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 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!
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.
What is happening to me?! I feel like I just walked into bizarre-o world! Several weeks ago, the pastor called us up to the front of the church and told everyone that we were in the process of becoming full-time missionaries. Our close friends have known this but not many other people until recently. Since it was announced, I can’t seem to set foot in the church building without people feeling compelled to give me their opinion! Not just on becoming a missionary, but on everything- my kids, my spouse, my clothing!! Up until a few weeks ago, I was just a church member, but this announcement seems to have put me into some alter-world category that makes people I have known for years feel the freedom to openly run with diarrhea of the mouth. I never asked for or invited this kind of attention. How do I make it STOP!?
I’m not a pastor’s spouse!
Dear “not a Pastor’s spouse”,
While your spouse may not be a pastor, you have unwittingly found the key and unlocked the door that leads to the Secret World of Pastor’s Spouses. Unfortunately, it’s too late to retreat. This “bizarre-o world” has begun to take over, but the good news is, you do have control in your new alter reality. I’m sure that you have already recognized that some of these people lavishing you with unwarranted attention do have good motives. They want to encourage you and, in some small way, be a part of what you are doing for the Lord. In fact, I believe most people THINK that’s what they are doing when they feel compelled to give opinions. But, being in the Secret World of Pastor’s Spouses is kind of like when a woman is pregnant. Everyone, including strangers, feel compelled to tell her pregnancy stories (to help her out, of course!). They also like to reach out and touch her in places that they never would touch if she wasn’t pregnant. It’s uncomfortable. Privacy and sometimes decency are encroached on in this world. But it’s mostly harmless and with time you do get used to it. In a few more weeks, you will be able to figure out who is safe, who you need to smile and nod at, who you need to avoid in the hallway, and who might become a new friend.
There is no way to avoid this attention. We can’t control other people’s actions or stupidity. But you can filter the comments, judge actions rightly, and respond transparently. When you feel like someone has crossed the line, it’s ok to tell them so.
You may not have invited this kind of attention, but God may want to use your new platform for His Glory. Don’t be so quick to slam the door and throw away the key because of the initial shock of what you have experienced. Come in. Look around. There’s beauty in this secret world too. I hope you discover it soon.
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.
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.
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.