I am heartbroken. I have moved to a new church and I have lost my mentor. When we entered ministry seven years ago, the pastor’s wife at our church took me under her wing and helped me assimilate into the ministry lifestyle. All of the pastor’s wives at our church were really close. In our new church, the pastor’s wife has barely spoken to me. I don’t understand why she is not reaching out to me as the new person. I am really lonely and I desperately miss my mentor. I guess I’m just looking for some encouragement.
Friend-less in Friendswood
Dear Friend-less in Friendswood,
It sounds like you had the joy of being in a very unique situation in your last church. I wish that all spouses had a warm and welcoming ministry spouse to assimilate them into ministry. The reality is that most churches are more like the one you are in now. (Sorry to break the bad news!)
My greatest encouragement to you is that you don’t let the legacy that your mentor gave you go to waste by waiting for someone to reach out to you. Even though you are the new person on the block, be the one to make the first move. You obviously know more about being inclusive and hospitable than the other spouses at your church. Set the example. Be the change you want to see in others.
I have this vision of Pedro talking to Napoleon Dynamite about how he is going to ask the most popular girl at school to a dance. “I’ll build her a cake or something…” Of course, you think that there is no way that this tactic is going to work and… it doesn’t. But, it’s obvious that somewhere in Summer’s heart, she has found a soft place for Pedro. Reaching out to other ministry spouses may be something like that scene from Napoleon Dynamite. It will be awkward and uncomfortable. You might feel like a dork. You may not get the response you want. But if you keep baking enough cakes, eventually, someone is going to respond. (Deb went to the dance with Pedro!)
A lot of spouses are lonely in ministry. We need more Pedro’s who have the courage to reach out to others even though they are the new kid. Pedro affected a lot of change at his school in his own gawky way. You can too.
Just got hired as a full-time youth pastor 8 months ago…it’s my first ministry position and it’s out of state. Also, just got married 2 months ago, so everything is still very new for my wife and me. On top of getting married and moving to a different state, she is also finishing up her bachelor’s degree in secondary education – she is student teaching full-time. Oh and there’s this whole new thing of what it means to be a youth pastor’s wife.
We absolutely love being married…it’s everything we dreamed it would be! However, my wife is having a hard time adjusting to this new life. We are in our early 20’s and like most churches there are very few people our age. We spend most of our free time with teenagers or people who could be our parents!
Our biggest struggle right now is we feel alone. We have no family within 5 hours of us and no real friends within 5 years of us. I hate thinking my job as a youth pastor is hurting the emotional health of my wife. I love teenagers and helping them grow in Christ, but I love my wife more – much more. Any advice for us at this unique stage of our lives would be awesome…thanks so much!
Yep, you have done it! You have just invited the woman that you love more than anything on earth into the front seat of the biggest, baddest roller coaster anyone has ever experienced. And not only do you have her in the front seat, but she’s not sure that the restraints are really locked in place. Coming out of the chute and riding up the hill was kind of fun and exciting. But at the precipice of the first plunge where you both can see the reality of how deep this coaster goes and how long, twisted, and harrowing your ride will be, you start to experience your first thoughts of regret. Yikes! Let me off!!
I’ve been riding that rail for a while now, and let me say to you that it’s going to be ok. Give yourselves some time to adjust. You have experienced enough change in the last few months to overwhelm anybody. Your sensitivity and concern about how your wife is adjusting to the ministry lifestyle is the first step to holding her hand and helping her feel secure during the ride. But also recognize that you can’t secure her in the cart by yourself no matter how strong you are. You can’t be your wife’s only source of support and friendship. If you are going to survive this ride, you both have to develop a support system to help hold you in place when the ministry lifestyle turns you upside down and corkscrews you through the twists and turns of life. I wish I could tell you that once you make it through the first plunge that everything is easy from then on, but, you know roller coasters, on the good ones the ride is usually exciting and unexpected from start to finish. The ministry lifestyle is the same way. Every stage of life will be filled with these kinds of loop de loops.
Below, I have a few questions for you to answer. I hope that they will not only help you to find a support system no matter where you go in ministry, but also help you to figure out how to embrace your wife on the roller coaster ride of your new life together. And if you both can figure out how to hold on tight at the beginning, you might just enjoy this exhilarating and terrifying, heart-stopping, spectacular ride that we call ministry.
