Balancing Marriage and Ministry
By Stuart Briscoe
Jill and I spend most of our time these days working with Christian leaders in various parts of the world. We may be with the Quechua Indians high in the Andes, or the impoverished outcast Dalits in India, or the hardy men and women of Central Asia. While their cultures and circumstances differ widely they have a number of things in common. They love God, they want to serve His Son, they long to minister to His people, and – it may surprise you to know – they invariably want to know how to balance marriage and ministry. In this regard they differ not an iota from their brethren in the affluent and resource-rich West.
A True Balance is a Blend
Marriage, as all married people know, requires work even though few people say so before you embark on it! And ministry demands a grand expenditure of life and devotion. Everybody understands marriage and ministry take time and effort. But there are only so many hours in the day, and energy, like oil, is not a limitless resource. Hence the question about balance.
Turning to my trusty dictionary recently, I looked up “balance” and found it is “a state of equilibrium.” But “equilibrium,” I found, is “a state of rest or balance through equality of counteracting forces.” So apparently balance is equilibrium, but equilibrium is not balance! As this was not particularly helpful, I concentrated on the rest of the quote and “counteracting forces” leapt off the page. Now that bothered me! Does an attempt to balance marriage and ministry mean they are “counteracting forces?” Did God ordain marriage and ministry and call many of us to both knowing they counteract each other? I think not. But somehow we seem to have developed a mentality that at least suggests this may be what we believe. I have heard more than a few earnest and godly people talk about ministry “intruding” on marriages or marriages “suffering” because of ministry.
Now by chewing on the word “balance” I may finish up gagging. But let me make a suggestion. Would it be better to talk about “blending” marriage and ministry rather than balancing them? I well remember as a particularly irresponsible high school student experimenting with two chemical substances in the lab. Unfortunately, they proved to be highly volatile and they counteracted! As my face got in the way of their violent counteraction, my head was unceremoniously dumped into a sink full of alkali by my irate chemistry teacher! I’ve been wary of counteracting forces ever since. On a happier note, my kids recently introduced me to an unusual drink called a “smoothie.” I have not become addicted – but close! Smoothies, for the uninitiated, are created by placing highly compatible substances such as ice cream and fruit juice in a blender and mixing them furiously together, forming a delectable, refreshing libation. Blended!
The Compatibility of Marriage and Ministry
Let’s assume that marriage and ministry are compatible. They were both invented by God, motivated by love, and are expressed in service. For example, Paul’s admonition, “serve one another in love” is applicable to both marriage and ministry because it speaks to all dimensions of the life to which we have been called.
Having spoken to hundreds of couples about their marriages over the years, I have concluded that the biggest enemy of healthy marriages is “selfishness.” And selfishness is a chameleon. It shows up in a thousand guises and always brings destruction. The antidote to selfishness is serving in love!
So what do we have? Two totally compatible dimensions of life – marriage and ministry – that operate on the same principle of loving service and should therefore in no way conflict, compete, or counteract. They should blend. They may not need balancing.
But what does that mean? For a start, it means that I should view my marriage as a ministry in which I lovingly serve my wife and she reciprocates by regarding our marriage as an arena in which ministry takes place. I will not regard attending to my wife’s needs and desires as an intrusion into the “spiritual” side of my life of ministry. Being married to her means ministering to her! And she will not regard her marriage as off limits to ministry but will recognize its necessary, quiet, personal, and intimate moments as ministering to a minister “weary in well doing.” She will see the necessary public side of marriage as a blessed base of ministry activity.
If we adopt this approach, I doubt we will talk too much about balancing marriage and ministry. Blending sounds a whole lot better!