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.
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!
A lady from church just approached me and asked if she could take me out for a makeover. She was very humble when she approached me and she said that she wanted to give me this makeover as her special gift. I told her I would go next week but I have mixed emotions about it. I mean, really, do I look like I need a makeover?? Is she just trying to be nice?? I don’t know! And that is bothering me. I don’t want to over think this whole thing but I’m a little uncomfortable. On one hand, I want to call her up and cancel, and on the other hand, I really would love to have a makeover and get to know this lady a little better. I feel crazy for being suspicious of her motives. I’m not sure what to do.
Dear Skeptical Sally,
Sometimes living the ministry lifestyle forces us into an attitude of cautiousness. Jesus himself said that we should be as “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. * (Interestingly enough, He was giving instructions to a group of people He was sending out to do ministry!)
I know you have mixed feelings about this lady; however, I don’t think that you should let your apprehension limit the “Church” in the way that they want to bless you. If your feelings about this lady make you sick to your stomach, it may be time to graciously bail out of the date. But, if you have gotten to the point in ministry where you are suspicious of everyone, it may be time to allow God to stretch you beyond your comfort zone. You know when you are getting a Holy Spirit stop sign and when you are letting past trespasses get in the way of new friendships.
Just because someone offers you a makeover doesn’t mean you have to take it, but check your heart. Be shrewd AND innocent. This may be just the opportunity you need to prove that some church people are worthy of your trust.
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
I have a problem. It seems like every time I turn around, someone is asking me to volunteer in the church nursery or the children’s ministry. I’ve even been told by some church people that it’s my “duty” to volunteer since I have children. Oh yeah, and did I mention that my husband is the Families Pastor at church? My issue is that I don’t particularly like babies and kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I love my OWN kids, I just don’t particularly care to play with or care for other people’s children. I don’t think I’m good at it. And DW, I have tried! The last Parents Night Out my husband planned, I was there, doing my “duty”. I came home exhausted, resentful, and feeling guilty that I hated it so much. What am I going to do?! I feel torn that I don’t want to participate in this aspect of my husband’s ministry at all. And I know that there are expectations from church people that I should be involved. My husband said that I could bail on him if I want to. He knows that the Children’s ministry is not my thing. But, I want to be supportive of him and I also know our church- if I’m not there, he will hear about it. So for now, I’m off to the nursery to rock some babies because the regular volunteer is sick. Help me, please!
Kid Min H8tr
Dear Kid Min H8tr-
Listen to me closely…You have permission to quit! Get out now. For the good of everyone, bail on your husband! Would you want a volunteer like you ministering to your children? Would you put them with someone who really doesn’t want to be there but who continues to show up out of obligation? Of course not! God doesn’t want that kind of service from you. He’s looking for wholehearted commitment. You need to be real with yourself about what kind of ministry God has created you to do because this is obviously not it. If it was, you would have joy and peace when you serve, not resentfulness and guilt.
Support your husband in other ways than “direct care” with the children. What gifts and skills do you have that would benefit the church and particularly your husband’s ministry that do not require you to be “hands on” with children? This would be a much better way to support your husband than begrudgingly volunteering in the Children’s ministry. Being a ministry spouse doesn’t mean allowing other people to dictate HOW you are going to serve God. That’s still uniquely between you and the Lord. You and your husband need to set some boundaries with the church and within your family about how you are going to serve in ministry. The church will define your place of service unless you define it for them first (as you have already discovered). You and your husband need to make a clear stand for what you are and are not going to do in the church.
Look, there’s no shame in knowing what you’re good at and living in that sweet spot and there shouldn’t be any shame in knowing what you’re bad at and avoiding it. There will be people who do not understand. But ultimately, the only person you have to please is God. And how can you do that when you’re miserably stuck on diaper duty!
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.