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
I have three children under the age of six. My husband is a youth pastor at a relatively large church. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of demands on his time. Our children are now getting old enough that they are noticing how often their Dad is gone. How do I explain to them why Daddy is frequently not with us without making them resent the church?
Patty and the Preschoolers
Dear Patty and the Preschoolers,
You have asked an excellent question and have tapped into fears that I have carried with me since the day I said “I do” to my husband. We have all heard the urban legends of PK’s gone wild because they resented the time their parents spent at church. I’m still working this one out myself, but I’ll tell you a few things that I keep as driving principles when explaining ministry sacrifice to my children:
1. Your children will reflect back what you project to them. Those little faces have a way of being the perfect mirror of everything we say and do. If we as spouses are resentful of the time Dad spends at church, our children will be too. Ask these questions of yourself: Do you see time spent at church as valuable, worthy, and meaningful to God’s kingdom work? Is it for an eternal purpose? Is it worthy of sacrifice? If you can say “yes” to these questions, you should have no problem explaining why Dad is not home. He’s a HERO helping a desperate world know Jesus! But if you are having trouble seeing how the annual Whipped Cream Fight has significance in God’s work, you have some talking to do with your husband before you can explain anything to your children. (see post 8/29/11, Alone Again)
2. We are all called to ministry. Whether we are at the church with Dad or not, we are a part of what Dad is doing. One of the ways that we serve and worship Jesus is by giving up some of the time that we could spend with Dad so that he can minister to other people. Include them in the work of Dad’s ministry in age appropriate ways so that they understand that they are a part of what Dad is doing. Whether that is drawing pictures for a teenager in the hospital, helping clean up after an event, or praying while Dad is in a counseling appointment, they need to see that they contribute to the ministry as well.
3. Never take their sacrifice for granted. Now that your children are becoming aware of their own sacrifice for ministry, it’s definitely time for them to experience the same appreciation that any ministry volunteer might expect. Frequently tell them “Thank you” for their patience with Dad’s absence. Have Dad (and the student ministry) write them notes of encouragement and appreciation when he’s gone. And never underestimate the power of a “treat” when Daddy finally comes home. Let them know that without their sacrifice and support, Dad could never serve Jesus in the way that he does.
Finally, I want to caution you that there’s a warning signal in the words, “Where’s Daddy?” Just like those little birds that miners used to take down into the mines with them as an alert to when the air was getting dangerous, out of the mouths of babes comes the reality that our home life is getting out of balance. Heed their warning signals as if your family was running out of air.
I hope this gives you a good start Patty.
Please feel free to give Patty and the Preschoolers additional advice in the “comments” section below!
Any advice for a newbie going on their first interview? I don’t know what to expect and, truthfully, I don’t understand why I am going on the interview as the spouse. I get the point of traveling to see the area we might live in and meeting the people from the church but I’m a bit confused as to the reason I need to be in the interview meeting.
Nervous in North Carolina
Congratulations and look out below…you are entering the adventure zone! Yes, most churches want to meet the spouse of their ministerial candidate because they understand that the spouse can affect every aspect of the ministry that happens at their church. They also want you to see if you can live in their community and if you will fit in with their people. But as you climb into the interview car, I do have two pieces of advice for you: Step carefully and enjoy the ride.
Step carefully– Be cautious of how much you interject into the conversation. This church is interviewing your spouse, not you. Your role should be fly-on-the-wall. Observe everyone and take in all that your spouse will be missing as they go through the inquisition. Be your spouse’s sixth sense.
Also, beware of the “twofer”. (That’s two-for-one if you don’t speak country.) If you start hearing questions like, “Do you play an instrument?” and “Do you have any interest in ______ ministry?” you know that they have already started shopping in the BOGO section. Make a plan with your spouse as to how this will be handled if it comes up in the interview.
Enjoy the ride– Consider the interview as the dating portion of your relationship with this church. You are both trying to figure out if this will be a good match. Most churches are kind and generous when interviewing prospective pastors. This is your opportunity to learn about them and be treated in ways that you might not experience once you are hired. Enjoy the dinners, town tours, and gracious introductions while you are still infatuated with each other.
Approach this interview like God has a purpose in it even if you do not end up finding your perfect match. Pray that you and your spouse will be a blessing to these people even if it’s not the place for you. Will something you say or do help them as they search for the right pastor? There’s no guilt in saying “no” if you approach every interview as an opportunity for ministry…even if it’s only a one-meeting relationship.
So don’t be Nervous. Have fun on your first step toward the adventure zone! Churches don’t usually bite in the interview process. (That comes later.) 🙂
I am a youth pastor, married to my amazing wife for 10 years now (just celebrated it!) and have 2 amazing kids.
