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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  • Manivannan says on

    Praise The Lord! This purely a case of unequally yoked marriage, hardly anyone has spoken of it, if both are following and devoted to the One Lord and Savior then biblically such problem should not arise, though marriage relationship s are important but not at the cost of worldly aspirations, this is a pure case of unequally yoked marriage situations among believers the one who is trying to dictate the flesh over the spirit and will of God.

  • Brother Rainer, love your insights and research. I am no one from no where, but I would like to throw a wrench in this article’s gears!!
    Mark 10:20, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s…”
    Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
    1 Timothy 3:11, “Likewse, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”
    Also do you think that Charles Stanley should have given up, because his wife hated ministry?
    How about John Wesley?

    Now, my story.
    My ex-wife hated ministry. Hated me being a pastor. We were married for 21 years. So after years of pressure, I took some time off and quit being a pastor. Moved to another church to help a pastor. Lead the music and preached while he was away, and on Sunday’s nights. She then started wanted me to give up Sunday night. So I did that. Then wanted me to stop going to church all together!!! Which I refused. She stopped going, then starting wanting to go out with her old girl friends. Then started excessive drinking. Then started bar hoping. Then had an affair. Then filed for divorce. Got on drugs, tried to kill herself. Told lies to everyone that would hear them and my children are still not right. This was all done in the town we ministered in.
    If you love anything, including your wife, more than Jesus and the Gospel, you are not worthy of Him. Just a thought.

    • Concerned Husband says on

      Unfortunately, it sounds like you loved the church more than your wife and family or did not know how to properly balance the three. It appears you could have easily prevented her from going astray.

      I am having the reverse with my wife. My wife spends more time away from home and at church and it is starting to get under my skin. She complains when I say we do not spend enough quality time together. And, complains when I sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night to “talk”. She is the same one who wakes up past mid-night for prayer service on the phone a few times a week and does not complain. She also attends payer service a few days during the week (and goes to church on Sundays). During the week she leaving at 5PM when I get home from work and not returning sometimes until 9PM. And when she’s home she complains about being too tired. Maybe we are not equally yoked as a previous poster mentioned.

      I stopped going to church with her. I am afraid if this continues it may hurt our marriage. I suggested marriage consulting, but she does not think there is a need.

  • Prem kumar says on

    Praise the Lord brother
    Thom Rainer.

    This is Prem kumar.
    Thank you for your valuable guidance in spiritual.
    It’s really helpful.

    But I have a question.

    If one of the partners accepting and obeying all the words from the other partner in his/her presence and disobeying without his/her presence.
    What we need to do?

  • Charles says on

    I met my wife while in seminary. She knew my whole life at that time was centered on God and my call to the ministry. I made it absolutely clear that I knew I was called to be a pastor and could never be happy doing anything else. When pushed on the question of being a pastor’s wife she always claimed she would be supportive. So we married. But immediately after we married I noticed reluctance and it was clear she didn’t want me to be a pastor. When I was ordained she served in the church very well. She was good at it. Frankly, I think the church liked her better than me and I was happy with that. But she resented it. She hated it. She took it out on me being abusive in multiple ways. After 10 years of ministry she finally forced me out. She was at least honest that she never wanted me in the ministry. She admits she lied before we were married because she thought I would never pursue it and she’s not at all ashamed or apologetic for that deception. She refuses to admit I am called of God and will say unequivocally “That’s not your calling” as though she is both God who calls and me who is called. Apparently she is more wise than either or both God and me. Apparently she believes she has greater wisdom than my many former colleagues and denominational leadership who readily affirm my call along with multitudes of church members I’ve shepherded. I’ve been out of ministry for over 7 years now. I left to save my marriage and frankly question if it was worth saving. I resent my wife to an extent that oftentimes borders on pure hatred. I’m miserable, depressed, angry, often plagued with suicidal thoughts and sometimes despise my own existence. I desire nothing more than to preach, teach, and shepherd the people of God. I struggle daily to keep my resentment from turning toward God. But when it is all said and done my obedience to God’s commands concerning my marriage and the wellbeing of my children are more important than any sense of calling I may have. So I stay this course hoping to receive the grace necessary to forgive my wife and love her as Christ loves his church. So Dr. Rainer I would ask that you might consider doing one of your wonderful research projects on men like myself. Maybe you can help other young men in seminary to avoid the mistakes I obviously made.

