Jim Henry will never forget the time his wife made an appointment to see him.
Henry, who was pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. at the time, said he thought his wife, Jeanette, was playing a joke on him at first.
“Mrs. Henry, is there anything … I can help you with?” he asked her playfully.
Jeanette looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’ve got time for everybody else, and now you’re going to take time for me.”
“The church was growing, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job at home,” Henry said. “And I realized I wasn’t.”
Henry, who today is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Orlando after 28 years of service there, said that was his “kum-ba-ya” moment when he realized he needed to adjust his routine.
After 53 years of marriage, three grown children, five grandsons and one great grandson, Henry said that was a defining moment in his ministry. It stirred him to do a better job of balancing his schedule, not over committing himself to ministry, and carving out more “family appointment” time.
“Nobody taught me … these things,” said Henry, who pointed out that most young pastors aren’t properly equipped to juggle family and ministry. “I was not taught anything like this at seminary.”
And today’s pastors are paying a heavy price – with divorce or leaving the ministry.
Now on an advisory committee with Care For Pastors, an organization that ministers to church leaders, Henry said 1,600 pastors are leaving the ministry every month.
And one of the main reasons is linked to marriage trouble. Every year more and more pastors are getting divorced, and church leaders – like Henry and others in North Carolina – are looking for ways to curb the trend.
Matt Chewning, a church planter in Boston, admits the first two years of giving birth to Netcast Church weren’t easy on him and his wife, Beth, and their four children.
“It really was difficult on my wife and me,” said Chewning, who got his start as an intern at 1.21 Church in Winston-Salem.
“There is a real enemy who is trying to attack your family. If the enemy can un-unite the husband and wife, that trickles into the church, and there will be disunity in the church.”
Finding the balance meant saying “no” more often to the demands of ministry and saying “yes” to his family.
“Number one, it says to my wife, ‘You are more important to me than our church,’” he said. “‘I’m not going to cheat on you with the church God has given us.’ If I don’t do certain things, I’m not hindering God’s ability to build this church.
“Jesus is going to build this church.”
Too many pastors transfer their loyalty from their families to their church once they begin their ministry, added Eddie Thompson, senior consultant for marriage and family ministry at the Baptist State Convention of N.C. Thompson counsels with pastors and their families and leads a variety of marriage conferences throughout the year.
“They don’t mean to [transfer loyalty], but it’s just the nature of the job,” he said. “This really hurts them in the long run.”
The sooner pastors learn their families are a critical part of their ministry, the better off the ministry becomes, said Thompson. Pastors often become isolated from their families and friendships over time.
“Even though they are around a lot of people … many pastors feel isolated,” Thompson said. “Ask most women, ‘Does your husband have a close friend? No. He doesn’t.’”
“When somebody feels isolated this really opens up the doors strongly to temptation.”
In addition to infidelity, pornography is a growing “plague” and “cancer” in the lives of many pastors, and it wreaks havoc on their families and their ministries.
“This is the number one call I get from staff members from across the state,” Thompson said.
“Some are trapped in a world of pornography and don’t like it one ounce. The access to pornography is just too easy.”
Thompson cited a poll done by Focus on the Family a few years ago that surveyed 2,000 pastors. The study asked them if they had viewed pornography in the last 20 days. Sixty-seven percent responded with “yes.”
Pastors and church leaders must realize they are an “easy target,” Thompson said. “You have the biggest target on your back than anybody.”
Facebook creates another temptation for people – including pastors – to engage in inappropriate relationships and extramarital affairs. A study involving 600 divorce attorneys revealed that two thirds of divorces in the United States are linked to the social networking site.
“We see Facebook really as [having] an intensely negative effect on the family right now,” Thompson said.
“This has really opened the door for pastors, just as much as everybody else.”
Couples must establish boundaries with Facebook and other social networking sites. And congregations must also learn to be sensitive to the fact that pastors, and their families, deal with the same temptations and struggles everyone else encounters.
“Many of these pastors and wives are hurting deeply, but they never tell anybody,” Thompson said.
“They’re so afraid, and they’re so ashamed, that they can’t make progress on their own. They just continue to exist in a marriage, in a family relationship that’s not very good.”
Thompson challenges pastors and their wives not to settle for “less of the marriage that God intended [them] to have.” He said pastors and their wives can schedule an appointment for free counseling anytime. There also are convention-sponsored marriage conferences available throughout the year.
But in order to get the help they need, pastors must overcome their fears and reach out for help.
While pastors face their own troubles, they usually have a church full of laymen, church staff and leaders struggling to hold their marriages together.
Scott and Holly Ladner, who have been married for 12 years, were one of those couples.
Today they co-teach a Sunday School class at Apex Baptist Church in Apex for young married couples. But during their first few years of marriage the couple, who now have a 6-year-old daughter, went through a “dark time.” They shared how for months they didn’t even kiss.
“What was amazing was that nobody knew what was going on,” Holly said. “There was not any infidelity. There was not any addiction. We were just fighting like cats and dogs.”
“We would go to church on Sunday morning, and we were great,” she said.
“We would smile. We were participating in Sunday School. To this day, we will have people tell us, ‘Are you kidding me? We had no idea.’ We were really wearing the mask well.”
But the couple sought counseling. They also started attending LifeWay’s Festival of Marriage at Ridgecrest.
“The only reason[s] Holly and I are still married is number one, Jesus Christ,” said Scott, who is a deacon in the church. “Number two, the … Festival of Marriage. It has saved our marriage, besides Jesus. And that’s no joke.”
Attending the annual marriage conference continues to be a part of their “an annual check-up.”
The Ladners hope their story inspires others to know that they aren’t alone and that marriage is worth the fight.
Holly said marriage is a journey, one that can be revealed and studied throughout scripture.
“The whole Bible is about marriage,” Holly said. “It’s about how much Christ loves His bride … this picture of us being the bride of Christ. It’s been beautiful the way the Lord has taught me through His Word about marriage. It is all about Him.”
Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Visionary Marriage by Rob and Amy Reinow
The Pastor’s Juggling Act: A Pastor and Wife Getaway, Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, June 6-8
Also Oct. 24-26 at Fort Caswell on Oak Island
For more information contact Eddie Thompson at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5644. Thompson can also plan events for your church.
Festival of Marriage, LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, Oct. 11-13. For more information call (800) 588-7222.