Did you know March was Pastor's Wife Appreciation Month? Me either. I only found out because I got some sweet notes thanking me for being around while my husband (the Pastor) did amazing things (they included a list). He is an amazing Pastor. I agree with them, and I'm glad they noticed.
You can't blame people for not realizing what a Pastor's wife's job entails. They don't generally see much of what we do. Most of it is behind the scenes. It is quiet, joyful sacrifice. It is midnight prayers. It is wise counsel given to the Pastor and the congregation. It is knowing to whom the jobs should be delegated -- who will shine where. It is being both mom and dad, so dad can be pastor. It is being a "ministry widow". It is ignoring missed holidays and time off. It is taking rude comments pleasantly and being able to see beyond the hurt to see the heart. It is hearing from God about every step you take, every word you speak and every thing you do. And it is taking the heat when you don't. It is trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of "pastor's wife perfection". And then it's time to start ministering...
So here's to you, Pastor's Wife. Thank you for what you quietly do behind the scenes when no one is looking.
As a Pastor's wife of 20 years to a man who not only pastors, but also ministers to pastors, I get a number of questions from pastor's wives. In honor of all the juggling pastor's wives must do, I'm going to let you in on a really good question I received. (Names removed to protect the innocent, and all that.)
Hi Pastor Angela, ..... The most pressing question right now is regarding family life and how it fits in with ministry. My husband and I both come from families that had little family life...meaning that though our parents were great Christian people of integrity, most of what we did was go to work and school and come home and watch TV. There wasn't much family time, vacation time, or interaction with Mom and Dad other than mealtime and TV time - which we are grateful for! Over the years, we've been able to observe other families - home-school families and families in ministry - and we've seen something that we desperately want...families having fun together, kids that love and want to be around their parents and parents that make extra time for the children, as well as couples who are still passionately in love! Watching these families, we have made many adjustments in our own lives, but as we pioneer the new phase of this church, I've faced some fears that our family life may be suffering. We've scheduled vacation time and date nights, but I struggle with the day to day week to week side of things. We still seem to just want to crash in front of the TV (even if it is healthy viewing). My husband is really motivated and I am in complete support, but there are times when it seems like even though he's home...he's still at the church. I love to hear about his day and we make time for that, but I'm not sure if he knows how to come home and leave the church work at church - if that's even possible! I try not to say anything because its so easy to start nagging. :(
Here's the Question: Are there any practicals you could share with me about how to have a healthy family life while pioneering a church and what ways can I communicate this with my husband so that he continues to feel supported and encouraged?...
It's so good to hear from you. Your question is a tough one and really gets to the heart of juggling ministry and family. It's a question of priorities, really, and what works for your family will need to reflect your priorities as a family. It sounds like you are already on the right track by scheduling date nights and vacation time. As far as the TV goes, we try to use it wisely. It can be a nice "brain break" to just be entertained when ministry drains the life out of you, but we try to limit how much we fall back on it. We have found that for us, it may give us a mental reprieve, but it doesn't refresh or rest us. So we try to use TV on purpose rather than letting it suck us in. It can be a delicate balance. Usually, when we find ourselves zoning out regularly in front of the tube, it is because something else in our lives is out of balance. For us, that usually means we aren't taking a day off often enough and/or we aren't getting enough sleep. You will have to find your own triggers if you want to limit your TV time.
Ministry (especially pioneering) will sap absolutely everything from you if you let it. I say this as someone who has helped my husband pioneer 2 churches while having babies. With the first church, I tried to do everything. That meant that I was a full time mom by day (because I didn't want my kids to be neglected because of the ministry) and a full time church builder by night (because I didn't want the church to be neglected because of my family). On service days, I ran virtually every department while my husband preached. It isn't a sustainable lifestyle. If you do that for too long, your family and your health will suffer (just because we believe in healing doesn't mean we can be dumb, if you know what I mean). I basically didn't sleep during those years, but the ministry thrived and my kids loved their home life and being PKs, so I figured I was being successful. Eventually, though, that lifestyle caught up with me. It was just too much.
