A confession is needed right from the start: I’ve been terrible at this, which is why I’m aiming to write from experience to provide the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Here goes:
Don’t break the news about you taking another church by saying, “Honey, let’s start packing!” You see, I’d just gotten off the phone with a search committee after accepting the invitation to come in view of a call. Please, by all means, please shake your head at me — I deserve it.
As my friend and co-author and I wrote in our book, Replanting Rural Churches, “If you aim to revitalize or replant a church, you need to realize you just signed up to climb Mt. Everest, backward, while carrying 115 years of baggage on your back.” That kind of baggage means there’ll be some phenomenal days of ministry, some when you can’t seem to win — and everything in between.
Therefore, you must not — you cannot — go it alone. You’ll need pastors in your corner (that’s helpful), but what’s paramount is having your family in your corner. And you won’t get that, trust me, by not including them! Sure, when I hear “get your house in order,” I realize it’s more than making your bed, but I also believe it’s more than behaving kids. I believe a huge part of having your house in order is a unified home.
1. Beginning well
Involve your family during the search and start process. Yes, they’re hiring you, and boundaries and appropriate expectations must be set. But don’t make the same mistake I shared at the top of this article. If you’re setting out to revitalize a church, it will be difficult. I’ll even go out on a limb to say it will be impossible without your family on board.
If you’re interviewing, ask your wife beforehand if there are things she wants to know. If the interview is virtual, even if she’s not on the call, consider taking the call without headphones so your wife can hear the questions and answers. If you can’t, tell her everything — and I mean everything — the moment you hang up.
Take time to do a virtual tour of the area with your wife, particularly if you can’t do one in person. Look over the schools, dream about places to go, and find a restaurant in town (or within driving distance) and decide then and there you’ll have a date night there if God calls you to that church.
If things do proceed and you end up having the opportunity to go in view of a call, travel a day early and take the extra time to drive around, dream, pray, and get the lay of the land. Along the way, continue to ask questions of your wife and kids. Get a feel for what they’re thinking! If there’s a significant “check” in your wife’s or kids’ spirits, take it seriously, hear them out, and seek God’s wisdom.
Keeping your family involved throughout the search and start process will go a long way toward setting the foundation for communication, unity, and support in the home.
2. Staying well
There’s a quote by Luther that says, “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave.” Church revitalization is hard, brothers, and certain things make it harder. Difficulty at home definitely makes it harder. I’m not a marriage expert and have only been married for 15of my more than 20 years in ministry. Nevertheless, I’m learning that a few things go a long way.
Date your wife. Hire a babysitter if necessary, but choose now to date your wife every week. If you cannot afford a night out, pack a lunch and eat it at the park.
Communicate, but don’t overshare. Certain things I don’t bring home, but there are some I do. You know your wife and family, but make sure what you do bring home doesn’t inspire bitterness toward members.
Do ministry together. This requires balance, but I’ve found my wife develops more connection to our church when we do some aspects of ministry together, like having families over for dinner. Take the kids on home or hospital visits when appropriate. Trust me: Most people will enjoy seeing your kids more than seeing you!
3. Finishing well
Even in my circle of pastor-friends, I can barely count how many people have blown up their ministries and marriages by sinful relationships with others. One would be too many. Brother pastor, have eyes only for your wife.
Don’t meet with someone other than your spouse alone. Don’t flirt. Don’t even entertain the idea, the temptation, of someone else. Stay above reproach so you can finish the fight in the fight.
Want to finish well? Don’t finish without your wife. Don’t limp across the finish line without your kids. Run with them, not from them — and you’ll go a long way toward experiencing a fruitful, faithful ministry.
As Luther said, “There is no more lovely, friendly, or charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.” I’ve found that to be true, especially in the dogdays of church revitalization when it seems like no one is in your corner. When those days come — and they will come — will your wife and kids be in your corner?
I believe they will, if you take to heart these words I have shared.
Published August 18, 2020