Harry Connick Jr, the modern day Sinatra-like crooner, limbers cheerfully through the “romantic” lines “if nothing lasts forever; then I’d figure I’d better take you forever, for now”, presumably unaware of the significance his wisdom carries.
He describes the era in which we live. An era where we are washed daily in a new moral code, reprogramming our thinking and therefore our actions. Before we are aware of it, even Church leaders can subtly concede that sexual promiscuity is permissible, multiple partners acceptable and marriage temporary. Before you know it homosexuality might be considered an acceptable new “revelation”. Marriage has become, even to so-called men of God, a case of “I’ll take you forever, for now”.
This code of thinking has hit even the highest ranks of Christian leadership around the world. Men who lead churches of thousands have left their wives to marry their secretaries. The so-called theology of “soul-mates” releases Pastors from covenants made, so they can marry the women “God made for them”.
The travesty is that one high profile marriage failure spills, domino-like, through congregations and minor ministries, as the programming of “acceptable” sin floods the ranks of the Church from both the media, society and even our own “Fathers in the Faith”. How will God hold these “shepherds” responsible for their actions? With great mercy and grace, we pray.
In a recent visit to a large church I failed to find one “normal” marriage situation. A “mistake” is regrettable. A few failed marriages is painful. But when there is an obliteration of all we consider sacred in a whole congregation, that’s disastrous. It’s a tragedy. It seems the spirit of the age can so capture our thinking as to render us totally insensitive to our mis-adventure.
God still hates divorce (though not the divorced). He still loves the family. He loves the purity of it. The strength it can give. It is his place for dreams to be fulfilled, sexual appetites enjoyed and the fortress from where the battles of life can be fought.
So why are ministry marriages failing? Here are the top reasons leaders have given us. We have chosen not to look at adultery and physical unfaithfulness specifically, but rather the breakdown in a marriage that can lead to such actions.
The most re-occurring comment we’ve had from leaders is that wives can so easily become “widows” to the ministry. While vision driven men charge off into feats of vision and sacrifice, their women gradually become the forgotten partners in ministry. Eventually they call a halt to their side-lined existence by communicating in the only way their husbands seem to hear – separation.
Surprisingly, so many men have told us they had no “signs” of distress from their partners before splitting up. It’s hard to believe there weren’t any. The reality is that many men simply don’t “see”.
One pastor recently told me “I thought my marriage was doing great. Then one day I asked my wife how we were doing. To my amazement she said, “we’re on the rocks!”. I couldn’t believe it. She had become a “ministry widow” and I hadn’t even appreciated it!”.
This couple completely re-designed their lives to protect their marriage.
Calling Above Covenant
It is interesting to note that many leaders become so purpose driven it becomes easier to entertain thoughts of living without their spouse, than it is to consider living without the call of God on their lives. This displays a flagrant disregard for vows made in marriage and indicates sheer arrogance towards their callings, as if God could not get through without them!
One minister with a tremendous international ministry suffered the tragedy of his wife falling into a near “vegetable” state through illness. Many of his companions and colleagues urged him to pay a nurse to care for his wife, while he continued in itinerant ministry. “She’s so ill she doesn’t even know who you are!” they advised, “and what about the call of God on your life?”.
Filled with integrity and a deep understanding of Gods heart, he turned to his advisors and with a stern rebuke scolded them: “She might not know who I am, but I know who she is! The call of God may be great, but I made a much greater vow to that woman when we married and I will fulfil it. That is my first priority”. He cared for his wife until her death after a prolonged illness.
Partners That Don’t Facilitate
In many cases of marriage failure, it could be uncomfortable to point out that many outside the marriage see obvious signs of frustration years before its collapse. Husbands who refuse to let wives get jobs, have certain friends, ministries or engage in hobbies. Wives that begrudge any visionary escapade on their husbands part, or even the slightest attempt to improve their spiritual life.
The sad fact is that if you fail to facilitate your partners dreams, they may find someone who will. Someone who believes in them, releases them and cheers them into the fulfilment of their hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, our partners dreams may not fit our own expectations of a wife or husband.
One of my own spiritual fathers wisely taught me, “most relationships fail due to unfulfilled expectations”. We all have secret agendas and expectations of people. Expectations of a partner can be made without a word being said or dreams related. While they may not be as stereotyped as a hope for a wife that is “bare-foot, pregnant and in the kitchen”, many of us have our own dreams of marital bliss, developed in our hearts from childhood.
Some dream of a quiet or homely wife. Others expect intelligence or visionary drive. Some wives expect a DIY expert; others masterful leadership and inspiration. Some expect a wife who will lead worship or pray through the night; still others a husband whose romantic sensitivities give the greatest screen god a run for his money! That’s TV; this is life!
As these expectations go unfulfilled so frustration builds up in marriage. We become fearful, rather then facilitating; controlling, instead of contributing to our partners dreams.
I was chatting to the leader of a renowned revival centre in the north of England and he brought a new angle to the recent state of ministry wed-lock: “Many marriages are failing and it’s not all because of lust. Some are just finding confidants in people other than their partners. This leads to dependence for love and understanding from someone other than your spouse.”
If your secrets and dreams find a compassionate response in someone other than your partner they become your confidant. The dictionary puts a confidant as “someone entrusted with a private affair”.
To continue that thought, any re-placed source of admiration regularly sought from someone other than your partner, leads to relationships that could be deemed “unfaithful”, even if only in mind or emotion.
It is easy to replace someone who no longer makes you feel respected, admired or pampered. It’s hard to fall out of love with the one who does. We all desire to be loved and admired. If that source of respect and admiration, affection or encouragement, springs from a source other than your spouse, then you have a problem in the making.
Failing in Fun
A majority of our contributors to this article stated that too many leaders marriages “fail in fun”. Ministry can become a non-stop onslaught of meetings, counselling and sacrifice. Partners start to be taken for granted. The relationship becomes one of “ships that pass in the night”.
While ministry can be a source of fulfilment, that is not the same as fun. It is not the same as laughter and frivolity, “play-time” and rest. Many leaders do not have hobbies and frequently feel guilty about holidays and days off. We must set a sentry over the fun in our marriages if we are to survive.
I heard one apostolic figure speak of the time he said to himself “I need to go and spend an hour with (another apostolic friend) before I commit adultery”.
Most leaders don’t have that sort of relationship with a friend or father. Many are isolated. Many have no-one to turn to when plagued by debt, loneliness or lust. Who can a leader open up to about a problem with pornography, as many leaders do at some point in their lives? Who could a leadership couple sit down with and say “let’s be friends” at a deep level? Now while that might sound strange to many in the “pews”, all senior leaders will know and appreciate what has just been said.
But communicating our needs with others can be so difficult. Do you want to share with someone who may betray, or at least remember your time of weakness years later? Where can we develop trust, recognizing we are all ensnared by sin at some point? We must be allowed to fail, struggle, sin, repent and be brought back to God’s fulness through compassionate counsel.
The university of the modern media would love to teach us all is lost. Its tutors and prophets, wonderful crooners like Connick Jr., pump out its message to a good tune. But Christian leader, don’t be taken in by its silky notes and melody. It is abominable sin he sings of so tenderly. It is children unloved. It is the collapsing purposes of God. It is men of God ridiculed and godly wives driven to cynical sidelines. It is pages in Church history tarnished, never to be re-written; our heroes stained by high profile failure, trumpeted throughout our media driven world.
Pray. Talk. Ask the hard questions. Re-design your life. Do what ever you must to ensure you keep your vows “until death do you part”. Forever means, forever.