  • Louis Ndumbe says on

    Sometimes people get unequally yoked in a marriage relationship due to ignorance, impatience or without much of a prayerful consideration of the person to which they were to marry. An eagle whose mind is set on the things above cannot get married to a hen whose mind is set on earthly things. Its rather unfortunate when someone find themselves in such relationships. The religious duty of the contemporary church is to make people believe that they are bound to remain in such hellish relationships. But that is a lie from the pit of hell. The bottom line is husbands love your wives and wives submit to your husbands. Anything short of the above means there can be no marriage relationship. Period.

  • I don’t know if anyone can answer this because it is not related to church. It has to do with husband and wives giving each other support.

    Before I met my husband he was a sucessful attorney in a major city in another state. He graduated from a famous ivy league school. Then he became addicted to heroin for 14 years. He was disbarred. When he had been off of heroin for two years he met me in another state, fell in love and was zealous and eager to have his license reinstated. I believed him and believed in him. I have never done drugs. He got a job as a clerk in a law office, and through much hard work, two years later his license was reinstated in his former state. In the state we live in now, he is trying to get his license. We do not want to move to the other state. I own a home here. I have supported my husband emotionally through all the ups and downs and terrible fears. A year later he took bar exam and failed. We were stunned because he had passed it the first time in his other state. He took it again, six months later and failed. Two months after that I found out he had been using heroin for eight months. I was devastated. His boss’s attitude was “get him cleaned up, he is a good attorney and get him back to work.” I took him back to his doctor, he was put back on suboxone (a drug you take that blocks cravings for heroin). He takes it faithfully, does a drug urine test every week, sees his doctor and group, every week. Recently he took the bar exam for the third time. We do not have the results yet but at least it was taken without heroin. I have done whatever it takes to take care of him and be good to him and keep him going. I even went to work in his law office for a year when his crazy boss fired everyone and there was no one to do administrative work like bookkeeping. I hated it but I did a good job. I have a degree in fine art and always dreamed of doing my artwork and possibly earning a living. My husband thought it was wonderful and when they hired some new people at work, he said it was okay to quit, stay home and try it. However, I have a lot of fear about it, I feel rusty and flat out unmotivated. I have cried and explained my fears to him and lack of motivation he has tried to be helpful but mostly he is not there for me. He says he loves me all the time but likes to say things like “but you are beautiful, I love you, you don’t really have to.” Or kind of pats me on the head and says “honey you can do it.” I have no place to work and set up a small place in my livingroom. He did buy a drawing table for me from a thrift store. I feel frustrated and often need him to talk to me and he just says “what do you want me to say?” I tell him I feel afraid, or scared and lack motivation and feel lazy and I want him to help me the way I helped him, I cheered him on everyday, went with him to the committe that reinstated his license and spoke on his behalf, prayed with him, believed in him, typed papers, wrote letters, cooked, cleaned, shopped, laundry. I did and still do all his suits and lay his clothes out everyday, I cook a hot breakfast and lunch everyday for him. He snarled “okay, I will do laundry.” I said no, that is not the point, I want your energy, what I gave you. He said “I did the hard work, I studied for my exams, I put up with crazy clients and a nutty boss.” You get to stay home now. I pay the bills.” It goes back and forth. The other day I was so frustrated for lack of light, I asked him to help and he just wandered in and said “oh I thought you were going to get some lamp.” He walked away and I just blew up and started crying. We had a big argument. He says I snap at him a lot and he feels like he is walking on eggshells. I feel like I poured all my heart and soul into helping him get where he is and now in my hour of need he is not completely here for me. He says “why don’t you just do it, I have tried to help you.” He has tried, yes he has, he is kind to me and says he thinks I can do it but something is missing. I am snapping and feel like screaming at him. What am I doing wrong?

