What do you do when it seems like no one is responding to your ministry? How do you keep going when the sacrifice doesn’t seem worth it? It’s hard for me to watch my spouse struggle day in and day out when it all seems futile. These people are never going to change.
Disillusioned in Denver
When you come to this point in ministry, it’s time to reconnect with “why” you began this journey in the first place. I know you have a few mountains around your area. Escape to one and have some serious alone time with God. Ask Him to remind you why this is worth it. Ask Him to show you His view of your sacrifices. Ask Him to help you remember those that may have been touched by your ministry.
When I think back over some of the most difficult ministry situations we have faced, it’s always that one person who “got it” that made all the sacrifice worth it. I’m heartbroken for the hundreds that missed what God had for them, but I recognize that this path is narrow and Jesus said that most people will choose the easier way. We serve and sacrifice for the few who will respond.
Some suggested questions for your escape time with God:
- Is my discouragement about this church or is it about our calling to ministry?
- Have I been serving in my own strength instead of God’s strength?
- Is our ministry coming to a close at this church?
- If I never see another life changed, is it enough that I was obedient to God’s call?
- What can I do to encourage my spouse? How can I make our home a place of respite and peace from the struggle of ministry?
“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3
Some people might call me a prima donna. Others might call me selfish. I prefer to think of myself as a Princess. Sometimes I want the universe to revolve around me! There’s only one problem, I’m married to a pastor. When we were dating, my future husband gave me a lot of attention. We became best friends and I never wanted to be apart from him. I guess that’s where the selfish part comes in, I miss him. I don’t like sharing him with so many other people. I want him all to myself. He’s my whole universe but I feel like Pluto in his universe. I want to be the Sun. I want to be sitting on the throne next to him, not waiting in his court as one of his many admirers. I want to be his Princess again. Am I a prima donna? Tell me the truth. Is it wrong to be jealous of the time he shares with all those people at church?
The Pastor and the Princess
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be your husband’s best friend, but I wonder from your letter what you thought life would be like when you married a pastor. A part of living with a pastor is sharing his time with other people. There’s servant hood and sacrifice involved in this calling and you are a part of that now. That may mean not always being the center of attention.
HOWEVER, in my encouragement for you to share a little of your husband’s face time with other people, one thing you should never sacrifice is “relationship” with your husband. I am sensing that relationship and quality time are suffering a bit in your situation. Have you discussed how you feel with your husband? He needs to know that you are feeling like you have to “request an audience” to be in his presence. You might not always be able to be the Sun in his universe but you certainly should be closer than Pluto! Let’s shoot for Venus or Mercury even on the busy days in ministry. And you should always feel confident that you are his Princess even when he is not able to spend a lot of time with you.
What do you need from him in order to feel the intimacy and specialness that has waned in your relationship? Have you shared your need for attention with him? And while you are thinking this through, are you being fair? Are your time and attention expectations realistic? It’s imperative that you discuss this with him. He needs to know how you are feeling.
It’s not selfish for a wife to want to have the best part of what her husband has to give. It’s biblical. Husbands should love their wives and give themselves up for her just as Christ gave Himself up for the church. He should cherish her just as Christ cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). Sounds like “Princess” might not be such a far reaching title for yourself! When you feel loved, you won’t have a need to feel jealous. Balance this Princess thing with respect for your husband and you will not be seen as a prima donna to your congregation, instead, your marriage will become a beautiful living picture of Jesus’ relationship to the church.
I am writing you as I sit among a mountain of boxes in my living room. I feel like just when things start to get comfortable and familiar, we move. Is there ever stability in ministry life?
You know you have moved a lot when the people around you start commenting that you pack so well you could be a professional mover! Personally, I relate to that scene in The Incredibles where the wife has just unpacked the last box in her house after three years and Mr. Incredible is calling to let her know that it’s time to move.
