When Covid’s Not Over Yet

A year ago I wrote a blog about the Unprecedented Opportunities that we have during the Covid-19 pandemic. I listed 6 Christian qualities that model Christ-like living and give us a special way to shine our light into a dark world troubled by Covid. If you missed that blog, you can read it here.

A year ago, most of us probably thought, a year later, the Covid problem would be largely under control. That life would be normal again. Sometimes in some places it may seem like normal, but the Delta variant is reviving the virus in new ways. Some places around the world are struggling more now than ever before. Now pandemic fatigue sets in and we’re sick of it all. Sometimes it affects our ministry.

So how are you doing? Are you managing the extra layer of stress Covid-19 adds to life in general? Are you weary of the divisive issues Covid brings to church, school, and friendships in general? Is the gloomy news about the Delta variant dominating your life?

My husband and I recently traveled from New Zealand to the USA to observe a memorial service for his mother who died in May. It was a special time to celebrate the heritage she left us by serving God faithfully for many decades.  We were also able to spend time with much of our extended family. But Covid did set many obstacles in our path and add that extra layer of stress to our travels.

Covid made every aspect of travel more challenging, but God brought us through these obstacles.

  • Finding someone from within New Zealand who could fill in for our ministry when replacements from other countries weren’t allowed in
  • Getting airline tickets that matched managed isolation vouchers
  • Getting both Covid vaccinations before we left
  • Paying for extra expenses incurred because of Covid
  • Booking a flight home to Invercargill after 2 weeks of managed isolation during a level 4 lockdown

We left an island country the size of Colorado that had experienced many months with zero community transmission. From there we went to the States where states of similar size presented about 500 new cases a day. Believe it or not, living in a country with very little Covid produces a special kind of challenge. From the beginning of Covid, New Zealand sealed off its borders and was able to catch incoming cases before they spread to the community. While we were in managed isolation for 14 days after our trip, however, Covid entered the community and spiked with, at some points, over 80 new cases a day. Suddenly Auckland was in level 4 lock down, and the rest of New Zealand was in level 3.

As I landed in New Zealand I had to reset my body clock from Central Daylight Time to New Zealand Standard Time. And my body calendar from hot summer to cool winter.  And my almost-normal New Zealand life to very restricted New Zealand life. Now we’ve entered level 2 and can have church again, with less than 50 people, face masks recommended, and 2-meter social distancing.

Sigh.

Covid isn’t over yet. In fact with the Delta variant, it’s breathing new life … or death … depending on how you look at it.

Last year I talked about Unprecedented Opportunities Covid brings us in ministry. Now I want to talk about how to handle the complexities of pandemic fatigue. Since God has allowed Covid into our communities, how can we manage the issues it brings to our ministry?

Prepare to deal with Covid’s extra layer of stress.

You’ve all heard about the two shoe salesmen who heard about a country where people didn’t wear shoes. The pessimist says, “I don’t want to go there. If people don’t wear shoes, no one would buy any.” The optimist says, “I must go to that country. No one has shoes so the market’s wide open!”

 Ministry during Covid is kind of like that. As New Zealanders say, “I’m so over Covid!” I’ve worn my mask, and social distanced, and scanned my QR code (something they’ve evidently not done in the States.) I’ve even had that nasty Covid swab stuck up my nose.

So if God has called you to a ministry in a country in which people are “so over” Covid, what can you do? Like the optimist you can say, “Wow. Everyone is discouraged, stressed, and impatient. What a great place to spread encouragement!”

My last trip to the supermarket was one of those days. It rained, hailed, blew. I had to figure out how to adjust my mask for a more comfortablefit. I had to wait in a short line to get in, and then do the “distance dance,” trying to get my cart without getting too close to anyone. I was trying to figure out how to work the QR code we’d just downloaded on my cell phone. When it didn’t work, I had to fill out a card for contact tracing. I sanitized my hands, pushed my cart into the store, and then realized I’d forgotten my bags. (In New Zealand you have to bring your own bags to the store or pay for theirs.)

You’ve been there before. We all have. I try to remind myself that everyone around me is facing similar struggles. For some of them, Covid has cost them their business. They’ve worried about sick family members or not been able to attend a funeral of a loved one. I’ve only been inconvenienced by it.

How can we encourage others during a stressful shopping trip or everyday life?

  • When wearing a mask, make eye contact with people and smile with our eyes.
  • Be extra patient with workers when it takes extra time and effort to do their jobs.
  • Speak a few cheery words even when we don’t have to say anything.

 Don’t allow Covid to dominate your life.

