Seven Things to Consider If Your Spouse Is Not Supportive of Your Ministry

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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  • Thom Rainer says on

    Thanks for your comments. I have several meetings today, but I will be interacting later. All of you are making some great contributions. Thank you.

  • This is a challenging thing. I know my wife supports my ministry, but there are times when I am getting beat up, challenged on trivial matters, etc, where her support of being part of ministry ebbs. Taking breaks is such a huge thing. At a minimum I take a few weekends away from our Church every quarter. These are not times I let someone else preach, but times we will visit churches in our area to sit together, hold hands, and be fed together.

  • Empower couples and not individuals and this will solve the problem.

  • What do you make of Matthew 19:29 and Luke 14:26? Is family really supposed to come first? This is an honest question coming from someone who loves, respects and honors his wife. We have never engaged in anything that we both did not agree on.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Sam –

      I understand those verses to be commands to put Jesus first in all that we do. I don’t see them as negating the other passages of Scripture that speak of the husband and wife being one, and of the command to take care of our family before we attempt to lead a church.

  • Joshua Hamilton says on

    Your family will be required to make sacrifices when you are in the ministry, but God will never call you to sacrifice your family!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said, Josh.

      • Blobbledy-goop says on

        I see a lot of broad-brush statements here. I know a minister who had an unwavering call to the ministry, be despite years of struggle and prayer over the situation, his wife was adamantly against it, and stated that she refused to be a ministers’ wife. God finally released him to divorce her so that he could pursue his calling.

      • It’s not biblical, so it wasn’t God!

  • My wife fought my calling in full-time ministry for the first eight years of our marriage. She would not allow me to take a full-time church position. She saw the underbelly of ministry and didn’t want me hurt. She finally realized that I was truly called to ministry and that it wasn’t going away. Ever since, she has been my unflagging supporter, even though she doesn’t always agree with my approach. (Usually, we find a middle ground which is almost always best.)

    She suffers along side me, and now as we are considering another transition, I see her suffer again and it pains me deeply. There are times, for her sake, that I wish I could walk away from my calling. But she would not have it.

    She is pure gold.

  • Mark Dance says on

    Focus on the Family has a confidential support and crisis phone line for pastors and their families features pastors who can provide an understanding ear, a word of advice, a timely referral or a simple prayer. LifeWay supports this ministry, which is connected to 2000 vetted Counselors across the U.S.

    844-4PASTOR (844-472-7867

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Mark.

    • I am reluctantly the spouse of a pastor. When my husband told me about his calling to start and pastor a church, I disagreed, and specifically stated I did not want to be a pastor’s wife. He has been a pastor for 2 years now in the church he started. I tried to attend, but can not listen to him preach lessons and sermons because of our life at home. I feel like a hypocrite if I do. So now I have no church to attend. We live in a very small main street town, so he says it may not be good for me to attend another of the 5 churches around us as he would be so hurt. I’ve suggested counseling and he refuses saying he doesn’t believe in it. Although he has a degree from LU in ministerial counseling and counsels couples from the church. Our only son is grown and moved away I’m the one who’s thinking the big D, or just moving away.

      • Hi Barbara,

        I was just praying and fasting today about full time ministry and my wife. I saw this article and peeked at a few of the comments and saw yours.

        I am praying for you right now. Open communication between you and your husband is the best approach, even if he doesn’t seem to listen.

        Have things changed/improved?


  • Dr. Rainer, I know that John Wesley’s wife wasn’t supportive of his ministry either, yet God changed the world through him. Could you speak about his situation and what we can learn from him?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Darren –

      I must be careful in my response, since I am not close to being a Wesley scholar. My point, however, is simple. God often uses us despite our fallings. There is no doubt that God used Wesley. But, from my perspective, he is not a model to follow for a healthy marriage.

      • I am in a bit of a different situation. I recently began pursuing ministry. I know that Gos is calling me to do this… But my spouse is an unbeliever and is not supportive. He is emotionally abusive, but I continue to pray for him and try to show Him God’s love. However… If it comes to the point where I have to choose between being a good wife or following my calling… I will choose to please God over pleasing my husband. I don’t know what is going to happen… I am trying to trust God that it will all work out… But it is a battle every day. I am persecuted by him daily. Any advice?

      • You already know the answer. The answer is God.

