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 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.
Just got hired as a full-time youth pastor 8 months ago…it’s my first ministry position and it’s out of state. Also, just got married 2 months ago, so everything is still very new for my wife and me. On top of getting married and moving to a different state, she is also finishing up her bachelor’s degree in secondary education – she is student teaching full-time. Oh and there’s this whole new thing of what it means to be a youth pastor’s wife.
We absolutely love being married…it’s everything we dreamed it would be! However, my wife is having a hard time adjusting to this new life. We are in our early 20’s and like most churches there are very few people our age. We spend most of our free time with teenagers or people who could be our parents!
Our biggest struggle right now is we feel alone. We have no family within 5 hours of us and no real friends within 5 years of us. I hate thinking my job as a youth pastor is hurting the emotional health of my wife. I love teenagers and helping them grow in Christ, but I love my wife more – much more. Any advice for us at this unique stage of our lives would be awesome…thanks so much!
Yep, you have done it! You have just invited the woman that you love more than anything on earth into the front seat of the biggest, baddest roller coaster anyone has ever experienced. And not only do you have her in the front seat, but she’s not sure that the restraints are really locked in place. Coming out of the chute and riding up the hill was kind of fun and exciting. But at the precipice of the first plunge where you both can see the reality of how deep this coaster goes and how long, twisted, and harrowing your ride will be, you start to experience your first thoughts of regret. Yikes! Let me off!!
I’ve been riding that rail for a while now, and let me say to you that it’s going to be ok. Give yourselves some time to adjust. You have experienced enough change in the last few months to overwhelm anybody. Your sensitivity and concern about how your wife is adjusting to the ministry lifestyle is the first step to holding her hand and helping her feel secure during the ride. But also recognize that you can’t secure her in the cart by yourself no matter how strong you are. You can’t be your wife’s only source of support and friendship. If you are going to survive this ride, you both have to develop a support system to help hold you in place when the ministry lifestyle turns you upside down and corkscrews you through the twists and turns of life. I wish I could tell you that once you make it through the first plunge that everything is easy from then on, but, you know roller coasters, on the good ones the ride is usually exciting and unexpected from start to finish. The ministry lifestyle is the same way. Every stage of life will be filled with these kinds of loop de loops.
Below, I have a few questions for you to answer. I hope that they will not only help you to find a support system no matter where you go in ministry, but also help you to figure out how to embrace your wife on the roller coaster ride of your new life together. And if you both can figure out how to hold on tight at the beginning, you might just enjoy this exhilarating and terrifying, heart-stopping, spectacular ride that we call ministry.
- Do you have a group of friends from before marriage and moving that you can connect with via Skype on a regular basis?
- Do you have friends or mentors from your former church families that you can call up when you need to hear a familiar voice?
- Are there any other YP’s in your area that you could invite over for dinner?
- Have you considered befriending a YP from another denomination? (I bet some of them have wives that can relate to your situation!)
- Is there a YP association in your town, neighboring city, or state? (Have your wife check out www.leadingandlovingit.com for a virtual ministry spouse community. Take her to your next YP conference, and let her connect with other spouses. www.conference.youthministry.com has an excellent spouse tract that also continues to meet on FB –“Married to a Youth Pastor-Wives Connect Group”. You can friend the FB group even if you haven’t attended the conference yet.)
- Is it worth one night a week of your busy schedule to join a Para-church Bible study where you can connect with others your age?
- Is there a hobby that you both can participate in that may connect you with other people your age?
- Have you too quickly disregarded the support and influence of the older friends that you have in your church?
- Have you connected with the other staff members and their spouses? Have you considered inviting them to do something social with you?
- Are you taking regular days off? Are your days off truly “black-out” days from church work?
- Are you giving your wife your leftovers or is she getting the same man that she met before you took the ministry position?
- Is ministry occupying every aspect of your life or do you and your wife have very definable boundaries where ministry is not allowed in? i.e. day off, vacations, regular private time together
- Have you ever discussed with your wife what she wants her “role” to be in ministry? Are you helping her to define God’s unique role and purpose in ministry or have you and/or the church been defining that role for her?
