4 Suggestions to Protect Your Marriage This Christmas

By | Christians, Family, Marriage | No Comments

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to protect your marriage this Christmas:

Plan a budget together.

As a couple, agree upon how much you are going to spend and stick to it. This may require compromise. Often there is one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your immediate family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and voiced that they wanted more time with just us that we scaled back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time this holiday season.

For parents, remember your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which actually celebrate Christmas.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter. A Savior has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

Don’t allow outside tensions to reign inside your home.

The Christmas season can be stressful. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. Emotions – good or bad – run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. Make a decision together that outside tensions will not distract you from the closeness you have with each other or the joy of Christmas.

7 Words That Protect Our Marriage

By | Christians, Marriage | No Comments

Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. In many ways it is a stressful season with work, family demands, and constant transition, but it is a good season in so many other ways. We’ve been empty-nesters for a number of years now and we’ve adjusted to it well. It was hard missing our boys at first, but we enjoy our time together. These are some of the best years of our marriage.

The greatest thing I can say about our marriage is that we can’t think of anyone we would rather be with. When we are off from work we want to be with each other.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

We have always intentionally strived to protect our marriage. It’s always a work in progress, but we know that if we ever let up the enemy will win.

I’ve been asked many times how we keep our marriage strong.

Here are 7 words to capture how we strive to protect our marriage:

Walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. I’m typing this after we returned home from an evening walk. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. We’ve now become “mall walkers” when weather isn’t conducive to being outside.

As an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So, we walk.

Talk. And that’s so incredibly important. As we walk we talk about our day. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. Explaining cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life and she is of mine.

Question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” We ask questions that keep us thinking deeper about our life and each other.

Dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large.It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.

Laugh. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay.

Cry. I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But Cheryl and I are willing to be vulnerable with each other. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid or that I’m hurt. I can admit when I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes.

Love. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. Love is ultimately a choice we make. A deep, committed, loyal kind of love is a choice. I choose Cheryl and she chooses me.

What keeps your marriage strong?

7 Things I’d Say to Parents of Married Adult Children

By | Christians, Marriage | No Comments

In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.

One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.

One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with parents.

I am a parent of adult married children – two of them. Cheryl and I are trying to be good parents and in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

Here’s some of my best advice for parents of married adult children:

Remember “leave and cleave” and let them experience it.  Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way they have been. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their relationship will likely look different from yours — hopefully it will even be better.

No doubt you have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. That may include leaving behind some of the family traditions you have too. And that obviously can be harder to accept.

Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one as a couple if you have a private world of communication with your child. If they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse.

There may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.

They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other parents. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them?

Yes, it’s hard when you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive, but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them.  And it will often build resentment.

Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. Again, they are trying to form their own identity as a family.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. It’s not that you don’t have some good advice. And they might even be better off if they listened to your advice from experience more often. But most couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger.

Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.

Be an encouraging place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy and fun environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.

Love them both unconditionally. I would even say equally, but I understand that’s hard. You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with both of them. Give grace generously to both. And, perhaps most difficult, hold your tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful.

Finally, forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

I am praying with you as we attempt healthy parenting of adult married children.

The Emotions of a Pastor or Leader’s Spouse in Times of Transition

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 10 Comments

When I’m talking to a pastor or other leader who has accepted a new position or is in a time of transition – after I hear the excitement in their voice of what they see God doing – I almost always ask the same question:

“How is your spouse dealing with the change?”

I like to encourage pastors and other leaders to remember their spouse’s emotions in the process of transition.

When I ask the question I often hear a short pause, followed by an “umm” of some sort, then a statement such as, “She/He seems to be doing okay.”

Push a little more (which I usually do) and I’ll hear something like:

It’s been harder on him/her than I thought it would be.”

Pushing even further, I have even heard something like, “I don’t understand why he/she is not as excited as I am. We agreed this was what God had for us.”

Many times, when the leader is honest, the transition hasn’t gone as well for the spouse as it did for the pastor/leader. It will likely come in time – if given time – but for now, the spouse is simply not as excited about the change in positions as the one who made the change in career is.

Why is this?

Well, consider it from the spouse’s position. (This is always a good practice in any relationship issue.) The pastor/leader who moved to a new opportunity came with their center of gravity and purpose defined. You know what you are going to be doing with your time and energy. Most likely the spouse will feel a sense of loss and have to look for theirs. That takes time.

Often a new pastor, for example, comes home at the end of a long day and has something exciting to share about the day. Whether the day is good or bad things are moving, changing, and challenging them daily. So, even on days things aren’t going well they have drama in their day they can’t wait to share.

Many times, right now, the spouse has days which basically look the same.

Since a majority of my readers are in vocational ministry, let me say a word to the new pastor. This is just a typical scenario I have heard many times.

You arrive at your new position, come home at the end of the day pumped at what God is doing, so naturally you share your enthusiasm with the one you care to share with the most – your partner in life and ministry.

