Weathering the storms of ministry
A pastor’s wife shares her candid fears and constructive advice about weathering the storms of ministry.
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Just as I began dating my soon-to-be pastor-husband, a dear friend and her pastor-husband went through what can only be described as “church-hell” – you know, when a pastor is chewed up and spit out by a church body and no one in creation is around to intervene or care. Sound ugly? It was far, far worse than I can even begin to describe. Confusing, lonely, depressing, beyond hurtful.
Today, this wonderful pastoral couple is leading another church and thriving. They plummeted into despair, struggled, fought their way back to health and survived. And through their horrific experience, I prayed, listened, supported. . . and learned. In relaying one of her counselling sessions with me, my friend shared that one of the reasons her husband’s job loss was so devastating is that for a pastoral family, church is not just “daddy’s work.” It’s also their family’s place of worship, their social circle, their support network, their ministry, their prayer chain, their refuge, their routine, and a whole lot more. It’s exactly what church should be for a family: community. So when a pastor* loses his “job,” he is not just losing his position – he and his family are losing a way of life, a way of being.
Hopefully my husband and I will never be so hurt by a church. Likely, however, we will experience the normal ups and downs that come with ministry and someday, we may even transition to another church. Can my husband and I “prepare” ourselves for such times? Do we set down roots in the meantime? Do we give ourselves to people knowing that hurt or change may be just around the corner?
As I’ve pondered this in my own little pea brain, I recognize three actions that are helping my husband and I through the current ups and downs of our church, actions that will also help us through a potential transition should that come our way.
First, my husband and I are very deliberate in building strong, enduring relationships with friends and family who do not attend our church. Some live near by, most don’t. When major life events happen, both good and bad, these people are among the first to know. I find that such a group of people is essential for two reasons. One, they are tried-n-true friends who will be with us wherever we go. For most of our lives, my best friend and I have lived on opposite ends of the continent; so, I know that our friendship won’t wane just because I move from my current location. Our friendship has lasted through many moves and life stages and I can only imagine that it will continue to do so. Second, this group of friends can be trusted with how I really feel about our current church. With them, I can share mundane annoyances without feeling like I am betraying my husband or our church’s reputation. And if something really cuts to the core, I have a safe place where I can lick my wounds and receive comfort.
Second, my husband and I have very carefully chosen a few mature couples from our church as confidants – the key word being “mature,” both spiritually and emotionally. These friends are committed to the church and to us. They are not gossips who will betray us or the church, nor are they complainers looking for fodder. When we share personal news or feelings, they don’t freak out. They understand that ministry has its ups and downs, just like life. When my husband is faced with criticism or a hard decision, these friends are physically present with a supportive shoulder and a listening ear. And as part of our congregation, they see first hand the context of our lives and can speak from direct observation. In short, they are a great source of encouragement and their perspectives help keep us honest and grounded.
The third action my husband and I are taking is a more recent one. Within our own marriage relationship, we have decided that he just doesn’t need to tell me everything that goes on at the church. Up till now, whenever he shared a tough situation with me – a conflict with another staff member for example or a questionable decision made by someone else – my blood would boil. How stupid! How could they be so rude? They call themselves ministers?! And the next time I would see that person, the information would be ruminating around inside of me. Grrrrrr! Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my husband would have already gotten over the situation. He and the other person talked it through and realized it really wasn’t that big a deal, or they agreed to disagree and went on loving each other all the same. So while they were just hunky dory, I was still stewing. Yes, a large part of this is my own immaturity and my need to have boundaries when it comes to my husband’s job. But I think our decision not to delve into the complexities of every interaction will also help. For now, my husband will try to only share the big things with me, decisions and situations that will have a long-term bearing on our lives. We’ll see how we do and if it makes a difference!
Obviously, the above actions are not the be all and end all to weathering the storms of ministry. As I observed what my friends went through, I observed above all that God is our Sustainer. He is the One who gives us all our blessings and walks us through the hard stuff. As my husband and I heal from current wounds and face new ones, I know that Christ is right with us. Whether He shows up alone or through our various friends, He is the One enabling us to endure. That’s the only hope that keeps us going!
*For the purposes of this article, I refer to a “pastor” in the masculine only. Certainly, the points in the article also apply to female pastors and their families.
Katerina Hinkle was donor communications manager for Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.