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 be 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 even more 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 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 1, Building Harmony into Your Marriage

Couple in love holding hands - happy relationship

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?

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.

More Than Slightly Christian Novels

Smartphone with bookshelf - e-book library conceptAs a Christian fiction writer I read and review many Christian novels. I sample books by new writers and try to find books I can recommend. Some Christian are books poorly written and don’t seem ready for print. Perhaps worse, many Christian novels are well written but only slightly Christian.

I believe book reviews need to be honest, but also kind. Not all books appeal to all readers. If I really hate a book, I don’t write a review unless I feel the author has really crossed a line and readers need to be warned. Many of my reviews, however, contain this code: “slightly Christian.” That means the book may be well-written and entertaining, but has very little content that distinguishes it as Christian.

I think some Christian writers water down their message hoping to reach cross-over readers. But I believe Christian books ought to be distinctive from simply “clean reads.” Secular writers can give us clean reads.

I find few articles that address the issue of making Christian books distinctively Christian. Recently, however, I ran across an excellent article that really planted the stethoscope on the heart of the problem. Though Sarah Arthur probably writes from a less conservative perspective than I do, she makes some great points. She serves as a preliminary judge for annual book awards nominated by publishing houses. Her article, “I’m On the Lookout for the Next Great Christian Novel,” Sarah mentions seven ingredients she looks for in a Christian novel. Many have to do with writing technique, but other deal with concerns I’ve had in Christian publishing for some time.

Here are two great quotes from that article:

“Christian authors also seem to have a particular flair for painting darkness and sin vividly; but what they can’t seem to pull off is the reverse: a depiction of light and righteousness so compelling that we want nothing more than to be drawn in.”

“I rarely see in trade publishing what Christian publishing has the potential to do really well: paint light more compellingly than darkness, depict faith communities as a vital presence in the world, and point to Jesus as the source of transformation. If we as Christian authors and publishers can’t pull this off, who else will?”

These quotes highlight the need for what I call “distinctively Christian fiction.” I’ve written about this before, but today I want to list a few questions you can use to think through other books and write your own Christian books that depict light in a compelling way.

Is the darkness too dark?

Does sin look desirable or does it excite the reader in negative ways?

Is sin so graphic that it leads the reader’s mind to sinful thoughts?

Is the conflict so harsh that it depresses rather than uplifts?

Does the novel educate the reader in things that a Christian would be better off not knowing?

Does romance put the characters into morally dangerous situations or advance the physical side of love too quickly without showing the danger in this?

 

Is the light compelling?

Does the novel offer hope and encouragement?

Even Christian characters have flaws, but are some of the Christian characters kind, compassionate and Christ-like?

The Christian characters may struggle and grow, but do at least some of them show a reasonable level of Christian maturity?

If the story shows a Christian leader who is a negative role model, is it balanced that with other Christian leaders who demonstrate Christian maturity?

 

Is the Christian novel Christian?

Do the Christian characters relate to God in a deeper way than just a quick prayer or occasional church attendance?

Do the characters behave in ethical ways or suffer the consequences?

Does the novel condone lying, stealing, or other sinful behavior to accomplish a greater good?

Even though the plot may happen outside of church, can the reader tell that the Christian characters play or should play an active part in a church that preaches the gospel, features  sound Bible teaching and encourages Christ-like living?

 

So many Christian books deal with characters who witness deep depravity, are unsaved or are baby Christians. I read relatively few that deal with mature Christians. Believe it or not, mature Christians have problems too. Mature Christians need to confront issues and grow in Christ just like baby ones. I happen to believe some mature Christians might like to read about characters like themselves. That’s the kind of stories I write.

Sarah Arthur is on the lookout for the next great Christian novel. I’m on the lookout for likeminded Christian authors who hold their characters to a high standard of behaviour and still portray light in a compelling way. What books have you read lately that encourage your Christian walk in this way?

 

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas 2016! May you honor Christ this Christmas.

This song has been running through my head lately. It tells the story of Jesus’ birth to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s part of my Christmas program “How Lovely Are Your Branches,” which uses Christmas ornaments to tell the Christmas story of Jesus.

