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Me, My Wife, and the Ministry Box

Me, My Wife, and the Ministry Box
 

“Men are like Waffles. Women are like Spaghetti.”

I don’t remember when I first heard the proverb “Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti” but I can remember my reaction, “Really?!?” I definitely remember a twinge of skepticism in me as my inner rebel chafed at the label. After all, I don’t even like waffles. If you tell me I am one, I’ll go out of my way to prove you wrong.

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The proverb speaks to a reality that we’ve all probably observed in one way or another, namely men have a tendency to live very compartmentalized lives while for women things are generally more interconnected. (Send all objections and complaints to Mr. Rick Rhoads, care of Lancaster Bible College).

That is to say, in my life when I’m in one little square of my waffle, it’s surprisingly easy for me to ignore/forget/deny what’s going on in all of the other little squares.

“He’s in his box.”

To put this concept another way… It wasn’t too long into dating my wife, that I heard my future mother-in-law refer to her husband by saying, “He’s in his work box.” It was their shorthand for when he’s fixated on something in particular that prevented him from being able to fully engage with anything else. There were all kinds of boxes – “work box”, “football box”, “computer box”, “lawn care box.”

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My mother-in-law’s comment was nothing more than playfully picking. Underneath was a genuine appreciation for her husband, and the recognition that from her perspective as a woman, his distraction (or focus) was uniquely peculiar. What do you mean you can’t carry on three separate conversations at the same time? Why can’t you share with me how you feel about my mom as you try to disarm that IED? (Okay, I added in that last one).

I remember the first time my wife used that phrase with me. “He’s in his work box.” It was a passing comment about compartmentalization, and in reality, nothing more than a recognition of our differences. Except at the time, I was a youth pastor, so the work box she was referring to was a “ministry box” and it could be tempting to incorrectly assume that it was in fact a “God box”.

Me and My Work Box

As a couple in ministry, my wife and I have spent a lot of time talking together about the balance of ministry, work, rest, and relationships. We’ve sought to find the right balance of those things. In some seasons, we strike the right balance, and at other times, it feels like we get it flat wrong.

On a personal level, I’ve wrestled with the idea of working in the “ministry box” for a while now. I’m hesitant to say being singularly-focused at times is wrong. After all, there are times when it seems necessary – times when we need to think deeply, dive in completely, and wrestle with weighty matters.

If we didn’t, some important things would never get done – like that fundraiser your ministry depends on, that cross-cultural partnership that transforms a community, that building renovation that mobilizes your congregation.

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And yet, I realize it can be easy for me to get lost in that “work box.”

It seems easy for those of us wired for compartmentalization (i.e. men) to lose perspective at times; to make the right decision for inside this box and not realize the larger implications for life outside.

It’s the objectively right decision for this project to schedule our next planning meeting for Saturday morning. It’s a sound conclusion to take on this new ministry opportunity in order to fulfill our larger vision. And yet, outside of this particular box, there are implications, sacrifices, and consequences reverberating out and impacting so many – another missed family meal, a canceled date night, a delayed family holiday.

But inside the work box, things are still “A OK.”

We need perspective. We need the whole picture. We need to get out of the box.

Set and Share Relationship Values

In this struggle to find balance, I’m deeply grateful for my wife. She has been so many things to me in our relationship, not the least of which has been a faithful source of encouragement and accountability. She recognizes the importance and value of me diving deeply into something, working with a singular focus for a while to do something right and do it well. She doesn’t despise the “work box.”

At the same time, however, she knows I need to get out of the box consistently, for the sake of her sanity, the health of our marriage, and the condition of my own soul. She serves as a loving reminder of that reality – sometimes gently and graciously, other times pointedly and with a resolve that confronts my temporarily misplaced priorities.

What I’ve learned about myself is that I need that external voice and perspective, because I can be tempted to define my reality by the six sides of the box I’m in, and in here everything looks good.

What I’ve come to deeply appreciate is that we share a set of core values regarding ministry, work, and rest. They’re deep abiding truths that are the bedrock for us. Depending on our situation or season of life, however, they may flesh out differently, but at the end of the day, these drive us to keep up the struggle to find a healthy balance.

  • Because of the nature of our work, we embrace flexibility, decisions made as a couple, and giving permission to occasionally bring work home.
  • Because of how God’s wired us as a couple, we try to embrace quality time together in quiet, distraction-free environments and carving out one weekend per month as “down time.”
  • Because of how God’s wired us to connect with Him, we try to embrace intentional times of silence, a balance of healthy eating and sleeping (okay, my wife does. I’m a “work in progress), and investing in meaningful community not directly associated from our specific ministry.

We don’t always get it right, but those core values and the habits and practices that flow out of them, have helped us navigate this difficult balance of work, rest, and relationships.

I wonder what core values have helped you in this same struggle to find balance between work, rest, and relationships. How do you navigate the “ministry box”? Take a moment to share your own ideas, thoughts, or values in the comment section below

Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.
  1. Isaac Ketner02-11-14

    Aaron, I am grateful for your insight and the list of core values that you shared. I too am blessed to have an amazing wife that encourages me in this area and provides healthy accountability. Thanks for the practical list. Love you brother!

    • projectrenovation02-11-14

      Thanks for the feedback, Isaac! Striking the right balance in every season is something we’re still wrestling with, but something I’m grateful my wife and I work through together. It’s encouraging to hear from other couples in ministry striving for the same.

      • Isaac Ketner02-11-14

        We still wrestle from moment to moment as well, but it is worth it! We have been through some crazy moments without balance and those moments have taught us that it is so necessary to strive for. Being burnt out and overwhelmed is not healthy.