I’ve known many pastors’ families who have served their churches for many years without moving. Sometimes God plants us in a community and He uses deep roots and longevity of relationship to work in the hearts of people around us. Other families I know have moved numerous times in the course of their ministries and God has used them in special ways “for such a time as this” at each of the churches where they have served.
I don’t know what God has in store for your family, but I do know that while God might not always move us physically, He constantly challenges our stability. Even if you have the privilege of serving in one place for your whole ministry, you might not ever feel completely comfortable or stable. I have some friends who have served at the same church in Youth Ministry for 20 years. In that time, they have had at least six Senior Pastors. Even though they have lived in the same house, there has been nothing stable about ministry life!
Ministry life is about challenge. It’s about the refining of your faith. It pushes us beyond what we thought we could handle so that we finally understand what God can handle. So as you sit among the boxes, don’t long for the comfortable. It’s in the unfamiliar where God works! I hope you grab all you can from Him on your next adventure.
Last week the church secretary approached me during the worship service and commented on my dress. She made sure to mention that it had been a long time since I had worn a dress and it was nice to finally see me in one. The week before, a different lady told me how nice it was that I wear dresses every Sunday because it had become so rare to see that in church. WHAT?!!! #1) Why do they care so much what I wear? #2)Whatever is clean is what gets put on the body that Sunday. What’s up with the fashion police!? Next week I think I’ll go naked and see what they have to say.
Au Naturel in Jacksonville, FL
Dear Au Naturel,
Wow! I guess you didn’t realize that when you became a ministry spouse you instantly turned into Jackie O. How does that verse go- “Church ladies look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”- something like that (I Samuel 16:7).
You made me laugh and I think that is the only way to deal with situations like yours. Of course it is utterly ridiculous that these ladies have expectations of you regarding what you wear to church, but realistically, nothing you say or do is going to change their expectations of how you should clothe yourself for worship. There are some things as a ministry spouse that we have to be sensitive about when it comes to the congregation and their opinions and feelings about us. Clothing should not be one of them as long as you are biblical in your expression of it; “ Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” I Peter 3:3-4. Be careful not to put too much stock in the ignorance of flippant comments. Ministry is stressful enough without indulging every single expectation church people have of you. Be comfortable in your own skin by knowing that you choose to please God first, the “paparazzi” second. And as for going naked….intriguing… somehow I think your husband might appreciate that much more than the church ladies!
I am so tired of the people at church. Sometimes I wish I could just melt into the wall and pretend that I don’t exist. Their comments rub my raw nerves and leave me crying in the corner. However, this week I received a note from a lady in my church who told me how much she appreciated my sacrifice of time by allowing my spouse to minister to her family. I hate it when these church people ruin my negative perception of them!! I want to be angry and then they go and encourage me. Church people SUCK…and then they don’t.
Boggled in CT
Thank you for sharing your raw and honest opinion of church people. I think that most of us as ministry spouses go through a myriad of emotions when it comes to people in the church. It’s people like this lady who sent you the note who make it all worth it in the end. The ones who acknowledge that the lifestyle you lead is not the easiest and then seek to support you. They keep us going in ministry. But people of this quality seem to be few and far between. It seems that our congregants have not read the verse in Hebrews that says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NLV) That’s why it is so important to cling on to those few beautiful and rare moments when someone blesses you in ways you did not expect. When church people SUCK, pull out your note and remember the blessing. When you want to disappear, remember the few people who you would miss if you were gone. When you want to cry, think of the small appreciations that you have known. Release yourself to love church people despite what they do and God will surprise you with those rare few who give you the blessing of serving with joy. Besides, anger is not profitable for producing anything but wrinkles! 🙂 I choose joy!
For the last three years, the only thing people at church have called me is “brother John’s wife”. Seriously, I don’t think some of them even know my first name. There are days when I feel like I am losing my identity. I used to be a leader who was known for who I am as an individual. Since marrying a pastor, it’s like everything I do is judged in light of who he is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be John’s wife and I love serving God with him, but sometimes I feel like everything I am is getting lost in the bright light of his ministry. Will I ever just get to be ME again?