When we started this church, I knew I would have to do things differently. By that time, we had been in ministry a long time and I had watched a lot of what worked and what didn't. I was beginning to see the fruit of people's life and ministry choices. I knew I couldn't sustain the "burn the wick at both ends" lifestyle. It had begun to catch up with my body. But I had also seen the hurt, frustration and eventual rebellion of PKs who had grown up with both parents putting the ministry first and the kids second. My heart still hurts for those kids. I believe God gave us our children and He means for us to be good stewards of them. Somehow we could juggle ministry and family without either one being neglected. It would take a lot of trust and a lot of letting go of personal control to arrive at balance, but in my heart, I knew balance was achievable. I also knew it would have to be protected.
How balance will look in your family may look very different than how it looks in ours, but these are some of the things we do to keep our lives a little more balanced:
1. What are the priorities? For us, it is God, Family, then Ministry. We try to live those priorities every day. That means that, for me, I don't necessarily get involved in everything we have going at the church, or travel to every special meeting that every other ministry holds. I am careful with what I commit to. My pride at being able to do it all has had to take a back seat. The nature of the beast is that my husband will need to be far more involved in the ministry, so to protect our kids, I make sure I am more involved at home. That helps us maintain balance for our kids. Sometimes the ministry can demand so much from our husbands that it seems pastor's wives are "ministry widows" to use the "golfer widow" analogy. And that means the kids have also lost their dad for that time. I don't want my kids to become "orphans" because I am equally involved with every thing the church has going, and they are left in the lurch.
2. "Delegate, delegate, delegate." We try to be led in this, and it has taken time to train people to do what I was doing. I found that I was doing all kinds of things that someone else could be doing. That left me with little time or energy for the things only I could do - like being my kids' mother. I am absolutely the only person in the world that can do that. It can't be delegated. So I do that. I am also the Prayer School Coordinator. We both feel that only I can/should lead that right now. But I don't assemble the church kids' crafts anymore, or set up the food for fellowships. Other people can be trained to do that.
3. Tag team. Most of the time, the kids are with me, but when I am holding a prayer service, doing counseling or ministering, my husband will rearrange his schedule to help with the kids. By tag teaming, our kids were nearly always with a parent, rather than constantly being pushed off on a baby sitter. It is an opportunity to do the work of the ministry and still allow the kids to bond with us as parents. When my husband hangs out with our kids so that I can do ministry work, he usually tries to do something fun with them. Because the ministry calls him away so much, this helps make up for it in the kids' minds. "Dad time" is special to them. It is a time in which they get to do something they don't ordinarily get to do.
4. Watch the mouth. I am careful how I talk in front of the kids about ministry, church folks and their dad's involvement in the ministry. I am aware that my attitude will color my kids' attitude about ministry and about our involvement. For my kids, it is all par for the course. My kids tell me that they understand the demands ministry places on us as a family - and they love the ministry. They don't resent the sacrifices. The privileges outweigh the sacrifices. The proof of the pudding is that my teens are actively involved in helps ministry in multiple departments. We didn't ask them to get involved. They had it on their hearts and volunteered on their own.
5. Talk with the kids. Even when my kids were small, I always tried to talk to them about what we were doing, what was expected of them at events, etc. The more they knew what to expect, the better they rolled with the punches. Also, we don't "promise" things to the kids. We don't say, "We're going to Disney World next week". I can't tell you how many times our plans have had to change at the last minute because of a crisis with a church member. Instead, we say, "If everything works the way we are planning, we hope to go to Disney World next week." That way our kids don't feel like we are breaking promises to them. They know that ministry throws curve balls, but that we, as parents, are doing everything we can to do special things with them. On that note, we often don't tell them until much closer to the event, just in case.
6. Listen to the kids. I have always tried to really hear my kids. When they want to talk, I put down what I'm doing and listen. They get my full attention. I not only listen with my ears, I listen with my eyes and with my heart. I try to notice when things are getting to them. I try to give them a safe place to vent and to be imperfect. We work through the bumps together. Just knowing someone has truly heard you goes a long way to helping you get through it.
