I recently had my first experience going through the call process and transitioning from the ministry that I had loved and served for 11 years to a new call. Anyone who has gone through this process, especially with kids, knows that this is at the same time both exciting and terrifying. It is a time to say goodbye to people you have come to love, a community you have come to love, schools you have come to love, even food that you have come to love. There is uncertainty around every turn.
In the midst of all of the craziness probably the best advice I received from anyone was the simple urging, “Kevin, in the midst of all of this take care of your wife before anything else. Love on her. Listen to her. The two of you have to stay on the same page. The two of you have to walk this journey together, and she needs you more in this transition than anyone else does.” Here is what my friend understood: our entire family life was being shaken to its core but in a few weeks, I would be back at work as a pastor doing what I love to do, and the kids would be at school, hopefully making new friends, but where was my wife going to be? In a new house, in a new neighborhood, in a new community where she knows hardly anyone, with boxes as her best/closest friends.
In the midst of all of this, I couldn’t help but realize that the spouses of church workers have a very different reality than we do as church workers. They are bright and loving people who are called to ministry, albeit in different ways, than we are as church workers. They make sacrifices along with us, however their sacrifices often go unseen and unnoticed. So, the question is how can we offer support for the unsung heroes of our ministry, the spouses of church workers? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Get Your Priorities Straight- As church workers, we will always be able to have a busy schedule. There is always something and that something can be rationalized as beautiful and good and worthy of our time. However, God in His Word has called us to a set of priorities. The priorities are this:
Number 1 is God.We are called to love God above all things.If our relationship with God is not right, nothing else in our lives will be right.We are fueled for life, for our family, and even for our ministry by our relationship with God.
Number 2 is your spouse.God’s picture for marriage is the two becoming one flesh.Paul sees the importance of this for a life of ministry when he talks about the qualifications for those in ministry in 1 Timothy and Titus.Outside of our relationship with God, our MOST IMPORTANT relationship is with our spouse.She needs our love, our care, our attention, and, yes, even our time.She needs to know that she is a priority in our lives.And yet how many of us, if we are honest, have offered our wives on the altar of ministry, rationalizing that what we are doing is important and God’s work?God wants us to see that loving and serving our spouse is also our calling, is also important, is also serving Him.
Number 3 are your kids.They need you.Your spouse wasn’t called to be a single parent.Don’t make them one!Other people can be your parishioner’s pastor or DCE.Only you can be your kid’s mom or dad.
Number 4 is your job (your ministry).
One of the best ways you can support your spouse is by making them a priority without being ashamed or apologetic about.I have made it a practice in my ministry to preach these priorities before my congregation at least once a year.In a public way, I am telling my spouse the important role she plays in my life.It also serves to teach others God’s priorities for their lives.But this also forces me to model what I preach and invites the congregation to not only understand when I prioritize my family but hold me accountable to do so.
2. Recognize that your spouse lives with unspoken expectations- This may be the one that I realized most in our recent time of transition. It comes as no shocker that people place expectations upon a pastor/church worker and their family. Some of these expectations are spoken and some are unspoken. Some of these expectations are fair and some are totally unfair. But upon no one else, with the possible exception of church work kids, are there more unspoken expectations. As a pastor, I pretty much know what the expectations are. They come with the job description. They come with the experiences of a congregation. But as a pastor, one of the greatest things I can do is to paint a vision for the congregation of who my wife is, and the things God has called her to do and not do. This means at time defending her and giving her the freedom to be her. This means helping the congregation realize that they have called one staff person not two. More than anything, my goal is to create a space for my wife to be the beautiful person God has called and created her to be without having to feel the pressure to live up to the unspoken and spoken expectations of church mice.
3. Realize that your spouse is in ministry but that hers is different than yours- Everyone who is a follower of Jesus is called into ministry. But not everyone who is a follower of Jesus is called into vocational ministry. This is a key distinction that we need to keep within our churches and our own minds. The same is true for our spouse. Our spouse may be called into ministry as a mom or a CPA or an author or a teacher or in any number of ways. Her entire ministry is not in being a spouse of a church worker. As a church worker, my goal should not only be to affirm her calling to ministry and her vocation but to support her and encourage her in every way possible.