In The Shadow
Dear In The Shadow:
Being a ministry spouse does often force us to play a very submissive role in our church lives. I know that’s a hard place to be when you are used to being a leader. Having your spouse “on display” while you are noticed only for the role you play in your spouse’s ministry can minimize your identity as a person. But, I want to challenge you to think deeper about how much control you really have over your place in the shadows…
My question to you is this: Are you pursuing what God has called you to do or are you choosing to live in your husband’s shadow out of necessity or convenience?
Obligation to ministry is not good for you, your spouse, or the church. Be honest with yourself and explore whether or not you are perpetuating this identity loss by not seeking exactly what it is that God may be asking you to do. Are you fully using your spiritual gifts and talents in the church or are you doing just what is “expected” of you?
And here comes the hard part: It’s time to have a serious conversation with your husband. He needs to know how you are feeling and you both need to discuss how things are going to change so that you can truly express yourself as a person. This may mean simply taking up a hobby or participating in a class where no one knows who he is. It could mean volunteering in a different ministry area of the church than the one he administers.
It’s your choice to allow yourself to disappear. Start to redefine how you can express yourself as an individual in this ministry relationship. I feel confident that once you find that niche that you can call uniquely yours, people will start to know your first name again.
I am a youth pastor’s wife who loves to serve in the student ministry with my husband! For years, I’ve gone on all of the trips and have been a partner in every aspect of the student ministry. Recently, I gave birth to my second child and I am finding it more and more difficult to be a big part of what is happening at church. How do I manage two kids while being heavily involved in the student ministry?
Dear Baby Blues,
A wise woman once said to me that our lives are marked by seasons. It may be time to admit that this season of your life demands some lifestyle changes. Does that mean that you can no longer be a part of the student ministry? No way! But it may mean that the role you play in the course of the ministry will have to change for a period of time. This may be hard for you since you have been so immersed in serving “hands on” in the youth ministry. Think creatively about your new role. Pre-kids, you could go to the church building, go on trips, and go to events. Post-kids, instead of “go”-ing, you may need to have the events come to you. Get creative in the way you personally interact with teenagers. Some ideas for ministry that you can do with children in tow:
Host a small group in your home
Invite a few teenagers to help you with the kids
Become the taxi service for the ministry
Run errands for the upcoming youth events and ask some teenagers to come with you to pick up the items
If you are still feeling distant from the ministry, pick one major overnight event each year that you will attend and have someone else watch the children. Remember, the biggest impact and ministry you and your husband will ever have is on your own children. Your church teenagers need to see a successful, loving Christian family as a part of their discipleship process. This will require temporary sacrifice on your part that is well worth the time away from the ministry. You may find out that this season will teach you and your husband how to maximize your ministry time and give you ideas for student ministry that you would never have considered pre-kids. Before you know it, your kids will be older and you will be trying to figure out how to manage your own teenagers in your youth ministry!
My wife is the children’s minister at a large church. Lately, her administrative pastor has been riding her hard about her budget. When I see him in the hallway at church, I want to punch him in the head! Does he even know how much time my wife spends at the church working? When you have a hundred extra kids come to an event, you are going to go over budget. I told her to quit because she doesn’t need this kind of hassle and disrespect for the little bit she is paid. But she won’t do it. She loves the kids too much. How do I deal with this man and keep my Christianity?