 

On the Very First Christmas

by Deb Brammer

 

  1. (Use tune for the first day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of–a Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the second day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of…

Candy Cane, Gold Ball, Bell, Light: …two loving parents*…

All: …for the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the third day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us how…

Seth: …shepherds* leave their flocks, then* they rush away…

All: … (to) see the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the fourth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of …

Angela and Tree Angel: …lots* of angels singing*, to* the shepherds bringing*, news on that day,

All: of the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the fifth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of…

Star: … (a) bright golden star, shining in the night, so very* bright, pointing out the way…

All: … to the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the sixth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us how…

Wesley: …wise men a‑travelling, give to the King, gifts to honor Him, and worship* Him. Then their gifts they lay,

All: at the feet of the Baby that day.

 

  1. (Use the tune for the twelfth day of Christmas.)

All: We can learn from the things that now decorate the tree.

Star and Wesley: (12) Wise men saw the star‑, (11) Then they travelled far‑,

Angela and Tree Angel: (10) Angels came from glory (9) to tell of the story.

Seth and Candy Cane: (8) Shepherds with their crook‑(7) came to have a look‑

Gold Ball: (6) Heaven’s streets I’m told are** (5) like** the ball of gold.

Bell: (4) Bells ring out the news.

Light: (3) You* and I* should choose* (2) to shine our light to day…

All: (1) for the Babe in the manger of hay.

 

Acting Christian at Christmas

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I felt disappointed and validated at the same time. This Christmas we dragged a manger scene out of our garage that we had made for a Christmas display in 2004. One neighbor said she liked it, but whoever lives in the second floor apartment across the street posted two signs in their windows. The hastily scrawled signs feataured upside-down crosses and the words, “Hail Satan.”

At least someone noticed.

The apartments in the building across the street from us are usually rented by people who need temporary housing. Often tenants have recently come to New Zealand from other countries like Korea, China and India.  My husband often meets the tenants while he cools down from running or works in the garden, but he doesn’t know the people in this particular apartment. They have as much right to display their “Hail Satan” sign as I do my manger scene; though I like to think our display brings more joy to the neighborhood than theirs.

I’m sad for these tenants to whom a Christmas display on private property can cause such animosity, but I’m glad it makes them think. We didn’t put our scene out to offend anyone, but we live in a free country and we don’t intend to quit displaying it before Christmas either.

In New Zealand we lack some of the antagonism toward Christmas that I’ve been reading about in the States. Our city posts a sign every year that reads, “Remember Christ at Christmas.” Though we have our share of people who don’t like Christian teaching, no one’s telling us not so say “Merry Christmas.” The YMCA hosts a large “Carols by Candlelight” program in the park each year with carols about both Santa and Jesus. Though it may not last many more years, many public schools still have teachers who come in and teach approved Bible lessons to all the students who don’t opt out. (I taught a class like this in 2014 and 2015.) But I fear we are not many years away from the same intolerance toward Christian observance that the US is currently facing.

Indonesians who attend our church tell us that, in Jakarta, the high Muslim population objects to any Christmas display, even Santa or a Christmas tree, on the grounds that Christmas is a religious holiday. Only in towns that have a high percentage of Christians are they allowed to put up Christmas decorations.

Today, even in countries like the US and New Zealand, Christians are forced to take a look at how they can celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Christ without deliberately causing offense. Perhaps you’ve seen the Christian movie, “Christmas with a Capital C.” It shows how Christians in a small Alaskan town react when their right to display a manger scene is challenged. First time through I was anxious to see how the movie treated the delicate subject. In the end I think the Christian characters got it about right.

When do we fight for our rights to display items related to the birth of Christ and when do we set aside our rights in order to be less offensive?

The answer to this question isn’t going to be the same for everyone. Circumstances and the leading of the Lord will mean we each need to blaze our own trail of response to these challenges. Whatever we do, I believe we need to be motivated by a sincere concern for unbelievers rather than a desire to push Christ in their faces and win arguments.  I believe we represent Christ best when we react with genuine love, kindness and goodwill toward people who are offended by Christ.

At the same time, maybe we need to work harder to exercise the freedom we have while we have it. The tiny bit of opposition we’ve had to our manger scene this year makes me think it’s worthwhile dragging it out of the garage every year.  A few might not like it, but to others who pass by, it’s a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Opposition speaks with a booming voice, but we should not let it silence our voice for Christ.

Unbelievers may put constraints on some of our Christmas celebrations, but they can’t steal our joy unless we let them. May your Christmas this year be filled with joy and kindness as you celebrate Christ’s birth with friends and family.