Over the course of one year, my husband and I welcomed our first baby, adopted two children from Ukraine, and moved from Kentucky to South Carolina to plant a church. So after years of infertility, we suddenly had a 6-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy, an infant, and a new church plant to nurture!
It would have been easy to allow our marriage to take a back seat, but we knew we had to protect our relationship, or it would quickly succumb to all of the external pressures. Our situation is not unique. As a church planting couple in ministry to other church planting couples across the country, I’ve come up with a list of five essentials for church planting couples who want to not only plant a successful church but pursue a thriving marriage amid the strain of ministry.
- Create a church culture that values marriage.
Choose to honor your spouse in conversation with others. Seek your spouse’s feedback before adding anything (anything!) to your calendar, even when a quick “Yes” would be more convenient to the one asking (and you!). Value the marriages of others (especially fellow team members) by advocating for their family time, too.
Discuss the boundaries you are going to proactively put in place to protect your intimacy for each other and from any others! Some boundaries that my husband and I still uphold after decades in ministry together are that we never meet alone with (this includes riding in the car) a member of the opposite gender, we use accountability software on our devices, and we each have an accountability partner. Are boundaries convenient? Never. Are boundaries important? Always.
Draw clear lines around ministry hours. This isn’t just any other job, but it is a job. Decide ahead of time when you each will “clock out” and what times are purely for the family. Are you going to protect family dinner? Are you going to share school pick-up duties? Don’t forget to prioritize date night together and a personal Sabbath each week. Yes, emergencies happen, but consistent rhythms will buoy your marriage.
If you’re a church planting couple, you know by now that ministry never ends. There is always one more event to attend (or plan!), another hospital visit to make, a hurting individual in your church to counsel, or one last email to send. You will crumble beneath the pressure if you are not intentional. Be intentional about protecting your marriage and time together with your children as a family. Remember that you are modeling putting your marriage and family first and your ministry second to not only your children but also your church plant.
So, secure childcare. Go on the date night. Get away for a weekend. Make time together a priority throughout the week. My husband and I do all of the above and also prioritize planning a week-long trip together every year. We call this prepping for empty nesting! The church plant and the children won’t always be your responsibilities, but your marriage is for life.
- Consistency in Spiritual Growth
You are not just making disciples. You are disciples. Schedule into your day (every day!) consistent time alone with Jesus and consistent time with your spouse sharing what Jesus is doing in your life. Make sure that your personal time of study and prayer is not entirely wrapped up in studying for your next teaching.
As a church planting couple, pursue unity in your call to ministry. This can look like supporting each other as you minister to your new church plant and showing up for each other even when your roles differ … or seemingly contrast! This may mean going with your husband when he is a guest preacher at a different church or it may simply mean praying for your church plant together regularly.
These five essentials will not only help your marriage thrive, but will also contribute to the health of your church plant!