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Ministry at home, Lowery says, foundational to all ministry

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Satan’s plan is to alienate you from your kids, your mate and your ministry,” Fred Lowery told students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Fred Lowery, pastor of the 6,500-member First Baptist Church, Bossier City, La., and his wife, Leigh, presented the inaugural Grace Lectures on the Minister’s Family Oct. 21-23 during chapel services on the seminary campus.
The couple shared experiences that have helped them develop and grow marital and family bonds, essential elements for a fulfilling life and ministry.
“If you don’t have a ministry at home, eventually you will not have a ministry at all,” Lowery said, citing statistics showing last year 6,000 pastors left the ministry, an estimated 125 are fired each month and suicides among ministers are increasing.
“Your family is your ministry,” he said, setting the tone for NOBTS’ newest lecture series, designed by seminary President Chuck Kelley specifically to help strengthen ministers’ families. Kelley has focused this academic year on “growing healthy churches.”
Citing Ephesians 4:32 and 5:18 as theological blocks on which to build a family, Lowery discussed myths and assumptions about marriage which lead to disillusionment and marital failure, and gave suggestions for building and maintaining a healthy family.
Three marital myths are:
— “Marriages are made in heaven.”
“Because you believe the myth, you’ve decided you have the wrong person,” Lowery said. “There is no such thing as a perfect person. What you do is work at (marriage). You don’t get a happy marriage as a gift. It’s something you work at.”
Marriage requires unconditional love, total acceptance of a spouse and a commitment to work for a lifetime to make it better, he said.
— “Marriage is the key to happiness.”
“Marriage is not a box full of goodies you just reach into and take whatever you need or want,” he said. “It is an empty box. You get out of it what you put into it.”
Intimacy, an essential element in a happy marriage, comes when “we create an environment of safety and trust where each person can be himself, herself, and be accepted and loved,” Lowery said. “Don’t be satisfied with your spouse being simply your roommate,” he said.
— “Marriage is easy.”
“Marriage is one of life’s greatest assignments. It is hard,” he said.
One reason marriage is so hard is “you have two selfish people trying to have their needs met,” he said, “but the more unselfish you can be, the happier you will be.”
“Without Christ, commitment, communication, compromise and continual work, there is no hope,” he said. The hard work is worth it, however, and “is the greatest investment you’ll ever make,” he said.
“There is no greater contentment in life than knowing all is well at home.”
Lowery also presented several commonly held assumptions about marriage:
— “Love is enough.”
“It takes more than love,” he said. “God isn’t going to just zap you and give you a happy marriage. You have to build a happy marriage.”
— “Time heals all wounds.”
Problems don’t just go away, he said. Problems must be faced, discussed and dealt with.
— “If I take care of the church, God will take care of my wife and family.”
“This trap has caused so many ministers to lose their families,” Lowery said. “Few things in life are critically important.” He said he refuses to wear a beeper and believes in using Caller I.D. “My father (a pastor for 50 years) would have lived 10 years longer if he had had Caller I.D.
“Church isn’t critically important,” he said, explaining that family has to be the minister’s first priority.
“I have a choice to put my ministry or my family on hold, and I choose to put my ministry on hold.
“If your church comes before your children, you’ll regret it,” he said. “If your ministry comes before your mate, one day you’ll be sorry.”
— “It won’t happen to me.”
“Listen to me, it can happen to you,” he said, citing several prominent Southern Baptist ministers who have had marital difficulties in recent years.
The primary source of stress in a minister’s life, he said, is incongruent values, “when what you say you believe you are not living, and it eats you up inside.”
When what is said in the pulpit is not what is lived out in the home, “it causes tremendous stress,” he said, which makes a minister “vulnerable to affairs and all kinds of things.”
— “I can always get out if it doesn’t work.”
“The best thing you can do for your marriage is to close all exits and say, ‘This is forever. We’re in this for life. No exits,'” he said.
Lowery gave two suggestions to help ministers establish and maintain healthy families:
— “Make your wife and children an absolute priority in your life.”
“Put your mate before your ministry and put your children before your church,” he said.
“I made the hard choices and I made them in favor of my family, and I’m glad I did,” said Lowery, who continues to be at all of his daughters’ special events together with his wife. He said his wife and children know they can interrupt him whenever they need to.
“Don’t assume your wife and kids think you have them as top priority,” he said. “If you really want to know what they think, ask them, ‘Do you think you are a high priority in my life?'”
— “Make your wife and children partners in your ministry.”
Husbands especially can work to strengthen their marriages, he said, by:
— loving their wives with agape, sacrificial love.
— learning everything they can about women, especially their own wives.
— accepting their wives completely.
— celebrating rather than complaining about the differences between men and women.
— expressing love not just in deeds, but by words such as, “I love you because … .”
— listening to their wives. “One of the greatest ways you can show your wife you love her is to listen to her,” he said, and not immediately say comments “to fix things,” but “just listen.”
A pastor since age 17, Lowery has led two churches to experience dramatic growth. From 1976-83, he was pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C., listed in the top 1 percent of the fastest-growing churches by the SBC’s then-Home Mission Board. Since 1983 he has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, averaging 200 baptisms each year. During his first year in Bossier City, the church had 850 additions and 289 baptisms.
He was president of Louisiana Baptist Convention from 1989-91, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990 and both president and vice president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference.
The author of at least 12 publications, he has written several books on marriage including “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Marriages;” “Intimacy: The Key to a Great Marriage;” “Reinventing Marriage;” “Husbandology 101;” “Wifeology 101;” and “How to be Happy and Stay Married.”
His wife, Leigh, a public speaker and motivator and leader of the women’s ministry at their church, said ministering to the needs of women is one of her main goals.
A popular speaker, she is best known for the “I’m Tuff” seminar she presents to women’s groups and adult children of alcoholics.
The Lowerys, married in 1973, have two adult daughters, Christy and Shelby.

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