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  • Writer's pictureTony Wilson

Flourishing in the Fishbowl: How Ministry Couples Can Enjoy Thriving Marriages

Updated: Nov 26, 2022


Tony Wilson November 27, 2022


Living under the scrutiny of those in the church and community can feel like you are drowning in a fishbowl.

Growing up as a PK (aka Preacher’s Kid for all those who aren't a preacher's kid) I was always mindful that others were constantly monitoring me. At times it seemed, although my memory is still a little biased, that every word I said and move I made was being watched, analyzed, and chronicled. It did not seem fair. I did not choose this life. The perceived pressure could be quite intense.

Little did I know that it would get worse...

when I chose my own fishbowl as a pastor.

During thirty years of pastoral ministry my marital challenges were on display despite our best efforts to handle them privately. Did I mention there is not much privacy in a fishbowl? The added strain of onlookers made navigating our issues in productive ways even more difficult. We did not know how to flourish in our fishbowl very well.

Since the passing of my late wife, I have had time to reflect on what could have helped us keep our heads above water so our marriage could grow in oneness.

There are at least three ways to enjoy a thriving marriage despite the pressure of constant inspection by others.

1. Release the pressure to be perceived as perfect.

You may get critical comments or barbed questions from time to time, but no one really expects your marriage not to have difficulties. Every marriage does. Remember, flourishing marriages are not exempt from troubles, they just have learned how to navigate the tempest in a teapot, or fishbowl in this case.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8-9

In 1 John 1:8-9, Jesus’ apostle John reminds us that we deceive ourselves if we say we have not sinned. Undoubtedly the same can be said if we act like and want others to believe

that we do not make marital mistakes.

So, release the pressure of pretentious perfection before paying a perpetual price in your marriage. How is that for pastoral alliteration?!

2. Show transparency about struggles and failures.

Instead of trying to appear to live in a

constant state of marital bliss, why not be vulnerable about your struggles? It reduces the pressure on your marriage and enables other couples to relate and know they are not alone. Putting our marriages on a pedestal to be admired separates us from those we are called to impact.

To the point of this blog, it also magnifies the stress of the fishbowl effect by requiring you keep your struggles and failures hidden from view. Not an advisable strategy, according to Proverbs 28:13, if you want a thriving marriage.

3. Embrace the opportunity.

Simply stated, you have the choice of enduring or embracing married life in a fishbowl. I wasted too many years choosing the former with a “this is our cross to bear” attitude. If you insist on thinking that your life on display is something you must suffer through, I encourage you to consider Paul’s words,

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

I doubt, however, that a ministry couple having to endure constant observation constitutes the same level of “sufferings” to which Paul refers.

May I suggest a paradigm shift, a change of mindset?

By embracing your current fishbowl situation, you can redeem an otherwise undesirable circumstance for God’s glory. Allow me to encourage you to consider the scrutinizing of your married life as an opportunity to prioritize growing in oneness/intimacy. Ask God to help you and your spouse draw closer to him and to one another in response to any pressure you may feel to appear perfect. As you do so, you will be allowing your light to shine so others can see your efforts and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

Consider this...

as frustrating as the fishbowl can be, ministry couples know but a fraction of the public scrutiny that Jesus Christ experienced during his earthly life. Although perfect, he was transparent about his struggles in the flesh and embraced his redemptive purpose.

  • Do not settle for enduring.

  • Embrace where God has you.

  • Learn to flourish in your fishbowl and swim toward a purposeful marriage.

Besides, a perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to stop striving for thriving.

Waterfront Ministries exists to equip ministry couples to enjoy thriving marriages.

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