I’m pregnant and I’m married to a minister. I am very uncomfortable with all the attention that I am getting. I don’t want people touching me. It’s not ok. But for some reason, EVERYONE wants to pat my belly and talk about my body! What happened to decorum and privacy? Did I lose that when my husband started receiving a paycheck from the church?
Barbara Baby Bump
Dear Barbara Baby Bump,
What I want to say to you is “Absolutely Not! The church didn’t purchase your privacy when your husband accepted the position.” It is true. But if I am going to be completely honest with you, I have to say that ministry does require the loss of some privacy to be effective. These people are doing life with you. They are excited about the things that are happening in your life. And they are looking to your family as an example of how to navigate their own lives.
By virtue of your husband’s position, you have become somewhat of a “local celebrity”- whether you wanted to or not. Your congregation will want to participate in what is happening with you. And, because a twitter feed is probably not the best way to update them on your progress, they are going to be in your personal business!
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t tell the “paparazzi” what their boundaries are. You can control whether or not you are touched and politely ignore questions about what kind of delivery you are going to have. It’s ok to tell them what makes you feel uncomfortable.
But do expect for this behavior to continue. People are excited and sometimes it’s difficult for them discern where your line is. Since hiring bodyguards probably isn’t the best option, be patient with them. Most of this behavior is sincerely out of concern and love for you and your family.
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’m finding it difficult to trust people. In our first church, I had a really good friend who was one of the deacon’s wives. We got along great until I found out that she had shared something with her husband that I had told her in confidence and it came up at a deacon’s meeting. Every since then, I have avoided friendships at church. I am struggling because I know that avoiding people is not the best way to minister to them! How do you become friends while maintaining your distance? Is that even possible?
Hermit the Wife
Dear Hermit the Wife,
Yes, it is possible. It’s time to come out of the shadows and start to mingle with the masses! Now, I’m not going to pretend that this issue is all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I want to retreat and find a hole to hide in as well. You have asked a difficult question that requires some trial and error and finesse to work out in your own context. But, thankfully, you have already started the process with your first betrayal. (Didn’t know you could be thankful for that did you? 🙂 )
Your betrayal has taught you some things about yourself, about your trust level, and about how congregants respond when they hear a confidence that they think is too big to keep secret. But just like you are discovering, I don’t believe this means that we as ministry spouses have to keep our heads down, our mouths shut, and practice our most trivial of niceties to get us through social events at church. It’s a matter of figuring out the balance of how much is too much within each friendship you make.
Through my own betrayals and missteps, I’ve learned to ask myself two questions when I am in a relationship with someone from church and I’m considering how open I can be with them:
1) If I tell this to them and it gets out, will it damage the church in any way?
2) If I tell this to them, will it change their perception of the church and/or affect their worship experience?
The answer to these questions dictates what is appropriate for me to share with that person. They allow me to have a depth of relationship while still protecting the church, protecting the person, and protecting me. Your friend from church might be the best listener when it comes to blowing off steam about your frustration with your mother, but you may not want to share with her the latest incident with the lady in the choir who complained about the dress you wore last Sunday. You can have a deep, loving, trustful relationship that limits the topics to what is appropriate for that person at that time.
So Hermit, I hope you take a chance on trusting church people again. I don’t want you to miss out on the fellowship that God intends for us to have in the body of Christ. And, fellowship includes Pastor’s wives too!
I am very new to ministry. It’s only been about 4 months since my spouse joined the church staff. We are very excited to be here! But, I have to admit that I am already feeling some differences between what it was like to be a regular church member and what it is like to be married to a staff member. What is your best advice for a new ministry spouse?
Newbie wants to Know
Hmmmm…my best advice: Don’t panic, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!
Ministry is difficult. Even the best churches have their share of behind the scenes disunity, politics, and posturing. When you read books like Corinthians, Ephesians, and Galatians, you realize that none of these issues are new. The church is made up of people and people are inherently flawed. What you will see and experience has happened to the saints before you. You are not alone in your struggle no matter what happens.
Hold on tight–
It’s important to nurture relationships. Avoid isolation like the plague. Your ministry, sanity, and marriage depend on it. It’s easy to draw inward when difficulties come your way, but the best medicine for combating isolation is to reach out to others. Some ways to hold on tight:
- Immerse yourself in the Bible. Find a Bible study group to join in addition to your personal Bible study.
