Building a strong marriage and a healthy church should not be at odds. Father-son pastors share their win-win strategies.
Is it possible to pastor a large congregation and have a happy marriage at the same time? Yes, say Larry Stockstill, a teaching pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., and his son, Jonathan Stockstill, senior pastor of the 5,000-strong congregation.
Here the two pastors tell how God has helped them enjoy a strong marriage and fruitful ministry.
After 35 years of marriage, I believe a happy wife is the key to a happy marriage. It’s not in the Bible, but “if Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!” The happiness in my marriage has been structured around seven basic principles.
1. Financial security. Savings and long-range financial planning give a wife a sense of security. Men tend to be satisfied with “today’s bread,” but a woman has a greater need for long-term security. Give her assurance of where the house payment is coming from three months from now, and she will get happy.
2. Companionship. Loneliness stalks most wives. Their husbands are caught up in their career, and are not really “present” when at home. Their cellphones, email, remote controls and newspapers cause them to be “absent” when present. Melanie and I start our day with a 2-mile walk, spend the first two hours of a day together, and I make intentional decisions to put our time together ahead of frivolous and unnecessary meetings and trips.
3. Routine. A wife loves routine. Routine, regardless of length, gives her a sense that life is sheltered from interruption. I limit interruptions in the home because someone always needs me. A weekly family night, date night, monthly overnight camping trip and annual vacation together has established our routine of life as something that is not “on the table.
4. Communication. Letting your wife communicate her frustrations without being defensive is very difficult. We pastors are supposed to be perfect. We are like excellent “defense attorneys,” and we are very skillful at parlaying her simple suggestions that we may need to change. Don’t penalize her for communicating her concerns—admit it and change.
5. Honor. Pastors usually neglect to notice that two-thirds of their church is women. You have a laptop, but where is your wife’s laptop? Where is her reserved parking place? Why do we walk 10 feet ahead of her, hardly noticing where she is, while we are waving to the “adoring masses?” Why don’t we open the car door for her anymore? Peter said, “Giving honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7).
6. Trust. I have always been 100 percent accountable to Melanie for where I am at all moments of the day. I am never alone with another woman. I always travel with a companion. In general I follow the Billy Graham “Modesto Manifesto” for integrity purposes. Never be shady, deceptive, manipulative or unethical as it causes her to be anxious about your next move.
7. Protection. Ruth asked Boaz to “cover me” (Ruth 3:9). A wife seeks her man to stand between her and danger, distress or anything uncomfortable (phone calls, neighbors, in-laws). She is attracted to the strength of her protector, so step up to the plate and be what she needs. One of my dear friends stepped in front of his wife and a gunman who said he was going to rape her. He said, “If you touch her, one of us is leaving here in a body bag.” The robber left her untouched, and, needless to say, her husband is certainly now her hero.
A good summary of how to remain in love, stay free from temptation and walk in happiness is to be your wife’s friend. She married you for companionship, someone to be close to, someone to do everything together with. Didn’t bargain for that type of relationship? It’s called marriage. Choose her over any and every other competing relationship, including your church.
My mother, Ruth, died after being married to my father for 63 years. Her last few months, Alzheimer’s took its toll on her memory and dignity.
However, I still remember just a couple of weeks before her death as she and dad sat on a love seat in their home and exchanged a couple of sweet kisses.
There’s the “end game” for every Christian couple: a lifetime of fun, a depth of commitment and an amazing romance between two pure, faithful partners. Had a rough start? Start over, using these seven principles. “The end of a thing is better than it’s beginning” (Eccl. 7:8).
Although some of the things I have to say about marriage and ministry may be predictable, I can honestly say that these things have helped my marriage, and have been the catalyst for my wife and me to walk fruitfully together in ministry rather than just survive.
First off, I cherish my days off. When I’m working, I devote all my focus and energy to advancing the kingdom of God. But when I am off, I am completely off. My wife, Angie, knows that those wonderful Mondays and Fridays that I have reserved for our family are completely and totally ours. It’s a given that I will do this.
No matter how hectic life is during the rest of the week, I give all of me to my family on my off days. It sounds simple, but it is important to have this concept firmly fixed in your mind. Otherwise, if you are sitting at home with no specific plan in place, it’s easy to feel bored and start writing emails and returning calls. You have to use discipline and guard against being plugged into ministry seven days a week.
What does quality time look like? Some couples assume they are spending quality time together just because they occupy the same house for an extended period of time. But that’s not really what quality time is all about.
Angie and I make it a point to spend at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time each day in eye-to-eye contact. I have learned that she has certain things she wants to say, but will talk about them only when we are connected in attentive, deep conversation. If I were to avoid those moments, weeks could pass without my ever hearing what is truly in her heart.
Does your quality time look like two people sitting on a couch and browsing the Internet on their laptops, or is it two people totally engaged in relevant conversation? We could all work on this.
“A couple that prays together will stay together.” Maybe you have heard that phrase before and thought it was cute, but who really prays together, right? I have learned that many men—ministers included—can pray before thousands, yet lack the courage to lead their own wives in prayer. I don’t know the source of this fear, but maybe it’s that we know our wives know us so well—warts and all.
But nonetheless, there is a fear in many men to lead their wives and families in prayer. I believe the enemy keeps us in that place of insecurity because he understands the power potential in a husband and wife who pray together (Amos 3:3). Not only do they release the Scriptural power of agreement, but when they stand before God in united prayer, they experience the accountability that comes from standing in His presence together (Matt. 18:18-20).
It is also important to guard against an “us versus ministry” mentality that can surface when the wife perceives ministry as the husband’s occupation. When I made the decision to move into pastoral ministry, I made it very clear to my wife that this had to be something we both felt called to do.
The only way I would move into the new level of ministry was if we both felt led to move into it together. Ministry is not my thing—it is our thing. We have both answered the call of God on our lives to pastor people. Much of our conversation and heart is wrapped up in our calling, and it is a unifying factor, not a dividing one.
I grew up as a PK and enjoyed a great example of ministry and family wrapped into one. Ministry wasn’t my dad’s thing—it was our family’s thing. Today, all my siblings are still in ministry because of the wisdom of our parents in unifying family and ministry. I realize some ministers may take the opposite approach. I’m just saying what has worked and is working for me.
With so many marriages ending in failure and divorce, ministers must commit to maintaining healthy marriages that serve as godly examples to others. Remember, you have no ministry if you don’t have a great marriage.
Larry Stockstill, 58, is a teaching pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., and was lead pastor there for 28 years. He has been married to Melanie for 35 years with six children who all serve the Lord in the local church. He is the director of surgechurches.com. Larry’s son, Jonathan Stockstill, is the senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center. Jonathan, 30, has been married to Angie for seven years, and they have two children. Larry’s father, Roy Stockstill, who founded the church in 1963, was married to his wife, Ruth, for 63 years.