When Marriage Is Divided by Ministry

Of all the things that confirmed my call to church planting, nothing strengthened my conviction more than my wife’s affirmation. But she wasn’t always so convinced.

Up to my call, I’d lived nomadically. I was the chaplain of a college in India while my wife and I dated and the English service pastor of an Indian church in Houston while we were engaged. Six months into our marriage, I sensed a call to New York.

My wife was born and raised in Queens. She knew the challenges of living in the city and that most people don’t move to New York to settle down. Moreover, she’d heard about the rigors of church planting. Her hesitations were justified. After all, I didn’t know how to answer her concerns, and I didn’t have much of a plan either.

Was my desire to plant a church born from restlessness—one of many examples of my inability to find peace where I am? Was this part of an incessant craving for a new challenge, to achieve and become more, even if it was in Jesus’s name?

It was important for me to seek godly counsel about these difficult questions. But I’d never felt so compelled to do something that terrified me the way church planting did. I couldn’t escape it. For nearly two years, for the sake of our marriage, I begged God to either remove the desire or change my wife’s heart. In God’s incredible grace, he changed both of us.

Can seasons of marriage when spouses disagree, when each only sees in part, really be God’s plan? We rarely believe this in the moment. We see disagreement as an interruption, not as ministry preparation. But even when spouses don’t see eye to eye, God is sovereignly accomplishing his purpose, strengthening our faith, and positioning us for wonder.

Audacious Yet Fragile Faith

Leaders have audacious faith. We have the audacity to believe God will move people from death to life so a church is planted. We have the audacity to believe God will use our churches to transform cities and even birth global movements. This audacity-bordering-on-naivete is a necessary gift. It helps us cast a vision and call people to believe God with us.

Can seasons of marriage when spouses disagree, when each only sees in part, really be God’s plan?

At the same time, a leader’s faith is often fragile. Nothing exposes this more than our descent from determination to dejection when others don’t share our convictions. When those who know us best and are closest to us express doubts, frustration can emerge from the shell of our fractured faith.

“Don’t they trust us?” we impatiently ask. “Don’t they trust God?” We can dismiss their concerns as a lack of faith without seeing the cracks in our own.

But our faith does have cracks. What else could our frustration reveal but an unwillingness to trust the Lord? Isn’t this an opportunity to wait on him as he channels the rivers of the heart as he pleases (Prov. 21:1)? Couldn’t the God who inspired us also inspire others?

My wife’s doubts rang so loud to me that I didn’t hear the dissonance in my own faith. I stood there believing God would change a city but struggled to believe he’d change and unify two hearts.

Through Weakness and Wonder

It’s painful when marital unity eludes us. Even innocent disagreements can feel high-stakes. Underneath, we fear real and final division over our destiny and purpose. The anxiety that we’ll make a bad ministry decision turns into a fear we’ve married the wrong person. Resentment seems inevitable for the spouse who blinks first, and a peaceful way forward seems like nothing short of a miracle.

But the need for miracles in ministry should be no surprise. Honest pastors will tell you church planting is a miracle. It’s God’s work, not ours (1 Cor. 3:6). Events, circumstances, and relationships don’t come together by our own genius. The work is a wonder.

In every ministry, God calls us to carry gospel treasure in clay jars so it’s clear the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Cor. 4:7). In other words, our path is paved with both weakness and wonder. Weakness when we experience trials and learn our limits and our desperation. Wonder as God sees us through with his astonishing power.

What does this mean for couples in ministry? We ought to anticipate miracles, and the first one may be marital unity.

Planting Yet Gaining Nothing

The Lord disarmed my wife and me by drawing our eyes to his faithfulness. He led us to admit ways we’d let ambition and comfort blur our vision. There wasn’t a specific moment when everything perfectly aligned, but over time, our hearts grew warm to God and one another. He used our struggle for unity to develop dependence upon him and patience with one another.

He used our struggle for unity to develop dependence upon him and patience with one another.

You may know intellectually that Jesus builds his church. It’s what emboldened you to embark on a ministry journey in the first place. But if your marriage is divided by ministry, your conviction that Jesus builds his church will be evidenced in the way you wait for each other.

This doesn’t mean you won’t need hard conversations, godly counsel, and compromise. But it does mean that because of your confidence in Christ’s power to change hearts, you can approach disagreement with a posture of patience, trust, and love. Wonder awaits couples who patiently seek God’s face together, trusting he will use seasons of division, no matter what is decided, for his glory.

Source: When Marriage Is Divided by Ministry (thegospelcoalition.org)

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