Over the years we have been married, there have been times that my wife has been jealous of the women I work with in the churches where I have served. Recently, she is more apprehensive than ever about the women I communicate with at church, whether it is a high school girl, a mom, or the reason I am writing today, an intern.
I am proud to announce that I have never been unfaithful, physically or mentally, with any woman. I don’t know what motivates her jealously. I do know that over the years I have had an issue with being on my phone too often at home or falling asleep early during our time together in the evenings. I also know I need to speak her love language more clearly.
I know that she believes me when I tell her that I have stayed faithful, but she still doubts that I will remain that way because I may be tempted in the future by a woman. Luckily, that has never been a struggle for me. I know my wife comes first and I will never betray that.
So what do I do? Any help would be great.
Dear Steady Eddie,
Each time I read your letter, whistles and sirens go off in my head that won’t stop screaming “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!” I feel nervous just writing back to you because I see your family walking through some danger zones that could be ministry-enders, maybe even marriage-enders, if not addressed very soon.
I can see that you have done some serious soul searching in trying to figure out why your wife might feel jealous. A good starting place for you would be to aggressively address the issues that you already know are a problem in your marriage. Make a concerted effort to turn off the phone when you are at home. Set some solid boundaries between family time and ministry time. Organize your ministry schedule so that your wife gets you when you are most alert and fresh, not when you are struggling to stay awake at night. And, yes, if you know her love language, speak it loud and clear. She is definitely having trouble hearing you right now.
Steady Eddie, instead of wondering what is making her feel so insecure; ask what it would take for her to feel more comfortable when you are interacting with other women. Let her determine the “rules” for your interactions with women. She may be seeing some things that you are innocent about when she is around these ladies. Whether founded or not, it’s always a wise thing to not dismiss the insecurities of your wife. You may be doing everything right, but it isn’t in a way that she can see it or you wouldn’t be having this issue. My guess is that you may also be having some communication problems. I would urge you to get some professional counseling to help navigate your way through this shaky time.
Finally, I want to caution you that no one is above temptation. Your wife might be ultra sensitive, but she’s right in telling you that there’s always an opportunity for a fall. Satan loves to surprise us by turning our strength into a weakness through sin. Remember, Peter? It only took hours for him to go from Jesus’ greatest defender to acting as if he didn’t know him. Take heed of her warnings. Guard your heart and always look for that way of escape from temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Your wife’s apprehensions may actually be providing you with an escape that you never knew you needed.
You’re a good guy, Steady Eddie. It’s obvious you love your wife and kids. It’s time to do whatever it takes to stabilize your marriage. Make this your priority right now. You will never do any greater ministry than the one you do for your family.
I am heartbroken. I have moved to a new church and I have lost my mentor. When we entered ministry seven years ago, the pastor’s wife at our church took me under her wing and helped me assimilate into the ministry lifestyle. All of the pastor’s wives at our church were really close. In our new church, the pastor’s wife has barely spoken to me. I don’t understand why she is not reaching out to me as the new person. I am really lonely and I desperately miss my mentor. I guess I’m just looking for some encouragement.
Friend-less in Friendswood
Dear Friend-less in Friendswood,
It sounds like you had the joy of being in a very unique situation in your last church. I wish that all spouses had a warm and welcoming ministry spouse to assimilate them into ministry. The reality is that most churches are more like the one you are in now. (Sorry to break the bad news!)
My greatest encouragement to you is that you don’t let the legacy that your mentor gave you go to waste by waiting for someone to reach out to you. Even though you are the new person on the block, be the one to make the first move. You obviously know more about being inclusive and hospitable than the other spouses at your church. Set the example. Be the change you want to see in others.
I have this vision of Pedro talking to Napoleon Dynamite about how he is going to ask the most popular girl at school to a dance. “I’ll build her a cake or something…” Of course, you think that there is no way that this tactic is going to work and… it doesn’t. But, it’s obvious that somewhere in Summer’s heart, she has found a soft place for Pedro. Reaching out to other ministry spouses may be something like that scene from Napoleon Dynamite. It will be awkward and uncomfortable. You might feel like a dork. You may not get the response you want. But if you keep baking enough cakes, eventually, someone is going to respond. (Deb went to the dance with Pedro!)
A lot of spouses are lonely in ministry. We need more Pedro’s who have the courage to reach out to others even though they are the new kid. Pedro affected a lot of change at his school in his own gawky way. You can too.
I need to confess. Sometimes, when we are really busy at church, I feed my kids dinner from the vending machine. There it is…I’m a bad mom! I feel so guilty, but I don’t know what else to do. At least they are getting fed, right?
