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My husband left a career in the secular world for a call to ministry. We have never been happier but we also have never been so poor. There are people in our church who know how much we are struggling financially and they occasionally slip money under my husband’s office door or send me a gift card in the mail. I feel so embarrassed that we are being given benevolence money. We are supposed to be the ones giving. I’m not sure how to shake this feeling of shame.
I hear you. I lost all my pride years ago! I felt exactly like you and I swallowed a big helping of guilt along with it. I’ve cried, I’ve asked people not to give, I’ve avoided looking at people who I knew had left groceries on our doorstep. I’ve tried to figure out how to get an extra job to pay people back for what they have done for us. I’ve told myself a million times that this surely cannot be the way that God wants to provide for us.
But then, I think about my Savior and how the Bible says that He never had a place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). I remember that He sent His disciples out with nothing and told them that a worker is worthy of his support (Matthew 10:8-10) and I meditate on the verses encouraging me not to worry about food and shelter (Matthew 6:25-34). And I realize that God’s got this. He doesn’t HAVE to use the people in the church to take care of us. He chooses to use them.
I learned that lesson one year through an envelope taped to my front door. Every week, it was there, filled with cash of odd amounts. $38.53, $52.21, $78.97 – I couldn’t figure out the pattern or the significance, but I was so thankful that it kept appearing because we had a new baby and we were desperately poor. One evening, the parents of a teenager in our youth group showed up at our house. I had no idea why they were there until I saw the envelope in their hand. They explained to us that they had been watching our lives and had been moved by our frugality and budgeting. They said that they were convinced that God had told them to begin saving 10% of anything they made to give to us. On every payday, they were giving us the cash that they believed God had designated for us. They had decided to out themselves because this week’s cash was such a large amount that they didn’t want to leave it on the door. They said that they were both making more money than they had ever made in their lives and were so thankful to us for our witness and the privilege of being able to give to us.
My perceived humiliation was their spiritual victory.
I’ve learned to get over my embarrassment for ministry’s sake. I would encourage you to do the same. By allowing people to give to you, you are giving to them. Your sacrifices are their discipleship. And, there’s no shame in that.
I am very new to ministry. It’s only been about 4 months since my spouse joined the church staff. We are very excited to be here! But, I have to admit that I am already feeling some differences between what it was like to be a regular church member and what it is like to be married to a staff member. What is your best advice for a new ministry spouse?
Newbie wants to Know
Hmmmm…my best advice: Don’t panic, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!
Ministry is difficult. Even the best churches have their share of behind the scenes disunity, politics, and posturing. When you read books like Corinthians, Ephesians, and Galatians, you realize that none of these issues are new. The church is made up of people and people are inherently flawed. What you will see and experience has happened to the saints before you. You are not alone in your struggle no matter what happens.
Hold on tight–
It’s important to nurture relationships. Avoid isolation like the plague. Your ministry, sanity, and marriage depend on it. It’s easy to draw inward when difficulties come your way, but the best medicine for combating isolation is to reach out to others. Some ways to hold on tight:
- Immerse yourself in the Bible. Find a Bible study group to join in addition to your personal Bible study.
- Ask your best/lifelong friends to pray for you and then, stay in touch. –
- Reach out to new friends at church and try your best to befriend the staff and spouses. Be the inviter, don’t wait for an invitation.
- Find mentors (they don’t have to know they are your mentor) and learn from their experience. Your mentors should be people who have character traits you want to emulate. It’s not a requirement for them to be in ministry.
- Engage with those who can relate to your experience as a ministry spouse through conferences and denominational events. Seek out pastoral staff/spouses from other churches in your community and search for online support groups.
Enjoy the ride–
No matter where this adventure takes you, know that there is always a reward. Nothing that God ordains is futility. We are sometimes privileged to see the results of our sacrifice, but other times we are not. Many Bible verses point to this truth, but one that I have been meditating on lately is Hebrews 10:35-36, “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (NLV) It’s a joy to be chosen to participate in God’s plan for His church. Don’t let hardships blind you to the joy of the journey.
Hope this helps as you continue to follow God in excitement with your spouse!
Do you ever want to disappear? Live off the “grid”? My kid said to me the other day that our family was “weird”. When I asked what he meant, he said, “you know, because of the ministry-thing”. I didn’t even know he was old enough to realize that our lifestyle was different from other people much less that he would attribute it to ministry! It made me want to call it quits and be like normal people. Go to church when I want to, not when I have to. Have one boss instead of a whole congregation full of people who think they can tell our family what to do and how to live. Choose where to live based on family connections or how good the schools are in the community not on how close we are to the church.
How easy normal people’s decisions must be…only thinking of what THEY WANT TO DO, not even considering “what does God want” and “where can I best be used”. I know that leaving it all behind is all a fleeting fantasy though because the truth is I’m committed. I couldn’t walk away from what I know God has called our family to do even in my weakest moments. God sacrificed so much for me, the least I can do is give Him my life. Even if it makes our whole family weird!
Dear Mrs. Oddball,
How my heart resonates with yours! And I’m embarrassed to say how often I have to remind myself not to “sit in the seat of scoffers” because their way is not God’s way. I blush to admit that I forget that my “reward is in heaven” and that I shouldn’t “lose heart” because the “momentary affliction” that I experience in this world is not as important as the things that God deems as “eternal”. Or even to confess to you how many highlighted passages I have in my Bible that refer to how God repays those who “secretly slanders his neighbor”.
Yes, I do sometimes share your fantasy of going dark, escaping my commitment to God, and living like “normal” people. Heck, I’d even take living like most Christians! But, just like you, God’s grace always calls me back to reality. And then I think, WHY would I ever WANT to be normal!! How boring that life must be. Never living on the edge of knowing whether or not God was going to perform a miracle in your life today, always knowing that you can do everything yourself without His divine intervention. Choosing your own path and missing the excitement and adventure of letting God lead your steps even though you don’t know where you will end up. Sacrificing every comfort for the sake of sharing Jesus’ grace with the world and being allowed to see God transform a life right before your eyes while you realize that God is using you as His creative tool in that life.
