After nearly a decade as a pastor’s wife, I have experienced the unique roller coaster ride that is pastoral ministry. I find much joy in being married to a pastor, but it is certainly not without unique challenges. I want to offer my fellow pastors’ wives five lessons to help us persevere in this unique calling. May these lessons encourage you to keep up the good work to which you’ve been called.
- Commit for the long-haul.
Commitment to ministry is like a marriage vow: for better or for worse. There are dark seasons where you need to hold fast to your commitment to serve Christ in the local church and wait for your downtrodden feelings to catch up. After all, we don’t place our faith our feelings but in Christ alone. A friend recently told me she wished her husband would go into full-time ministry because it would be so much more fulfilling than his current retail job. This well-meaning friend is right, there are many great fulfilling things about full-time vocational ministry, but there are also times you’d rather your husband had any vocation other than pastoral ministry.
If you are feeling this way now, know that you are not alone: 46% of pastors have considered leaving ministry at one time. While there are days it would be so much easier to just find a different way to pay your bills rather than endure a hard season of ministry, God is working in and through the difficult process. If we knew the challenges we would face in ministry before getting started (or just life in general), we would never even get out of bed. I thank God that we don’t know. He is working through the hard seasons and changing us in the process to be more like Christ. There is beauty in the hardships, so take heart dear sister. There are also many benefits to committing to your congregation for the long-haul: they are more likely to trust you with their struggles, you learn how to bear with one another, you get the opportunity to teach generationally, and you and your family can feel settled in your community.
- Find a close friend.
Leadership of any kind can be lonely and isolating. I have found that for pastors it can be especially lonely. This may be because they have a need for confidentiality in their work and sometimes have to make tough decisions that others will not always understand.
I have always encouraged my husband to have at least one trustworthy relationship with someone outside of our local church (ideally another pastor), so they can sharpen one another and find comfort in one another. I have recently found that I need this too.
I am not saying that we can’t have close relationships in our churches. I have several close friendships that I am deeply thankful to God for. But there is a different empathy that another pastor’s wife can have simply because she walks in your same shoes. Friendship is good for us (Proverbs 27:17, Proverbs 19:20), and though friendship is a time investment, it is well worth it.
- Pray for your husband as you commune with God.
When I was courting my husband, I naively commented to a close friend, “I just can’t think of anything I would change about him, he is perfect!” She was such a gracious friend that she did not rebuke me right then and there. After nine years of marriage, I look back and get a good laugh out of it. It is healthy to be aware that your husband needs Jesus just as much as anyone else. Wives know most intimately the hardships their husbands face in ministry and the particular sins they struggle with. We get the privilege of going to the feet of Jesus with these things.
Pray also for how your husband handles the Word. He must rightly divide the Word publicly and privately (2 Timothy 2:15), and this is a tremendous task.
I love that my husband frequently prays for my relationship with the Lord to be rich. Like him, I must I pray for his walk with God to be vibrant and warm. This is one of the greatest ways we can love our spouse. In order to pray for your husband faithfully, your relationship with the Lord must be vibrant and warm too. Think of the flight attendant instructions here: put your oxygen mask on before you put an oxygen mask on your neighbor.
In fact, your relationship with God should always come before your relationship with your husband. If we have this in the wrong order, we will be frequently disappointed (Matthew 10:37). So the target for us women is to commune with our sufficient Savior. And as we commune with Him, we are to bring our husbands before Him- every day.
Here are a few specific ways to pray from your husband today:
- Pray for his personal relationship with the Lord.
- Pray that God would show your husband that he is weak so that he will be strong in the strength of God’s might (Ephesians 6:10).
- Pray that God would protect his ministry from wolves in sheep’s clothing.
- Pray that he would be surrounded with wise counsel- fellow elders.
- Establish the right pace.
I have never been a fan of the statement, “pastors only work on Sundays.” Even though I know the person saying this doesn’t really believe it (hopefully!), there is still something behind this that just makes my stomach turn sour. I think it is because I know that the very opposite is true. Being a pastor is hard, emotionally grueling work that has the potential to keep your schedule full all hours of the day and night. Even if my husband is not at the office, his mind can be busy with shepherding issues when he should be present at home.
Paul admonishes a certain pace for Christians that I think is helpful especially for pastors. Paul says to run the race set before us with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2). Often times, we treat ministry like a sprint- fast and short. This is one of the reasons I think pastors burn out.
Pastor, professor and counselor, David Murray comments that “finding that perfect sweet spot between too slow and too fast, is vital for success and longevity as a Christian.” Pace is important. We must combat the temptation to say “yes” to every single event at your church resulting in over-commitment. It is important to map out with your husband an ordered, general weekly routine and do your best to stick to it. God is a God of order, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) so agreeing on the regular nights your husband needs to be out of the house will help establish a healthy pace.
For instance, whenever my husband is asked to perform a marriage ceremony that will take up two weekend evenings (rehearsal dinner & wedding), we always discuss our margin before saying yes. Now, a word to the inflexible .(like me!): There are going to be unique seasons where he might not be able to stick to this schedule, or there is an emergency hospital visit that needs to be made when you are just about to eat dinner as a family. Pursue order, but extend grace and extra hospitality when needed. Be flexible.
- There are high-highs and low-lows: Brace yourself!
More so than most professions, in pastoral ministry, you encounter death and attend funerals on a regular basis. You carry burdens for people in your congregation who have experienced unspeakable hardships. People you love may leave the church with bitterness, slander you, and refuse to reconcile with you or others. It only takes a short amount of time in vocational ministry to experience the lowest lows.
You also get to experience the highest highs: you see people turn from a crippling addiction, seemingly lost relationships restored and best of all, folks putting their faith in Christ.
I love that I get to be a part of seeing how God is making “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As pastor’s wives, we get a front-row seat to seeing God usher in His kingdom in the here and now. We know that despite the present sufferings of this temporary world, those who put their faith in Christ will be a part of the greater Kingdom to come (Revelation 21). I don’t know if there is anyway to really prepare for these highs and lows, besides knowing that the hardships are indeed temporary, and part of His greater plan.
So dear sister. Persevere. Persevere in your faith. Persevere in your marriage. Persevere in your local church. You are not alone.
 Reset: Living a Grace Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray