How do you prepare your marriage as you enter into full-time ministry like church planting? Ingo Tophoven has written a great article for us about this topic. Ingo has served as professional Christian counselor in Berlin since 2005. He has counseled many full-time Christian workers and teams throughout this time. Find out more about him at www.blueskiesberlin.com. Ingo will partner with us in the selection process of our staff members. He will also offer assistance as we walk alongside our church planting teams.
5 Ways to Prepare Your Marriage for Full-Time Ministry
By Ingo Tophoven, M.A., Ph.D.
When my wife and I decided in 2006 ‘it is now time’ to go into full-time ministry in Germany, it was like the final push of a baby being born, that final ushering that, well, I have no idea about really. I was just there when my wife gave birth, cheering her on as she nearly ripped the towel in half that I was holding on to for life in those last minutes of delivery.
I realize I am being dramatic, but what is true is that from the moment that God birthed the idea to the final push of actually going to Germany as full-time missionaries lay about 2 years of preparation and getting us five down to 14 suitcases. Here are a few practical tips that I wish I adhered to more during those days:
1) Keep Talking as a Couple
When it comes to changing the course of your marriage and family life by leaving what you have known and going overseas, it is essential that everything can and should be talked about and nothing is taboo. What about some deeply held fears (worst case scenarios)? What about concerns you have about the kids’ adjustment? What about leaving friends and not having any new ones right away? What about finances? What about if you do not pick up the language? Fears and concerns are normal when big changes are coming. Couples in ministry must learn to have regular, open talks about such things – even if the topics appear repetitive.
2) Acknowledge Your Personality Differences with Grace
As you transition, pressures will ebb and flow and expose your personalities again. In all my marriage counseling I have learned, people don’t change much, and who they are emerges under pressure. Therefore accept each other in the ways you are. Attempting to change one’s partner will not work.
3) Add Some Positive Coping Skills
One of my old, non-working coping mechanisms is ‘food’. When I stress, I eat. When Capri, my wife, stresses, she can’t think and usually goes to ‘read a bit’. So when we felt under stress preparing for ministry, you could at times find me checking the fridge for the 10th time and Capri had just finished her third book. There is such a thing as ‘too much’ of a good thing. I recommend that all couples seeking to transition to full time ministry take some time to explore positive ways of coping with stress. It will go a long way in ministry and self-care at a later time. Note: A positive coping mechanism is anything that does not harm you or others and reduces stress in your body.
4) Don’t Neglect Your Connection with God
It’s exciting to go into ministry. There is much planning that has to happen. Usually, your sending organization can help you organize everything into a clear plan of action customized around you and the country of service where you will be going. Nonetheless, in working with many couples preparing for full-time ministry, I have seen people grow stale fast. Therefore, I find it key to stay vibrant in your connection with God. Insist on your individual and couple habits of connecting with God to continue, even when it seems that neither one of you has the luxury of worship, silence, prayer, studying, or contemplation. The very source of your calling continues to be nourished in fresh ways when you keep connected.
5) Affirm Your Calling
As you listen to God, as you obey, as you go, there will be those that try to talk you out of it or challenge your very calling. Often it is those people that are afraid to obey a call themselves or those that do not understand your theology. Therefore, affirm each other verbally even when you encounter obstacles in the process of leaving. I remember the very moment when it was clear to both my wife and I that we were going to Germany. We both knew it. We remember that moment in the car driving home 6 hours from Houston after another mission trip to Germany. We both knew and we affirmed each other often during the stressful days of preparation by retelling our God moment to each other.