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?
Posted on March 4, 2015
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
Praise Jesus! Your marriage is your first ministry. Think of the blessing it will be when people in church see husband and wife together serving God and His people. Such an example to other married couples in and outside church. But can you imagine questions from visitors or members like: “Where is your wife?”, or; “Why doesn’t your wife come to church?”. How do you explain that to your visitors or members. It won’t be a blessing at all when the wife doesn’t support the husband in ministry. I am experiencing this for a couple of years. My wife slowly left the ministry because of “normal” church issues. People talk all the time, gossip is everywhere, even in church. Is it good, absolutely not! To my wife those issues became a obstacle to come to church. I’ve tried everything , prayer, endless talking but she doesn’t care anymore. I explained her with scripture but her heart has become cold for the church. I am afraid her heart will become cold for Jesus and that would break my heart in a thousand pieces. I am still in ministry because of Mathew 10:37-39 and still pushing forward. But recently God led me to 1 Tim. 3:5. Not that I have not read it before, i am familiair with that passage, but this time it finaly became clear to me that I need to step down. Currently I am equiping and training elders in church to step up so I can step down. I really want our church to succeed and save many people as possible. It’s a hard decision to step down but it’s good for the church and especially for my marriage. The devil won this battle but He has lost the war when Jesus died at the cross. I look back at great things that God has done in our church and I am thankful to be a witness of Gods goodness. I hope you guys pray for me. To God be the glory.
As someone else already said, over simplified answers only add to the hurt. I speak from a 23 year marriage, and having experienced my spouse very hesitant and even unsupportive many times of “my ministry”. And sometimes for good reason. The day I said “I do” “my ministry” became “our ministry”. But I hear many on this thread preaching (mainly men) about drawing a line in the sand. To put it rather bluntly, that’s so weak and nothing more than trying to find an easy way out to go and play the hero for God while leaving your wife and maybe kids to suffer. But common sense and biblical sense tells us in the end, divorce is actually much much harder than remaining married in the case of ministerial support. It’s interesting that there is not one example of someone’s spouse not supporting their ministry in the New Testament. There is even scriptural guidance (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) for those who are already unequally yoked. We cannot expect from an unbelieving spouse anything more than what God expects in His word here. And it says if the unbelieving spouse “is willing to live with” you then stick with the marriage while continuing in your ministry. God’s word also tells us to love our wives as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her. So, we have two commands seemingly at odds to obey as believers, #1 Let them (unbelieving spouses whom we are already married) live with us, and #2 Love them like Christ loves the Church. It’s Hard! Yep, it sure is. And it may feel like a continual ebb and flow of growth for years or even decades. But those two commands, if obeyed, will force the growth we all need so desperately. What a blessing! Take joy in that trial. For the testing of your faith produces patience and will lack nothing. What more of a life can we live than one that most fully sanctifies us to be more like Christ who came to save sinners. Again 1Cor7:14 says the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified by the believing spouse. That sounds like a promise to me! When we fully commit to truly loving our spouse all while ministering effectively in our true calling, we will see our, and their, spiritual growth. Praise God! And verse 17 says “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.” Be free to walk in your true calling. So this leads me to a bigger issue in the modern church. But likely a huge reason why we have so many unhappy marriages in the pastorate position. Vocational ministry as we see it today is, in most churches, less than what God designed and desires. And the way we do “church” and “church leadership” is the biggest culprit. I can hear the jaws dropping the floor already. But if we look at how the Apostles in the NT early church conducted their daily lives and ministry, it has little to do with petty nuances of church planning, building maintenance, bulletins, carpet color, or even scheduled office hours and program development. All the things we may grumble at home about, and our spouses get absolutely sick of hearing about. Instead, what I read is ordinary men and women ministering to the people around them WHILE using their ordinary skills and abilities. Peter, Andrew, James & John never quit fishing and Peter never left his wife. Paul made tents and continued to teach religion, only now a true religion. Where and when did Matthew stop collecting taxes, or did he? Albeit not dishonestly. And if not for the Romans surely the Lord assigned him to assessing needs amongst the Twelve. Simon the zealot remained a zealot politician, only later for Christ. My point is where did we get this vocational ministry thing as we know it today? In the 1st century church, we read over and over people walking in the calling in which they are always called, but now with a changed goal, the goal to exalt Christ by building the Church. I’m not telling everyone reading this to pick up and move and quit vocational ministry as your way to make a living. But I am telling everyone to start living out your ministry right where you are at and be content in your vocation, secular or not. Now before anyone decides to run before their church to put in their 2 weeks, or anyone who has been contemplating vocational ministry but for now holds a secular job, this is no cop out! Live out your calling! Make every day count. And bring your spouse along for as many of the adventures as you can making her contentment your litmus test for your ability to taking care of God’s church. Also remember Jesus has never given up on His bride.
I was reading the last bullet point: 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.
God should always come first before family.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
There is a large difference between putting God first and putting your ministry first. Your family comes before your ministry.
What happens when someone back slides the Minister or his wife, then what?