We need to have some idea of what’s going on with Covid, but some of us need to know the details more than others. Don’t let the news dominate your life or weigh you down. Here are some ways to keep that from happening:

  • If Covid news upsets you, don’t listen to it.
  • If you listen to it, don’t dwell on it all day.
  • Allow extra time and energy to deal with the extra level of stress Covid brings.
  • Make the necessary changes you need to make, but don’t let it dominate other areas of your life.
  • Choose music, books or movies that edify. Pass over ones that depress you.
  • Don’t let your viewpoint affect your disposition.

Don’t let Covid’s divisive issues divide your church.

 Covid is a real threat vs Covid is a giant hoax. Mask vs no mask. Vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers. These issues are polarizing people today. Even Christians. Even churches. And that saddens me. Of course, my opinions make perfect sense to me. Except for eating and drinking, on my recent trip back to New Zealand, I wore a mask for 30 hours straight. And it didn’t hurt me. I could ask, “Even if people don’t see Covid as a serious threat, would it hurt them to wear a mask to make others more safe?” But some would even resent me for asking that question.

Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. People have their reasons and I have mine. But I don’t have to make it an issue.  I can respect the feelings of others even if they differ from mine. I can scroll past Facebook posts that might upset me or hurt a friendship. I can simply listen to a conversation and not share my opinion. I’ve been in ministry for 43 years now and I’ve learned one thing: I don’t have to weigh in on every issue.

Though our viewpoints may seem important to us, let’s not let it divide our churches. These are not moral issues and shouldn’t become church issues.

As people in ministry, we don’t try to control every conversation we take part in, but that doesn’t tie our hands. What can we do when someone brings up a Covid issue that is moving in a negative direction to the point of discouraging others and maybe even causing division?

  • Acknowledge that Covid has brought real hardship to some people.
  • Recognize that these are sensitive issues with good people on both sides.
  • Before the conversation becomes demoralizing, nudge the conversation in a more positive direction or even change the subject.

Can I do that? Just change the subject because I don’t want to talk about it? Isn’t that rude? I wondered that a few years ago, but I’m changing my viewpoint. Maybe you’ve been in a conversation that goes on and on past the time that everyone has expressed his or her sentiments and are beginning to repeat them. Maybe you’ve even had this exact conversation before and it never turns out well. Once in a while I just step into the conversation and change the subject, gracefully or not. I find that people generally don’t mind, even if they know what I’m doing, and some appreciate it.

As people in ministry, we can lead the church even in casual conversation. We can set the tone and help the church to be a positive place. People have problems and we need to come alongside to listen and encourage. Church meetings, however, should be a place of blessing, not constant complaint and discouragement. The pastor can preach an uplifting sermon, but any of us can work behind the scenes to encourage each other individually.

We are the church. We’re supposed the help each other and make our meetings a healthy place for our church family to meet, fellowship, and feel encouraged. Even during Covid. Especially during Covid.

 Listen to the inspiring song, “We Are Your Church.”

Get the free printable download of the song,We Are Your Church.

Ministry Marriages, Part Four: Managing Your Finances

 

Picture an orchestra playing a magnificent symphony. All the different instruments make their entrance and play their respective parts. At the end, all come together in a swelling crescendo that moves the emotions and stirs the heart. It leaves you with an unforgettable feeling you can’t explain. You remember that high note that the flute hit perfectly or the rumbling of the bass. You don’t think about the mechanical bits like how many beats there were to a measure or what key the piece was in. Those mechanical bits aren’t even noticeable when the piece is played right, but if one player is playing to a different time or in a different key, the symphony is far from pleasant.

Finances are one of the mundane parts of marriage that no one likes to talk about. When they’re in order, your marriage can move on to more interesting pursuits. When there is dissension or unwise choices in this area, however, the marriage suffers in other ways.

Art and I are so blessed to have come from similar family backgrounds. Both of us were raised in Christian homes by parents who were faithful, fun, and frugal. That gives us similar ideas about finances and how to spend them. Handling finances can be a big problem, however. They lead to the breakup of many marriages. Even ministry marriages struggle with this.

Here again, balance is a key word in dealing with finances. Couples who spend more than they make get in huge financial trouble. But couples who are so frugal that they don’t provide for the needs of their families also have problems.

Living within a Budget

Somehow couples need to agree on how much they can spend and what to spend it on. They need to look ahead and prepare for emergencies that could come up. During certain times in their lives they might need to be extremely frugal. Seminary students with families often have to pinch every penny in order to get by. They may have to do very careful shopping at the grocery store and buy necessities second hand. Hopefully the situation will ease with time.

When you are on a very tight budget with no choice about it, you will have to work hard to stay contented. Everyone around you may seem to have more money than you have, but you must be happy with less. Wanting more than you can have will make your marriage unhappy and may push you to make unwise choices.

