In 1973, I married my high school sweetheart. At the time, I was a college student and was in my third year of pastoral ministry.
Looking back at those days, I realize that I knew very little about ministry and even less about marriage. But as my bride and I embarked on a journey as partners in life and ministry, we were idealistic and in love.
When I see students today, the reality of how young Sandra and I were when we started out hits me. I told her that I felt I would one day be a preacher. Suddenly, it occurred to me that she might not have plans for a preacher in her future. But I rejoice that she willingly embraced God's plan for our lives.
Changes, Challenges, and Commitment
Though I love being a pastor, I will be the first to confess that ministry in the twenty-first century is very demanding. The cultural, social, and moral changes occurring in our world today are reflected in the pews of our churches on Sunday.
Therefore, the demands of ministry are always changing and increasing. Typically, the minister's wife feels the pressures of ministry even more than the minister. How she handles those pressures influences the minister profoundly. More than ever before I recognize the value of my relationship with my wife because, in a very real sense, as my marriage goes, so goes my ministry.
The greatest safeguard for my marriage is that Sandra and I made a lifelong commitment to each other. We knew that marriage in ministry had to meet a high standard and that it wasn't about us and our wants. It was ultimately about the Lord and His glory. So, we entered into our marriage with no exits. We were in to stay. This commitment forced us to find biblical solutions to our disagreements and misunderstandings.
Hopefully, some of the lessons I learned about marriage through these years of ministry will encourage and benefit others. Five of these lessons have been the most significant in my life.
Lesson 1: Respect the Uniqueness of Her Personality
Experiencing marriage and ministry together reveals the unique differences between husband and wife. I have learned that the uniqueness of Sandra's personality brings qualities into our home, our marriage, and our ministry that enhance and help. Psalm 139 gives a clear picture of God's creative work in our lives. He declares, "I will praise You because I am unique in remarkable ways" (v. 14). The passing of time has increased my appreciation for the fact that my wife is unique in remarkable ways. Her unique differences should cause celebration, not conflict.
Lesson 2: Avoid Unrealistic Expectations
One of the major causes of stress in a minister's life comes from the unrealistic expectations of the people he serves.
One of the greatest sources of stress in Sandra's life can be my unrealistic expectations of her. Although I don't intend my expectations to be unrealistic, I have learned that they sometimes are.
From the early days of our marriage, I have told the churches I served that Sandra is my wife and not the associate pastor. I tell them that the greatest contribution she can make to my ministry is to make me, our family, and our home her primary ministry. No church ever challenged me on this point. People seem to appreciate this stance.
Lesson 3: Have a Life Beyond Vocational Ministry
Ministers tend to be consumed by their ministries. At times, we strive harder for success in ministry than success in marriage. However, no minister is truly successful if he fails in his marriage.
Years ago, a church member asked Sandra if I ever talked about or did things that were not ministry related. Unfortunately, Sandra's answer convicted me. Fortunately, it revealed some things that I needed to change. I still remember the saintly lady's admonition to me to get a life beyond ministry. My wife needed to know that our marriage and our personal lives were important to me too. We both needed more balance, clearer priorities, and recreation and relationship in addition to the rigors of ministry.
Lesson 4: Simple Things Mean a Lot
It may be true that the average minister can do more than one thing at a time. However, I have learned that really listening to Sandra means looking at her while I listen. Eye contact is simple but very important. Listening is simple. Hugging is simple. Saying "thank you" is simple. Saying "I love you" is simple. Spending time together is simple. Thoughtful gestures, such as holding the door for her, are simple. Affectionate notes are simple. I have learned that simple things are important to my wife. Don't neglect the opportunity to express your love to your wife on ordinary days and in simple ways.
Lesson 5: Value Love and Loyalty
Over the past thirty years of my life, many people have come and gone. Some have moved. Some have died. We've moved away from some. But the person who has been constant in my life is my wife. She knows me at my best and my worst. She has been with me in the good times and the bad. When everyone else is gone, she remains at my side, loving me, caring for me, and supporting me. I have learned the value of her love and loyalty.
Someone once said that no man ever comes to the end of his life wishing he had spent more time at the office. But many a man has come to the end of his life wishing he had spent more time with his wife and children. In order to avoid such regrets, we must learn how to be better husbands and fathers.
Fellow minister, I pray that your marriage and mine will honor and glorify our dear Lord. Just as you strive for success in your ministry, may you also strive for success in your marriage. Be alert. Be a learner. Be an example to those you lead. Be the man God called you to be.
Reprinted with permission from LeaderLife, Fall 2004, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Roger D. Willmore is senior pastor of Deerfoot Baptist Church in Trussville, Alabama, and vice chairman of the Trustee Board of LifeWay Christian Resources. He also serves as minister at large of Stephen Olford Ministries International, Memphis, Tennessee.