE YOUR WIFE FAITHFULLY
If your wife turns against your calling, you may be surprised at what you feel toward her in the difficulty of the situation. You must set in your mind that God comes before her, but she comes before others, including yourself. Take her well-being seriously and personally. Take her to God in prayer. Plead with God to help you faithfully, actively lead and love her at the same time. Like never before, you must "live with your [wife] in an understanding way, as with someone weaker [like fine china versus a metal plate], since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered." (1 Peter 3:7)
Especially in such a heart-wrenching situation, you must "love your [wife], just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25–27) Christ perfectly loves the church while the church is far from perfect. That includes both you and your wife, and He is your model for how to love your wife. In His love for the church, Christ laid down His own life - His personal well-being - for the church to be fully sanctified by the Word of God in the will of God. The will of God included His sacrifice for His bride's sanctification. And so it does for you. Even while dealing with your own pain, you will need to sympathize with and get in touch with your wife's pain. You will need to minister to her. You will need to help her even if she doesn't want you to.
I want to elaborate on what I said earlier about seeing a side of your wife you may not expect. As I'm sure you know, being deeply hurt and angry can bring things up out of a person he or she does not normally exhibit, even to his or her own surprise. You most likely will deal with that yourself if in this situation. But regarding your wife, you need to be prepared for the possibility of such an extreme change in her that you actually question her salvation. If that happens, there are two possibilities:
In either of these cases, your responsibility will be the same: "love your [wife] and do not be embittered against her." (Colossians 3:19)
A TRUE STORY
The Lord called "Paul" to ministry shortly after saving him. Then, shortly after Paul and "Paula" were married, the Lord called Paul to pastor. Paul and Paula went through growing pains, sometimes stumbling more than walking, but for the most part, they were on the same page. Paul was bi-vocational for his first four years in pastoral ministry. Then two things happened at once. First, his ministry at his first church seemed to grind to a halt, and second, an opportunity to pastor a full-time church opened up with connections being made that Paul had not manipulated. Their move to that church seemed like the clear will of God to both him and Paula.
Things at the new church were good for the first four months. Then tensions starting building, with clashes of personality and philosophy. It started becoming clear to Paul and Paula that they were expected to conform to the power brokers in the church, rather than actually leading, even to the point of a meeting being called with Paul to tell him that he needed to change his preaching. That did not sit well with Paul, and he told them in his youthful zeal (perhaps a bit too gruffly, he thinks now) that he would not be told how or what to preach. The meeting did not end well.
Some time later, Paul was studying in his office when three of the "leading" men came in with a letter from nearly half of the church telling Paul they wanted him to leave. Someone later decided it was a good idea to have a special business meeting for an airing of grievances. While Paul was willing to discuss any possible mistakes he had made, that meeting devolved into a depraved debacle that devastated Paula and their children. Paul felt like crushing heads while Paula felt like crawling into a hole.
In days to come, some in the opposing group regretted their role in what had taken place. One of those same men approached Paul about not quitting, because in the second business meeting to come, a vote would be taken on whether to keep Paul. This man told Paul that he knew the vote would go in Paul's favor. In a decision he questions now, Paul stepped down on his own initiative.
What transpired at that church was the downward turn of a descent into a dark valley, in which Paul and Paula have been for thirteen years now. Paula is just now recovering from what was done to them there. In regard to Paul remaining in pastoral ministry, Paula has gone through four primary stages: First, she was militant in opposing Paul staying in pastoral ministry, even with the option of divorce being on the table. Second, she was manipulative in opposing Paul staying in pastoral ministry. Third, she was moping along, going along with him, without her heart truly in it with him. And fourth, she is now more amenable, with her eyes and heart more open to what the Lord is doing with them in ministry.
Paul has been in and out of his own different stages with Paula. At first, he was dumbfounded at her sudden and fierce opposition to him staying in ministry. Then he became angry and has struggled with anger toward her all along the way. He has battled bitterness and a critical spirit toward her. He has struggled with the difference between dictating and leading - between being domineering and lovingly firm. He has had to put down his tendency to try to argue her into a change of heart, coming to realize that her problem is not first intellectual, or even emotional, but spiritual. With God's constant discipline and help, he has had to get his feet under him in loving God first and loving Paula faithfully.
Paul and Paula were not prepared for what they have been through. Paul had studied and resolved to accept the reality of opposition in both Christian life and ministry but had not imagined he and his wife could go through what they have. Paula, on the other hand, had a picture of life in church and ministry that was completely shattered. As husband and wife, they are good for the most part. But things are still not quite as they should or could be. As I look at the extremely difficult road they are still on, I wish someone had been there in the beginning of their walk together to tell them what could happen to them, and help them be somewhat prepared for it and ahead of it. That is why I wrote this article for you, pastor (or for you to forward to your pastor).
Sit down with your wife and talk about these things. Let her read this article. Part of loving your wife right now is helping her prepare for the possibility of feeling like everything is being ripped out from under you.
If that has already happened to you, please get help, if you haven't already. You are welcome to contact me, if you feel led to do so. You can click "Contact" under "More" at the top of the page.
Feel free to ask any questions or offer any comments/suggestions below. May God bless your marriage and ministry.
*All Scriptures in this post from the NASB
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Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)