Recently, I was in a roomful of pastors when one of them said “Pastoral ministry can be harder on our spouses than on us.”
Every head in the room nodded in silent agreement.
Then someone asked “why”?
Here are some of the reasons we discovered that evening. Why ministry can be hard on pastors, but even harder on the people we love – and who love us.
1. Pastors Can Be Proactive, Our Spouses Can Only React
I get to go into the church every day and do things. I can start something new, change something that doesn’t work, or reach out to someone with a complaint.
But if a pastors’ spouse tries to do those things they’re often seen as overstepping their boundaries. Or worse.
So they sit in silence. And hurt.
Pastors get to act. Our spouses can only react. And sometimes not even that.
It’s easier to be behind the wheel than in the passenger seat.
2. Pastors See the Entire Movie – Our Spouses See Snapshots
For pastors, church ministry is like living within the movie of your life. It may shift radically from tragedy to comedy and back again (with the occasional musical thrown in) but it’s constantly moving and changing.
When we go home, we give our spouse a snapshot of the day. If the day ended on a sour note, that might be the only thing we tell them. So, while the day was a movie to us, it’s a snapshot to our spouse – the snapshot we choose to give them.
When we go to church the next day, the movie keeps going. And, quite often, the bad moment from the previous day is forgotten. But the snapshot you gave your spouse sits in their head and heart, growing bigger.
We need to be more careful about the snapshots we bring home. What we give them lasts longer than we realize.
3. It’s Harder to See Someone You Love Get Hurt
This may be the main reason ministry can be harder on our spouse than on the pastor.
When you love someone, you’d do anything to take some or all of their pain on yourself. But you seldom can.
4. We Reconcile, They Only Hear About It
We come home one evening complaining about someone who did something hurtful. Then we go back and work it out.
The next night we say “everything’s great now.” Our spouse has to just accept that without having the chance to walk through the reconciliation themselves.
And our kids are often in as tough a position as our spouses – usually without the emotional maturity to process it properly. So they act out.
Give Them Better Snapshots
The primary picture our spouses have of the church’s inner workings are filtered through us.
While we get to engage in the change process, they silently absorb it all.
As pastors, our primary ministry responsibility is to our spouse and family. This begins by giving them better snapshots of the church and the people in it.
No, we shouldn’t sugar-coat things. They can spot that a mile away. And we should never give false pictures to anyone, anyway – especially our family.
But using our spouse as our primary (often our only) sounding board for unloading every bad thing from the church doesn’t help us, them or the church.
This is why it’s essential for a pastor to have a coach, a mentor or a trusted friend to talk to.
Don’t hide things from your spouse. That’s never healthy.
But when you give them snapshots, make sure there are a lot of great ones mixed in with the bad.
Better yet, take them along for the movie.
Copyright © 2017 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.