Hopefully you will come to a time when, even though you may have to be careful, you will have a little more freedom to make choices. Both husband and wife should have some freedom to use money for things they choose. A husband should be able to trust his wife to spend money freely within the guidelines that have agreed to. Part of being an adult should be having freedom to make financial choices.

Very often God puts a frugal person with someone who spends more freely so that they can balance each other out. If the money just isn’t there, obviously, you can’t spend it, but we can be too frugal as well.

I have seen ministry marriages in which the wife and family lived in unnecessarily harsh conditions, without enough heat in the house or without proper food. Sometimes the family never takes a vacation or goes fun places together. In some cases the wife has to account for every penny she spends and can spend little to no money on things she enjoys.  This puts a strain on the marriage. Many marriages go through hard financial times, but I believe, if at all possible, a wife and family ought to be able to enjoy reasonable comfort and some fun things and activities.

Kids will also be less likely to resent the ministry if they don’t feel poor. Most ministry families have to be careful with their spending and may have less “things” than families around them. But when children grow up and they feel like they never had nice things growing up, that their Christmases and birthdays were pathetic compared to their friends, they may resent that. Giving them a few nice things that they really want and that give them good memories may really help their perception of the ministry. And a wife who feels she can’t give nice things to her kids won’t be happy either.

On the other hand, I know marriages that failed largely due to wives who spent money too fast on things they didn’t really need. If you find yourself shopping for fun and buying more than you need, think about whether or not you can afford to do that or if you need to stop.

Marriages will be stronger if both husband and wife:

  • agree to financial guidelines,
  • live within their budget or guidelines,
  • have freedom to make choices, and
  • work to be content with the standard of living they can afford.

I hope you have found this series on ministry marriages helpful.  If you and your spouse are in ministry, what have you found most difficult?

 

Ministry Marriages, Part Three: Nurturing Your Relationship

 

It’s easy to get so busy in the ministry that you neglect your marriage relationship, but that relationship is foundational to your ministry. A man may be a powerful preacher or able administrator, but if his marriage relationship is in chaos, his ministry will be greatly hampered. Harmony in the relationship is key to a harmonious ministry.

Remember when you were first “in love”? When he looked at you, you felt like a beauty queen.  When she looked at you, you felt like lightning was coursing through your body. After several years of marriage you begin to understand that a lot of that physical attraction is just hormones. Yes, a good sexual relationship will help a marriage and protect it from outside attack, but there’s got to be more to a relationship that that. In time libido will wane, and then what will you have left?

Art and I have been married more than forty years. More and more I see that the biggest hunk of marital love is  friendship and companionship.  You may change ministries. You may move away from family. But a marriage should last a lifetime. If your marriage relationship is weak, your ministry will suffer too. So how can you protect and nurture your marriage relationship?

Trust

Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her.” (NKJV)

Your marriage partner should be able to completely trust you and you should be able to trust him. That means you don’t sneak around behind his back and do things you know he wouldn’t approve of. You make decisions that fit with agreements you have already made. You don’t undermine his authority. You know her well enough to know what she’ll like or won’t like and try to please her. You honor joint agreements. You know what your spouse wants to be consulted on and when he doesn’t mind if you make decisions for him and you honor that.

If you can’t trust your marriage partner totally or you can’t be trusted, your relationship will suffer greatly.

Consideration

Art often quotes 1 Peter 3:7 to married men. “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them (your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (NKJV)

That means a husband needs to consider the needs and desires of his wife. When he makes decisions he needs to consider what’s best for his wife and delight in making her happy. His decision shouldn’t run over her needs.

At the same time a wife needs to consider her husband, how to help him and make him happy.

Simple kindness and consideration for each other is a big part of what makes a marriage relationship strong.

One thing I love about Art is the fact that he takes care of my silly but precious things like dolls, teddy bears, or collectables. If they are important to me, they’re important to him.

Friendship

Your marriage partner should be your best friend for life. That means you need to nurture that friendship. You may have separate interests that you like to pursue, and that is healthy, but you should also have things you like to do together.

What do you like to talk about? Are those things encouraging to you, or do they discourage? Can you read or view something together that gives you more to talk about? Is one person doing most of the talking and the other mainly listening? Encourage each other to share the things that mean a lot to you. Thank each other for sharing even when you don’t agree. Instead of censuring your partner, listen to understand his or her viewpoint.

Develop common interests. You may encourage each other in private pursuits, but you should also have things you enjoy doing together. After a while boredom may step in, so consider breaking the mold and beginning a new joint venture.