Dear Little Debbie,
Before I start, I have to admit, my kids have gotten a few Star Crunch dinners in their lifetime too! I don’t think that makes you a bad mom, but I do think it makes you a busy one. The best way to combat those busy times in your life is planning, planning, planning!
Generally, most of us know when the busy seasons at church are going to happen. As you see the busy times approaching, make plans to take care of the kids first. Whether that’s finding babysitters, planning convenience meals, or asking someone to bring food to the church, it’s important to make sure that your kids are not the last thing on your TO DO list. This planning is less about having a candy bar for dinner and more about what you are communicating to your kids when you don’t plan for their basic needs in your busy day. No matter how important ministry is in the lives of those you will touch through your church service, there are no people on this earth that you will influence more than your own children. Pre-planning elevates their status to “more-important-than-church”. Ministry kids are usually pretty flexible. Most understand a chaotic lifestyle and are willing to sacrifice and eat chips and honey buns for dinner occasionally! The problem comes in when we consistently make them second place to decorating for the church social or running copies for VBS. Force yourself to become organized. Bow out of things that other people in the church can do. Focus yourself on the most important relationships in your life.
Plan to make your kids the number one priority over church duties and vending machine dinners won’t be a source of guilt. Those moments will become a treat and a memory-maker.
I am writing to you with bleach-cracked hands and the smell of toilet cleaner in my nose. Our church janitor was fired recently and the leadership committee decided that it would be a GREAT idea for everyone to pitch in and take a shift to clean the bathrooms after each service. Of course, I signed up to take a shift because EVERYONE was going to help out and clean. Well, guess what? Two months later and I am the only one still showing up to clean. I am trying to have a good attitude about this and be a humble servant but I can honestly say that my sacrifice is not wholehearted before the Lord. In fact, I’m sick of it! I don’t know how I get into these situations. It seems like I am always getting roped into volunteering for something I don’t really want to do because I am a pastor’s spouse and I need to lead by example. How do I get out of this habit?
Chained to the Bathroom
Dear Chained to the Bathroom,
What makes you think that it’s a great example for you to be cleaning all of the toilets in the church by yourself? Is it the fumes?! Get out of the bathroom and maybe you will have a better perspective! It sounds to me like you are letting your congregation take advantage of your willingness to serve and sacrifice. Even Jesus said that there is a point to shake the dust off your feet and move on. In this case it’s time to throw down the toilet brush!
Seriously, the church will ask you to do as much as you let them. This volunteering habit of yours will keep you smelling like scrubbing bubbles unless you learn a beautiful two-letter word- “NO”. You will never be able serve wholeheartedly when you are volunteering out of an obligation “to be an example”. You need to start focusing on what God is prompting you to do rather than on what the leadership committee deems is best for you to do. Plus, as long as YOU will do this kind of stuff, no one else in the church is going to step up to do it. The church won’t ever need to hire a custodian because you will be filling that role for them.
A part of leading by example is joyfully operating right in the center of God’s will. Hosea 6:6 says “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Saying “NO” to things that are not God’s will for you is a way for you to show love to your congregation. If you are serving with a sense of resentment, you are serving in the wrong place. You will never be the godly example you desire for your congregation until you do them the honor of serving them wholehearted in the center of God’s will. Anything else and you are doing a disservice to them, yourself, and God.
And I promise you, those toilets will smell much fresher when someone who is called to do it is cleaning them!
Can you talk about how to handle questions from people at church? It seems like as soon as I walk into the door of the worship center, I get pummeled with a thousand questions about my spouse’s ministry. “What time does this start?” “Who’s teaching today?” “Do you know what’s going on with so and so?” “Let me tell you all my personal information and have you pass it on to your pastor spouse…” I feel uncomfortable answering questions that I don’t really know the answer to and the list of “memos” that people want me to pass on to my spouse is never ending- I know I’m going to forget something. And, my pet peeve: I hate taking money from people who forgot to put it into the offering plate or who want to “make a payment” for this or that. Please talk about how to handle these situations. Besides making myself invisible, I don’t know what to do.
Longing Not to be Noticed
Dear Longing Not to be Noticed,
Thank you for bringing up this issue. I believe that it is common for ministry spouses to be seen as an extension of the pastor. People find it convenient to approach the spouse with their question or issue because the spouse doesn’t have a line forming around them on Sunday morning and the pastor does! I can’t make you invisible, but I do have some thoughts to share that might help make Sunday less secretarial for you.
- 1. The Less You Know, The Less They Ask– If you appear to be a good resource for answering questions, you will become their “go-to” person. You have a choice to make- become an expert on the church bulletin and schedule so that you can answer every question or play dumb. Shhhh…don’t tell everyone, but sometimes I know the answer to their question but I say “I’m not sure” because I want them to look it up for themselves. You can do that too. Unless you want to become the mobile Church Information Booth, I’d recommend it. Teach them where to find the information so that when you are not around, they can find it for themselves.