No, I’m not normal. I’m a part of a peculiar people, adopted as God’s chosen one and I’m not willing to deny my heritage for any house in a nice neighborhood with a husband whose job is always stable and affords me to shop at the mall twice a week. I’m gonna let people say what they want to about me and my family because I know that there is really only One person that I’m accountable to in the end. And He says that He handsomely rewards Oddballs.
I am spent and used up. I don’t think I have anything else to give these people. They have taken all that I have and then some. I’m worn out and I’m not sure how to recover from this. I love serving in ministry with my spouse, but this church and it’s people have been such a struggle that I just want to go home, lock the door, and never come out again. But then, on the other hand, I know that they desperately need the Jesus we have to offer them. I just don’t know where I am going to find the strength to give them what they need.
Dry and Parched
Dear Dry and Parched,
You have arrived! Now, you are in the perfect place to do REAL ministry. YOU are empty. YOU don’t have any more to give. YOU can’t do it anymore. Now, GOD can work in you and through you to accomplish His work. There’s nothing left of You to get in the way of His Will, His Love, and His ability to meet the needs of this stubborn and contentious people. God says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
God’s given you a blessing by letting these people wear you out. It’s only in our ultimate weakness that God’s power is perfected in us. He wants to give you the strength to finish this task. I can hear in your words that even though you want to hide, you still are seeking the strength to love and lead in this ministry. I only know one place to go when I’m at my end. Words that I have shared with others a million times take on new meaning when I don’t have anything left in me to give. Go to God’s Word. Drink deeply from His well. It never runs dry and you will be refreshed. I’ve listed some familiar verses below for you to start meditating on today.
Also, don’t try to bear this burden alone. Seek out safe places to be real about the struggles you are facing. You need people who can pray you through this rough time in ministry. Your spouse needs to be one of them, but be careful that you don’t use your spouse as your only source of encouragement. Go to your support system. And if you don’t have one, now is a great time to start seeking one out.
God’s ready to unleash his power on you, through you, and to His people for His name’s sake. He chose you for this task and He will accomplish it. Thank goodness it’s not up to us! .You can do this because God can do this. And when His power is released, there is no complaining woman, power-hungry deacon, whiney teenager, fussy old lady, or exhausting senior pastor that can stand in His way!
Isaiah 40:31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Galatians 6:9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
My husband has been the youth pastor at a church for the last two years, and we have wanted to leave for the last year and eleven months. We tried to find a new job this past summer, but it never worked out. My husband is frustrated and so am I. It is hard to sit through a church service without getting angry at our Senior Pastor. I am tired of my Sunday mornings, the time I have to spend with God, being filled with frustration. Our Senior Pastor is visionless yet refuses to step down. We see problems in every direction we turn, but are powerless to change anything. My husband is looked at and treated like a kid by most of the staff and board. We desperately want to go but do not understand why things have not worked out for us to leave. How do we keep it together when we are at a dying church that we are so desperately longing to leave?
Longing to Leave
Dear Longing to Leave,
I can just feel the frustration radiating from the words in your letter! You are definitely in a difficult place in your ministry and I hear how desolate you are feeling. It’s so disheartening to serve people when you feel unappreciated and dismissed.
Now for some truth…God usually sends pastors to churches that are sick. In Mark 2:17, Jesus said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Sometimes that even includes the Senior Pastor!
Surviving the dying churches and desert places in our lives is dependent on keeping our focus on the reason for our calling. Why did God call you to this church? What is your purpose in being there? What is it that you have that your church might need? Despite how hard this is, what do you have to offer for “such a time as this”? Is there even one person’s life that has changed because you are there? Does that one person matter in God’s economy? Would one life changed make your two years of sacrifice worth it? Spend more time focusing on God’s purpose and will for you in this sick and difficult place and you may be surprised at how peaceful and fulfilling it is to be right in the center of His will. For now, the one place you would rather not be is the place where God wants you. Seek Him first, pursue righteousness, and don’t worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:33-34) While you patiently wait for the next step in ministry, do all you can where you are and look for the unique lessons that God is actively teaching you and your husband. Someday, in retrospect, you may find that these trying years were full of value way beyond what you can see in this moment.
Why me? Why this? Why here?
Whiny in Washington
I don’t know. I can’t explain it. All of us get tired. The path is long and draining. Sometimes we don’t see our spouses for long periods of time and even when we do see them, we don’t connect like we should. The kids are unhappy. The church is dry. We seem to be being attacked from all sides. Questions start to pummel us: When will it be normal again? How much longer here? How do I catch the next train out of Crazyville?!
I used to indulge in these moments and wonder if we made a mistake. Is this the path you intended for us God? If so, then why is it so hard? In the midst of one of those moments, I ran across a little book called Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson. It revolutionized the way I thought about struggle and questions and God’s work in my life as a pastor’s spouse. I realized that difficult times aren’t always about taking the wrong path, they can be about patience, endurance, pruning, growing, and becoming all that God wants me to be. The path of struggle can also be a necessary part of the path towards fruit.
As a Christian, if I truly believe God’s word in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”, then I have to believe that all these “Whys” have a purpose. The whiny moments leave me with questions now but will ultimately lead me to a better relationship with God in the future. My only choice, and what I encourage you to do, is to abide in Him. In Jesus, there is comfort in the confusion, peace in the pandemonium, and a bulwark from the bombardment. In Him, you can make it through these “Whys”. Stop whining and start to abide. He is where you will find your answers.