January 23, 2013

On My Heart: Marriage & Church Planting

Our church is now over four years old and, thankfully, flourishing. It's certainly nice to be sitting in this stage of church planting where uncertainty has pretty much left the building, but as any church planting wife knows, a thriving church plant doesn't start or grow by accident.

A thriving church plant is built on prayer, relationships, faith, generosity, and hours of hard work. In fact, it takes so much hard work that it requires an almost single-minded devotion from the church planter and the church planting wife. Priorities get shifted, sacrifices are made, things have to get done, burdens demand to be carried, life moves at a sprinter's pace.

They told me that in the midst of the hard work it would happen, but I didn't believe them. Not us. They said that even the best marriage would be tested in church planting, but I believed we would be different. We had such a solid foundation and truly enjoyed one another. Plus, we had years of ministry experience together and had settled into our partnership quite nicely.
But it did happen. We struggled to communicate well, to keep church planting from encroaching into every part of our relationship, to make time to rest together, to meet each others needs when we had nothing left to give. We fought, sometimes against each other and sometimes as partners trying to keep our marriage healthy and strong. Our marriage has been tested by, among other things, exhaustion and resentment, as well as the normal busyness of raising small children.

In church planting, what I am most proud of is actually not the church itself. What I'm most proud of is that we work hard at our marriage. We refuse to sacrifice our marriage on the altar of ministry. We will not let drift happen due to our inability to say no to others and yes to each other. Our ultimate commitment, our vow, is to one another, not the church.

None of this is easy and--here is the key-- none of it happens by accident. Respect and love don't just happen. Then again, neither do pure thoughts, forgiveness, conflict resolution, affection, communication, or romance.

Happy marriages are between intentional people. And when something such as church planting adds ongoing stress and strain, marriage breathes through intentionality. Why do we tend to believe these crazy ideas that pastors and their wives are immune from marital struggle or that it is the spiritual thing to do to make our ministry more important than our marriage?

On our recent getaway, my husband and I reoriented ourselves to one another again. We found ourselves surprised at the drift between us, but we made plans to change that: saving one weekend a month just for us and our family, praying together on Sunday evenings, having more say in the other's calendar, spending more down time with couple friends, and voicing our needs to one another.

There is no shame in the drift. There will always be stress and strain and reasons to forgive. There is only fault when we aren't intentional to change when we need to change, to protect when we need to protect, to love whom we committed to love.

What do you need to do intentionally today in your marriage?

This week, I will be writing a few posts entitled On My Heart, in which I share what God is currently doing in my heart and what He has done in me through church planting. I am answering the very question that I invite you to answer on your blog in a link up I will host starting January 30: How has God used church planting or ministry to change your heart? Consider what is "on your heart" and begin preparing your post now.