Wound Up Tight
Dear Wound Up Tight,
I highly recommend that you count to 10 and keep your hands tightly clasped around your Bible when passing the administrative pastor in the hallway! Look, it’s natural for you to want to protect your wife. Some would say that it’s your responsibility as her husband. But think about this for a minute, if your wife had a job in a secular office, would you storm the doors and protect her honor with the staff accountant? Probably not. Church ministries are personal, and the lines between work and home are easily blurred. Just like in a secular job, it’s important that your wife take responsibility for her own ministry. The way that you can support her best is by making your home and marriage a peaceful haven from the stressors of her ministry. Validate that what she is doing is meaningful in the “eternal”. Pray for and with your wife about how to face this challenge with her supervisor. With prayer and communication, you both will be in unity about when it is truly time for her move on from this current ministry. In the meantime, get a punching bag, avoid the main hallway, bathe in prayer and ask God to change your heart and attitude about this pastor. Who knows? He may be living in the same pressure cooker that your wife is in. There’s no one better to pray for him than someone who knows what it’s like to live in a glass house.
My husband works all of the time. When he’s not at church doing some kind of meeting or bible study, he’s at home on the computer or on the phone counseling someone. I can’t remember the last time we had a date or even an uninterrupted conversation. I know his ministry is more than just a job so I feel bad saying anything when I know that these people really do need help. I’m willing to share him for the sake of God’s kingdom, but it’s starting to get lonely around here. Is this the sacrifice I have to make to be married to a pastor?
Alone Again in
Dear Alone Again,
Yes, sacrifice is a part of a ministry spouses’ life, however, when you start describing your life as lonely, the red flags go up. I have a rule in my household regarding “worthy ministry” that helped revolutionize the way my husband and I view what is really important enough to interrupt our private time together. Whenever presented with a ministry opportunity, we ask ourselves these two questions:
- Is this something that has eternal value?
- Is this something that someone else could easily do?
- Running up to church during dinner because someone forgot to lock the doors has no eternal value and could definitely be done by someone else.
- Running up to church during dinner because someone’s family is in crisis has eternal value and requires your husband’s attention.
- Going to a football game to support a teenager from your church could have eternal value, but it is something that someone else could easily do.
- It may be necessary for your husband to conduct a leader’s meeting, but can it happen at a different time than on your only day off.
Considering these questions before disrupting your family time for ministry will help you be a more supportive spouse and help your husband be a more attentive husband. It’s helped my family to organize our ministry and family time much more effectively. It also forces us to allow other people the chance to be involved in ministries that my husband might have just done himself in the past.
Recognize the red flags. Please sit down with your husband and tell him how you feel. Reassure him that you are supportive of him in ministry but you need some more time with him. I challenge you and your husband to try out the question method and see if it doesn’t transform your time together and maybe even your ministry!
I’m newly married to a youth pastor. He is a wonderful man and I am madly in love with him. I’m just not so sure that I’m madly in love with being a pastor’s wife. I want to support him, but this is not exactly what I had in mind when I dreamed about our future together. I’m finding myself frustrated all the time- frustrated with teenagers, frustrated with church people, frustrated with our finances, and frustrated with our lack of time together. When I said “I do”, I didn’t sign up for this.
I don’t really want to say this but the reality of your situation is that when you said “I do”, you did sign up for this kind of life. Church people, teenagers, and financial struggles all come along with the “married-to-a-youth pastor” package. However, while you do have to live with the lifestyle, you don’t have to live with the frustration.
Some tips that might help:
1)Set your boundaries. As a newlywed, this is a great time in your life to establish some strong boundaries between your personal life and the youth ministry. My guess from your letter is that your personal life and your public life have been blending together. Spend some time with your husband talking about how you are going to define your family life and how much of your private time you are going to share with ministry. Regularly schedule time that is “ministry free”. Yes, actually put it on his schedule. If you don’t, someone else will fill that time for him.
2)Find a mentor. This does not necessarily have to be another pastor’s wife. Choose someone who lives a very busy lifestyle and successfully maintains a close loving relationship with her husband. Get to know her and search for the tools that make her marriage work.
3)Live on love! I Peter 4:8 says “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” This not only goes for you and your husband, but for church people, too. Focusing on the “why” behind your sacrifice of time, money, and privacy will go a long way to helping you deal with the daily frustrations of ministry life. Ask God to help you love these people the way that He loves them despite their faults.