      • When it comes to listening to God, the best place to start is with what he has already clearly spoken.

        In scripture, it is clear that for those who are already married, their ministry starts at home. This is true for men and women. You can look at 1 Cor 7, or at the many requirements in Timothy, and for women also at 1 Peter 3:1,2.

      • One thing I have always followed in life is that my spouse IS my first and foremost ministry. If I have to stay on square one for years before I go to square two (other people), then so be it.

  • You could also make a point to praise your spouse in church gatherings so everyone in the church knows how important your marriage and family is to you.

  • If you lose your church, you can always find another one, but you only get one shot at raising your family. Keep your family first!

  • Things not to do.

    1. Start a campaign to convince everyone that your wife is seriously unstable.
    2. Elevate yourself as a “man of God”, so that your wife is put in a place of opposing God.
    3. Subtly push the position that you are not sure that your wife is even a believer.
    4. Start looking for a more Godly and supportive woman to replace her.
    5. Get a spiritual (and obviously biblically approved) divorce from your backslidden wife.
    6. Immediately marry wife 2.0 who has been waiting in the wings.
    7. Spend a decade in court obtaining your “paper” (pfft the government) divorce.
    8. Forget that you have kids.
    9. Remember that you have kids, and use your money and influence to try to take them from your ex-wife.
    10. Play the martyr… as publicly and consistently as possible.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Now those items are really bad.

      • Kidding aside… though that wasn’t entirely kidding, as I have heard of those things being done, which is crazy… I really appreciated this article. My wife has been a great balancing force in my life. She has helped me to dig in and discern what is truly the Lord’s leading, and what is my own fleshly desire. My life would look entirely different today if it wasn’t for my wife checking me on what seemed to be good “godly” leading in ministry.

      • Thomas Charles Glander says on

        On this subject one of the issues in the church that creates some of these situations is the church pushing ministers into marriage. You get into your thirties and a minister the church questions you suitability for ministry. It’s not biblical that ministers of God must be married. So ministers get married so the church will allow them to continue to minister. Then when it becomes an issue because perhaps the person was not called to marriage by God the church looks down on them. A person called to celibacy and singleness like Paul can do more for God than one who is s tied to a spouse and family. I believe the US church needs to change its stance on this issue. They have actually put people especially men on a position they where not called to “marriage” because for what ever reason they think it says there is something wrong with them because they feel called to singleness. It’s wrong and goes against the word of God. I and others I know where put in that position and it didn’t work. In fact one time when I was 32 I was specifically asked why I wasn’t married and they had suspected I was gay because I was single. It wasn’t true and I was single because I really felt I was called to be single. I ended up being pushed into getting married to stay in ministry. I’m no longer married.

      • Theresa says on

        That was really funny! I like your humor! Pray for me I’m called but my spouse does not believe this foolish thing is chosen! Shalom , Theresa

      • Can a man be a pastor if his wife is an unbeliever?

      • Tommie Rimmer says on

        He can be a pastor but may not be a effective pastor. It takes all the body parts for a true ministry to go forth and compel souls to God. My wife is truly against being a minister’s wife. She says that the position is too hard for her to keep up. She is into gossiping and helping only herself or family members.

    • What if your wife is an extremely abusive spouse?

      • I hope that is not a personal question, but if it is I’m praying for you, brother.
        I used to be in a marriage that was brutal, now I’m in a marriage that is awesome. It wasn’t a divorce that changed it, it was me getting my head out of my *…* and taking ownership of what I was doing.
        11 years in is certainly not enough to write a book, but it’s enough to notice a trend. Praise God for his grace! This is the first time my wife is actually more eager about me being in ministry that I am!
        I once heard a guy say “In the first year of marriage, your wife’s character is the result of living with her dad….after year one, your wife is who she is as the result of living with you.”

        I think that’s a bit too simplistic, but I’d certainly say after year 5, its all pretty much all on me. I’m sure that’s a stronger view of husband ownership than some, but I find taking responsibility of a problem really motivates me to change.

      • Praying for you! I It sounds like both of you are in two different places Spiritually. I pray you seek counseling to help both of you through this. She may have a deeper issues that has not been resolved and you’ re seeing the fruit/symptoms of what’s deep inside. All behavior is purposeful. I pray for unity, strength, patience! I pray that it all works out and that hearts are healed!

