My 2 Cents for Ministry Families

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….

 

Stand your ground

 

Don’t ever try to tell me that spiritual warfare doesn’t exist.

I know better.

I’ve experienced it. I’ve battled it. I’ve the bruises, and the battle scars to prove it.

This has been a rough few weeks in ministry, in our family life.  And the enemy has taken full advantage of the exhaustion, the weakness, the illness, the fear, the frustration, using all of it to wear down our defenses.

We have been tested, tried, found lacking. Our faith has been stretched. Our confidence has been cracked.

We have been dealt blow after blow by the devil.  And he is a tricky one. He is, after all, the father of lies. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He is going after our joy, our faith, our family.

Twisted words, half-truths, complete lies, veiled allegations, and angry outbursts have all left us wounded, angry, disappointed, disillusioned.  We are left here, shell-shocked, bleeding and weeping, as we question the why, the point of it all.  We question the desert we have found ourselves in, the dry, cracked thirst of our souls, parched and needing to step back into the streams of His grace and mercy.

But….and there is always a but in these situations…. I am so thankful that I serve a God who has overcome. A God who has defeated death, triumphed over the grave, and crushed the serpent under his heel. I may fail in my trials, but I know He doesn’t leave me or abandon me, even in the darkest of places. Though my soul may not know peace in this moment, His peace resides within me. I know I can find rest when I take upon yoke, his rhythm of grace.

Ephesians 6: 10-17

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 

Inadequate

I have been slacking in my writing as of late. I feel inspired and then, by the time I sit down at the computer, I’ve either forgotten what I wanted to write about, or have decided against what I thought about.  I find that inspiration hits me when I am out running, the only time I really have to be by myself and to think in peace. But that inspiration disappears by the time I’ve showered, re-dressed, and plugged back into life. I’ve also been so busy with work, the start of the school year, and just trying to get back into a rhythm of life, that writing, pouring myself out upon the keyboard, has been low on the priority list.

Today, I’ve decided to just write. It may not be good, it may not have any redeeming qualities, and yet, I feel the need, the desire to throw thoughts out into cyberspace. To place my thoughts onto a screen, hit publish, and just be satisfied with whatever comes of it.

As I think about it, it is much the way my prayer life has been lately. I have just thrown things up to the heavens, not really giving much thought to it, not giving it the time it deserves.

Not giving God the time He deserves.

My prayers, when thought or said, have been selfish, focused on me or my family.  They are said as I am dozing off in the evening, if I even remember then. The only times I have spent recently in intentional prayer is when friends and family have laid bare their souls, asking for prayers, for healing, for God’s interventions. Then, and only then, have I laid aside my pride, my selfishness, my own desires, and cried out to the Lord on their behalf. Then, and only then, have I taken time to really offer up time and energy, thoughts and love, to God.

And is that enough? Am I enough? I know that my prayer life lately has been inadequate. I know that I have not given God my time or energy in worship, in praise, in prayer. I know that I have allowed the life I have been blessed with to distract me from the life I am meant to live. A life of praise. A life of thanksgiving. A life of prayer.

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Easier said than done, if you ask me. Oh, there are days. Those days when life is hard, when every moment is a struggle. Those are the days that are easier for me to pray, and to pray without ceasing.  When I have to rely on God in every moment, just to make it through the day, those are the days that it is easier to pray. The days when all I can do is fall to my knees and give all that I am, all that I have, up in prayer, those days are easily spent in prayer because I have nothing else.

But a regular, ordinary Tuesday? Or Saturday?

When life seems to be going swimmingly, when there is just enough money in the checking account to pay the bills, everyone is healthy, work is fun, and everyone is getting along?

Those are the harder days to pray. Those are the days where I put too much faith in myself, the days when I rely on my own strength. Those are the days when time slips away easily, and the day is over before I realize it began, and I end the day without so much as an utterance of praise or thanksgiving.  Those days when I get so wrapped up in the details of the life I’m living that I forget to thank the One who gives me life….those are the days that I think of in this moment, the days that I feel the need to ask forgiveness for, the days that make me feel inadequate as a Christian, inauthentic as a follower of Christ.

But, thankfully, even that can be redeemed. Even that, in my failings and faults, I find love and forgiveness.  I know that when I feel convicted over such things, it is only Christ reaching out to me, drawing me near to him.  That is the loving relationship that I have found in Christ. That, rather than shame and condemnation, there is this abundant love that pours out over me, pulling me in, comforting rather than damning.  Even when I pull away or ignore Him, He is ever-patient and waits for me to return, waits for me with open arms.

And so I pray, in this moment, at this time. Let the words that flow out from me now be a prayer, a breath of new life into the dust that has settled into my spirit. Let this be a prayer of joy and thanksgiving, for the words given, the soul stirred, the forgiveness granted and for the love that covers all.

Can I get an amen?