Pastor Thompson recently took time to talk about how pastors can maintain a strong marriage while dealing with the many demands of their vocation.
How do you find time to balance your own marriage and your duties as a pastor?
A lot of it comes down to priority. A common-sense concept pastors need to remember: Just because you’re a pastor doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to have the greatest marriage ever. It’s not a natural gift that comes along with the ordination papers.
A lot of people just assume the pastor and his wife are great, that everything is going to be fine. We need to see there are serious risks within pastoral ministry. We need to see the time demands that are upon us, (and) we better be setting strong boundaries to make sure we’re spending the appropriate amount of time with our spouse, with our children, and taking time off for ourselves to nourish our own souls.
Why is this so important?
What’s important to me is my relationship with God, and what comes next for me is my relationship with my wife. I understand I cannot be an effective pastor if I am not being an effective husband. It’s going to discredit so much of what I am doing, and so I have to pastor her first. I have to be married to her first before I’m even married to the church, and as I’m nourishing that relationship, my church is going to benefitfrom it.
Be willing to say, “Here are the priorities, and here’s what I’m going to live by,” and then explain it to leadership. Have other people who are going to stand up for you and say, “That’s who we want you to be, even if it comes at a cost to us on an individual night of some sort.” It takes a great deal of intention on a pastor’s part, but so often, pastors are so focused on everybody else’s problems, that we push our own responsibilities to the side, and we actually lose intention with our own family – even as we’re being intentional about other people’s families. We just can’t do that.
In which areas of marriage do you see most pastors struggling?
I think most pastors really do struggle with the time element of marriage. It depends on the season they’re in, but church can be so demanding. You’re giving of yourself continually, and if you’re not very careful, you will stop giving to your spouse.
The erosion that takes place is subtle. It begins with a friendship. The friendship begins to erode. You just don’t have the time to put into it. You’re not intentional about that time, and that begins to flow into the partnership. Now you’re not as connected from a friendship level, and you start releasing some of the responsibilities you’re supposed to take within the relationship. Maybe you’re not giving it the effort it needs to get, and then it begins to express itself in intimacy. The problem goes back to the friendship, but it expresses itself in the intimacy. That’s where (couples) need to be intentional. Whether that’s a date night on a regular basis, or an annual trip in which they’re getting away.
For (my wife) Jenny and me, the big thing for us is we just need to take walks together. Whenever we go for a walk, we’re away from kids, we’re away from responsibility, we’re getting exercise and we’re talking. For 45 minutes to an hour, we’re talking. When I don’t feel as connected to Jenny, I recognize it. We need to take a walk. What I’m really feeling in that moment is we haven’t spent time with each other, and if we can give each other that time, that’s valuable. It’s not just time when we’re talking about (the kids). We’re getting away from that and really connecting on a friendship kind of level, in much the same way you would if you’ve been away from your friend for a quite a while – the goodness of just having lunch with them, and reconnecting.
What other things do you do when you feel yourself slipping in the roles of friend, partner and lover?
A lot of this comes down to seasons of life. You need to know what season you’re in to know what the threats are. I can feel tangibly that were changing seasons of life. We’re going from having little kids to having two in Junior High, and the demands are different.
One thing Jenny and I do on a regular basis is annually, we take a vacation. We have a series of conversations of just how we are doing. How is our friendship? How is our partnership? How is our intimacy? Where do we need to strengthen, what do we need to change? Just that time together is a great thing that kind of rebuilds us and nourishes us.
There are other times when we’ll face a very specific issue that we can’t figure out on our own. Maybe we’ve read books about it. Maybe we’ve tried to solve it, and we just can’t figure it out, so we have a counselor that we’ll call. (We) will have an outside source look into us and say, “Here’s what you need to do different in some way.”
Any other advice you would give pastors struggling in certain aspects of their marriage?
If a couple came to you with a problem that you have, what advice would you give them? Follow that advice. We’re pretty good at giving advice to other people. We’re just really bad at running our own lives. We need to get the help we encourage other people to get.