Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Balance of Marriage and Ministry

Let's say you were to offer to get me a hot cup of coffee or an iced coffee.  To be honest, I would be quite content with either one.  I would not be any happier or any sadder with either.  But let's say someone I care about will be offended if I pick the hot coffee and someone else that I care about will be offended if I choose the iced coffee.  Well, now I have a problem.  Which person do I offend?  I guess it comes down to which person means more to me.

If you are a street evangelist, perhaps you have come across a dilemma.  I've been there and I have heard countless other evangelists express the same problem.  What is the problem?  How to keep their wives happy yet still do all the evangelism that they want to be able to do.  So often the question is asked, "How do I balance the two?"

I have prayed and thought a lot about this lately.  I pray my thoughts may be a help and encouragement to my fellow evangelists.  To get to the resolution, let me unpack this dilemma a bit.  First, let me ask a question.  Why evangelism?  I am not questioning the importance of evangelism.  What I mean is this - I have never seen anyone post on Facebook of Twitter their dilemma of balancing marriage and their prayer lives.  I have never heard anyone torn between their marriage and encouraging the brethren and all the more as we see the day approaching.  But didn't Jesus command us to share the Gospel?  Without question.  But doesn't He also command the other things, as well?

I am going to risk becoming an outcast among some evangelists.  But first, let me be clear.  For over two years, I have been a member of Steve Sanchez's Everyday Club.  Love it.  My desire to is to share the Gospel on a daily basis.  Sure, I may miss some days, but daily evangelism is my goal.  I love The Way of the Master, have attended the Ambassadors' Academy and look forward to being able to return next summer.  But, I have I am also a member of Evangelists Anonymous.  OK, so there isn't really such a group.  Basically, I was addicted to evangelism.  Listened to nothing but Ray Comfort messages.  Read nothing but evangelism books.  Had nothing but evangelist friends.  That does something to you.  Now, I want to be clear - I do not hold Ray or Living Waters responsible for what was happening in me.

Here is what begins to happen.  Evangelism becomes something you must do or you feel like you can't breathe.  No matter where you go or what you do, your top priority is evangelism.  That includes date night with your wife.  And, most wives, even good Christian wives, would actually like to have the attention of their husband while on a date.  The addicted evangelist, though, is looking around for someone to tract.  Family vacations are mini missions trips.  I am not against making evangelism a part of these things, but maybe you now what I am talking about.  It is not that evangelism is made a part of these family moments, but rather family moments are made a part of evangelism.  Needless to say, the wife is not always happy.

Now, certainly there are situations where the wife has an equal passion for evangelism.  In those situations, no problem.  The problem is the evangelist whose wife, while not opposed to her husband's evangelism, just wishes there could be a better balance.  And so the husband lives in a sort of depression.  He is jealous of the man with an evangelist wife.  He pouts on family outings and leaves his wife feeling like she is a burden to him or that she is holding him back.  And doesn't every wife enjoy feeling that way?  And so, the husband desperately seeks for a way to evangelize full-time and still be able to keep his wife happy.In the meantime, he desperately longs for his wife to change.  And she knows it.

This brings us back to the coffee dilemma.  Hot coffee or iced coffee?  Which shall we choose?  Mighty in evangelism or a strong marriage?  This is where it gets tricky.  Just like the coffee, it changed when I realized I will offend someone no matter what I pick, so it comes down to which person is more important.  Deep down, we make a false step at this point.  We make a separation.  We make the choice about being faithful to our spouse or being faithful to our God.  And there is no doubt that God comes first, so we must push ahead in evangelism for the sake of Christ and just let the wife learn to deal with it, right?  Wrong.

Notice where the thinking went wrong?  The evangelist pitted his wife against God.  He created a scenario where it was obedience to God against obedience to his wife.  That wording alone should shake us a bit.  How is it that marriage was removed from the category of obedience to God?  For some reason we make a distinction between marriage and ministry.  Because of this, many evangelists start to resent their wives for keeping them from serving God.  What they miss is the need to serve God in their marriage.  To see marriage as a ministry.

Let me pause and clarify something else.  I fully believe that every Christian is called to be involved in evangelism.  However, I do not believe that every Christian is necessarily called to stand outside of every large event that takes place in their city to share the Gospel.  Your wife may not have a problem with evangelism, or even street evangelism.  But she has a problem with that being a more important ministry to you than your ministry to your family.