- Ask your best/lifelong friends to pray for you and then, stay in touch. –
- Reach out to new friends at church and try your best to befriend the staff and spouses. Be the inviter, don’t wait for an invitation.
- Find mentors (they don’t have to know they are your mentor) and learn from their experience. Your mentors should be people who have character traits you want to emulate. It’s not a requirement for them to be in ministry.
- Engage with those who can relate to your experience as a ministry spouse through conferences and denominational events. Seek out pastoral staff/spouses from other churches in your community and search for online support groups.
Enjoy the ride–
No matter where this adventure takes you, know that there is always a reward. Nothing that God ordains is futility. We are sometimes privileged to see the results of our sacrifice, but other times we are not. Many Bible verses point to this truth, but one that I have been meditating on lately is Hebrews 10:35-36, “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (NLV) It’s a joy to be chosen to participate in God’s plan for His church. Don’t let hardships blind you to the joy of the journey.
Hope this helps as you continue to follow God in excitement with your spouse!
I’ve never said this out loud because it sounds so selfish, but I really want to know. WHEN IS IT MY TURN! The entire time we’ve been married, I have been submissively standing by my husband’s side while he pursued ministry. I’ve been a great pastor’s wife. I’ve been at every church service. I’ve volunteered for a zillion ministries. I’ve stood by him and consoled him in every joyful and painful situation we have ever faced. I have endured years of sacrifice while he pursued his seminary degree and now his doctorate. But when is it my turn?
Pouting in Peoria
Dear Pouting in Peoria,
Thank you for having the courage to admit this out loud! I think that a lot of pastor’s wives silently wonder if the only purpose they have in their lives is to stand by their husband’s side and support him while he pursues all of his ministry dreams. They throw off any dreams they may have had before they got married because ministry seemed so much more noble and godly than anything they had planned for themselves. After all, ministry has eternal value. “God’s work” wins out every time when you think about that journalism career you wanted or your dream of being a nurse. And this thought is perpetuated by the voices in your head that accuse you of selfishness and neglect for even daring to think you could pursue being more than “just a” pastor’s wife. Sometimes those voices come to life in our congregants and maybe even in our husbands. I once had a pastor tell me that his wife’s purpose was to stay home and raise their children so that he could do ministry. How small we make God when we limit ALL that He can purpose for His creation.
Pouting in Peoria, NOW is YOUR turn. If you think that God may be prompting you to be more than what you define as your role as a pastor’s wife, you need to tell your husband. Give him the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in your life. Most godly husbands want to encourage and please their wives. Open the discussion door and see what happens. Our spouse often sees more in us than we see in ourselves. And don’t negate what God may have planned for your future by making the assumption that it won’t work in the context of your ministry lifestyle. God is very creative and He can do so much more than we could ever ask or think.
I can’t close without pointing out the tinge of resentment I sensed in your letter. Guard your heart from bitterness. God does ask us to sacrifice but He only wants it if it is presented with wholeheartedness and joy. Be careful not to lay the whole responsibility of the loss of your dream solely at your husband’s feet. It’s not selfish to want your turn unless it comes at the cost of rejecting all that you have pursued together up to this point.
I am a very supportive ministry spouse but recently I am starting to feel a little taken for granted. It seems like at least once a week my spouse springs another “activity” on me- usually one that I’m solely in charge of or one that requires me to drop everything and clean the house before people come over! Do you have any advice to help my spouse understand how I feel without sounding like I’m complaining?
NotANag in Neosho
*Pastor, if you are reading this, stop, pick up the phone, open an email, or immediately find your spouse and tell them how much they mean to you and to the ministry you do! Have you done it, yet? I meant it…I’m waiting…
I talk with so many ministry spouses who feel just like you described; supportive towards ministry but overlooked when it comes to courtesy and appreciation. Unlike our pastor spouse, we don’t get paid to do this job but like many pastoral job descriptions say, we are expected to “perform all additional duties as assigned by the pastor”!
