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.
My husband has been the youth pastor at a church for the last two years, and we have wanted to leave for the last year and eleven months. We tried to find a new job this past summer, but it never worked out. My husband is frustrated and so am I. It is hard to sit through a church service without getting angry at our Senior Pastor. I am tired of my Sunday mornings, the time I have to spend with God, being filled with frustration. Our Senior Pastor is visionless yet refuses to step down. We see problems in every direction we turn, but are powerless to change anything. My husband is looked at and treated like a kid by most of the staff and board. We desperately want to go but do not understand why things have not worked out for us to leave. How do we keep it together when we are at a dying church that we are so desperately longing to leave?
Longing to Leave
Dear Longing to Leave,
I can just feel the frustration radiating from the words in your letter! You are definitely in a difficult place in your ministry and I hear how desolate you are feeling. It’s so disheartening to serve people when you feel unappreciated and dismissed.
Now for some truth…God usually sends pastors to churches that are sick. In Mark 2:17, Jesus said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Sometimes that even includes the Senior Pastor!
Surviving the dying churches and desert places in our lives is dependent on keeping our focus on the reason for our calling. Why did God call you to this church? What is your purpose in being there? What is it that you have that your church might need? Despite how hard this is, what do you have to offer for “such a time as this”? Is there even one person’s life that has changed because you are there? Does that one person matter in God’s economy? Would one life changed make your two years of sacrifice worth it? Spend more time focusing on God’s purpose and will for you in this sick and difficult place and you may be surprised at how peaceful and fulfilling it is to be right in the center of His will. For now, the one place you would rather not be is the place where God wants you. Seek Him first, pursue righteousness, and don’t worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:33-34) While you patiently wait for the next step in ministry, do all you can where you are and look for the unique lessons that God is actively teaching you and your husband. Someday, in retrospect, you may find that these trying years were full of value way beyond what you can see in this moment.
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!