- Do you have a group of friends from before marriage and moving that you can connect with via Skype on a regular basis?
- Do you have friends or mentors from your former church families that you can call up when you need to hear a familiar voice?
- Are there any other YP’s in your area that you could invite over for dinner?
- Have you considered befriending a YP from another denomination? (I bet some of them have wives that can relate to your situation!)
- Is there a YP association in your town, neighboring city, or state? (Have your wife check out www.leadingandlovingit.com for a virtual ministry spouse community. Take her to your next YP conference, and let her connect with other spouses. www.conference.youthministry.com has an excellent spouse tract that also continues to meet on FB –“Married to a Youth Pastor-Wives Connect Group”. You can friend the FB group even if you haven’t attended the conference yet.)
- Is it worth one night a week of your busy schedule to join a Para-church Bible study where you can connect with others your age?
- Is there a hobby that you both can participate in that may connect you with other people your age?
- Have you too quickly disregarded the support and influence of the older friends that you have in your church?
- Have you connected with the other staff members and their spouses? Have you considered inviting them to do something social with you?
- Are you taking regular days off? Are your days off truly “black-out” days from church work?
- Are you giving your wife your leftovers or is she getting the same man that she met before you took the ministry position?
- Is ministry occupying every aspect of your life or do you and your wife have very definable boundaries where ministry is not allowed in? i.e. day off, vacations, regular private time together
- Have you ever discussed with your wife what she wants her “role” to be in ministry? Are you helping her to define God’s unique role and purpose in ministry or have you and/or the church been defining that role for her?
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.
Last week the church secretary approached me during the worship service and commented on my dress. She made sure to mention that it had been a long time since I had worn a dress and it was nice to finally see me in one. The week before, a different lady told me how nice it was that I wear dresses every Sunday because it had become so rare to see that in church. WHAT?!!! #1) Why do they care so much what I wear? #2)Whatever is clean is what gets put on the body that Sunday. What’s up with the fashion police!? Next week I think I’ll go naked and see what they have to say.
Au Naturel in Jacksonville, FL
Dear Au Naturel,
Wow! I guess you didn’t realize that when you became a ministry spouse you instantly turned into Jackie O. How does that verse go- “Church ladies look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”- something like that (I Samuel 16:7).
You made me laugh and I think that is the only way to deal with situations like yours. Of course it is utterly ridiculous that these ladies have expectations of you regarding what you wear to church, but realistically, nothing you say or do is going to change their expectations of how you should clothe yourself for worship. There are some things as a ministry spouse that we have to be sensitive about when it comes to the congregation and their opinions and feelings about us. Clothing should not be one of them as long as you are biblical in your expression of it; “ Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” I Peter 3:3-4. Be careful not to put too much stock in the ignorance of flippant comments. Ministry is stressful enough without indulging every single expectation church people have of you. Be comfortable in your own skin by knowing that you choose to please God first, the “paparazzi” second. And as for going naked….intriguing… somehow I think your husband might appreciate that much more than the church ladies!
I am so tired of the people at church. Sometimes I wish I could just melt into the wall and pretend that I don’t exist. Their comments rub my raw nerves and leave me crying in the corner. However, this week I received a note from a lady in my church who told me how much she appreciated my sacrifice of time by allowing my spouse to minister to her family. I hate it when these church people ruin my negative perception of them!! I want to be angry and then they go and encourage me. Church people SUCK…and then they don’t.
Boggled in CT
Thank you for sharing your raw and honest opinion of church people. I think that most of us as ministry spouses go through a myriad of emotions when it comes to people in the church. It’s people like this lady who sent you the note who make it all worth it in the end. The ones who acknowledge that the lifestyle you lead is not the easiest and then seek to support you. They keep us going in ministry. But people of this quality seem to be few and far between. It seems that our congregants have not read the verse in Hebrews that says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NLV) That’s why it is so important to cling on to those few beautiful and rare moments when someone blesses you in ways you did not expect. When church people SUCK, pull out your note and remember the blessing. When you want to disappear, remember the few people who you would miss if you were gone. When you want to cry, think of the small appreciations that you have known. Release yourself to love church people despite what they do and God will surprise you with those rare few who give you the blessing of serving with joy. Besides, anger is not profitable for producing anything but wrinkles! 🙂 I choose joy!
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.
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!