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, 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 that show 6,000 pastors left the ministry last year, an estimated 125 are fired each month, and suicides among ministers are increasing.
"Your family is your ministry," he said.
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.
Lowery 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 fifty years) would have lived ten 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 also encouraged the students to, "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."
A pastor since age seventeen, Lowery has led two churches to experience dramatic growth. From 1976-83, he was pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C. Since 1983 he has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City.
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 twelve 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.
The Lowerys, married in 1973, have two adult daughters, Christy and Shelby.