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A Spouse’s Perspective on Pastoring
Ministry in the First Family
 
By Rej Dixit
 
Why is it so hard to be a pastor’s spouse?  After thirteen years being married to a minister, I’d say it definitely has its challenges.  But all marriages and occupations have their own unique issues. So why do many (48%) of pastors say that they feel like their ministry is hazardous to their family?[1]  Ninety four percent of clergy families feel the pressure of pastoral ministry.[2] Are the challenges of pastoral families so unique that they can’t be foreseen or overcome?  I don’t think so.  Pastors, their spouses and churches need to work together to figure out how men and women can enjoy full time ministry without totally abandoning or alienating their families.  So here are some ideas for pastoral families on how to balance their ministries and their lives. 
 
Family first
The Bible is very clear on this.  1 Timothy 3:4-5 says that pastors must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. The best way to “manage” your family is through love and respect.  Does your family know that you love and respect them?  Do they come first in your life?  As a pastor you could be working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, or you can be strategically planning and delegating.   This is within your control. Pastors should prioritize their own Sabbath rest, time alone with their spouses and time with their children. When there is balance, your family will know they are loved. You may often be gone in the evenings to minister to others. Missing bedtimes with your kids can be detrimental, but not if you have scheduled another regular time to present (maybe at breakfast or after school.) The needs of your family as well as the needs of your ministry will change.  Check in with you families regularly, so you can prioritize for different seasons. If you just assume that your spouse will play the part of single parent, while you play “super pastor” your family and your ministry will suffer.  
 
Let them be real
Some people married their spouses for their ability to be the perfect piano playing, children’s story telling, casserole baking, “first lady” of the church.  Others pastors came into ministry after getting married and having kids, and their spouses are not sure where they belong. Every relationship is different and your personalities and seasons of life may play into your ministry.  Some ministers partner with their spouses, by sharing preaching responsibilities, counseling and votes at board meetings.  Others spouses are committed, active church members, participating or taking leadership in the ministries that interest them.  And some like to be neither seen nor heard.  They may be busy with small children or aging parents, or may just need a time of rest.  Learn to accept who your spouse is.  God gave them their own talents to use as they have the time and energy to do so.  Forcing them into ministries that have “openings” may not be the best for them or your church.  Your support with the role that they have chosen will also help the church also accept your family as they are.  We all want to be accepted and loved, not for what we can give, but for who we are. 
 
Consider their time in the spotlight
Some pastors love to tell stories about their families.  Right now many contemporary pastors are trying to “be real” at church.  Occasionally sharing funny moments can make your sermons more personable, but the more you talk about your family, the more people look at and to them.  Think carefully twice about what you share and how often you share stories about your family.  Each person in the family has a different threshold for strangers accosting them in the hallway laughing or questioning what they just heard from the pulpit.  If you share stories despite your family members’ apprehension about being talked about, you are telling them that your sermon is more important than their experience.  That’s detrimental to your relationship with them as husband or father. 
 
Get a life outside of church
This applies to the pastor himself as well as his/her family.  Even though you are called from God to preach the gospel, you are more than your job. Your family’s life should revolve around God, but that does not mean spending seven days a week at church.  Living life in a church bubble puts unneeded pressure on your family to “perform”.  Pastors often have difficulties separating their friends from their parishioners. According to a 2006 Barna research study in Ministry Today, 61% percent of pastors say they have no close personal friends.  This is not healthy.  Jesus meant for us to work together in ministry.  He worked with his twelve disciples. He was often misunderstood and felt their jostling for position, but he continued to work beside them.  He continued to share with them, pray with them and cry with them.  No human can be EVERYTHING to you.  But each of these people can offer advice, prayers and Bible counsel on different issues. Make friends outside of your church bubble and encourage your spouse to do the same.  You may find them at the gym, in the neighborhood or at your kids’ sporting events.  These people will get to know you and your family out of your glass castle, and may give you a different perspective on your community.   You’ll probably be surprised how much you have in common and you can enjoy a meal or an evening together without discussing church issues.  Doesn’t that sound relaxing? Everyone needs a life outside of church.
 
Balance positive and negative
Clergy often help people at some of the worst times of their lives. Many pastors feel stress called compassion fatigue. This form of burnout is a problem for helping professionals. When people are a sounding board for those who are suffering, they often absorb the suffering and the accompanying stress. This can lead to stress, sleeplessness and general negatively.  To combat your experience with the negative, pastors should also make an effort to be a part of the happy events.  Some of these come naturally – weddings, births, etc.  If there aren’t many of these events at your church, schedule time with church members doing fun things.   Make time to watch a basketball game, or go to a fair or concert.   This can be fun for your whole family and establish positive connections with your church members as well.   
 
Armor yourself with the good
When conflict and stress comes, and it will come, think on the good things.  Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”  Every organization goes through times of conflict.  It may be a heated board meeting or mean spirited comment about the sermon or your wife’s hair.  Those things should not shake your faith in the church or belief in God.  If your family is strong as a unit, they have a support system of family and friends and their interactions with church have been mostly positive, those jabs won’t hurt so much. The conflict will pass, and because your family is in order, you will have much more happiness to dwell on.
 
Rej Dixit is a Speech Pathologist from Vancouver Washington. She is also a mother of three and married to a pastor.
 
[1] H.B. London and Neil B. Wiseman, Pastors at Greater Risk, Ventura: Regal Books, 2003, 86
 
[2] The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. 2009