We have been in ministry for five years. For five years, my husband has been involved with the Christmas Eve service. Because of this, we don’t even start our holiday travel to see family until Christmas day. Everything is a big rush so that we can make it back to church for the next Sunday. This is the only time of year that I get to see my whole family. I love our church, but do I have to sacrifice my family every year at Christmas?
Missing Mom at Christmas
Dear Missing Mom,
In Matthew 10, Jesus talks about loving Him more than we love the members of our own family. I don’t think this means that we have to sacrifice everything for the annual Christmas Eve service! You need to draw a line. It’s ok to occasionally take a real vacation over the holidays. The congregation can lead more than they think they can. Give them the opportunity. If you have other pastors, let them rotate leadership for this one service a year. I think your congregation will understand. I bet not many of them have made it to all five of the last five years of Christmas Eve services. It’s good to retreat as a minister’s family. Take some time to step away and just be removed.
You didn’t mention where your husband stands on this issue. All of this goes for him too. Sometimes in our pastors’ zeal to serve, they forget to refresh and renew. When you are new in ministry, especially when you love your church, it’s really hard to step away for even a week to go visit family. Talk with your husband about your desire for some balance over the holidays. Even if he doesn’t miss your Mom as much as you do, he needs some Sabbath time as well!
What do you do when your spouse is on the staff of a church and you’re not happy with the children’s ministry? Our church averages about 250 people, is growing, and the children’s ministry is dying. The children’s minister has been with the church for a long time and is very set in her ways. There is very meager security in the nursery wing. Honestly, if I didn’t know the people in the nursery, I wouldn’t leave my children. Also, the children’s programs are dwindling in numbers and very poorly organized. I’m seriously considering taking my children to another church for weekday programs. Is that wrong? I am praying for the ministry, but I also want my children in a thriving program.
Dear Mama Bear,
When it comes to protecting the cubs, don’t ignore your instincts! Your first responsibility and ministry is to your children. If you feel uncomfortable with any issue in the children’s ministry, especially safety concerns, always protect your kids before you protect someone’s feelings. Now, having said that, know that you and your husband will face consequences for that decision. But let’s consider the sacrifice you’re making: kids vs. hurt feelings, kids vs. awkward silences, kids vs. questions from congregation, kids vs. questions from the pastor, kids vs. my husband’s job, kids vs. having to move. In my book, the kids win every time!
I really don’t think that taking your kids to another church for weekday programs will get your husband fired, but it might, so you have to be unified in whatever decision you make. This action will surely bring to light some of the issues in the children’s ministry. Be aware that you will probably influence other people to move their children as well. Protect your kids, but know that you will be disturbing the status quo and since no one has addressed the issue thus far, you are going to ruffle some feathers. There will be fall out and in that make sure that you “keep a clear conscience” by answering questions with “gentleness and respect”. (I Peter 3:16)
In all of this, Mama Bear, I can’t help but challenge you a little bit. I’m glad to hear that you are praying for the ministry, but I’m wondering how you are supporting the children’s minister. Could it be possible that because you see the issues in the children’s ministry that God might be asking you to address some of them? Is your children’s minister overwhelmed and in over her head? How long has it been since she has had encouragement and support? If this was your husband’s ministry that was failing, what would you need from the congregation? While I do think that it’s time for the teeth to come out concerning your kids, please don’t ignore that this minister may be facing some of the same obstacles in ministry that you deal with as a family. In your prayers, be open to God prompting you to act in ways that you aren’t expecting. Taking the kids out of the ministry may not be the only solution.
I just got out of the hospital after having surgery and I will be in recovery for 4-6 weeks. During my three day hospital stay, not one person from church called to see how I was doing. My husband is one of the pastors at church. None of the other staff pastors called either. We have three kids and don’t live near family. Soon, we won’t have any help at home. I’m worried about how my husband and I are going to manage during the recovery. DW, Why wouldn’t anyone call or offer to help? Who’s our pastor?
Wounded 2 Ways in Texas
My heart is breaking for you. I wish I could come over and help! Who knows why people do what they do but here are some thoughts on what might be going through people’s heads:
“I don’t want to bother her when she is sick.”
“I’m sure her family is there to help and I don’t want to intrude.”
“The pastors will take care of it.”
“What if she had ‘female’ surgery-I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.”
“I’m positive that someone has already organized meals for them.”
“I’ll call once I know she’s out of the hospital….oops, has it been that long!”
While service, outreach, and sacrifice probably come naturally for your family (you are in ministry), it’s just not the bent of most people to meet someone’s needs unless they are asked to do so. Should they have known that you needed help…YES! And I’m boggled by the inaction of your fellow pastors! I’m hurt and disappointed for you that the pastors at your church did not reach out to your family during this time. Pastors should be the first ones to respond when someone on their team is hurting and in need. Unfortunately, ministry families are seen as “able to handle it”. There is an assumption by other pastors that “they will understand how busy I am”. In the Good Samaritan story, it was the Priest and Pharisee who walked right past a battered and dying man lying in the road (I wonder if he was a pastor’s spouse).
Wounded, you have 2 ways to handle this hurt. You can carry it around with you and let it fester and infect everything you do in ministry for the rest of your service there OR you can prick it now and let the pain and infection drain out giving you the chance to heal by choosing forgiveness. We all miss it sometimes. People and pastors mess up. You know pastors aren’t perfect-you live with one! I urge you to choose grace in this situation. Holding on to this hurt will only lead you to bitterness.
And, ASK FOR HELP! Don’t assume that people will know you need it. You and your husband need to call, pester and do what you have to do to let people know that you need help. It may surprise you to see who responds and what bonds are formed within the church when the pastor’s family admits that they are human and in need.
My prayer is that healing in all ways comes quickly.
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.
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.