Recently a reader asked: How can couples in ministry protect and nurture their marriages toward more love and unity? It’s a good question, and one we should probably ask more often. I’m no marriage expert but my husband and I have worked in harmony in ministry for nearly forty years. During that time we’ve grieved as we’ve seen some couples in ministry break up or struggle in their relationship while others draw great strength and encouragement from their marriages.
When a couple works together in harmony, each doing his or her own part in a way that blends with the other, the result is a beautiful ministry. Like a symphony, their marriage blend blesses the couple first of all, and then the people they minister to. On the other hand, when the couple fight each other and go in separate directions, the result is a clashing cacophony.
In a marriage, what makes the difference between that beautiful symphony and the clashing cacophony?
In the next few weeks I’m going to share my thoughts on marriage based on Scripture and what I’ve observed through the years.
Part One: Making Decisions
Submission and individual freedom need to be balanced or the marriage will suffer. Either extreme will affect the harmony of the marriage.
Suzy works hard to be a submissive wife. Sam speaks with authority and Suzy obeys. She hardly makes any decisions without consulting Sam first. Once he speaks on a subject, she follows his desires without question. If she disagrees with his decision, she prays that God will give her a submissive heart. She may not enjoy doing what Sam says, but she feels responsible before God to obey him. If Sam makes unwise decisions, she figures he is responsible to God for them. She leaves herself in God’s hands, satisfied that she has done her part and must leave the result to God. In their church ministry Sam writes Suzy’s job description and she fills it. She never disagrees with her husband in public. When people ask Suzy for advice she refers them to Sam and she doesn’t answers questions without consulting him first. She never offers or accepts invitations or makes plans without consulting Sam first.
Edward and Enid, on the other hand, believe in perfect equality in a marriage. Edward makes his decisions; Enid makes hers. They negotiate to make joint decisions come out 50/50. He doesn’t tell Enid how to live and she doesn’t nag him. Edward makes jokes at her expense from the pulpit. She publicly criticizes him. In conversations they often correct each other or argue over who is right. Neither one can offer or accept invitations without consulting the other. Each speaks for himself or herself, but will not answer for each other.
These two couples show two extreme views of submission and individual freedom. Suzy takes submission to such an extreme that she doesn’t even need to think for herself. Sam, on the other hand, misses out on a lot of help Suzy could give. Enid works so hard to be equal that she loses some of the benefits of marriage, while Edward’s ministry would profit from her support.
Scripture does talk about submission, but an extreme view of it can destroy a marriage.
Ephesians 5 teaches us that wives need to be submissive to their husbands, but that we all need to submit to one another. A husband should love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church. 1 Peter 3 also admonishes wives to be submissive to their husbands and husbands to live with their wives with understanding, giving honor to them. It calls husbands and wives “heirs together of the grace of life.”
So who gets to make the decisions?
The husband, as head of the house, is responsible for final decisions on major issues. He should lovingly lead his family in spiritual issues as well as more mundane matters.
A Christian wife, however, brings her own unique gifts and abilities to the table. She can also be led by the Holy Spirit and should be capable of making wise decisions. A Christian husband can and should be able to learn from his wife.
A couple should work together in an open and trusting relationship in which each works for the good of the other. Marriage can add a vitamin boost of energy to your ministry or it can drain all the nutrients and make your ministry anemic.
Each couple needs to work out the way they will implement these principles. Both need to give and take. Both need to recognize the strengths of the other. Who will make what decisions? What will they do when they disagree? How will they work out differences?
Art and I compartmentalize many decisions. He decides car issues and many house maintenance and lawn issues. I get to rule the kitchen. I make suggestions about our ministry. He sifts them and implements many of them. He decides what computer to buy. I purchase clothing and small home purchases. He drives, I ride.
Many other things we talk about until we come to an agreement. Sometimes a decision is more important to one of us than the other. The one who cares least allows the other one to decide. Sometimes one of us gives in because it doesn’t seem that important. Art’s a gentleman and wants to make me happy so that helps a lot. It’s rare that both of us feel really strongly about a decision and take opposite sides. Rarely I might need to give in, even though I disagree, simply because he’s the husband and I leave it to him.
We did have one issue on which we didn’t agree. When it came up it really upset me and robbed me of any kind of peace. We had agreed that neither one of us would use money for this purpose unless we both agreed on it. The issue surfaced at unpredictable times and always left me feeling unsettled. Finally I said, “Take x amount of dollars a year to use for that cause and I’ll leave you alone about it. I don’t want to hear about it or talk about it. Just use the money to do what you feel you need to.” In that unusual situation, that was the best way to make peace.
A balanced view of submission and individual freedom will reflect these Biblical principles:
The husband is the loving leader of the home.
- Each person brings gifts and skills to the table. Each will be better qualified to make certain decisions.
- Each person needs to have freedom to make many decisions by themselves.
- Each person should consider the feelings and needs of the other when making decisions.
- Each person should trust each other and be trustworthy.
- Each person should be giving and taking. No one should get his or her way most of the time while running over the feelings and desires of the other.
In Part Two I’ll discuss working as a team.