November Mailbag - Challenges of marrying a pastor, helping the poor, and more

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With Thanksgiving come and gone, and Christmas under a month to go, here’s the 2017 November edition of mailbag:

“My parents are very opposed to my dating/marrying a pastor because it comes with way too many difficulties. Can you talk about the difficulties pastoring has placed on married life?“ 

Anonymous / Boston, Massachusetts  

My wife (or any pastor’s wife) would probably be better fit to answer this. Though the obvious one is the issue of finances, I’ll take a stab at it from a different angle. 

Most Christians have the ability to compartmenalize the three major spheres of 1. Work 2. Family 3. Church. For the average Christian man, these three spheres operate independently from one another. So a man works, comes home to his family, and gathers for corporate worship on Sundays. Sure, there may be some overlap but the lines aren’t blurred, the pressure points are easier to identify, and when one sphere suffers, the family can turn to another for solace. 

This is not the case for the pastor’s family. Work and church are one and this creates an interesting dynamic for the pastor, and therefore the marriage.

Here are manifestations of difficulty to answer your question: 1) The wife shares her husband with the entire church. For example, while the average married couple goes to church together, worships together, and leaves together, this is not the case for most pastors. The pastor’s wife can easily function like a single mom who brings the kids on her own while her husband preaches and meets with others. 2) Their life/everyday decisions increase in complexity. For example, when a married couple decides to live near “his work” they move where they want, when they want, and they can announce it how they want. It’s a “he and she” decision. This is not the case for the pastor’s family. Where he moves, why, and even the cost of the house, can be under scrutiny. This can be tough on a marriage since so many conversations aren’t simply “he and she” but inclusive of a constant “they” whether trying to purchase a home or post something on social media.

To be honest, pastoring has put pressure on our marriage. And I think it’s supposed to! Yet the pressure has also forged our marriage to be tough, while changing us for the better. Your parents aren’t crazy for feeling the way they feel but there’s also more to the story!

“Is there a point when thirsting for God is selfish? People have been telling me its time to fill others, I do spend time praying for others but they make me feel like asking for God's love for myself is selfish. I have been a christian for years but I still find that I am hungry for God's love. Is it okay for me to be praying for this?”

Anonymous/Fullerton, CA

To answer your question, yes, our perceived “thirst for God” can be selfish when it no longer holds the tension of loving God with loving others (Great Commandment). Without a spirit of outward love for others, even what may appear to be one’s pursuit of God, may be tainted (1 Cor 13:1-3). Godly desires can be mired in self absorption  

I think it’s great that you have such a thirst for God’s love. I wish more Christians would ask God for greater understanding of his love. My only encouragement would be that our experience of God’s love isn’t meant to exist in a vacuum or in a personal vortex of spiritual ecstasy just for ourselves, but ought to be going outward in love for others. If people around you are saying that it’s time to fill others, maybe they’re trying to point out that your desire for more of God’s love, while good, may be turned inward more than it ought to be.

“In light of a lot of different tragedies in the last few weeks (hurricanes, shootings, terrorist attacks, etc) all over the world, I started to become calloused, disillusioned, and overwhelmed by the sheer lack of power to do anything about them. I donated some money for hurricane relief but...that's it. I had a guilt that I couldn't (or wouldn't) do more! So my question is: throughout biblical and church history there is absolute clear evidence, and even commandments, to help those who are suffering. Whether it's because they're sick, oppressed, poor, or all of the above, the church has been there in some way, shape, or form. But because of technology, we seem to have more access to more sick, oppressed, poor, and all of the above. Are local churches responsible or even commanded to help those who are so "out of reach"? Is it our burden to bear? Aren't churches more effective to people within our grasp? People in our cities, communities, and neighborhoods? Is God going to hold us responsible for those who are suffering in far away countries?”

Paul Hong / Dallas, Texas

Paul, this is a monster of a question that I can’t do justice to in a mailbag edition. So for the sake of clarification, here’s a list of some thoughts in no particular order:

1. The world has shrunk in every way. The digital age has brought human suffering all over the world, right to our fingertips. At the same time, it has become easier than ever to give for relief/charity for the same exact reason. 

2. Money moves regardless of motives. We shouldn’t give to ease our guilty conscience but that “guilt-gift” will still benefit those who receive it. We shouldn’t give to emotionally takes ourselves off the hook, but what we give will matter to the recipient. 

3. All Christians should give but Christians can’t give to all. We see this example with Paul and his ambition to collect funds for the believers in Jerusalem on account of a famine. Surely there were others who were affected by the famine, but Paul gave to the “household of God” (Gal 6:10), in just one city at that. He did what he could.

4. Distance may necessitate a proper distribution of financial efforts, but not necessarily a denial of it. Yes, a local church will be most effective in its area and should probably invest in greater proportion to what’s nearby, but that doesn’t mean a church cannot take a special offering for a relief need elsewhere. Rome was far from Jerusalem, and that didn’t prevent Paul from asking for aid (Rom 15:28).

5. It’s okay to pick and choose. This sounds harsh but there are needs 24/7. We could easily empty out our checking accounts right now if we really started researching. The reality is, we can’t possibly give to every single need in the world. It would be impossible and God wouldn’t hold us responsible for that. 

6. Giving aid to others should be a communal effort, not just an individual one. The burden to give can be overwhelming when we see the amount of need in the world. But this shouldn’t be one for us to bear alone but in the context of a church community. This is where trustworthy organizations and denominations can be very helpful.

7. Anything helps. The idea of giving $5 feels cheap to us but that’s because of our own standards. 5 U.S dollars can go a long way in other parts of the world.  

Financial stewardship and generosity is a major Biblical theme that requires nuanced understanding but also a giving spirit. God loves a cheerful giver so may cheerful giving be our pursuit especially during this season.