I received an email from a darling girl I’ll call Lindsey. Her husband is new to the full-time pastorate and her note perfectly represented so many of us who struggle with finding a balance between the time required to effectively minister to the church versus the energy needed to keep those home fires burning.
Here’s an excerpt from Lindsey’s letter:
“We are having the hardest time finding a balance in our relationship and his relationship with the church, and I was wondering if you had any advice to offer me. He is either always on the phone or with church members, or we are at the hospitals, or a funeral. I joke with him all the time that we don’t do dinner and a movie for dates–we do dinner and a funeral.”
Been there. Done that. Got the collection of black dresses to prove it.
The way to address this particular issue can vary somewhat based on the amount of time you’ve served in your current position. Obviously, it is much easier to state your family priorities before accepting a pastorate so there can be no question later if you choose your son’s championship baseball game over Sister Susie’s cousin’s hernia surgery.
However, most of the time we find ourselves a few months or maybe even a few years into our current ministry and have zealously said ‘yes!’ to every request made in hopes of making Jesus proud and assuring the people you are worth all that money they pay you. So what do you do when the candle that has been burning from both ends finally meets in the middle?
1. Evaluate the Situation
The most important gifts you and your husband can give one another are those of honesty and patience. Is he spending too much time away from home? Does he put the needs of others in front of your family’s needs? Is his mind somewhere else when he’s with you? Then girls, it is time to talk! Don’t let those feelings fester into private resentment and bitterness. An honest assessment of where you are and where you would rather be relationally is step one in working together toward a solution.
2. Prayerfully and gently let your husband know how you are feeling.
Proverbs 21:19 rightly says, “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.” As with any situation that comes up in your marriage, the approach affects the reaction. “Honey, I’m really concerned about how hard you are working and how very little we see you”, will be received much more calmly than, “I am SO sick of you being gone all the time!”
Put yourself in your hubby’s shoes. Most likely he isn’t any happier with the situation than you are but doesn’t quite know where to draw the line between personal and church life. I can promise you he will be more willing to find a solution if you are a refuge for him rather than another battle he must fight.
3. Avoid growing bitter towards the church for your husband’s preoccupations.
It can be so tempting when things are not going well in our marital relationship to seek someone or something to blame – in this case the church who is taking him away from us. Often Our husband’s tendency to overwork has nothing to do with any actual criticism but rather his own sense of What will people think if I don’t make sure the youth have an outing every single month or if they see my vehicle at home during the 8-to-5 hours? My own husband can be guilty sometimes of putting way more pressure on himself than anyone has ever placed on him.
In Denise George’s book, What Women Wish Pastors Knew, she reports that a majority of the women who responded to her surveys, “worry that a pastor’s role leaves him with ‘insufficient time’ for his own family.1 This revelation is a confirmation to me that–though certainly unfair expectations are placed on our families–the congregation isn’t always the source of the burden. Sometimes, it is our hubby’s own work ethic and fear of being seen as the stereotypical, ‘only-has-to-work-one-day-a-week’, preacher.
4. Determine a plan of action together and be patient as it is implemented.
If you have determined that your schedule needs to change, then decide together how to streamline hubby’s calendar. Can he plan visits for one day a week instead of spreading them over five? If you are an associate pastor’s wife, can you help with some planning related to your next event (youth, choral, discipleship)? Can he publish scheduled office hours for counseling/etc. so the congregation will know convenient times to meet. Obviously, there will always be emergencies that arise and blow the best laid plans out of the water, but knowing he is trying and that you are a part of the solution instead of the “dripping faucet” that sends him running out the door will make these times much easier to accept.
Most importantly, be patient with him as he incorporates these plans into his schedule. As with any new thing done in church life, you can’t make ten changes at once. Choose one thing and once working well, move on to the next.
5. Involve the church leadership in your plan of action. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest with the church and telling them when you are overwhelmed. There are wise and unwise ways to do this but for now just know that the same positive attitude in which you approach your husband when the schedule is out-of-kilter should be the same heart in which you talk with the leaders of your church. I believe the majority of parishioners want to love and support their ministers and are willing to do whatever is necessary to encourage healthy relationships within the body and in your personal family.
What Can a Church Do?
My husband and I are blessed to be part of a congregation who demonstrates their love in intangible and tangible ways. Here are a few ways that church members can acknowledge the importance of the ministers’ family:
- Give a gift certificate for a night out and arrange for babysitting if necessary.
- Send them to a conference you know they would enjoy.
- Do you have a favorite couples’ devotional book? Give them a copy.
- Pray for their families to be strong, healthy, and encouraged.
- Go out of your way to recognize the signs of burnout in your ministers and express your support. Let him know if he’s working too hard and give him permission to relax!
These are just a few suggestions for turning Dinner and a Funeral back to Dinner and a Movie. Thank you, ‘Lindsey’, for a great question!
1. Denise George, What Women Wish Pastors Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 138.