How to Balance Ministry and Marriage
I see you.
You’re at your church, and you feel a little lost.
Everybody loves your husband and why shouldn’t they?
He’s an awesome man of God who has surrendered his life to ministry. He’s a great pastor and preacher not to mention husband, dad, mentor, friend, etc.
He is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
He has answered the call that God placed on his life and he is doing God’s work.
And he’s doing it well.
You’re not so sure where you fit in.
You didn’t receive a call on your life other than to love your husband well.
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And when you promised for better or for worse you probably didn’t know all the ups and downs that vow bookends.
Because ministry life is exhausting and draining in a way that you cannot be prepared for.
Like when your husband does a funeral.
Which doesn’t sound like THAT big of a deal.
People die every day.
But what about when it’s the funeral of a child?
Or a friend?
Then the toll it takes is massive.
It’s hard to even sit through the funeral of a child or a friend.
But the fortitude it takes to do those funerals is great.
But even when it’s a Saturday funeral and he comes home completely broken from ministering to the family of the deceased, Sunday is coming.
He will stay up until the wee hours of the morning writing that sermon.
Because your husband preaches at least once every Sunday.
“Go on to bed,” he says.
So you do.
Because what else is there for you to do?
You toss and turn without him by your side.
You wish you could help him, but how do you help to write a sermon?
God hasn’t called you to that.
And people need your husband.
No one prepares you for the never-ending phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages.
They interrupt your sleep, your dinner, your dates, your sex, your showers, your whole entire life.
Because pastors don’t just keep office hours.
Sure he spends 40+ hours a week at the office, but it doesn’t end when he comes home.
And he is always quick to answer and provide support for one of his flock.
That is his calling, and he is good at it.
God knew what he was doing when he chose your husband to be a minister to His people.
But sometimes you feel resentful of the speed with which he answers other people’s calls when he didn’t answer yours earlier that day. And even though you understand it in your head, it still hurts in your heart.
And he tries so hard to balance his ministry and his marriage.
He really tries to be all-in when he’s home and all-in when he’s at work.
But his work is so all-consuming.
And it has to be.
How could he love people and pour into their lives without being all in?
That’s not a 9-5 sort of job. You don’t love and pray for people from 9-5.
God called him to be a shepherd and that is a 24/7 job.
And when you hear the staggering statistics of 1500 pastors leaving the ministry each month, you sometimes daydream or shudder about how life would be different if your husband was one of them.
So what can you do?
Where do you fit into this ministry life?
Here are four actionable steps you can take to improve your relationship with your husband and his ministry because to be happy you’ve got to balance ministry and marriage.
1. Evaluate your needs
What do you need?
While only four words, this is a huge question.
It is something that you should take some time to really think and pray through.
The best thing you can do for your husband’s ministry is to love him well.
Of course, providing him a safe haven frees him to be the best minister he can be. But if you’re miserable, you can’t do that.
So evaluate what you need to be fully satisfied in your marriage.
A lot of this is going to depend on your love language.
As a quick overview, there are five love languages, and these are the way that people give and receive love most naturally. Most people have a primary and secondary love language.
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
Of course, these aren’t the only way we feel love.
For example, everybody likes receiving gifts, but those whose primary love language is gifts will feel exceptionally special and cared for with even a small gift. ( Because it’s not about the actual gift, but rather that someone took the time to get them something to make them feel special.)
My primary love language is quality time.
That means that when my husband is gone doing church stuff 5 nights a week, I get very grumpy.
And I’d like to say that I’ve always been mature enough to articulate that I need him to spend time with me to make me feel loved.
But that’s not true.
Over the last 15 years, we’ve figured it out together, but there were many times I was a petulant brat about him being at work too much.
Which obviously made him want to rush right home and spend time with my mean self.
But honestly, I didn’t know that’s what was going on with me.
I just knew that he was gone (working two jobs and going to seminary), and I missed him.
And instead of being normal and crying, I got angry and mean.
Now we have at least one night a week that we put the kids to bed early and eat dinner (or a late snack) together and we hang out. We watch tv or play games or look at dream houses on Realtor.com or just talk.
So what do you need from your husband to be happy in your marriage?
Make a list. Pray about it. Read your Bible. Talk to your friends who are happily married. (That last one can be a slippery slope, so use caution when discussing your marriage with ANYONE.)
If you are happy in your marriage, it will make it much easier to balance your marriage with ministry.
2. Evaluate your husband’s needs
Your first impulse to figure this out might be to just ask him.
Hold off on that for a minute.
Take some time to pray about him and his needs and to observe him for a while.
What ways does he show love to you?
My husband’s love language is acts of service.
So if I say that I’d like to add a shelf in the laundry room someday, he’s headed to that garage to build a shelf right then.
This is not my love language, so I have to really be conscientious to look for ways to serve him and show love.
Many years ago when I asked him what his love language was, he told me he didn’t have one. I tried to give him the inventory assessment and his answers were all over the place.
