My husband Sean and I have been married for 21 years, and for 17 of those years he has been in full-time pastoral ministry. Heading into marriage, I knew God was calling Sean to be a pastor. And I knew that living out this call would not be easy. But I never fully grasped how hard the life of a pastor could be.
For me, the most difficult part of being a pastor’s wife has been watching my husband daily, weekly pour himself out for the spiritual good of others and then have individuals resist his leadership, criticize him, or express indifference toward his ministry. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing someone try to snuff out Sean’s passionate vision for the church.
One of our hardest years in ministry was in 2012–2013, what Sean calls The Year I Lost My Mind. I watched as month after month he was personally attacked by an individual who had been intermittently attacking him for years. Our church’s board seemed all too willing to listen to the longtime member’s behind-the-back accusations rather than give Sean the benefit of the doubt. Sean would come home from meetings dejected, a look of defeat in his eyes. He would sit shell-shocked on the sofa until finally coming to bed, where he would lie awake replaying everything in his mind.
I felt powerless to do anything to help him during this time. What I wanted to do was attend one of those board meetings and lash out at those men. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind, wanted them know how much they were hurting my husband and how I saw them as cowards. Of course, that would have only made things worse. So what I actually did was set my jaw, keep silent, and withdraw somewhat from the church as the situation played out.
Just because I distanced myself from people at church, however, does not mean that I distanced myself from Sean. More than ever he needed to know that I was for him, no matter what. And if your husband is facing burnout or defeat in this way, he needs to know you are for him, no matter what.
Here are some dos and don’ts for showing your pastor-husband that you are for him:
Do be available to him.
Listen if he needs to talk, but also understand he may simply need you to be present without him (or you) saying anything.
Don’t try to “fix” everything.
It’s not your job to solve your husband’s problems in the church. As the Chief Shepherd, Jesus is watching over your husband and will fight for him with his staff and rod.
Do pray for him and over him.
Yes, you need to remember your husband in your daily prayers. But also make sure that you make time to audibly pray over him. Touch is an additional encouragement, so I like to lay my hands on his shoulder or back or head. He needs to hear you talking to the Father on his behalf.
Don’t obsess about church issues at home.
Keep a definite boundary between home and church. This was hardest for me personally. So much of our life together and our identity as a couple revolves around ministry. And in the wake of those board meetings, my mind would analyze the hurt and I’d want to verbalize it. But it’s essential that I make our home a place where Sean can hang his shepherd’s crook outside the front door and just be a normal guy watching a movie or a ballgame.
Do remind him how much Jesus loves him.
More than knowing that you are for him, your husband needs to know that God is for him. Text or email him to say that the Father delights in him. Write a note or call him just to remind him that in Christ he is victorious. Share an encouraging scripture to tell him God is for him. He needs to hear these words of affirmation spoken over him.
If you’re reading this as a pastor’s wife, what are some other ways you lift up your husband’s head when he is feeling defeated? Please share your stories in the comments section.
If you’re reading this as a church board member, think about how your words and attitudes may affect your pastor…and by extension, his wife and kids. How can you speak affirming, life-giving words into your pastor’s soul? How can you come alongside and be an armor-bearer for him in the battle?
Amy Nemecek is a writer, editor, and homeschool mom. Her husband Sean is pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan, and they have one teenage son. She loves to read, take long walks along country roads, and watch Chicago Cubs baseball with her guys. She blogs at www.beloveddelight.wordpress.com, is a contributor for the Breathe Conference blog, and has published in numerous literary journals, such asTopology.