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!
Some people might call me a prima donna. Others might call me selfish. I prefer to think of myself as a Princess. Sometimes I want the universe to revolve around me! There’s only one problem, I’m married to a pastor. When we were dating, my future husband gave me a lot of attention. We became best friends and I never wanted to be apart from him. I guess that’s where the selfish part comes in, I miss him. I don’t like sharing him with so many other people. I want him all to myself. He’s my whole universe but I feel like Pluto in his universe. I want to be the Sun. I want to be sitting on the throne next to him, not waiting in his court as one of his many admirers. I want to be his Princess again. Am I a prima donna? Tell me the truth. Is it wrong to be jealous of the time he shares with all those people at church?
The Pastor and the Princess
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be your husband’s best friend, but I wonder from your letter what you thought life would be like when you married a pastor. A part of living with a pastor is sharing his time with other people. There’s servant hood and sacrifice involved in this calling and you are a part of that now. That may mean not always being the center of attention.
HOWEVER, in my encouragement for you to share a little of your husband’s face time with other people, one thing you should never sacrifice is “relationship” with your husband. I am sensing that relationship and quality time are suffering a bit in your situation. Have you discussed how you feel with your husband? He needs to know that you are feeling like you have to “request an audience” to be in his presence. You might not always be able to be the Sun in his universe but you certainly should be closer than Pluto! Let’s shoot for Venus or Mercury even on the busy days in ministry. And you should always feel confident that you are his Princess even when he is not able to spend a lot of time with you.
What do you need from him in order to feel the intimacy and specialness that has waned in your relationship? Have you shared your need for attention with him? And while you are thinking this through, are you being fair? Are your time and attention expectations realistic? It’s imperative that you discuss this with him. He needs to know how you are feeling.
It’s not selfish for a wife to want to have the best part of what her husband has to give. It’s biblical. Husbands should love their wives and give themselves up for her just as Christ gave Himself up for the church. He should cherish her just as Christ cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). Sounds like “Princess” might not be such a far reaching title for yourself! When you feel loved, you won’t have a need to feel jealous. Balance this Princess thing with respect for your husband and you will not be seen as a prima donna to your congregation, instead, your marriage will become a beautiful living picture of Jesus’ relationship to the church.
I’ve been dating a wonderful man for the last several months. He is currently in school and is training for ministry. We have casually spoken about marriage. I really think he is a great guy and I can see myself married to him, but I’m a little nervous about the whole ministry thing. I’ve read through some of your blogs and I don’t know if I can do this. I want to be with this guy, maybe for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure I want to be a Pastor’s wife. Am I just overreacting?
Miss Cold Feet
Dear Miss Cold Feet,
You are NOT overreacting. It is right for you to listen to that nervous inner voice telling you to pay attention and question your ability to live a ministry lifestyle. A lot of people ignore that voice because they think marrying the man is separate from marrying the ministry. It’s not. Ministry is a “calling” and people are not easily separated from a “calling”. If you get sick of church people and you beg him to become a plumber instead, it will never change what he believes God has asked him to do. If he gets fired from a church and decides he never wants to be in ministry again, it will not change what God has asked him to do. If he has truly been set apart for ministry, there’s nothing you or he can do to change God’s call on his life. It will affect every aspect of your marriage.
You need to seek God’s will for your life before you get any more involved with this man. Fast and pray. Have other people pray for you. There’s only one question that you need to be asking of the Lord at this time and it’s not, “Can I make it as a pastor’s wife?” You need to ask God, “What is my calling?” If God has called you to ministry, He will give you all you need to be a pastor’s wife. He will equip you and shape you into the woman He intends for you to be. He will give you a heart to sacrifice so that people can hear about Jesus.
You are fortunate that you still have a choice whether or not to marry this guy. Many women marry the man of their dreams and then years later find themselves shocked to learn that their husband wants to be a pastor. (But that’s a letter for another time.) You still have a choice. Choose wisely, Grasshopper. This is the rest of your life.
What’s your calling?
Study I Timothy 3 and Titus 2 for insight into the ministry lifestyle
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?
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.
Last week, the pastor asked my husband and me to meet with him in his office. He started by telling us that there are a few people who are unhappy with the youth ministry and he named some areas that he feels need improvement. He told us that we need to be more consistent or my husband may be facing a formal reprimand from the personnel committee. My question is this: What do I have to do with this meeting? The church doesn’t pay me as an employee. I felt like I was a little kid being called in to the principal’s office! I was so stunned by the whole experience. I didn’t know what to say at the time, but the more I think about it the more offended and hurt I am. I’m not sure what to do at this point. Do you have any advice?
Dear Slapped Hands,
Girl, you know I have advice!
#1) I agree. What do you have to do with this meeting?! Why were you called in to it if you are not employed by the church?
Sounds to me like someone has some boundary issues. Either the pastor has made an assumption that he is getting “2 for the price of 1” or the lines have been blurred as to who is in charge of the youth ministry. In either case, these boundaries need to be clearly defined for you and for your pastor. You and your husband should honestly evaluate how big of a role you are taking in the youth ministry leadership. Have you been taking on responsibilities that go beyond being a volunteer in the youth ministry? Are you doing things for your husband that is really a part of his job? Is there any way that you have projected an image that you are sharing job responsibilities or did the pastor overstep by calling you in to his office?
#2) Where is your husband in all of this?
It’s up to him to protect you from these kinds of confrontations. If he didn’t do it during the meeting, he absolutely should now go to the pastor and make it very clear that you do not work for the church. It doesn’t matter how the boundaries have been blurred or not blurred, there is no circumstance where a spouse should be evaluated, criticized, or chastised by the church leadership for the pastor’s job performance.
#3) Be cautious how you proceed now and in future churches.
It seems like things are getting sticky in your current church. Since your husband’s ministry is being called into question, you may want to take a few steps back until things cool down so that you don’t get caught in the crossfire. In the future, you and your husband will want to make it clear to potential churches that you are a volunteer, not a part of a package deal. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be an integral part of what is happening in the youth ministry, but it does give you and your husband the freedom to remind pastors and parishioners that your service to the church is volunteer and should be treated as such.
Now some salve for that sting…I’m so sorry that you have been hurt. I promise, the sting only lasts for a little while and then the redness will start to fade away. Praying this hurt heals quickly.