My husband handles all the technical aspects of our church ministries. He was hired with the title Minister of Media. The problem is that he spends a lot of his time just fixing the computers in the church office. What happened to the “minister” part of his title? I don’t think that the staff sees him as a REAL pastor. He recruits and ministers to a large team of volunteers who run the all the tech in our services. He leads those volunteers in Bible Study and pastors their families. He has a religious undergraduate degree and he is a licensed minister. Why do they treat him like the IT guy? My husband tells me to blow it off and not worry about it. He’s a lot less concerned about this than I am, but I’m irritated. How do I get past this attitude?
Insulted in Indiana
This may be one of those things about ministry life that you are going to have to just let go of in order to find some peace. It is definitely our first reaction to defend our spouse when we see an injustice taking place. Especially when we think they deserve so much more respect than they are receiving at church. Changing your attitude starts with:
- Recognizing that while man sees the outward appearance, God sees the heart (I Samuel 16:7)
- Realizing that no matter what happens with the staff or congregation, we do our work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24)
- Start claiming God’s promise that what is sacrificed to Him in secret will be rewarded (Matthew 6:4-6)
And don’t diminish what your attitude can do for your spouse. It may be that the reason your husband can accept his relegated role so easily is because you see him as so much more. Sometimes it only takes one person, the most important person in our lives, recognizing the work we are doing to give us the strength to push through when ministry is difficult. Balance your admiration of your husband with the viewpoint that the only person you are really trying to please is God and I think your attitude will swiftly find adjustment.
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.
It’s Pastor Appreciation month. This is the month that I always feel least appreciated. Our church takes up a Love Offering for the pastors on the last Sunday of this month. The Love Offering is promoted as being “split among the pastors”.
In the last five years, the Love Offering has been split 70-30 between the Senior Pastor and the Associate Pastor. (Besides my husband, we have two other pastors on staff.) All five pastors, secretaries, and janitors are given a $25 restaurant gift certificate with their paychecks.
I’m not resentful that the Pastor and Associate get the offering. They work very hard and deserve all of the appreciation they get. But it does feel like a slight that the other three pastors are given the same gift as the support staff. I also struggle to respond to congregation members who assume that our family received the Love Offering. I’m not sure what to say to them.
I feel guilty and ungrateful for even writing this all down-
Dear Mrs. Unappreciated,
Please don’t feel guilty! If you didn’t tell me, who would you tell? 🙂 It’s ok to have feelings of under appreciation for the sacrifices your family is making to be in ministry. The problem comes when we dwell in these moments and allow ourselves to set up a root of bitterness in our lives. We have to keep grounded in the fact that everything we do as ministry families is an act of service to God. God knows we are not in it for the money and gift cards!!
Focus on those people who DO appreciate your ministry. The ones who are excited that they had the opportunity to give to the Love Offering. If it’s the thought that counts, they COUNT! Graciously accept their encouragement and don’t dwell on the fact that the money never made it to your family.
And give credit where credit is due… don’t attribute the slight to your congregation, but to the leadership who made the decision to distribute the gifts in that manner. My preference is to assume that they are ignorant of how this action makes you feel. And even if they do know how it makes you feel, there’s nothing productive that you can do with that information. This just leads me back to the fact that they are ignorant…
Guard your heart. This is a tricky, slippery slope and all roads lead to bitterness. Remember, your real rewards will come much later and God has not forgotten your service:
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24
I am a very opinionated person and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. Can someone be too mouthy to be a pastor’s spouse?
Dear Big Mouth,
Good News-there’s no mold; God calls all kinds of people to be pastor’s spouses…even the mouthy ones! I don’t think that you have to go through a personality lobotomy to be a ministry spouse. God uses all that we are for His glory.
However, having said that, I do think that it is important for ministry spouses to consider that they have a much bigger influence and responsibility than the normal person in church. As a ministry spouse, your opinions not only represent you but can be mistakenly assumed to be the opinions of your spouse, your spouse’s ministry, and/or the whole church staff!
Consider your audience when you give your opinion. Is this something that might influence their spiritual life negatively if I say it? “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:5-6
Use your mouthiness as a vehicle of grace. It’s an honor and a trust for God to give ministry spouses such a big of a sphere of influence. Be who you are. God chose YOU for this role, not some mousy, shy, fading flower. Trust that He knows what He’s doing.
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!