We’ve been in this place for one year. One year of ministry under our belts, and I realize how ill-equipped we were…and still are in many ways…for life in ministry. I am glad I was warned
advised (repeatedly) that life in ministry is hard. Life in ministry is challenging. Life in ministry is beautiful. People will hurt you. People will surprise you. There are those who will support you no matter what, and there are those looking for every opportunity to find fault in everything you do. And all of this applies to both the pastor and to the pastor’s family.
We’ve spent the last year trying to learn the culture, trying to understand the people. We’ve spent the last year moving slowly, trying not to step on too many toes, treading water lightly. We’ve spent the last year in tears, crying out to God for healing of hearts, for restoration of relationships. We have fallen to our knees, praying for growth and renewal and transformation. We have prayed for His Spirit to revive hearts. We have sought God’s guidance, we have listened for His voice. We have begged to have His heart for the people, for the church. We have spent a year hoping to see some fruit from our labors. And we have spent a year waiting on the Lord…
And so I write this blog post, knowing that I know so little, and knowing that our experiences may not be your experiences if you, too, are in the trenches of ministry. I’m writing this to encourage those who are stepping out in faith, embarking on this adventure, and for those who have been at it for years. I know that the longer our life in ministry, the more we will learn and grow and, in 5 years from now, this list may be completely different. There are healthy churches out there, along with some very unhealthy churches, and every pastor’s experience, along with their family’s, will be unique to the place they minister. Some places are easier than others, but every place will have weaknesses, every place will have challenges, every place will be hurting in some way. And in every place, there will be opportunities to see the hand of God at work, to see His redemptive power, to see transformation in the lives of the people. In every single place, in every type of ministry, there are miracles and joys and healings and beauty from ashes. In every place, the Spirit is moving and hope is present.
Ministry families, this is for you. Know that you are not alone in your journey. The more articles I read about ministry, the more I realize how much we, along with our pastor spouse, need to be encouraged and loved and reassured that we are not alone in this craziness! I write this from a wife and momma’s perspective. If you are the husband of a pastor, I would love to know if this resonates with you also.
So, here is my advice/ $ .02/ words of wisdom (hah!), for whatever it may be worth.
- Cling to the cross. You can’t do this without God. You need an abundance of His grace and mercy. Soak in His love. And, if (and when) you feel your heart becoming hardened, escape for an hour, a day, a weekend, and be refreshed. Find a place to connect with your Creator and let Him love you. Let God refill your soul, nourish your heart, and strengthen your passion for Him and your compassion for others.
- Laugh. Often. Find joy in the little things. Cherish the moments of laughter and delight. In times of stress, my sense of humor is the first thing to go and I need to be very intentional in finding joy.
- Remember that your spouses’ job is not your job. I say that with a grain of salt. I often refer to my husband’s work as “our” ministry. I truly do believe that we, as a family, are in ministry together, and it is a team effort in my husband’s work within the church. I help with a lot of stuff in church, often spending 15-20 hour each week volunteering. I do this because I know how important it is that I show support and encouragement for my husband. I do this so I can help him in his ministry. I do this because otherwise he would end up doing it alone, and I want to relieve some of the stress and workload from an already overwhelmed schedule. I do this so that I can spend time with him. I do this because I believe God has called me to this, in this season. However, I was not hired to do his job. He was. I do not have the authority to make decisions, change or transform anything…any more than any other member of the church. And sometimes, I have even less input than the “regular” church folks. And sometimes, it is a hard truth, that even though I spend far more time, energy, and emotion on the church and it’s activities than most of the congregation, my voice doesn’t carry more weight than anyone else’s.
- Keep a Sabbath. And
encourage, no…MAKE your spouse take one. Keep it sacred, just as the 4th Commandment tells us to do. Use it as a day every week to connect with God and with one another. We have failed at this one over the last year, and now are trying to regain Sabbath keeping back into our practices. Wednesdays are becoming our holy days this summer, where neither of us work and we have intentional time together as a family and “shop talk” is kept to a minimum. We’ll see how it goes. We are a work in progress.
- Try not to take it personally. I struggle with this one. I want to protect my husband as much as possible, and protect my family. Words wound deeply. Actions…and inaction…hurt. They matter, even when you don’t want them to. And sometimes, it is hard to remember that every other person in the church is just as human as I am, makes mistakes just as I do, and is focused on themselves and their needs, just as I am. They are trying to protect what is important to them, just as I am trying to protect the ones important to me. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. It just stinks being on the receiving end of the hurt.
- Pray for your spouse. Do this often. Daily. Hourly. In seasons of challenges, pray for their protection. Pray for their faith. Pray for their heart. The attacks on their character, their ministry, their integrity, their emotions, and their faith are the ways of the enemy. Pray for your spouse, and for your marriage, and for your children (if you have them). Satan will attack everything that you hold dear. Fight back with prayer.
- Find friends you can be authentic with. We all need a safe place to be real, to bare our souls, to share our burdens. My husband and I were lucky that we met other families who are also in ministry in our town shortly after we moved here. They understand the life we lead because they, too, are on the journey, trying their best to follow God’s call on their lives.
- Remember why it all matters. There is a much bigger picture than any of us will ever see. We know that God wins, but the battle can be excruciating. We know that the work we do is to bring people to Christ. It is to grow the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. And it is hard, hard work if we are trying to do it on our own, which is why it is so important to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Friends in ministry, you are in my prayers. Our lives are not easy ones. We have taken on a yoke that we can only get through with the grace of God. Some of us have chosen this life willingly and joyfully, embracing our spouse’s invitation by God to join in ministry. Others of us have felt pulled along by our spouse, hesitant to embrace this life of service to others. Whichever camp you fall into, I pray for grace and mercy to abound in your lives. I pray for you to find safe places, safe people, to be real and authentic with and for deep, abiding friendships to nurture your soul.
For those of you who may not be in positions of ministry, may I ask one thing of you? Encourage your pastor. Love on their families. Reassure those who minister to you. Show them grace and mercy. I’m not saying to blow smoke, but give authentic encouragement when the Spirit moves you to. Most people do not hesitate in giving complaints or criticism, but are much more reticent in giving encouragement. A kind word given, a nod of encouragement shown, can go a long way to lessen the burden and cheer the soul.
Life in ministry is hard. It is challenging. Over the course of the last year, my husband and I have failed miserably at
much all of the above. There have been times when we’ve become weary, where we’ve been overwhelmed. There is loneliness, there is isolation, there is heartache. We’ve forgotten to laugh, and we’ve worked too much and too hard, not resting in the Lord. We’ve been hurt, and I’m sure we’ve probably hurt others. But we’ve also been shown grace and given glimpses of the kingdom of Heaven breaking through. We’ve seen healing. We have watched others grow in faith. We have delighted in the presence of the Lord, and we know that He is at work in our midst.
And we wait on the Lord, hopeful to see the fruit of our labors, but knowing that our timing is not always God’s timing and that we may be long gone from this place before the harvest is ready.
Even still, we work. We worship. We wait….