I had an interesting talk with the Senior Pastor’s wife at my church the other day. She told me that she NEVER opens her home up to people because she wants to keep it as the one place in her family’s life where they have peace. I hadn’t thought about it before our conversation, but she doesn’t have parties or people over to her house at all. Our socializing is at coffee shops and restaurants. Do you think a pastor’s house should be open or closed?
Locked Up Tight in Louisiana
Dear Locked Up Tight,
I think there is value in both trains of thought on this topic. On the one hand, I understand the need to have one “safe” place in your family’s life where you can hide away from the pressures and eyeballs of those who keep us in a constant ministry spotlight. On the other hand, when we keep our lives behind closed doors, we deprive a desperate world of the opportunity to know how a godly family can thrive in stress and struggle.
Personally, I lean towards a more relational style in my household. It’s in our family’s DNA to be open with all of who we are including keeping our door open to every stray person that wants to stop by and talk. We like it that way and are willing to sacrifice routine and peace to accept people into our home, however, this style of ministry can easily get out of control. When I start to see my kids wincing as I throw an extra roast in my grocery cart, I know that we are in the red zone on the open door policy.
On the other hand, your pastor’s wife is wise to protect her home and declare it a place of peace. Boundaries are good. In ministry, we have a tendency to forget that it is ok to take a Sabbath and limit access to ourselves. Jesus disappeared frequently to be by himself. He didn’t keep himself in the middle of the crowds at all times and neither should we. There’s balance in making sure that your family has a place of solitude.
There’s no denying that it’s biblical for pastor’s spouses to be hospitable. I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make hospitality a ministry requirement for pastors. The New Testament is wrought with scripture encouraging Christians to be welcoming in their homes. How and when you exercise that hospitality needs to be a family discussion. A parade of people in and out of your home may not be for you. Either way, it’s important to define how your home will run or others will define it for you.
I’ll leave you with this thought: Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of sitting around in your underwear all day.
I think I have a disease. Every time I buy something, I feel the need to make sure everyone knows that I got it on sale or that I used money I had saved up for a long time. Just this week, someone in our Bible Study group noticed the new flat screen TV in our living room and my first reaction was to make sure she knew that it was a gift from my in-laws. The disease part of this is that I’m not telling people these things because I think I got a good deal or because I want people to know what great in-laws I have, it’s because I don’t want them to think that we are wasting “God’s Money” on frivolous things. I feel like I’m being judged when I show up to church with a new dress. I feel anxiety when I get my hair done. It made me nervous when I bought my son an iPod for his birthday because I just knew someone was going to see it and wonder how we could afford it. We don’t make much money serving in the church and there are people who know that we struggle financially. I don’t know how to stop feeling the need to explain every penny we spend. Please help!
Dear Julie Justification,
You are right. You do have a disease. Actually, it’s more like a virus. I’ve caught it off and on throughout our ministry. It’s called the I-am-focused-more-on-what-church-people-think-about-me-than-on-what-God-thinks-about-me virus. The symptoms start out subtle like not showing off the new ring your husband bought you because someone might think he spent too much money. It progresses into feelings of guilt or dread when you buy or do something that might elicit a comment from someone at church. And, if left untreated, the virus morphs into full-blown “plasticity” where you either hide the real you from church people or you make decisions and behavior changes based on what people at church might say or think about you. This virus will make you really sick- sick of church, sick of people, sick of ministry, and sick of your spouse’s calling. The last stage of the virus can cause complications of bitterness which, everyone who reads this blog knows always leads to wrinkles!
The only way to combat this virus to focus on the opinion that matters most in your life. Are you wasting “God’s Money”? Can you stand before Him without guilt? Are you living a life pleasing to Him? Then it doesn’t matter what other’s might think or say. It’s exhausting trying to guess who you should be to make everyone in the church happy with you. So don’t do it. Stop justifying your purchases and actions. I have a feeling that you are more conscious of what is being spent at your house than anyone in your congregation. And even if you are not, God is the only one who can change the heart of someone who is so ridiculously judgmental. Your qualifying statements won’t change a thing.
You know, it’s ALL “God’s money”. When is the last time someone at church called you up to justify the new boat they bought or reported to you that they just got another credit card so they could go on a vacation they can’t afford? So stop stressing. Enjoy your gifts. Focus on what matters and avoid those wrinkles!
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 you as I sit among a mountain of boxes in my living room. I feel like just when things start to get comfortable and familiar, we move. Is there ever stability in ministry life?