My husband was a kids and youth pastor for more than 10 years. Our last church had so many demands on him that our marriage was struggling that we had to get out. He’s been out for more than 2 years now and old wounds stirred up when I started to serve on Wednesday evening, and I received a thank you card from our Children’s pastor. He said he resented me for him leaving ministry, and that I complained so much, but I am happy to serve now. I apologized for complaining so much, but my husband was worked to the bone and so was I. I asked him to forgive me, and he did. He understood where I was coming from though, but it still hurts.
Right from the start, when I read that this author called the church a “mistress,” I thought this is not a Christian but a plant whose writing is designed to lead men astray. The fact that this article ranks so high organically lends credence to this. The world loves the world. Anything to help a preacher throw in the towel on his ministry. I am all for talking it over and trying to work things out, but the fact is the times are changing and women often don’t want to be pastors’ wives. They didn’t in the past and things aren’t getting much better as we get closer to the end. You quoted a good verse to support putting the church and God first.
I’m glad the author of this article said, “consider leaving the church.” This solidified my hunch into a confirmation. This site is not of God and I won’t be consulting it anymore for spiritual advice.
Perhaps you don’t know who Thom Rainer is… God didn’t call anyone to serve Him by sacrificing their relationship with their spouse or children. If someone is leading in the church and their marriage is falling apart, they shouldn’t be leading in the church.
I just find my self in this situation this week and I am pained and yet to discuss it because I am not in the right frame of mind to start the discussion.
My husband has always been someone who loves follow up and evangelism which I am totally in support while I am a children minister.
This last Sunday, he accept the responsibility of going to start a new branch of our church as the pastor in charge without first having a discussion with me.
I know it is a huge assignments to take on without considering or discuss same with your wife and children. It came to me suddenly in the church at the altar when being charged.
Right now I feel betrayed and ambushed into this.
I really need advise on the next step to take as I do not want to do something that will affect my home or the Church.
For me, done is done already. At this point maybe you can just ask yourself “if my husband discussed this with me, what would have been my response?” If yes, he will get my support . I am 100% ok with it then just let it go. You will support him anyway. I know not discussing it with you is like you were ignored or something .. but come to think of it, it’s not really a big issue. We need to die to ourselves. That’s why Jesus said we have to carry our cross daily. Carry your cross all the time so that when there are offenses like this we can execute them right away to the cross- same place where our sins were executed. Don’t give the enemy even an inch. Maybe the enemy is trying to offend you so that he can stop God’s plan for both of you. Just talk to your husband and tell him next time discuss things with you first.
Hi I’m currently in this difficult situation we approached by the pastor to become elders in our church I’m willing to but my decline what do I do
I am a Pastor. My wife only comes to church on Sunday. She will not come to Bible Study class. She does not read her bible. She will not come to outreach events or the prayer service we have once a month. This is a church I planted 8 years ago. It’s very frustrating to see how other Pastor wives support the church and my wife doesn’t. She rarely goes with me when I go to other churches to fellowship. I stopped asking her to come to Bible Study. She was not very active from day 1. It’s frustrating but I pray for her. It’s very difficult to grow a church when the wife is not involved. If a married couple wanted counseling, we could not do it because there is nothing spiritually my wife could tell them.
It could be time to step out of ministry for a while. As a fellow pastor, our wives should be our first disciples. Praying for you, brother. I know that’s hard.
I need a counselor. I want privacy
Thom thank you for this article. I completely resonate with this. My poor wife inherited ministry, the same time we got married, and left her parents and her state in the same month several years ago. She has struggled with being in ministry, and living in a fish bowl. We unfortunately inherited a revitalization church, already unhealthy and I faced much opposition. She has wished I would do something else, however I am not good at other things. My degree and experience is ministry, and so it has put a strain on our marriage. Appreciate your advice. We are looking at these options and are in fact going on vacation very soon for a week for clarity and prayer.
Sir, this has been my position. After struggling with an unsupportive wife for years in ministry, I moved to a different ministry to begin afresh. This helped improve relations.
While in the new ministry, I have just declined a leadership position that she has not been involved and felt left out.
Yes, I took these two positions but it is very painful and calls for spiritual maturity and dependence on the Lord to take care of His bride as I take care of mine.
Some times one would feel like they made a mistake from the word go on the choice of their spouse but the question is, why did the Lord let it happen?
I still believe that all things happen for the good of those that have been called according to His purpose. Amen.
Thank you, but can I sacrifice the church just because of my or husband. Yes family first but I think if she or he is not changing better to leave her
no my dear never leave but keep in prayer for him proverbs 21 says that hearts of kings are n Gods hands,u can’t change yo husband
but God can.pray about everything u hate in him and u build what u want in him spiritually and wait upon God to work.do your responsibilities as a woman. never quit but press on.we can do all things through Christ who empowers us.
Rockie, I understand where you are coming from. However, remember marriage is a covenant that you both have committed. Your spouse is your first ministry before your church. My wife has shared this insight with me as well. However we made a covenant and commitment to witnessed and to God. It would be wrong to up and leave your spouse.
What do i do sir if my new husband doesnt want to contribute to missions or go on a mission trip
my dear just give him time,he will catchup with your hobby of missions tell him the good things in it and show him that he can trust you.never go when he has denied u to go.pray about it tell God what you want.He will make your husband to come in agreement with you.with God all things are possible