A Level 5 marriage is a steady “wind behind your back” relationship that empowers both of you to go further than you ever dreamed you could go.
For the past 25 years, we have had a habit of riding our bikes six miles along the beach to our gym to work out. Our beach is notorious for wind. When it’s blowing at our backs, we feel like champs. But when it’s in our face, we grunt like wimps. Most rides, the breeze hits us from the side, almost a neutral force.
This ocean breeze is like the force of marriage upon ministry. Sometimes our marriage propels our ministry forward with intense power. Other times, marriage is an energy drain. Most often, our unions are an unnoticed presence with seemingly minimal effect.
However, there is a crucial difference between our marriage and the ocean wind. We’re at the mercy of coastal breezes, unable to influence the angle. In our marriages, we can have a significant impact on which direction the wind is blowing. We can grow our marriages until its breeze is a steady force of energy towards God’s plan for our life, our marriage, and our ministry.
When we say, “I do” before the minister, God performs a miracle in a moment–two lives united together in a holy bond of oneness. But “oneness” is not just a miracle; it is a journey. As our pre-marital counselor wisely asked us, “How ‘one’ are you willing to be?”
God’s design for our marriage is to develop habits that cause our relationship and ministries to flourish. We grow this “oneness” through the “feeding and caring” (Eph. 5:29) of the relationship until there is a flourishing that produces fruitfulness.
Recently, we watched as a successful ministry couple we have known for 25 years ended their marriage. Of course the question is: Were they actually “successful”? Their church grew, but their marriage didn’t. In fact, their relationship was a headwind they faced day after day. Ministry became an escape “from” their marriage rather than an outflow “of” their marriage.
Conversely, we were just in England with a pastoral couple nearing 40 years of marriage. They have invested heavily in their marriage, and there is a hefty breeze of the Spirit behind their ministry and their relationship. Too few ministry couples are willing to give their marriages the “feeding and caring” required to flourish.
As the two of us have observed, counseled and studied ministry marriages, we’ve noticed a pattern remarkably similar to what we find in churches. Exponential has identified five levels of churches (subtraction, plateaued, addition, reproduction, multiplication) and is helping churches move to Level 5. Our passion is to help ministry marriages move to Level 5.
Five Levels of Marriage
Our forthcoming book, Flourish: Growing a Level 5 Marriage, identifies these five levels of marriage and their characteristics listed below (substantially abbreviated descriptions):
Level 1 is a “Consumer Marriage”: Spouses are subtracting from one another by consuming without contributing.
Level 2 is a “Convenient Marriage”: Spouses are taking care of the daily business of life, but the relationship is built on personal convenience rather than intimacy.
Level 3 is a “Committed Marriage”: Husband and wife are a genuine blessing to one another and the ministry, but there is an internal, self-centered focus restricting the intimacy and the impact of the marriage.
Level 4 is a “Collaborative Marriage”: Marriage partners have learned how to work together to build up each other and the ministry. They are yoked together through a deep understanding of one another and with a Kingdom-mindedness manifesting in generosity.
Level 5 is a “Communion Marriage”: Spouses sharing profoundly in Christ together. Their lives are blended so they are burden bearers, dream partners, and vision companions. They inspire personal growth in one another and maximize both relational intimacy and Kingdom impact. They prioritize multiplication through making disciple makers and helping others to grow Level 5 ministry marriages.
A Level 5 marriage is a steady “wind behind your back” relationship that empowers both of you to go further than you ever dreamed you could go. It is a robust, vibrant, flourishing marriage.
How do you get there, especially when Level 4 or 5 feels like a quantum leap from where you are now? We have identified what we’re calling “heart habits” that work together to grow and ultimately build a Level 5 marriage. Watch for our next blog where we’ll introduce these five vital habits.
Larry and Deb Walkemeyer have been married since 1978. Together, they pastor Light & Life Fellowship in Long Beach, California, and have two adult daughters who are also active in ministry. Download their new FREE eBook Flourish: Growing a Level 5 Marriage. You can also join Larry & Deb at Exponential 2018 where they will lead a pre-conference intensive on marriage with ministry couples Geoff & Sherry Surratt and Brian & Amy Bloye – learn more here.