Art has always been a fast distance runner. He picks up any sport naturally and well. I’m hopeless at sports but love creative crafts and writing. We’ve each pursued our own interests, but we also learn from the other. I understand more about sports than I used to. Art will sometimes talk about writing issues. But we both like to rummage around garage sales and second hand stores. Sure, our house gets full of silly collectables sometimes and we have to restrain ourselves or recycle things we have previously loved. But looking for bargains brings us closer together. I don’t know just why.

Of course, we both love to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef as well. (Who wouldn’t?)

Life is busy for everyone these days. Follow a diet. Spend time with your kids. Increase your skills. Keep up with social networks. Excel at your job. But in your busyness, don’t neglect your marriage relationship or it will affect your ministry and almost every area of your life.

Part Four will discuss managing your finances.

Ministry Marriages, Part Two: Working as a Team

 

In my last blog I began talking about ministry marriages and how to nurture them.  A couple can have a much more effective ministry by working together as a team than by each going their separate ways. Building that harmony into a marriage isn’t always easy, but good harmony will bless everyone around them.

Scripture pictures marriage as being like two oxen yoked together. The man and wife should be moving in the same direction at the same pace for the same purpose. This need for unity is especially important in a ministry marriage. If a couple is not united in purpose and are going separate directions, their ministry will suffer.

Have you ever met a passionate, gifted pastor with a wife who wished she could be someplace else? Doesn’t work very well, does it? Or maybe you’ve met a woman who longed to be in ministry and was trying to drag her husband along with her. God doesn’t lead a couple together and then give them mutually exclusive ministries.

Wives can help their husbands by supporting their ministries and working alongside them to see those ministries thrive. Husbands can help their wives by recognizing their gifts and encouraging them to use them.

More than forty years ago Art Brammer felt the Lord calling him to a missions ministry in Taiwan. He was training for ministry at Faith Baptist Bible College. I was attending the same college, eager to be involved in ministry and searching for God’s will. Two weeks after we started dating, Art told me about his desire to be a missionary to Taiwan and wondered if I would be open to the possibility. I told him I felt God was leading me to write for Christian publication, but I was also open to missions. The Lord led us together in marriage, then to Taiwan for sixteen years, then on to New Zealand in 1998.

Unity of purpose has helped us to work well together in various times of ministry. We both cared about the same people and ministries, though we had different jobs within those ministries.

Here are some ways I support Art in his ministry:

  1. Support and encourage his teaching ministry and ideas, both privately and publicly.
  2. Give feedback in a positive way. At times Art says something from the pulpit that comes out sounding like he means something different than I know he does. At times like that I mention it to him in private and allow him to correct it as he sees fit. I also try to get a sense of how people are responding to various ideas or events in the church and communicate that to him privately. Are we having enough or too many fellowship nights? Are people ready to make various changes? Who might be ready to fill a certain church office? Is a church member struggling with something?
  3. Offer suggestions for programs or events in the church. Art is a great plodder. He never grows weary of studying and he prepares well for all of his teaching and preaching times throughout the week. It’s easier for me, however, to come up with ideas for outreaches, programs, and events in our church. When I think of a new idea I run it past him. Sometimes these ideas don’t fly, but often, in talking about the idea, we come up with something that works well. Art doesn’t resent my ideas. He welcomes them, though he doesn’t use all of them.
  4. Complement his ministry with my ministry. I teach, plan, play the piano, lead programs, and do what I can do to help our team ministry prosper.

But Art also supports me in my ministry.

  1. He recognizes my gifts and encourages me to use them.

Yes, he’s happy for me to use my gifts in our church-planting ministry, but throughout all these years he has also encouraged me to write for Christian publication. This takes time, energy, sometimes finances, which I have to carve out of my life in addition to church ministry. He encourages me to do this because he wants me to be happy and because he recognizes the Lord leading me to do these things.

  1. He gives me feedback about my church ministry and my writing ministry. He gives suggestions and help. He’s my first editor.
  2. He helps me in areas of need. He works through computer problems and handles my writing finances. He encourages me to go to writing conferences when I can, and order helpful books or resources. When I plan events at church he’s the first to help me set up or clean up. When I plan a book launch he’s the quiet helper who makes everything work.

When a husband and wife work together in accordance with God’s will, ministry becomes more effective and rewarding. The hard times become more bearable. Without that unity of purpose, however, the ministry suffers and the marriage does too. Even when a couple is serving in separate ministries, they can support each other in a way that makes them stronger in each individual ministry.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (NKJV)

In Part Three I’ll talk about nurturing your relationship.

Ministry Marriages Part One, Building Harmony into Your Marriage

 

How can couples in ministry protect and nurture their marriages toward more love and unity? I’m no marriage expert but my husband and I have worked in harmony in ministry  for over 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 blogs 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?

Our marriage

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.