You know you have moved a lot when the people around you start commenting that you pack so well you could be a professional mover! Personally, I relate to that scene in The Incredibles where the wife has just unpacked the last box in her house after three years and Mr. Incredible is calling to let her know that it’s time to move.
I’ve known many pastors’ families who have served their churches for many years without moving. Sometimes God plants us in a community and He uses deep roots and longevity of relationship to work in the hearts of people around us. Other families I know have moved numerous times in the course of their ministries and God has used them in special ways “for such a time as this” at each of the churches where they have served.
I don’t know what God has in store for your family, but I do know that while God might not always move us physically, He constantly challenges our stability. Even if you have the privilege of serving in one place for your whole ministry, you might not ever feel completely comfortable or stable. I have some friends who have served at the same church in Youth Ministry for 20 years. In that time, they have had at least six Senior Pastors. Even though they have lived in the same house, there has been nothing stable about ministry life!
Ministry life is about challenge. It’s about the refining of your faith. It pushes us beyond what we thought we could handle so that we finally understand what God can handle. So as you sit among the boxes, don’t long for the comfortable. It’s in the unfamiliar where God works! I hope you grab all you can from Him on your next adventure.
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.
I am so tired of the people at church. Sometimes I wish I could just melt into the wall and pretend that I don’t exist. Their comments rub my raw nerves and leave me crying in the corner. However, this week I received a note from a lady in my church who told me how much she appreciated my sacrifice of time by allowing my spouse to minister to her family. I hate it when these church people ruin my negative perception of them!! I want to be angry and then they go and encourage me. Church people SUCK…and then they don’t.
Boggled in CT
Thank you for sharing your raw and honest opinion of church people. I think that most of us as ministry spouses go through a myriad of emotions when it comes to people in the church. It’s people like this lady who sent you the note who make it all worth it in the end. The ones who acknowledge that the lifestyle you lead is not the easiest and then seek to support you. They keep us going in ministry. But people of this quality seem to be few and far between. It seems that our congregants have not read the verse in Hebrews that says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NLV) That’s why it is so important to cling on to those few beautiful and rare moments when someone blesses you in ways you did not expect. When church people SUCK, pull out your note and remember the blessing. When you want to disappear, remember the few people who you would miss if you were gone. When you want to cry, think of the small appreciations that you have known. Release yourself to love church people despite what they do and God will surprise you with those rare few who give you the blessing of serving with joy. Besides, anger is not profitable for producing anything but wrinkles! 🙂 I choose joy!
For the last three years, the only thing people at church have called me is “brother John’s wife”. Seriously, I don’t think some of them even know my first name. There are days when I feel like I am losing my identity. I used to be a leader who was known for who I am as an individual. Since marrying a pastor, it’s like everything I do is judged in light of who he is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be John’s wife and I love serving God with him, but sometimes I feel like everything I am is getting lost in the bright light of his ministry. Will I ever just get to be ME again?
In The Shadow
Dear In The Shadow:
Being a ministry spouse does often force us to play a very submissive role in our church lives. I know that’s a hard place to be when you are used to being a leader. Having your spouse “on display” while you are noticed only for the role you play in your spouse’s ministry can minimize your identity as a person. But, I want to challenge you to think deeper about how much control you really have over your place in the shadows…
My question to you is this: Are you pursuing what God has called you to do or are you choosing to live in your husband’s shadow out of necessity or convenience?
Obligation to ministry is not good for you, your spouse, or the church. Be honest with yourself and explore whether or not you are perpetuating this identity loss by not seeking exactly what it is that God may be asking you to do. Are you fully using your spiritual gifts and talents in the church or are you doing just what is “expected” of you?
And here comes the hard part: It’s time to have a serious conversation with your husband. He needs to know how you are feeling and you both need to discuss how things are going to change so that you can truly express yourself as a person. This may mean simply taking up a hobby or participating in a class where no one knows who he is. It could mean volunteering in a different ministry area of the church than the one he administers.
It’s your choice to allow yourself to disappear. Start to redefine how you can express yourself as an individual in this ministry relationship. I feel confident that once you find that niche that you can call uniquely yours, people will start to know your first name again.
I am a youth pastor’s wife who loves to serve in the student ministry with my husband! For years, I’ve gone on all of the trips and have been a partner in every aspect of the student ministry. Recently, I gave birth to my second child and I am finding it more and more difficult to be a big part of what is happening at church. How do I manage two kids while being heavily involved in the student ministry?
