By Gary and Jenni Hoag –
This next summer we will celebrate 25 years of marriage while actively engaging in ministry. Over that timeframe our marriage has been filled with highs and lows, much like one of our favorite couples in the Scriptures, Priscilla and Aquila.
Priscilla and Aquila were not “closet” Christians. They were unashamed of the gospel, and as a result, were expelled from Rome for their faith (Acts 18:2). They openly ministered while making tents with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. As a couple, they knew the truth well enough to set Apollos straight graciously when they heard him teach inadequately; their aim was not to beat him up but to build him up (Acts 18:26). They had a church meet in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19), and Paul describes them as his “coworkers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).
Want that for your marriage? Want to minister together in stride, build up other believers individually and in community, and be known as Christ’s coworkers? If you do, we suggest you consider five tips or rhythms we have learned and that others have taught us. These insights help marriages flourish while remaining deeply involved in God’s work, either as volunteers or in vocational ministry.
1. Love and Forgive, Moment by Moment
Marriage is a dance, and we often step on each other’s toes. How we love and forgive shapes the trajectory of all of life and ministry! We must choose to love and forgive each other as God in Christ extended love and forgiveness to each of us. Consider putting a sign somewhere in your home that has the number “490” as a reminder to love and forgive over and over (cf. Matthew 18:21-22).
2. Journey with Jesus, Day by Day
Contrary to the world’s perspective, the most important person in our lives is not each other: it’s Jesus. On our morning and evening walks with our dog, we often ask each other what Jesus is teaching each of us. It’s priceless time together. We have found that we don’t always grow at that same pace in our spiritual lives so with this rhythm we help each other along.
3. Go on Dates, Week by Week
This was tough to arrange when we had two children at home because we have never lived within seven hours of a relative. Be creative. You don’t have to spend money but you may need to set parameters like not talking about work. Perhaps trade date nights with other couples of similar age or spring for a babysitter. It’s time well spent to stay connected while in the rigors of ministry.
4. Sync your Calendars, Month by Month
We have found that because life is so full with the complexities of ministry, it’s hard to stay on the same page, so we set aside time to sync our calendars. To be sure we don’t rush this exercise, we often do this over a cup of coffee, so that it’s like a date together. This activity positions us to know what each other is doing in order to serve, encourage, and pray for each other faithfully.
5. Plan a Getaway, Year by Year
For years we had one set of grandparents stay with our children, so we could take a romantic break together. Now we just need to find a person to watch our dog. We cash in airline miles and hotel points to keep it simple and affordable (e.g., Gastown in Vancouver or Riverwalk in San Antonio). We have found that it often takes a couple days to unwind so if we can take five to seven days, that helps us relax.
Again, more experienced people who have been married a lot longer than we have taught us some of these rhythms. Others we learned on our own. Nurturing a marriage while in ministry is work. We pray these tips will help your marriage do more than survive. We pray they help you thrive much like Priscilla and Aquila.
If you don’t know where to start, maybe plan a time with your spouse to discuss these tips together and agree to rhythms for your marriage. Make it special. Go to your favorite restaurant or set aside an evening to talk specifically about this. Remember, how you live as husband and wife, exhibiting the abundant life in Christ as a couple, may actually be your greatest ministry where God has placed you.
Gary Hoag, Ph.D., (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at various seminaries, part-time as ECFA International Liaison, and is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” as he’s dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity.
Jenni Hoag, M.A., (Intercultural Studies, BIOLA University) and Certificate (Christian Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Denver Seminary), provides spiritual direction (one-on-one) for women, speaks and facilitates spiritual retreats, and finds joy serving as a homemaker.
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