You are right. It doesn’t make you a nag to speak up or ask for a break from hospitality duties occasionally. It does not make you a nag to want to step aside from being your spouse’s #1 volunteer. It does not make you a complainer to want to be thanked for what you do. But I hear in your letter some doubts or maybe some accusation that you complain too much about ministry activities. Either way, this is something that you and your spouse have got to talk about. Avoiding the “Nag Tag” will be easier if you set apart a quiet, private moment to really talk about how you are feeling. No sideways comments while you are working in the church cafe for the 4th Sunday in a row because no one showed up or sighing as you are handed the preschool curriculum 5 minutes before class starts. Schedule time to seriously discuss how you feel. And, yes, I do mean schedule. It’s obvious that you are both very busy people.
Just like any other church member, you should be serving in the places of your giftedness and God’s leading. Of course, there will be moments of taking on extra for the sake of your spouse, but it’s unfair to you and to your spouse’s ministry for you to always be the one taking up the slack. And that’s not nagging!
I recently discovered from my kids that people at school single them out as the “religious ones”. I must have been sticking my head in the sand all these years because I had no idea that they were being treated differently at school. They expressed feeling a lot of pressure from students and teachers to be better than other people. They said that they are frequently told, “Aren’t YOU a PASTOR’S kid?!”, when they do or say anything that might be considered out of the norm for a Christian. I’m disturbed that they are being singled out because of our choice to pursue ministry. How do I protect them from this scrutiny?
Ostrich in Ohio
I’m not sure there is a way for you to protect them from what people say or how your kids are labeled when you are not around. We can’t control other people’s actions; we can only teach our kids how to stand up under the scrutiny.
Some ideas that might help to protect their hearts:
Give them permission to be normal. Let them know that you don’t expect them to be perfect because their parents are in ministry. Tell them you expect them to be perfect so that everyone will know what great parents they have! (jk) Allow them to be who they are, not what is dictated to them by others and empower them to say that to their peers and teachers.
Make your home a “safe zone”. As much as possible, don’t allow your kids to tear each other down at home. They get enough of that at school without having to deal with it at home as well. Promote encouragement. It takes a lot of positive statements to manage the discouraging ones.
Help them make their faith their own. If your kids are going to be singled out as the “religious ones”, it might as well be because of their own Christianity and not because of their parent’s occupation. Ask your children what kinds of things they are singled out for and talk through how they might handle that situation in the future. Challenge what they believe so that they can form their own opinions about faith. Ask them to tell you what their friends believe and let them tell you what they think about that opinion. Don’t tell them what to think, but guide them toward the truth as you discuss. Then, when they are confronted at school, they will know how to express their own convictions about faith.
Keep the dialog open. Now that you are aware of what is happening at school, keep the conversation open. Do periodic maintenance checks to allow your kids to blow off any steam that may have built up over time.
Pray! Unfortunately, when we commit to ministry, our innocent children have to live with the consequences of our choices. Cover them in prayer. They have a target on their back. But here’s the good news, the God who created them in the womb knew that they would be born into ministry and He loves them more than we ever could. We have to trust that He will protect them when we can’t.
I wish there was a way to insulate our kids from the consequences of having parents in ministry. They could have been born to any number of dysfunctional people, but the Lord picked you as their parents! Stand tall in your choices, Ostrich. Dysfunctional as the ministry lifestyle might be, I prefer to believe that the consequences of obedience to the Lord is better than anything the world may offer to our children.
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 have three children under the age of six. My husband is a youth pastor at a relatively large church. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of demands on his time. Our children are now getting old enough that they are noticing how often their Dad is gone. How do I explain to them why Daddy is frequently not with us without making them resent the church?
Patty and the Preschoolers
Dear Patty and the Preschoolers,
You have asked an excellent question and have tapped into fears that I have carried with me since the day I said “I do” to my husband. We have all heard the urban legends of PK’s gone wild because they resented the time their parents spent at church. I’m still working this one out myself, but I’ll tell you a few things that I keep as driving principles when explaining ministry sacrifice to my children:
1. Your children will reflect back what you project to them. Those little faces have a way of being the perfect mirror of everything we say and do. If we as spouses are resentful of the time Dad spends at church, our children will be too. Ask these questions of yourself: Do you see time spent at church as valuable, worthy, and meaningful to God’s kingdom work? Is it for an eternal purpose? Is it worthy of sacrifice? If you can say “yes” to these questions, you should have no problem explaining why Dad is not home. He’s a HERO helping a desperate world know Jesus! But if you are having trouble seeing how the annual Whipped Cream Fight has significance in God’s work, you have some talking to do with your husband before you can explain anything to your children. (see post 8/29/11, Alone Again)
2. We are all called to ministry. Whether we are at the church with Dad or not, we are a part of what Dad is doing. One of the ways that we serve and worship Jesus is by giving up some of the time that we could spend with Dad so that he can minister to other people. Include them in the work of Dad’s ministry in age appropriate ways so that they understand that they are a part of what Dad is doing. Whether that is drawing pictures for a teenager in the hospital, helping clean up after an event, or praying while Dad is in a counseling appointment, they need to see that they contribute to the ministry as well.
