Putting Your Spouse Above Ministry

Special thanks to Dr. Kim Kimberling, counselor and founder of Awesome Marriage, for this blog post. Find free resources from Awesome Marriage, an Open Network partner, at open.life.church/partners/awesome-marriage.

Thirty years ago, I wandered into a workshop led by Josh McDowell, and 12 words changed the way I looked at ministry forever.

“Never forget that your first ministry is your spouse and your family.”

I had only been in ministry as a Christian counselor for about three years, but I knew this powerful statement could radically change marriages.

The statement made total sense, but I had never seen this modeled by anyone I knew in ministry.

God embedded those words in my heart, and now I freely share them with couples in ministry. Here’s what I’ve seen in over 30 years of counseling.

When people practice the principle of “spouse and family first,” I’ve seen their marriages, families and ministries thrive.

On the other hand, I’ve seen good, well-meaning men and women put ministry first and lose everything. My prayer is that you’d be in that first group, so your marriage, family, and ministry are everything God designed them to be.

How to Put Your Spouse Above Ministry

I’m often asked by pastors, “How do I put my spouse above ministry?”

The first step is making the commitment to do things God’s way.

We know He is our first priority and our marriage our second, but this is where I think we can get into trouble. We put our ministry in the “God first” category, but I can’t find anything in Scripture that justifies this.

Below are a few suggestions I give to couples in ministry so they can keep their marriages where God has placed them.

  • Spend quality time together. Quality time with your spouse is anything you do that connects the two of you. Nothing takes the place of intentional quality time. Talk, take a walk, have fun, be intimate, or just sit together outside enjoying God’s creation. Here’s the tough part: you need this with your spouse every day! It can be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or longer. Just be sure to carve it into your day and hold it sacred.
  • Have consistent date nights. I know you have heard this before, but my experience is that very few couples in ministry have consistent date nights. I know it takes time. I know it takes money. I know it takes effort. Just figure out a way to make it happen. Ideally, it should be weekly, but at minimum, have a date night once every two weeks.
  • Set healthy boundaries. This is essential. I repeat, boundaries are a must. Here are some things that need boundaries:
    • Leave your work at work. Home should be where you relax and recharge. Your ministry and your marriage will be better if you do this.
    • Never be alone with the opposite sex. Never. That means lunch, dinner, counseling, etc.
    • If it is your day off, it is your day off. You are modeling for those you lead. Make it clear that unless there is a valid emergency (which you will need to define), the situation can wait until the next working day.
  • Connect your spouse to your ministry. If your spouse is not a regular part of your ministry, make sure they feel they are a part of it. The more they feel connected, the more they can be supportive. Here are some ways to include your spouse:
    • Ask them to pray for your ministry and give them specific things to pray about.
    • Tell them about what goes on in your daily routine in ministry.
    • Ask them their opinion when you’re trying to make decisions in your ministry.
  • Pray with your spouse. Craig Groeschel asked me one time, “What is the one thing that makes the biggest difference when you are counseling a couple? The answer is praying together. Pray with and for your spouse regularly, and you’ll see your relationship and bond become stronger.
  • Read the Bible together. Next to prayer, engaging in God’s Word together is vital to putting your spouse first. The YouVersion Bible App makes it easy to read together. Pick a plan, read together or on your own, and then discuss it. I’ve written several Bible plans about marriage.

Your Next Steps

The bottom line is this. God first. Marriage second. Ministry third.

What will you put in place this week to get to this level of priority? Write it down, tell a friend, and do the work it takes to invest in your relationship with your spouse.

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