Messy Ministry

Our first day of planting a church, Easter 1992. We met in a nearby school for services and our home for small group.

It’s the proverbial chicken or the egg conundrum—which comes first?

Messy marriage, therefore, messy ministry?

Or

Messy ministry, therefore, messy marriage?

Well, in my household, it’s been both/and. There were times when the messiness of my marriage made our ministry messier. And there were times when the messiness of our ministry made our marriage messier.

First, let me recount how our marriage made the ministry messier …

  • I can remember on more than one or two occasions when my husband and I got into an argument in the middle of a small group Bible study. Talk about making everyone feel awk-WARD! Yikes!
  • I can remember having to be ON and smiling bright when the doors of our house were opened, even if we had just gotten into an argument before the group meeting was to begin. Maybe that’s why we got into those arguments in the “middle” of Bible study. Ya think?!
  • I can remember how difficult it was for my husband to conduct any ministry business in his basement office since it just happened to be below the kitchen where our toddlers shouted, ran and rode happily above. You guessed it—more angles for arguments! UGH!

 Now for how the ministry may have made the marriage messier …

  • I can remember the stresses of barely scraping by on an uncertain and meager church planter’s salary.  Naturally, that gave us plenty of exciting, new topics to argue discuss when bill paying time came around.
  • I can remember the long and on-call hours that the fledgling church required. Boundaries, shm-oundries!
  • I can remember the resistance and generally bad attitudes that the church members often brought, and appeared to have bought, with their membership.
  • I can remember the pressures from those same church members expecting us to know how to do something God-sized with our little bit of seminary knowledge youthful hopefulness.
  • I can remember the back-biting and gossip that stung like a dagger in our hearts when our little church was rocked by difficult times and difficult attitudes.

Of course, I was reminded of those hard times (that, thankfully, are much better now in the ministries we enjoy today) when the anonymous writer spoke of her own messy marriage and ministry difficulties last week.

Ministry requires a lot of a couple—especially a young couple that’s just trying to figure out marriage much less ministry.

And let’s not forget that Satan wants to destroy anything of any power in the kingdom of God. (Eph. 6:12)

I say all this just so that those of you who are on the front lines and in the trenches of ministry—know that you are not crazy or weird or failures. And most importantly, you’re … not alone.

Would all of you join me today in thanking your ministers and their wives for all that they put up with and do? And also please make a point to pray for them as they battle the unceasing demands of being in a messy ministry and/or messy marriage.

The elders* who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” 1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV) 

*Elder – commonly understood to be the position of a pastor or pastoral role in a church.

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  • I’ve seen a lot of this firsthand in being in a little church. It’s a great reminder to encourage and build up our pastors and their wives. Great post!

  • Because one of my closet friends is a preacher’s wife, I can appreciate your plight 😉 I just love her stories, some as good as The Devil in Pew 7, which I’ve not yet read but can’t imagine being any less eventful. Have you written your pastor’s wife adventures yet?

  • Angie

    What an important reminder! The strands of our lives intertwine, and it’s important for all of us to remember that applies to our church leaders as well and to embrace their humanity – it only makes them better leaders!

  • Ro elliott

    yes…our lives are scrambled eggs…all mixed up together…we can’t separate them with walls…your honesty only makes you all better leaders where you are…blessings to you~

  • Beth, Thanks for this real-life look at the challenges and struggles you faced during your life in ministry. Know that, despite the inevitable setbacks, you and your husband have absolutely made a difference in people’s lives. I love that sticker: “Bringing people to Jesus, one heart at a time!”

  • Heather Copple

    Great post!

  • messymarriage

    Yeah, it’s interesting to do life from the pastoral side. I’m sure that other careers make marriage messy too, but there’s something about the overlap of church, life and marriage that’s extra difficult.

    Thanks for your kind words, Debra. And no, I haven’t written much about “my pastor’s wife adventures” for two reasons – to protect the identities of those I would write about and secondly, because I don’t want to veer too far from the mainstream issues of messy “marriage.” But thanks for asking!

  • messymarriage

    Yes, the word “intertwining” does describe it well, Angie. And I wholeheartedly agree that our difficulties have made us better leaders and better husband and wife too! 🙂 Thanks for coming by and encouraging me!

  • messymarriage

    Haha! I like that metaphor, Ro! It truly is scrambled “eggs” in ministry. Thanks for encouraging me regarding my honesty. Sometimes I question it–especially when it comes to the subject of “ministry.” I don’t want anyone to think that we viewed our parishioners as bad people. We were all learning, failing and trying to figure things out. Thank the Lord for his grace! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    That’s been our hope, Ann. Satan makes us question that we’ve made a difference for Christ–especially since we’ve had more than our share of failures along the way. But I keep reminding myself that failures help us to learn humility and … what to do right next time! 🙂 Can’t beat that! Thank you again for your continued encouragement and support!

  • messymarriage

    Thanks, Heather. I appreciate your continued support and encouragement. 🙂

  • JosephPote

    Yes, life does get rather messy, at times!

    Thank you, Beth, both for the transparency and for the reminder that some amount of messiness is normal…and even when beyond normal is still subject to God’s control and plan.

  • Megan_elzey

    Thank you for your vulnerability and for giving us a glimpse into a life that many, if not most, of us have not experienced. The story of my marriage, though quite painful for us, looks to be possibly leading us to a ministry all our own, and I cling very closely to Christ’s hand as we move forward.

  • OutnumberedMom

    Love your blog title — and the subtitle — real, raw, redemptive! This is a great post. My oldest son is a pastor, so I read with particular interest and a lot of prayer!

  • Our pastor just finished seminary, and at his graduation party, we were sure to congratulate his lovely wife as much as him. We are so blessed by this couple, and your blog post here in a reminder to keep letting them know how much they are valued and appreciated.

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much for your continued support and kindness, Joe. I am comforted in the thought that no messiness, even in ministry, is beyond God’s control and plan. Actually, I’ve lived to see that redemption in many ways. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    I’m excited to hear that, Megan! I will certainly pray for you about the calling that you and your husband are sensing. And thanks, as always, for your encouragement and support of Messy Marriage!

  • messymarriage

    Oh, wow! I think it’s even tougher to watch our children go into the ministry. My oldest just finished college but plans to go on to seminary and pursue full-time ministry thereafter. So I join you in prayers for both of our sons and all the young ministry couples and individuals out there!

  • messymarriage

    I’m so glad that you congratulated her too! Sometimes pastor’s wives get overlooked, but they are so essential to the ministry of any pastor. And there’s so much that they sacrifice in their lives for the church that no church member will ever understand or know. It’s great that you recognize that. And thanks also for stopping by to encourage me–just one among so many pastors wives out there! 🙂

  • Look at that beautiful, fresh-faced family! Life is messy, isn’t it? I’m so sorry for the hurt you all went through because of the messiness. And look how God is using it now. He uses it all. Yes, thanking Him with you.