Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ministry priorities for husbands

"Tom" and "Terri" met in Bible school, got married, and a few years later went to a foreign country to tell people about Jesus.

Tom taught in a language school, led students to Christ, and sent them to church. The kids hated the church services, though, and it wasn't long before Tom found himself leading worship on Sundays. These students needed a place to worship God on the weekends, and learn more about Him.

So Tom was busy with his thriving ministry, but life wasn't so nice for Terri. Whereas Tom had grown up in this country as a missionary kid, Terri's parents were missionaries in a different country. She missed her family and friends back in the USA, she missed being able to talk to people at church (NOT her husband's church -- she'd never wanted to be a pastor's wife!); she missed the life she'd left behind. And because Tom was so busy with his job and ministry, she missed her husband, too. They had so much less time as a couple than they used to.

But Terri loved it that people were meeting Jesus, so she didn't want to say anything. Tom knew something was up, though, and eventually Terri told him what was going on. Then Tom did something that convinced me of his faith and his brilliance.

"I have to finish out the semester at the language school," he told Terri, "but I don't have to renew the contract. Why don't you go back home and stay with your mom for a few weeks; when the term is over, I'll pack our stuff up and move back, and we can find some way to serve the Lord back in the States."

We met Tom and Terri in Japan, some years after all this happened. You guessed it -- after a few weeks with her mother, Terri was ready to go back overseas and rejoin Tom. It's not that she got tired of her mother and brothers; she needed time away from the pressures of overseas life to think about what was really important to her. You can be sure Tom was praying hard during those weeks.

Sam and Sally's story

"Sam" was also very interested in ministry. His wife "Sally" was fully supportive when he started seminary studies.

The first year was okay, but classes got harder and Sam was spending more and more time at the library. He was rarely home for dinner. Sally and the children missed him, but Sam was obsessed: he didn't just want to do well -- he wanted to graduate at the top of his class! Sally was increasingly frustrated, but Sam convinced himself he was doing God's will.

Sam was, of course, only feeding his own ego. His professors had only a vague inkling that things weren't 100% OK, but no suspicion strong enough to affect Tom's grades.

It was much clearer to Sally and the kids -- Sam hadn't talked to the kids in weeks; they were asleep when he got home and not awake when he left, and he lost interest in sex. Sally started divorce proceedings, which culminated the day after Sam graduated at the top of his class.

Sure, Sally could have talked to Sam's professors or to the dean; she could have confided in some other wives and they could have ganged up on Sam. I'm not saying Sally was blameless here, only that Sam's bad behavior was a big factor in what happened to him.

But it's not usually so clear-cut

I was going to write about a couple of specific unresolved situations, but perhaps it's best to mention a few principles.
  • A woman takes big risks when she marries a man; a man may be called upon to make big sacrifices when he marries a woman, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25-30. If they attend a church where the building has stairs but no elevator nor ramps, and the wife becomes crippled one day through accident or disease, then the husband must be willing to attend another place of worship, so that they can go together. If the wife finds one day that she cannot stand their church, for a reasonable cause, the husband must be willing to worship elsewhere, as in the wheelchair case. (Assuming, of course, this doesn't happen time after time....)

  • A man's got to do what a man's got to do, to coin a phrase. Bible teachers tell us that Abraham erred by listening to Sarah (Genesis 16:1-2); he probably would have done well to consult the Lord first. Solomon's wives led him astray (1 Kings 11:3-6); he should have listened to God. So if a husband has ministry gifts and passions, if the Lord is calling him to something and his wife objects, he has to find a way to answer his calling in consideration of his wife. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 that when we get married our interests are divided. He's not saying that a man should ignore his wife, but as Piper wrote:
    Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.
    Suppose a man has a gift of using his hands and tools to help those in need of home repairs. When he repairs things or improves their function, as Eric Liddell supposedly said, he "feel[s] His pleasure."

    Terrific! But his wife wants him home for dinner. The husband therefore should work with his wife and decide how to exercise his gifts and answer his calling to ministry, while not neglecting his call to be her husband. Can he do some of this work after supper, or on Saturdays -- though that's less convenient for him? Is she willing to stay her objection one evening every other week? One evening a month?

I don't have this all wired myself

Is it presumptuous to say that I feel these essays are part of my calling? I started this one Friday, and it was on my mind when I woke up Saturday morning. But it was nearly midnight Sunday (almost Monday morning) before I spent any more time on it. You may not believe this, but I sometimes have disagreements with the lovely Carol on this very topic: how much time I spend writing! So we need to work this out.

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