All those who work in youth ministry and who are married know this – behind every great, passionate, enthusiastic, and strong-willed youth minister, there is an even stronger, humble, patient, and compassionate spouse. Well, let’s correct that right off the bat, not standing behind, but walking beside. Let’s face it, working in youth ministry is not a regular profession. Hours are constantly fluctuating, tasks and roles are ever-expanding and changing, and there are typically no ‘off’ times or set hours. Weekends are not necessarily free time, and there are certain requirements for out-of-town travel on retreats and conferences throughout the year. There is also the additional emotional strain that youth ministers take on as they make themselves available to their teens as a mentor or even spiritual director in their lives.
Being that marriage is a vocation, and youth ministry is a job and a secondary vocation, can someone be ‘successful’ at both? While there is a resounding ‘yes’ that resides as an answer to that question, there is also the notion that being married and working in ministry can be something that is not only a thing of beauty but something that can even enhance a marriage.
Here are some simple reminders that can enhance the experience of being married and working in ministry.
Involve Your Spouse
Your spouse can be a great resource of information, ideas, and feedback. They can provide a new perspective and even some outside-the-box ideas. Be open to them in asking for their ideas, opinions, and feelings about certain activities and events. Involve them in calendaring for the year to make sure you’re not planning things during other important dates. There is a good chance your spouse does not want to spend your anniversary at a retreat center in a bunk bed.
At the end of the day, share your feelings, frustrations, joys, victories, and setbacks with your spouse. Talk to them about how annoying your staff is or about the teen struggling with their parents’ divorce. Your spouse wants to hear about your day, as wonderful or as ugly as it may have been.
If feasible and schedules allow for it, do ministry with them. Invite your spouse on your Core Team, retreat teams, worship bands, etc. Give talks with them, lead prayer with them, or even have them take charge of a specific area such as Bible study or social media. Include your spouse, in some way, in your daily grind of ministry.
Make them Visible
Your spouse is a part of who you are…hence, the ‘two shall become one’ part of the marriage rite. Therefore, get comfortable with them being around. You can be an excellent example of marriage to a generation that is slowly losing their faith and values in marriage. However, when doing so, remember to be authentic in your relationship – do not portray the image of the couple who you are not or who you wish to be. Young people will see through the fake persona that you portray when this is done. Also, do not overdo affection but have genuine interactions. A Life Night may not be an appropriate time to share an intimate moment with your spouse.
Share Your Faith Together
Both you and your spouse are on a faith journey, so it is important to respect your spouse’s spirituality and meet them where they are at. This comes with the realization that no two people walk the same faith journey and that there are ebbs and flows within our walk with God. Remember, there may also be times when you experience a spiritual ‘high’ coming back from a weekend retreat, or a conference that your spouse may not have been a part of that has contributed to your spirituality. It is imperative that you are sensitive to your spouses when they may not have the chance to experience the same things in their faith journey as you do.
Taking it a step further, as a couple, read the scripture together. This could be as simple as reading the daily readings each morning, participating in a Bible in a year study, or even working through a scripture study resource or any other book of a spiritual nature.
In addition, attend Mass Together (without having anything to do). This, of course, should consist of Sunday Mass but could also include daily Mass. Sit together, do not volunteer for any tasks, and enjoy being in the presence of one another during the greatest celebration of the week.
Go on Non-ministry Related Vacations
As a youth minister, there can be quite a lot of opportunities to go out of town. As nice as it is to be able to go up to the mountains on a retreat, don’t use out-of-town retreats, Steubenville trips, or conferences as your vacations. Steubenville trips are not your chance to take your spouse to the scenic campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson (not that there is anything wrong with Tucson.)
Take trips as a couple to places that you really would like to see. Do things that you usually wouldn’t do on a church trip, such as visiting a winery, getting a massage, or having dinner other than pizza.
Again, if schedules, and vacation time allow, it is a blessing and a gift to have your spouse a part of any trip or retreat. However, it should not take away from your vacation time together. Remember, while you may be getting paid for those trips, your spouse, depending on their job, may be required to take vacation time.
It All Comes Down to Balance
Ultimately, being married and working in ministry involves balance. There is a temptation to focus so much time and effort into ministry, and as well-intended as that may be, your marriage still stands as your primary vocation! Including your spouse in ministry, creating the opportunities to serve together can be very beneficial in a marriage. At the same time, spending time on your own spirituality and growth, outside of ministry, as a couple is as, if not more, important in a marriage. And, finally, thank your spouse. They may not want it or need it, but they do it anyway. Your vows to walk with each other each day forever remain true, even in ministry.