Editor's note: Holiness Today recognizes and affirms the fact that women and men serve as clergy. However, this article is directed toward the wives of male ministers because it is based on feedback received at a conference for women married to pastors.
'Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres' (I Corinthians 13:7).
A few years ago, after sharing with pastor's wives a seminar based on my book, She Can't Even Play the Piano! I invited the audience to respond. Frankly, I was amazed at the candor of one pastor's wife.
In ministry for 14 years, she said, 'My husband has become totally absorbed in pastoring. I knew he was called into ministry when we were married. I just had no idea it would be so all-consuming.
'One Sunday I pulled out a response card from the pew rack and was drawn to the question: Would you like a call from the senior pastor? I grabbed my pen and put a big black checkmark by that question and dropped it into the offering plate.'
Hesitatingly she added, 'The office staff thought it was so 'cute' and had a good laugh when they read my note.' Big tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She said, 'I was serious! I really need time with my husband!' There was not a sound in that room.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be pervasive and devastating issues in ministry families. Time demands, meetings, and pressures can erode marriage and family life. It is essential that ministry couples prioritize their families above the demands of their congregants. After all, what do we gain if we win hundreds or even thousands and lose our own families?
The challenge of finding the proper balance in ministry can be like walking a tightrope. Let's address some of the many reasons this is so challenging.
How can I enable my marriage and family to preserve proper priorities?
- First, realize that the congregation and your spouse are not your enemies. The effectiveness of a pastor's ministry is quickly diminished if the marriage and the family are eroding. If the shepherd and family are destroyed, the flock is likely to scatter.
- Second, make sure you have a strategy that prioritizes your family. Deliberately establish patterns, boundaries, and traditions. Pray for wisdom as you and your spouse develop ways to accomplish these goals and still minister effectively. One pastoral couple plans a lunchtime getaway each week -- they don't talk about church issues but use this time to reconnect and focus on each other. Take a hike or bike ride with your kids. Tune in to what's really happening in their lives.
How do I handle the 'for worse' times in our marriage and ministry?
- It is critical to keep in mind that there is no such thing as the 'perfect' marriage or church. At first we may naively expect everything to be 'just fine.' After all, we are responding to God's call to minister to His people. The truth is we live in an imperfect world. Those who are on the front lines of ministry, committed to making a difference on earth and for eternity, may face deeper challenges than others. Life can be like living in a fishbowl. People are watching our actions. Rather than feeling burdened by this, learn how to give yourself some private time. And learn to see that in doing so, you can be an example to others of how to find balance in life.
- When tough situations arise (and they will!) hold tenaciously to your commitment to the Lord and to each other. Maintain your personal devotions. Do whatever it takes to prioritize intimate moments with the Lord when you seek His guidance.
- Find a 'safe' confidante - preferably miles away. Be sure he or she is a godly person, fully grounded in the Lord.
What do we do when our kids stray?
- One of the toughest challenges we face in ministry is when our children make bad choices. The 'glass house' scrutiny exacerbates our heartache.
- Remember, they belong to God and us - not to the church. Enlist the prayers of caring parishioners, but don't allow any censure you receive to dismay you.
- Be candid about your desire for understanding. Cherish their prayers, but be careful not to share intimate details. A simple response such as, 'I can't tell you how much we need and value your prayers' is enough.
How do I handle transitions?
- Always keep in mind that much of ministry is transitional. We give our hearts to people, spend years with them, and then God calls us to another assignment.
- Remember, they are God's people. Love them, care for them, and pray for them while they are 'yours.' Then ask the Lord to help you to lovingly surrender them when you leave.
- Prepare your children. They need enormous support and comfort when adapting to transition. Pour your energy into them.
Countless questions and challenges exist for families in ministry together. Here are some tips to remember:
- Guard your time with the Lord.
- Make sure you stay loyal and committed to your spouse with open and honest communication.
- Prioritize your family. Make sure you are 'there' for your kids.
- Always remember that tough times don't come to stay. They will pass.
Finally, keep communications open in your marriage - even if you have to write a note to your spouse in church!
Joyce Williams has authored several books and articles. She and her husband, Gene, are founders and directors of Shepherds' Fold Ministries, a ministry of encouragement and affirmation to pastors and their families. They live in Wichita, Kansas.