In the past few months, I’ve had two conversations where persons serving on a church staff were struggling with their spouses’ lack of support. One was a pastor whose wife was worn out with a constant stream of criticisms directed at her husband and her family. She was pushing her husband to leave the church and find secular employment.
The other situation involved a children’s minister whose husband was angry because she was gone so many nights. He felt the church was taking advantage of her and pushing her to work too many hours to the neglect of her family.
Both of these ministers were truly struggling. They did not know what steps to take. They were uncertain how to respond to their spouses.
Unfortunately, these situations are not unique. They are too common, and they often do not end well. More than one couple has divorced over this issue.
So what is a pastor or staff person to do in such difficult situations? While I don’t pretend to have specific solutions for every case, I would like to suggest seven things to consider for those who find themselves in struggling marriages because of this issue.
- Listen to your spouse. Give him or her the freedom to open up completely with you. See if there are some mediating solutions to the problem. For many pastors particularly, the local church can be a demanding mistress who takes pastors away from their families.
- Express your unconditional love to your spouse. Let your spouse know that you love him or her without conditions. Express that love clearly and with conviction. Be clear that your marriage comes first regardless of the cost.
- Pray with your spouse. Pray with your spouse every day about this issue. Be unified spiritually as you come before the Lord. Pray specifically about the struggles related to the church.
- Seek counsel for you and your spouse. That counsel may be the same person, or there may be the need for each of you to have a different counselor. The counselor may be a professional, or he or she could be someone who has walked a similar path.
- Consider taking a break. See if it is possible for you and your spouse to get away several days. I know one ministry couple that took two full weeks of vacation to relax, pray, and gain perspective. They came back to serve in the church with a new commitment and vigor.
- Look in the mirror closely and honestly. Is it something you are doing that is bringing pain to your spouse? Perhaps the change needed for your spouse is a change in you, your attitudes, and your priorities.
- Be willing to leave the church. Do not sacrifice your marriage and your family. We sometimes like to gloss over 1 Timothy 3:5: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (HCSB). Our families must come first. Our marriages must come first.
It is indeed a difficult situation. Local church ministry can be tough. But it can be especially tough if our spouses are not supportive.
Let me hear from you. Have you ever been in this situation? Do you know how others have handled this situation?