    • David Edward Froman says on

      Nellie my heart breaks for you and I’m sorry you are going through that. It sounds to me that you sought to help him in anyway you could. However, your expectation could have been he would return the favor. Unrealistic expectations are such a killer in relationships. I would encourage you, continue to love him and be patient with him, pray for him and don’t expect anything in return. This is unconditional love, and one that our Savior Jesus Christ did for us. He died for us, took our punishment, and didn’t expect anything in return. 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient and kind,; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at worng doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Hope that encourages you and is a help.

  • Ellen L Porter says on

    Hi, I am wondering if Thom S. Rainer or a follower on this blog can address my concerns about or non-vocational ministries. My husband and I are currently attending two churches, one every Sunday for both service and Life Group, as well as many of the church’s special events. The other one, we were formerly involved in exclusively and on a much deeper level, for 12 years until I was emotionally abused by a staff member. We now attend this church only on Saturday nights, but currently we both are still members. For clarity, I’m going to call the church where we hold membership Church A and the other one Church B.

    My husband still serves as a greeter at Church A. I also greeted there until the abusive staff member ordered me to stop because he didn’t like my attitude. I was very uncomfortable at Church A, because I incorrectly believed the pastor supported the abuse the staff member had heaped on me. I later learned it was done without his knowledge, however the person in charge of the greeting ministry says I would have to not just forgive, but meet face to face and “make up” with the abusive staff member before I greet again. So after much prayer and soul searching, my husband and I agreed to visit Church B about five months ago. We’ve been regular attenders of Church B ever since, and now he sings in the choir (which Church A does not have) and I greet. Not to mention we left our Life Group at Church A and joined one at Church B.

    The pastor of Church B knows we’re still members of Church A, but doesn’t have an issue with us serving in ministry at his church. Meanwhile, a staff member at Church A tells us that if we ever join Church B , we are still welcome to attend Church A but my husband will also not be allowed to greet there any longer, as it has a rule against members of other churches serving at Church A. (I really don’t know how they would check this in most cases, since they have not offered membership to new people since about 2013 or 2014 yet have allowed new regular attenders to serve in ministry.) My husband really wishes he could have membership at both churches, but neither church will accept that. Also, the pastor at Church B would prefer I not join until such time as my husband does.

    So, am I doing the right thing by serving at Church B? Or should I just attend both and not serve?

  • Nong Emmanuel says on

    My fiancee don’t like going to my church regularly claiming she is tire while I am a Minister what should i do? She is a Christian but says if i keep I telling her to church she will never come again

    • A. don’t get married or set a date to get married.
      Anything showing now will still be in the marriage. Believe me, when they vote with their feet (and it isn’t a chronic medical/injury issue…which I have plenty of, but do not have to miss regularly).
      it is pointless opposing free will. Jesus didn’t drag people over..they flocked to Him.
      When your heart is in it, you show up. God could be showing it in advance to spare you.
      Pray to Him to guide you, forget nagging. Either she goes or you wait indefinately to get a real, clear, picture of whether you would be unequally yoked.
      Just be friends entirely from your side and Wait on marriage until you and the other are whole-heartedly following God’s call.
      including as to whom you are intended to be married to for life and ministry partnership.
      Love in Christ…alone.

    • David Edward Froman says on

      Nong Emmanuel – Scripture is very clear to not marry an unbeliever. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14
      I don’t know your fiancée. But it sounds like if she doesn’t want to come to church, and is seeking to keep you from it, you need to break off the engagement. If you marry her and she is an unbeliever she will make your life and ministry miserable. Solomon was warned in scripture to not marry the foreign queen, but he did, and she pulled him away from Christ and his life was destroyed. Deuteronomy 7:3-4 – You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.
      If you are a minister you know this brother and you need to do what is right. I have done this myself 6 years ago, and although painful it was the best thing for me today as I serve as a pastor. Praying for you now.