    • Well here goes……Im a minister and my spouse isnt supportive of me though I am of her . Ive lost many opportunities to minister in other countries , even pastor but when I come home I am considered satan….as she actually calls me sometimes. I know the Lord said if we are not willing to forsake all meaning family and all to fallow him we are not worthy. I have left 4 churches in 2015 due to my wife . At first its all great she is all in and that is awsome. Then somewhere in the journey things begin to change……I have wept many tears over this and I am a miserable man. Im not looking for another woman , or for any excuses. My wife loves attention and when she quits getting it or quits getting her way she is done with it and has even claimed to me that she is very good at what she does…….that stunned me…….Ive become so numb I reached desperately for help and one day I felt His presence………Jesus himself in the room and he comforted me…..thank you Holy Spirit. Things havent changed with my wife and I. She does go to a church she likes and that is a release I didnt think would work for me and it has ………I now seek God whole heartedly and it seems I have began to sense a fear in her when she comes in while I am praying or have been as well as studying…….I cant share with her she doesnt want to hear it but only when things arnt going well for her does she come to me……please pray for me

      • You might want to consider marriage counseling. The problem could go a whole lot deeper than what you think.

      • I agree with the earlier post and suggest also that a counseling session might be a good idea. You may wish to check with where you can find a lot to help you with dealing with the past issues

      • Don Dickerman’s resources on spiritual warfare would be very helpful it sounds like. Christians can have demonic attachments, and your spouse’s behavior is very indicative of that. His book “Keep the Pigs Out” is tremendous.

      • Why are you still in the ministry? You already said you have left 4 churches because your wife was not happy. Read the last part of the article again: your family must come first. This is not an option, pastor. It’s a command.

      • Praying for you! I It sounds like both of you are in two different places Spiritually. I pray you seek counseling to help both of you through this. She may have a deeper issues that has not been resolved and you’ re seeing the fruit/symptoms of what’s deep inside. All behavior is purposeful. I pray for unity, strength, patience! I pray that it all works out and that hearts are healed!

    • Prem kumar says on

      Praise the Lord brother
      Thom S. Rainer
      Thank you for the guidance.
      It’s really helpful to expand His Kingdom.

      But if the spouse acting, the he/her accepting and supporting the ministry in front of the partner, and without his presence not doing what is obeyd to the partner.
      What the other partner has to do?

    • That is what most men do. I am hoping that my husband takes the advice of this article because he definitely has many thing checked of the “what not to do list”

    • Charlie says on

      OMG!!! Thank you so much for this article, especially your list of things NOT to do. I was truly getting ready to travel along that road. This made me take a look at myself and what I found was not pleasing. I called my spouse and told her that I want to sit down with her and allow her to speak her heart. I’m open to what she has to say. Nevertheless, we will pray about all things. Again, thank you!

      • Sin Filled Ex-Wolf says on

        My question to you, as this is an almost 2 year old statement, is “Is your wife open to to what YOU have to say and share, what God has laid on YOUR heart?”

        I was a wicked sinner, purposefully broke His marriage command back in the day and I have repented over and over for this sin. Because of this, her belief in me has waned and even though she likes to say nice things about me, she is refusing to listen to what God has shared with me through scripture. I cannot talk with her or show her any scripture without her saying I will NOT listen to you”. That as I saw and felt Jesus/Yeshuah pull me from a spirtual darkness on the night of 20 AUG 2018 and from thence forth, I have ONLY been seeking Him in Spriti and Truth, and turn from doctrines of men and have only been reading/listening to scripture.

        I do not know what to do, as it is so painful that a beautiful woman, an answered prayer in my life (literally), a mother of our children and grandmother to our grandson, chose to stay with me as I partially repented during the days this happened, but have completely had my heart circumcised for the the evil that worked through me in those days? Yet she refuses to walk the scripures with me.

        I know I hurt her, I hurt myself as much if not more in my evil actions. I am only seeking to do right by Him these days, to witness as He has told me to witness, maybe even turn to preaching this gospel, as my heart is filled with His Spirit.
        I am fully humbled, in sackcloth and ashes in my own face for these actions every day, and my eyes are filled with tears for the ways I lived my life back in the day. I can’t take away my past, only He did, and she refuses to talk to me about anything as it relates to my own true salvation?! What am I supposed to do, as she truly is a kind, loving gift from God?

        Any prayers appreciated.

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