Dear Baby Blues,
A wise woman once said to me that our lives are marked by seasons. It may be time to admit that this season of your life demands some lifestyle changes. Does that mean that you can no longer be a part of the student ministry? No way! But it may mean that the role you play in the course of the ministry will have to change for a period of time. This may be hard for you since you have been so immersed in serving “hands on” in the youth ministry. Think creatively about your new role. Pre-kids, you could go to the church building, go on trips, and go to events. Post-kids, instead of “go”-ing, you may need to have the events come to you. Get creative in the way you personally interact with teenagers. Some ideas for ministry that you can do with children in tow:
Host a small group in your home
Invite a few teenagers to help you with the kids
Become the taxi service for the ministry
Run errands for the upcoming youth events and ask some teenagers to come with you to pick up the items
If you are still feeling distant from the ministry, pick one major overnight event each year that you will attend and have someone else watch the children. Remember, the biggest impact and ministry you and your husband will ever have is on your own children. Your church teenagers need to see a successful, loving Christian family as a part of their discipleship process. This will require temporary sacrifice on your part that is well worth the time away from the ministry. You may find out that this season will teach you and your husband how to maximize your ministry time and give you ideas for student ministry that you would never have considered pre-kids. Before you know it, your kids will be older and you will be trying to figure out how to manage your own teenagers in your youth ministry!
My wife is the children’s minister at a large church. Lately, her administrative pastor has been riding her hard about her budget. When I see him in the hallway at church, I want to punch him in the head! Does he even know how much time my wife spends at the church working? When you have a hundred extra kids come to an event, you are going to go over budget. I told her to quit because she doesn’t need this kind of hassle and disrespect for the little bit she is paid. But she won’t do it. She loves the kids too much. How do I deal with this man and keep my Christianity?
Wound Up Tight
Dear Wound Up Tight,
I highly recommend that you count to 10 and keep your hands tightly clasped around your Bible when passing the administrative pastor in the hallway! Look, it’s natural for you to want to protect your wife. Some would say that it’s your responsibility as her husband. But think about this for a minute, if your wife had a job in a secular office, would you storm the doors and protect her honor with the staff accountant? Probably not. Church ministries are personal, and the lines between work and home are easily blurred. Just like in a secular job, it’s important that your wife take responsibility for her own ministry. The way that you can support her best is by making your home and marriage a peaceful haven from the stressors of her ministry. Validate that what she is doing is meaningful in the “eternal”. Pray for and with your wife about how to face this challenge with her supervisor. With prayer and communication, you both will be in unity about when it is truly time for her move on from this current ministry. In the meantime, get a punching bag, avoid the main hallway, bathe in prayer and ask God to change your heart and attitude about this pastor. Who knows? He may be living in the same pressure cooker that your wife is in. There’s no one better to pray for him than someone who knows what it’s like to live in a glass house.
My husband works all of the time. When he’s not at church doing some kind of meeting or bible study, he’s at home on the computer or on the phone counseling someone. I can’t remember the last time we had a date or even an uninterrupted conversation. I know his ministry is more than just a job so I feel bad saying anything when I know that these people really do need help. I’m willing to share him for the sake of God’s kingdom, but it’s starting to get lonely around here. Is this the sacrifice I have to make to be married to a pastor?
Alone Again in
Dear Alone Again,
Yes, sacrifice is a part of a ministry spouses’ life, however, when you start describing your life as lonely, the red flags go up. I have a rule in my household regarding “worthy ministry” that helped revolutionize the way my husband and I view what is really important enough to interrupt our private time together. Whenever presented with a ministry opportunity, we ask ourselves these two questions:
- Is this something that has eternal value?
- Is this something that someone else could easily do?
- Running up to church during dinner because someone forgot to lock the doors has no eternal value and could definitely be done by someone else.
- Running up to church during dinner because someone’s family is in crisis has eternal value and requires your husband’s attention.
- Going to a football game to support a teenager from your church could have eternal value, but it is something that someone else could easily do.
- It may be necessary for your husband to conduct a leader’s meeting, but can it happen at a different time than on your only day off.
Considering these questions before disrupting your family time for ministry will help you be a more supportive spouse and help your husband be a more attentive husband. It’s helped my family to organize our ministry and family time much more effectively. It also forces us to allow other people the chance to be involved in ministries that my husband might have just done himself in the past.
Recognize the red flags. Please sit down with your husband and tell him how you feel. Reassure him that you are supportive of him in ministry but you need some more time with him. I challenge you and your husband to try out the question method and see if it doesn’t transform your time together and maybe even your ministry!