This morning, my husband and I prayed together with our kids. Before we walked out the door, we looked into each other’s eyes, and we kissed. Later, at lunch time, we had a significant discussion about personal priorities for our finances. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. We also discussed our church. No one shouted or cried or clammed up. This evening, we ate dinner as a family. We laughed a lot. I did the dishes. He paid bills in the family room. After the kids were in bed, the two of us ended the day by reading side-by-side on the couch.
Ours is the story of a happy marriage.
We owe this to the grace and mercy of our Lord. And one of his loving means has been our place in the church.
When yet another pastor falls publicly into grievous, soul-bruising, family-destroying sin, the onlookers can quickly line up to blame life in the church. I have read many articles in recent months that claim ministry life makes pastors and their wives inherently lonely or hypocritical or distracted or vulnerable to sin or prone to cracking from stress. The cumulative message is clear: when failure happens, it’s the church’s fault.
I know that ministry life can bring unique, and sometimes intense, challenges to family life. (See: this entire blog.) I know that there are neither perfect churches nor perfect pastors nor perfect pastors’ wives. Sin is a many-tentacled monster that can drag us toward death from many directions at once.
But I also know firsthand the privilege of a ministry marriage.
And I worry that an endless litany of blame-the-ministry could cause faithful pastors and their wives to view the local church as their marriage’s enemy rather than its best ally.
The Prayers of Many
I can’t count the number of times our church has publicly prayed for us and for our marriage. Sunday mornings from the pulpit. Wednesday nights in church prayer meeting. Tuesday mornings at Bible study. The people of God are regularly and specifically praying for us to have a loving, faithful, and happy marriage.
These prayers are the arms of Aaron and Hur, holding up our marriage whenever it grows weary. They are an offensive weapon against Satan, cutting down temptation before it begins. And they are an open invitation to corporate rejoicing, allowing “the many” to “give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11).
In church life, we are surrounded by couples who are thriving in their marriages—loving one another, serving God, and pursuing faithfulness. We watch them work and worship together. And we see God’s grace to them when trials come.
Ministry life has taken us to hospital beds and death beds, to moving trucks and waiting rooms, to drought-plagued farms and hard-hit small businesses. We have seen marriages walk through the sea billows and come out singing “it is well.”
These couples are our cloud of witnesses: cheering us on, handing us cups of cool water, and pointing us to the same Christ who is also at work in them.
We have also watched marriages die. Too many times, we have cried together for a church couple who didn’t make it, who met the end in a dingy courtroom stacked with allegations. And we have doubled-over in fear and grief and anger for all the sins that led them there.
But even the ugly is a grace for my marriage. Having seen the multi-car pile-up beside the road, I resolve to drive more cautiously. Having watched the house next door burn to the ground, I check the batteries on my smoke detectors. Having witnessed a friend falling off the cliff, I back away from its jagged edge.
Thanks be to God.
God’s Gracious Constraints
The blame-the-ministry posts are correct when they observe that ministry life comes with plenty of constraints. People are watching you. You have demands on your time. At every moment, you are expected to act like a Christian. True.
Those constraints are God’s grace.
Because of the ministry, I must speak kindly to and about my husband. I must serve God alongside him. I must set an example for younger Christians. I must surround myself with more mature Christians. I must submit myself to the direction of the elders. I must show up twice every Sunday to worship God with him.
And aren’t those the very things my marriage needs?
I cannot say what my marriage would be like if my husband were not a pastor. I have only the life God has given. But I do know this: ministry life is, by God’s kind intent, good for my marriage.
This article originally appeared here.