27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:27-28 (NIV)
I wish someone would have prepared my marriage for the daily difficulties of pastoral ministry. I remember being in seminary thinking that my future ministry and marriage would look like a Norman Rockwell painting; warm, full of beautiful colors, and fulfilling. At the center of that metaphorical painting would be a small little home representing a peaceful, Jesus-centered marriage.
After almost sixteen years in pastoral ministry, I can confidently say that I do not believe Normal Rockwell ever painted Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 11. Such a painting would not be colorful and warm. It would be cold, harsh, and heavy because Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11 describe ministry with words like labor, toil, hunger, thirst, cold, naked, and pressure. Pastoral ministry can be a constant kick in the teeth. And, that’s just describing the pastor’s plight. Somewhere behind the pastor, in the background and carrying their own burden, is the pastor’s spouse.
If a pastor feels the heaviness of pastoral ministry, so does their spouse. If a pastor is sad and burdened for a church, the pastor’s spouse sees that heartache and grieves in their own way. If a pastor is trashed and humiliated by disgruntled church members, the words and snide remarks not only hurt the pastor, they deeply cut the pastor’s spouse. If a pastor feels overwhelmed from the burdens of their church to the point of burnout, the pastor’s spouse must wrestle with what it means to have a spouse who comes home every night without the emotional energy to engage.
Please hear me if you are a young minister considering marriage; pastoral ministry is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Pastoral ministry will test the very bonds of your covenant marriage many, many times. When you as a pastor feel burdened, know that your spouse is feeling the same burden, sometimes in heavier ways. When you are emotionally exhausted at the end of the day and have nothing left to give to your spouse, know that they are often left feeling lonely. When you as a pastor “face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches,” know that you will often be tempted to not care for the one person for whom you should care the most; your beautiful, strong, loving, and caring sacrificial spouse.
So, if you are a pastor entering marriage and ministry, know that Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians are just as meaningful and weighty to your spouse as they are to you. Do whatever is necessary to start your pastoral ministry at home. If you feel as if you have been neglecting your spouse, move heaven and earth to re-establish a healthy Biblical rhythm of life that allows you to put your marriage first. After all, pastoral marriage and ministry may not produce a Norman Rockwell painting, but a healthy marriage could possibly be the most powerful testimony of a successful ministry. So, love and care for your spouse and, in the process, paint well.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.