But if you’re not conscious of your spouse’s emotions, depending on their state of mind, they may hear, “My life is exciting. Yours is boring.”

Or worse, “My life has meaning. Your life has none.”

Granted, you are not and would not think those things – and would never want your spouse to think you do, but emotions are high in times of transition. Don’t be surprised if they produce irrational thoughts and actions at times. This is part of change.

Your spouse likely moved from friends and has to learn who to trust again. They may even be more relation-centered emotionally. Their heart may transition slower. The roles they held in the church or community haven’t been replaced yet.

You moved forward in your career and passions. Many times the spouse may have taken a step backward. Or, at least, seems to have for now. This will change in time, and the spouse probably knows this intellectually, but emotionally they feel a sense of loss which will take time to replace with a sense of purpose equal to yours.

The key is to remember your spouse is an individual person, with individual needs for a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Failure to acknowledge this and be sensitive to it is not only unfair it can damage the relationship and slow the process of acclimating in the transition.

7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

By | Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 5 Comments

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. Money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. Yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. Let’s be honest, though, some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?

A Principle That Changes Every Relationship

By | Children, Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 6 Comments

It’s a simple principle, but oh so important to remember.

It’s a principle true in leadership and life.

When you don’t remember it you fail to get the results you expect as a leader and people are frustrated with your leadership.

But the same is true in so many other relationships.

Here’s the principle. Write this one down.

People only know what they know.

It’s unfair to hold an employee accountable for something they never knew.

You can’t expect your spouse to remember things you never told him or her.

It’s hard to be disappointed no one comforted you in your pain if they didn’t know you were hurting.

Your child can’t live up to a standard you never set.

People only know what they know.

And the solution is simple. If you want them to know -‘don’t assume they do -‘tell them.

Who are you holding to an expectation you’ve never shared with them?

7 Ways to Protect Your PK – Pastor’s Kid – in Ministry

By | Children, Church, Family, Marriage | 14 Comments

I’ve written extensively about protecting the family in ministry. My wife has occasionally guest posted about the unique role of the pastor’s wife on this blog. Some of the comments I receive are well taken. I am basically asked “What about the PK’s? Who is looking out for them? Many disappear from the church as adults.”

PK = Pastor’s Kids.

I hear you. I have addressed the issue generally, as a family, but I haven’t written extensively about protecting children in ministry.

I am aware, however, the issue of the commenter’s concern. I’m blessed my PK’s survived ministry well. Both of my boys are very active in the church. One works for a private company, but mostly in the Christian sector, and the other is in full-time ministry. I understand, however, this is a problem for many pastors and their families.

By the time some pastor’s children reach adulthood they are often done with church – actually they are more done with the busyness and politics of church – and they want little or nothing to do with it. So, they sit on the sidelines of ministry – if they attend church at all.

Honestly, as much as I have heard it talked about, at least within my circles of ministry, it is more rare than it is a norm for the pastor’s children to not be active in church. I probably know more pastors who have children active in church than I know those who have children who have disappeared. I don’t know the statistics – please share them in the comments if you do – but if we could avoid damaging any child growing up in the ministry world I think we should.

That’s the purpose of this post. And it’s addressed to the pastor and the church.

Here are 7 suggestions for protecting your PK:

Level the expectations – Hold your children to Biblical standards. Train them well. Discipline appropriately. You hopefully teach it and you should parent what you teach. But don’t be surprised when your children aren’t perfect. They aren’t anymore than you are – or anyone else’s children.

Let them be kids – Don’t expect them to care as much about ministry as you do when they are – SEVEN or even seventeen. They might. Mine did to a certain extent – on certain days. And then other days they just wanted to shoot basketballs in the church gym while I went on church visitation.

Live what you preach – If you want them to appreciate the ministry, let them see you, the pastor, as authentic. Authenticity means you are in private who you claim to be in public. And chances are good they are observing both. They’ll respect you when you are equally transparent and honest with how you live your life on Sundays and through the week. And the more they respect you – the more they can respect the ministry. Remember, their primary concept of ministry is you.

Protect your time at home – When you are home – be home. This is HUGE! Let voicemail and email inbox do their thing. Put down the computer. Say no to outside interruptions. There will always be exceptions in the role of a pastor, but they should be rare, not common place. The children need to know you value your time with your spouse and them even more than your time with others.

Be their parent more than their pastor – You may be their pastor, but first they need a parent. I actually found others on staff, or even pastor friends in other churches, were sometimes better at being their pastor anyway. No one could replace my role as parent.

Give them roles as they desire – My boys helped launch a youth group. They led at camps. They worked with children and preschoolers. But I never forced it. I let them serve where they wanted to serve. Interestingly, when the idea was their’s, they seemed more likely to want to be involved.