3. Never take their sacrifice for granted. Now that your children are becoming aware of their own sacrifice for ministry, it’s definitely time for them to experience the same appreciation that any ministry volunteer might expect. Frequently tell them “Thank you” for their patience with Dad’s absence. Have Dad (and the student ministry) write them notes of encouragement and appreciation when he’s gone. And never underestimate the power of a “treat” when Daddy finally comes home. Let them know that without their sacrifice and support, Dad could never serve Jesus in the way that he does.
Finally, I want to caution you that there’s a warning signal in the words, “Where’s Daddy?” Just like those little birds that miners used to take down into the mines with them as an alert to when the air was getting dangerous, out of the mouths of babes comes the reality that our home life is getting out of balance. Heed their warning signals as if your family was running out of air.
I hope this gives you a good start Patty.
Please feel free to give Patty and the Preschoolers additional advice in the “comments” section below!
I am a youth pastor, married to my amazing wife for 10 years now (just celebrated it!) and have 2 amazing kids.
Over the years we have been married, there have been times that my wife has been jealous of the women I work with in the churches where I have served. Recently, she is more apprehensive than ever about the women I communicate with at church, whether it is a high school girl, a mom, or the reason I am writing today, an intern.
I am proud to announce that I have never been unfaithful, physically or mentally, with any woman. I don’t know what motivates her jealously. I do know that over the years I have had an issue with being on my phone too often at home or falling asleep early during our time together in the evenings. I also know I need to speak her love language more clearly.
I know that she believes me when I tell her that I have stayed faithful, but she still doubts that I will remain that way because I may be tempted in the future by a woman. Luckily, that has never been a struggle for me. I know my wife comes first and I will never betray that.
So what do I do? Any help would be great.
Dear Steady Eddie,
Each time I read your letter, whistles and sirens go off in my head that won’t stop screaming “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!” I feel nervous just writing back to you because I see your family walking through some danger zones that could be ministry-enders, maybe even marriage-enders, if not addressed very soon.
I can see that you have done some serious soul searching in trying to figure out why your wife might feel jealous. A good starting place for you would be to aggressively address the issues that you already know are a problem in your marriage. Make a concerted effort to turn off the phone when you are at home. Set some solid boundaries between family time and ministry time. Organize your ministry schedule so that your wife gets you when you are most alert and fresh, not when you are struggling to stay awake at night. And, yes, if you know her love language, speak it loud and clear. She is definitely having trouble hearing you right now.
Steady Eddie, instead of wondering what is making her feel so insecure; ask what it would take for her to feel more comfortable when you are interacting with other women. Let her determine the “rules” for your interactions with women. She may be seeing some things that you are innocent about when she is around these ladies. Whether founded or not, it’s always a wise thing to not dismiss the insecurities of your wife. You may be doing everything right, but it isn’t in a way that she can see it or you wouldn’t be having this issue. My guess is that you may also be having some communication problems. I would urge you to get some professional counseling to help navigate your way through this shaky time.
Finally, I want to caution you that no one is above temptation. Your wife might be ultra sensitive, but she’s right in telling you that there’s always an opportunity for a fall. Satan loves to surprise us by turning our strength into a weakness through sin. Remember, Peter? It only took hours for him to go from Jesus’ greatest defender to acting as if he didn’t know him. Take heed of her warnings. Guard your heart and always look for that way of escape from temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Your wife’s apprehensions may actually be providing you with an escape that you never knew you needed.
You’re a good guy, Steady Eddie. It’s obvious you love your wife and kids. It’s time to do whatever it takes to stabilize your marriage. Make this your priority right now. You will never do any greater ministry than the one you do for your family.