The other day I was speaking to a church leader and his wife about their marriage. They were struggling and so were the six other couples that they had been friends with at theological college nearly a decade ago. Seven out of seven struggling clergy couples isn’t a good statistic.
So, what had gone wrong? Over the years they had been sacrificing their marriage to their ministry instead of ministering from a healthy marriage. As a result they are now feeling burnt out and disconnected from their spouse. What’s more no one in their churches were aware what was going on and how hard they were finding it at the moment.
That isn’t good news for them, their children (if they have them), their staff team or their church. When a leader’s marriage is suffering the ripples can be felt far and wide and if their marriage fails the impact can be devastating on many. Conversely a good marriage at the heart of a church can be a great source of strength and a positive role model for those in its wake.
I used to work for a couple in church leadership and if I ever suspected that their diary was getting too full and that they hadn’t left time for themselves – I would gently challenge them. I would ask them when their date night was that week and I would remind them that our jobs depended on their marriage!
So, if your church leaders are married, how can you best support their marriage? Here are five suggestions to get you started:
1. Pray for them. Pray for protection on their marriage. Perhaps if you are part of a prayer group or home group you could regularly pray for them together.
2. Release them. What are your expectations of your leaders and what about others in the congregation? Help them to know that you don’t expect them to be available 24/7. And help them to know that you don’t expect them to have the perfect relationship or to be the perfect parent. Leaders are more likely to feel like they can be vulnerable and ask for help if they don’t think that they are stuck on top of a pedestal.
3. Support them. Could you club together with some others and offer to help pay for a special date or a night away for them? Could you pay for them to go on a couple’s retreat, see a marriage coach or attend a marriage course?
4. Serve them. Could you and some others offer to baby-sit for them or invite their children on a play date so that they can take some time for themselves? Are there any household chores at their home or jobs at the church you could help with to help free up some time? Ask God to show you ways you could bless them.
5. Encourage them. Be supportive when they take time off, dare to be vulnerable or make their marriage a priority. Be quick to offer encouragement and praise and slow to criticise them or their family.