7. Understand the demands on a pastor. I don't know if pastors ever fully "clock out". Ministry demands from us on every level -spirit, soul and body. On top of that, the enemy likes to pile junk on pastors to discourage them and wear them out. I do what I can to alleviate the pressure when my husband is home. That means that our time at home looks different than the average "perfect family". There have been a lot of times when I was tempted to look at other families, see how the husband came home after work every day to mentor the children and have fun with them, and I got a less than stellar attitude. I think the enemy likes to remind us of those "perfect" families during hard times when our husbands have extra ministry demands on them and the kids are extra cranky. I have had to learn to understand the ebbs and flows of ministry. Sure, our hours are weird. There aren't too many free evenings for mentoring and game playing. Sure, sometimes my husband needs downtime more than he needs to play with the kids. Sure, there are many times when we have to change our plans at the last minute. But there are also times when, out of the blue, my husband will call for us to meet him for dinner and some special activity. And because we homeschool, sometimes we are able to drop everything on a Monday morning and have family time. My point is that although the schedule of those special family times may not look ideal, it does still happen. And when it happens, it seems that God puts a special blessing on it. One day with dad seems to equal a lot more with my kids. Besides, there are no perfect families. The best families are not perfect, but they have achieved a balance that works for them in their unique situation. I try to emphasis the positives of being a ministry family and minimize the negatives.
8. Protect the priorities. I have had well known ministries say that I didn't love God because of the stance I have taken to be there for my kids and make our family a priority. There are many ministries out there that believe you need to leave your kids in order to go out there and do something big for God. I never could get it clear in my heart, though. I had it in my heart that I never could do anything big for God unless I first took care of the little ones He gave me. I have learned so much from my kids that has helped me be a better minister. I have never, ever regretted the choices that I have made that protected our family as we did the work of the ministry. That being said, I have had to "fight" to keep those priorities in place. It hasn't always been easy to say no to opportunities, or to be misunderstood because I chose be there for my children. The Bible says that wisdom is justified of her children. I had to wait for my choices to be justified. Now that I have teens who love God and their parents, some of the same people who once questioned my priorities have congratulated me on them. Hold your ground. Stick with what God puts on your heart for your family. He will give you wisdom and help you obtain it.
When we were pastoring our first church, I learned a valuable lesson that has stuck with me through the years. We ate dinner with the pastors of a large Assembly of God church. They told us some things they did to protect their marriage and family from the demands of ministry. One thing they did was to schedule a weekly family day. Nothing, but nothing was allowed to pre-empt that family time. All ministry crisis, etc, had to wait until the next day.
They also did something else that at first will sound a little harsh, but there is great wisdom in it. The wife told me that when they were home they would often shut the blinds, lock the door and park the cars in the garage. That way it didn't look like anyone was home. They would refuse to answer the phone, door, etc. (Now we have texting, so that would also be included). They had discovered something. People will act like they must have you RIGHT NOW, but in reality, their problems have usually been going on for a very long time. Dropping everything to try to help them not only isn't necessary, it often isn't even helpful. When they call like that, usually it is because they are in an emotional tizzy. Until they can calm down a little, you aren't going to be able to reach their spirit anyway. What HAS happened, though, is that they have interrupted your family life. If you allow that to happen too often, it will virtually destroy your family. By waiting to get back with them until a more convenient time, you give their emotions time to settle and have an easier time speaking to their spirits. They also learn to respect your time more, which gives them more respect for what you say during the time they are with you. In reality, you are protecting your marriage and family AND being more helpful to them. So these pastors stopped feeling guilty for not dropping everything every time someone stopped by or called. They began scheduling meetings with people during church hours and keeping their "home time" sacred. We have tried to follow their example and it has been a great blessing to us.
People can leave a message and you can get back with them. If it isn't important enough for them to leave a message, it isn't important enough for you to have to drop everything. This is one way to keep the church at church and make your home a sanctuary to get away from the demands of ministry for a little while.
May God bless and refresh the Pastor's wives out there who work so diligently to juggle the demands of ministry and family. What you do really does impact those around you. You are making a difference!
Have a great day!
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