Characteristics of a replanter: Spousal perseverance

Genesis 2:18, Proverbs 18:22, Ephesians 5:22-33

It is significant that of all the creatures Almighty God spoke into existence ex nihilo, it is man who was made in His image. It is also significant that the full expression of God’s image in creation is represented in two genders: man and woman (Genesis 1:27). God certainly discloses Himself in all of his creation, and His attributes can be clearly perceived in everything (Psalm 19:1-7, Romans 1:18-20), but in a mysterious and profound way, He is most clearly and most sacredly imaged in mankind. Moreover, God’s most glorious activity—saving people through the gospel—is displayed in mankind’s most fundamental institution: marriage (Ephesians 5:31-32). The drama of the gospel is that Jesus lays down His life for His bride—the Church—and every marriage is intended to be a microscopic rendition of this beautiful story. Every marriage is a picture of the gospel, and is either giving onlookers a clearer depiction of the gospel, or it is obscuring it. When a husband spends himself at work, and comes home to roll on the floor with his kids, and attends and nurtures the soul of his wife, he is teaching his family and anyone else who may be exposed to his life that Christ is a self-sacrificial, longsuffering, kind and benevolent husband to his Church. On the other hand, a short-tempered husband, with his gruff and impatient attitude, is teaching something untrue about Christ; he is teaching that Christ is temperamental and impatient and explosive towards his Church. Just like there’s no way for a human to shake off the image of God, there’s no way for a marriage to shake off the image of the gospel, which is a weighty reality, to say the least.

This theological concept is important for every married couple to understand, but it is particularly important for the pastor and his wife to grasp this truth. Pastoral ministry is a public vocation, which means that the pastor is never not instructing. He teaches with his words in and out of the pulpit, and he teaches with his actions and demeanor and tone. Specifically, the way that he relates to his wife—whether he is sacrificially loving, humbly leading, diligently nurturing or not—will either confirm or contradict the gospel that he proclaims on Sunday morning. Conversely, the way that the pastor’s wife relates to her husband—whether she is joyfully submitted, affectionately encouraging, devotionally supporting or not—will either confirm or contradict the gospel that her husband proclaims. This is precisely why Paul gives particular attention to the status of a man’s marriage and family when he writes on the qualifications for pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9); a pastor’s marriage is more public than anyone else’s, and it is therefore crucial for a pastor’s marriage to accurately depict the gospel. This is especially true for the replanter, since his ministry is largely corrective in nature. He is coming in to a congregation that has misunderstood or misapplied sound biblical teaching or wisdom in some fashion, and his marriage will either validate or undermine the biblical direction he is trying to implement. This is one reason spousal perseverance is incredibly important for the replanter; the integrity and success of his ministry depends on it.

However, another reason—other than doctrinal consistency—can be given for stressing the importance spousal perseverance. In addition to its theological, gospel-displaying purposes, marriage serves very practical purposes. The first function of marriage we ever see in the Bible is in its giving Adam a helpmate to work the garden (Genesis 2:20-23). Work is a human endeavor; part of being an image-bearer of God means working and creating and subduing and beatifying in the same way that God does. When Adam was made as a working, image-bearer of God, he was in need of a helpmate to assist him in his work, and Eve was given to function in that role. So it’s good and it’s human to work, and it’s good and it’s human to work through marriage.

Now, a pastor’s work is hard. Harder still is a pastor-replanter’s work. And if it is a good for a working man to have a wife who helps and supports him in his work, it’s only reasonable to conclude that it is especiallyimportant for a replanter—who has uniquely challenging work—to have a wife who is committedly supportive and helpful. The work of a replanter is too demanding for a marriage in which the wife is apprehensive about the ministry; a replanter cannot be successful if his wife doesn’t love and cherish the church that her husband is sacrificially serving. She needs to believe that the replant is a worthwhile endeavor; that it’s worth the emotional strain and stress and sacrifice. This is not an optional characteristic. A replanter is a husband first and foremost, and if he doesn’t have the support of his wife in ministry, he will ruin his marriage for the sake of his ministry, and in doing so, he will ruin his ministry as well.

It should also be stressed that a replanter’s wife is faced with unique challenges of her own. It is not only the replanter who inherits outlandish and conflicting expectations from his new struggling congregation; his wife will also receive assumed responsibilities from her husband’s flock—many of which are not at all biblically justified. She will need to be a woman with perseverance and thick skin, because her husband can only keep so much gossip from her ears, and “our-last-pastor’s-wife” will fall like an anvil squarely on her insecurities. Not only this, but she will have to watch her husband work himself into the ground on behalf of a people who will repay his selflessness with backbiting and ingratitude. He will weep and stress and labor over his people, while they stubbornly question his decisions—the decisions that his wife will recall watching him deliberate over, face-down in desperate prayer through all hours of the night. In all of this, she will need to resist the continual temptation to resent the people who have been entrusted to her husband’s care. She will need to press on—coming alongside her husband and loving the church he has been called to serve. Perseverance must be the mark of the replanter’s wife. Without the essential characteristic of spousal perseverance, a man is simply not fit for the task of replanting.

Published July 21, 2016