  • I am a PW and would like to say simply… Women love your husband and allow him to serve God. God is in control of Man. Make a “choice” to stay married or move on. The Apostle Paul taught that if the unbeliever wants to part allow it. God calls every man to peace. Be honest with yourself, then…….Make a choice and stick with it. I support my husband serving God and Shepherding with me or without me. I do not come before God ever. Peace to you all

  • Jane Doe says on

    After 8 years of marriage my husband now says he is called to be an evangelist. Now instead of having a stable church family and pastor, we travel from church to church to church, as my husband HOPES one will ask him to preach. If he does get asked to preach, then it is suddenly our new “home church” until the newness wears off. I have no voice in what church we will attend and feel like my church family, my pastor and stability has been yanked out from under me. In these various churches I have been accidentally hit in the face by an overzealous man, I have been repeatedly made fun of because of my size and because we are constantly in different churches, I can do nothing within the congregation except take up space. I love the Lord and I love the Word of God but I now dread church days because I have no idea where I will be or what beliefs the congregation has, or how I will be treated by the members. My husband lectures me that I should not let any of these things bother me and I should just be happy that “we” have been called into the ministry. I feel like the only reason my now evangelist husband wants me “by his side,” is because it makes him look good to the congregation and gives him a better chance of getting asked to preach. I feel a lot of confusion and a lot of guilt. It’s hard to be supportive. I feel more like a puppet on a string.

    • David Edward Froman says on

      Jane Doe – I’m sorry for what you are going through. God’s ways are always of clarity and not confusion. Your husband’s idea of being called in the ministry does not sound right. This sounds very impulsive on his end, especially the confusion and pain it has caused your family. I would encourage you to meet with a biblical counselor or pastor with your husband and discuss this situation. Being called in the ministry is God proving opportunities not us creating an opportunity by force. This sounds very much like selfish conquest. Your husbands reasons are wrong and judging by the fruit it does not look like he is called. If your husband Has been called to be an evangelist he needs to be trained properly. He also needs to have the church ordain him, and for people to see fruit in his life for being a pastor. Praying for you now.

  • Noel Pillay says on

    Hi , I have a couple in my church serving as leaders, the husband has stopped coming to church, drinking excessively and now accuses his wife off having an affair so she says. The wife volunteers to assist in our admin department and other areas when required during the course of the week. At times it just me and her and the receptionist in the office. I am afraid the husband might just accuse her of having something to do with me. I was thinking of telling her to take a break from assisting and work on her marriage but she can come to church services. What’s your advise, thank you.

    • Tell her that her services are no longer needed. In other words, fire her and be honest and tell her to work on her marriage. believe it or not, she may very well be interested in you.

      • David Edward Froman says on

        Good advice Doug! I would second this Noel. Affairs can happen so quickly, and can happen just through a simple conversation where a friendship and eventual relationship develops. Her marriage is more important than serving in the office.

  • As a pastor’s wife of 15 years, I would like to add one thought. My experience is that one of the most important things that wives need is assurance of their husband’s love.

    The tendency might be to “fix” their wife’s feelings regarding the ministry. In doing this they seem to hold tighter and tighter to the church and ministry. This makes a wife feel devalued and unloved. Which makes her even more embittered toward the time, energy, love, attention, etc. that the church is taking from her husband.

    The possible solution? It feels counter-intuitive, but if the husband would speak and behave in ways that will reassure his wife that she is indeed second only to God himself, then this could ease the wife’s fears and actually help her learn to be supportive of the ministry. If she doesn’t feel the church is trying to steal her husband from her, she may be more inclined to be supportive.

    ps. It also might help for a pastor to find fellow pastors (preferably outside of the local community) to express frustrations. If the only thing a wife ever hears about the church are negative and defeating, it may make her feel the need to protect her husband.

    • Hi, my husband feels called to pastor, however, we have six children and recently we discovered some inappropriate behavior from our oldest child with a stranger online. I have expressed my concern to my husband that now is not the time to start a church from the ground up and how we need to wait and focus on raising our children and join an already thriving church ministry with a strong focus on family and youth. My husband feels differently and thinks I am not being a supportive wife. I need wisdom please.

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