Let them do ministry with you – My boys went to committee meetings. Staff meetings. Visitations. I took my boys on mission trips. Unless it was a highly confidential meeting for the parties involved, I gave them access to my calendar. They got to appreciate what I do as a pastor – not resent it because I wasn’t home. Again, this was voluntary not mandatory.

Someone is wondering why I didn’t put anything about my personal walk with Christ as one of the points. Well, hopefully this is understood in the role of a pastor and a believer. But yes, of course. Consider it understood this is number one for every question of how to do ministry effectively. Your children will likely never grow stronger in their faith than you are modeling for them.

Pastors – or even better – PK’s – anything else you’d recommend?

The WHAT Test – A Simple Strategy to Think Through Level of Commitment

By | Business, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage | One Comment

The WHAT Test.

Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.

This is a framework I personally use, often verbally and sometimes just in my own mind of discovery working with a team. Through experience I have learned the hard way what happens if I don’t filter something through The WHAT Test.

Here’s The WHAT Test:

Where

Where do you/we want to go?

It sounds simple, but it’s really not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started.

Talk through the end goal. What do you/we want to accomplish? Let’s collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you/we want to go and how you/we will know when we’ve “arrived” at our intended destination.

Sadly I have many times come to what I thought was completion on something I was asked to do, but I didn’t live up to the expectations of others on the team or in the relationship.

How?

How will you get there?

What’s the plan? What are the action steps to get us to our goal? If we are going to be successful, what will it take to get us there?

Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? Who is going to hold us accountable?

This is where you ensure there is adequate strategy in place to accomplish the goal.

Agreement

Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two questions?

This is critical. Unfortunately, I think we often neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board.

What happens many times is we agree to an overall vision on the front end, but then as the process continues and everyone has their assignment there are reservations by someone and we didn’t take the time to understand them.

Once the actual strategy is in place it’s good to renew agreement before proceeding. Make sure everyone is fully on board before you press the “Go” button.

Tenacity

Will you everyone see it through?

This may be the most important one. I often ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through?

This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may, at times, even involve an actual covenant or contract. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas, but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This frequently happens to teams. It can be especially true when relationships are involved.

Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.

Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations, which may not have been spoken. It helps to expose and hopefully avoid on the front end some of the personal obstacles there may be.

Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:

  • Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
  • Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment as a team.
  • Before a business partnership is formed.

At the beginning of an important venture – Take the WHAT Test

WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.

There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.

As I said in the opening of this post, sometimes I do this openly with all parties involved and sometimes I simply force the questions in an informal way, but I have actually called off a project because The WHAT Test revealed I didn’t have the full support of the team. And, when counseling a couple in their marriage, to use that example, if one spouse is not willing to move forward, couple counseling is not going to be very effective. It helps to know where people are in their commitment level.

7 Ways I Protected My Family Life as a Pastor

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Marriage | 49 Comments

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of his immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. There have been seasons of my ministry where this is the case, especially on abnormally stressful days.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry.

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7 Things I Love About My Wife

By | Encouragement, Family, Marriage | 12 Comments

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD. Proverbs 18:22

I posted this over 6 years ago, but things have changed. My wife is a different person. She’s a grandmother (Granna). We are more seasoned as empty-nesters. She has found some new rhythms in ministry and new opportunities to invest in others and serve.

But, many things remain the same.

Here are 7 reasons I love my wife:

She loves God more than she loves me – I love her faith and commitment to Christ. She challenges me in my spiritual walk. She consistently shares her faith with others and her prayer life is so much stronger than mine.

She knows how to love – No one loves people like Cheryl loves people. I’d bet money on it if I were a betting person. The odds are out of this world. Cheryl especially loves her family and friends. You’re blessed if she’s in your life and, even more so, if she gives you one of her famous hugs.

She laughs when no one else laughs – She still gets my jokes and thinks I’m funny. Girls, you have no idea how important that is to a man.

She invests her everything into everything – Cheryl is a giver. She gives her entire heart and being to others. (I often think she still works part-time just because we couldn’t afford her level of giving otherwise.) If you’re in her life, you’ve most likely been a reciprocate of her generosity and thoughtfulness.

She is my partner – Cheryl loves doing anything with me. Anything. I don’t always understand it, because her mother or friends would probably be better at picking out the home decor, but she would always choose me even for things like this. One reason I reserve Saturdays for her – whenever possible – is she fuels on time together. It’s her love language.

She’s got my back – If you want to see the sweet, gentle, kind Cheryl get upset, just say something negative about me (or our boys). She has a strong side and it’s seen best with her defending someone she loves. It’s comforting knowing, regardless of how difficult my life and ministry might be, Cheryl is always in my corner.

She respects me – In marriage counseling and teaching, I always share this as a man’s greatest need. It’s even commanded in Ephesians 5. Cheryl does this like a pro. I can honestly encourage the women in our church to follow her example here.

These are 7 things I love my wife. There are many others. I’ll start with these.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Cheryl!

(Feel free in the comments to tell me why you love your spouse.)