Yes, there are 150,000 people who die every day.  Most of them enter eternity in hell.  And reaching them with the Gospel ought to be a daily burden upon us.  But, remember that you are not the only evangelist out there to reach them.  But you are the only husband of your wife.  You are the only father to your children.  Wouldn't it be sad to have spent your life trying to reach thousands for Christ, yet fail to reach the people who live in your own house?  To isolate the woman whom God commanded you to love as Christ loves the Church and gave up His life for?

Somehow most believers do not have an inner turmoil about balancing family and a prayer life.  There is no struggle with balancing family with Bible study.  What makes evangelism different?  Is it possible that an addiction has set in?  We look down upon a pastor who ends up divorced because his wife was neglected for the ministry.  Yet we seem to think it is OK to head down the very same path when it comes to evangelism.  I once heard someone say that God will never ask you to violate one command in order to keep another command.  He will not condone neglecting your family for the sake of obedience to the Great Commission.  In fact, if we are called to give ourselves up for our wives, I do not think the only option for peace is for her to get her act together and join you on the streets.

It can be exciting to be out there sharing the Gospel.  Wouldn't it be great to attend a Way of the Master class on a Wednesday night, go out witnessing every Friday night, then again most of Saturday followed up by doing some open air for a crowd heading to an NFL game on Sunday?  Of course, if you work 9-5 Monday through Friday, that leaves you a window Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for family.  But, that's right, that time is spent talking evangelism with people on Facebook, or debating some atheist in a chat room.

It seems to me that in the late 80's or so there was a huge push of saying that family comes before ministry.  That resulted in people always turning down ministry.  I'm not that's any better than neglecting family for "ministry."  It should all be seen as ministry, which presents the need for being disciplined.

There are a lot of things that I do to serve the Lord.  And I love every one of them.  Every one of them is important to me.  Every one of them does something for the Kingdom (at least I hope so).  Every one of them either builds up believers or reaches the lost.  However, I do not give equal time to all them.  I just can't.  And there are even more ministries that I wish I could be a part of, but just can't.  I have had to ask God to help me prioritize all of these ministries.  There are times when I have gotten out of balance in putting too much of myself into a ministry that should have more of a secondary role in my life.  And I feel it.  I live a busy life.  Sometimes I let myself get too busy and I feel it.  I don't think there is a formula for how much time should be given to certain things.  I can't say that as long as I spend a certain number of hours with family then they are OK with me spending a certain amount of time on the streets.

In almost 15 years as a pastor, I have learned the need to listen first of all to the Holy Spirit, but to also listen to the people.  There have been times that I have focused so much on evangelism that I start to neglect other pastoral responsibilities.  If I listen, the people will let me know when I have crossed that line and the Spirit will bear witness.  There are other times when I spend so much time in pastoral care duties that I neglect the ministry of the Word and prayer and the Spirit lets me know when I have crossed that line.

If you are struggling with the balance between marriage and evangelism, please begin first by realizing that it is not a dilemma between God and your wife.  They are both ministries done in obedience to God and for His glory.  Remember that there are other evangelists out there, but you are the only one entrusted by God to be husband to your wife and father to your children.  Be sensitive to them and their needs.  Does this mean that you have to ask your wife's permission before going out witnessing?  Well...yes.  She has a right to your time.  It is not asking for permission like a school child asking to use the bathroom.  But it does involve including her in your decision.  If she expresses a need to have you at home, don't pout, don't have an attitude, don't lecture her about your need to obey God.  The only thing that is changing is who you are ministering to.  Your wife is a blessing and a gift from God.  Being her husband is a ministry honor that you do not deserve.  Never let her feel like you view loving her as being anything but that.              

5 comments:

  1. Amen brother. Thank you for this article. This issue has been a burden for me lately, albeit in a slightly varied form. Yet, struggling to find "balance" has been paralyzing. God has blessed me with godly counsel, and this article is one more piece He is using to bring me back in line. God bless you my friend.

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  2. Praise the Lord. Blessings to you, as well!

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  3. Very well said. I think 1 Corinthians ch 7 speaks to this as well.

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  4. awesome brother thanks for sharing in such an honest Way... I believe God is using you to get this message out... .it's not an easy one to share or to receive but it is definitely true I believe it's God's heart...greater love hath no man than this... thank you god bless you and your family

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