- 2. Never Take Church Money from People – This is a danger zone. When you are handed a camp payment or someone’s tithe on a busy Sunday morning, it is so easy for that money to get misplaced or forgotten. I tell people that I don’t feel comfortable taking their money and point them towards the nearest deacon, elder, pastor, sound guy, whoever, but I won’t take the money. I’m not trying to be unhelpful, but I am trying to show them that I am not the right person to take their Church money.
- 3. Filter Information Given to You for Your Spouse – If Miss Martha wants my husband to know that someone left dirty dishes in the fellowship hall sink, I say, “I’ll try to remember, but I’m not sure if I will so it’s best if you call the office.” But if someone tells me that they found drugs in their son’s room last night, I take the memo. I still ask them to call my husband but that information is noted by me. Only the most critical of information will ever get passed on in my household. If Miss Martha asks me next Sunday if I told my husband about the dishes, I let her know that I forgot (which I probably did). Enough forgetting and I am no longer deemed a reliable information highway. J
I don’t lie to people but I also don’t make it easy for them to use me as their go between to the pastor. That is ok. Your worship time is valuable. Don’t waste it being your husband’s secretary. The church pays people to do that.
I have a two year old child and a six month old baby. I am pretty picky about who babysits them. There’s a lady at church who keeps offering to have her daughter come over and watch the children for me. She says she wants to give me a break and that it will be good “practice” for her daughter. I don’t want this girl to “practice” babysitting on my kids but this lady keeps insisting. It’s getting to where I try to avoid her in the hallways so I don’t have to talk to her. I know that she is trying to be nice and give me a break, but I don’t think that her daughter is old enough or experienced enough to take care of two toddlers. I feel really bad for being ungrateful for the offer. I don’t want to hurt her feelings but I’m running out of excuses at this point. I feel like I’m going to have to let this girl watch the kids so that this will end.
Dear Picky Mommy,
You are in no way obligated by mandate of ministry to allow people to practice babysitting on your children. This does not make you ungrateful, it shows your wisdom. These children were entrusted to you by God and just because your husband is paid by the church doesn’t mean that the church people get to do, say, or practice whatever they want on your family. It’s good to draw clear boundaries early on when you have children in ministry. There is no reason for you to feel bad about letting people know what is acceptable and not acceptable in regards to your household. Do you think this lady would want you dictating how her daughter should get to school in the mornings or how she should wear her hair? Do you think for a second that she would hesitate to tell you that you are not welcome to make those decisions for her? Why would you let this woman decide for you who is going to babysit your kids? You do not have to feel pressured to please everyone in the church who has some suggestion for your family no matter how noble the offer may be.
I would encourage you to draw a strong line with this lady. Stop making excuses; she’s not getting the subtle approach. Kindly thank her for her offer but let her know that you are picky about who watches your kids. If you still feel the need to spare her feelings, tell her that you already have a regular babysitter. What would you rather do, save face or protect your children? That pit in your stomach is not going to go away as you pull out of the driveway with the children in the care of this woman’s daughter. Your lack of confrontation will only complicate the matter. Stand up now. Good grief, if you are going to have a reputation for being ungrateful or unkind, it might as well be over something that really matters like your children!
A lady from church just approached me and asked if she could take me out for a makeover. She was very humble when she approached me and she said that she wanted to give me this makeover as her special gift. I told her I would go next week but I have mixed emotions about it. I mean, really, do I look like I need a makeover?? Is she just trying to be nice?? I don’t know! And that is bothering me. I don’t want to over think this whole thing but I’m a little uncomfortable. On one hand, I want to call her up and cancel, and on the other hand, I really would love to have a makeover and get to know this lady a little better. I feel crazy for being suspicious of her motives. I’m not sure what to do.
Dear Skeptical Sally,
Sometimes living the ministry lifestyle forces us into an attitude of cautiousness. Jesus himself said that we should be as “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. * (Interestingly enough, He was giving instructions to a group of people He was sending out to do ministry!)
I know you have mixed feelings about this lady; however, I don’t think that you should let your apprehension limit the “Church” in the way that they want to bless you. If your feelings about this lady make you sick to your stomach, it may be time to graciously bail out of the date. But, if you have gotten to the point in ministry where you are suspicious of everyone, it may be time to allow God to stretch you beyond your comfort zone. You know when you are getting a Holy Spirit stop sign and when you are letting past trespasses get in the way of new friendships.
Just because someone offers you a makeover doesn’t mean you have to take it, but check your heart. Be shrewd AND innocent. This may be just the opportunity you need to prove that some church people are worthy of your trust.