Does that sound at all familiar to you? How about if I was not talking about another person? Reread that description and apply it to your ministry. How about now? You would never imagine cheating on your spouse. You love them and care for them deeply. You have made conscious choices to protect yourself from sexual sin or put yourself in situations with the opposite sex that would even appear inappropriate. You have guarded your heart and done your best to “flee from lust and temptations.” You cannot imagine having an affair, sexually or physically, with another person. However, how about emotionally with your calling and ministry?
Focus on the Family describes “The Truth About Emotional Affairs” this way:
– You share personal thoughts or stories….
– You feel a greater emotional intimacy….
– You long for, and look forward to, your next contact or conversation…
– You start changing your normal routine or duties to spend more time with….
– You spend significant and meaningful time with….
The fact is many of us in youth ministry have begun to cheat on our spouses (and our families) emotionally with our ministry. We do not think of it that way, but it may be truer than we would like to admit. Our emotions, self-worth, and maybe even our spiritual identity are not connected to who we are as a husband/wife but to who we are in our ministries. Consider the following three areas where you may have let yourself begin to slip into an emotional affair with your ministry.
How much time do you spend with your ministry? I am not talking about not working hard and putting in your time for a normal youth ministry schedule. What about your quality time? Are you putting longer and longer hours in the office or out with students at the expense of spending time with your family?
When your time schedule consistently becomes unbalanced, giving more and more time to students, you may be walking a dangerous line. Be aware, be organized, and be scheduled in your time so that your spouse gets quality time as well as quantity time with you.
Where are your thoughts, creativity, and dreams? When you are at home or out on a date night, are you still thinking about ministry? Are you giving your mind fully over to concentrating on your spouse as they share about your day, or are you still mentally working on your lesson while pretending to listen?
When your daydreams and thinking are consumed with the ministry, students, and your program, you are not giving your mind and heart back to your spouse the way you should. Refocus your mind and leave the church at the church as you drive home. Once you have walked in the door, your thoughts should be on your family and spouse. Share about your day, so they feel included in what you do, then move on.
Who or what gets the best of you? Does your spouse or your ministry have your energy and effort? Are you coming up with over-the-top games or lesson illustrations while you exert little or no energy on making your spouse feel loved? If you even take one on your day off, are you completely empty because you have already given away your best to your ministry?
Be very careful when your time, thoughts, and best efforts are given away to ministry, leaving your spouse with a shell of who you are. This is the moment when ministry and calling can easily become a quietly dangerous mistress.
We all hear stories of people in ministry failing all the time. We hear the stories of those who have fallen into sin or moral failure. We hopefully have made wise choices to avoid some of those obvious pitfalls. This may not be something as obvious, but maybe even more dangerous. As we give more time, creative thoughts, and best efforts, we will be applauded and called successful or hard-working. While we are being loved and adored in our ministry, our level of real intimacy with our spouse suffers, emotional distance forms, and we lose the balance with our other lifelong calling and commitment to our marriage.
Be careful and guard your heart!