In the end, simply observing him was a much more effective way to figure out his love language.
So try a few things this week.
See if your husband responds bigger to one thing than the other.
Try to be extra observant and see how he expresses his love to you.
And be sure to bathe it all in prayer.
Ask God to open your eyes to your husband’s needs so that you can be the wife He’s called you to be.
3. Evaluate your strengths
Once you’ve figured out what you and your husband need to be happy in your marriage and home life, it’s time to move on to the ministry aspect of your life.
I know a lot of pastor’s wives who feel called to ministry. They are passionate about children’s ministry or youth or music or senior adults or whatever.
I am not one of those women.
I feel very called to support my husband.
That is pretty much it.
In doing that I’ve taught Sunday school, redone church nurseries, been a camp counselor, lifeguarded, hosted kids in my home, helped with lock-ins, gone on senior adult trips, directed VBS, reorganized a church library, done secretarial work, edited over 500 sermons, started 3 women’s ministries, lead small groups galore, managed social media, volunteered in nurseries and children’s church, gone on mission trips, attended conferences, cleaned bathrooms, cooked food, painted walls, organized fundraisers, and managed meal trains.
So supporting him has not been without service.
But it has come with lots of self-evaluation.
I will not sing in front of people.
I’ve never been in the choir and just the idea of singing a solo makes me sweaty.
And through helping him, I’ve learned some things about my own passions.
I’m currently serving in the women’s ministry at our church, and I really love it.
I love ministering to women, learning together through Bible studies, and spending time together in a way that is uplifting.
Despite my natural proclivity towards introversion, I think that I am good at relating to women and leading them.
It has taken years for me to get comfortable starting conversations and honestly, I’m still super awkward.
But most people think I’m funny and relatable, so maybe my introverted awkwardness is actually a gift? Or maybe I just put people at ease because they know they can’t say anything more awkward than I just did.
Whatever the reason, it works for me, and I find great joy in working with the women’s ministry.
But if my husband asked me to go teach a children’s class or watch the nursery, I would in a heartbeat.
That is my calling – to ease his burden in any way that I can.
So despite my preference for adult interaction, I would serve however he needed me to.
4. Evaluate your season
The only caveat to what I just said, is when our family is in a difficult season.
Part of providing my husband with a safe place at home is knowing when to say no.
Sometimes life is tough and ministry exacerbates that.
He can’t quit preaching for a month while things get sorted out at home, but I can step back from my volunteer positions for a while.
Side note: if you truly cannot step back from your volunteer positions, you need to change that ASAP. Part of leading is discipleship and that means that you should be building up and training the next generation of leaders for whatever ministry you’re serving in. If you are the only person in the whole church who knows how to do XYZ, teach someone else. Now. Because you are teetering on the edge of being entrenched in an issue of pride. It is nice to be necessary and needed. I get it. There’s quite a rush from that feeling of importance in knowing that you alone have the answers, but it’s not good. You are not serving your church well by being the hoarder of information. Share it now.
And there have been many seasons that I’ve had to step back and focus all my energy at home.
I’ve taken a step back each time we’ve had a baby, I’ve (slowly) backed out of my obligations at the church and spent the pregnancy getting someone else in place.
I’ve taken breaks from ministry as my kids have needed me to. There have been seasons where my kids needed me to be more available to them. Sometimes that meant volunteering with the children’s group or nursery. Sometimes that just meant keeping them with me on Wednesday nights.
I even took a break from volunteering when my heart was in a bad place. I’d been hurt by some church members and I had a TERRIBLE attitude. I used the time that I normally served each week to pray and read and mend my own heart.
It is totally okay to step back.
You are the best person to know what your family needs in each season.
I encourage you to pray that God gives you the awareness to see what your family needs.
And if He reveals that you need to focus on your home life right now, make sure there are people in place to pick up the slack while you take a break.
After you’ve done all of this evaluation on your own, it’s time to talk to your husband.
While it may seem like I’m suggesting you figure everything out and then present your findings, that’s not it.
I’m suggesting that you first talk to God and sort out your feelings.
When I am upset, overwhelmed, angry, sad, anything and I go to my husband first, I say some dumb things trying to get to the bottom of my feelings.
Have you heard the expression women’s thoughts are like spaghetti and men’s thoughts are like waffles?
It means that all of our thoughts are intertwined and their thoughts are in little separated sections.
So I’ll start talking about how I’m upset that the dog keeps getting out and before I get around to suggesting a new doggie gate, I’ll talk about how I miss my dad, I don’t like our fenceless back yard, the kids aren’t helping to clean the house, and how tired I am.
Which is overwhelming to my husband because his love language is acts of service.
He immediately wants to jump in and start fixing the problems, but I’m blubbering and wandering through every thought in my head.
It’s a very unproductive conversation.
Now I pray first, think through what I really want to talk about, and I give my husband some time to prepare.
My husband doesn’t like it when I start a serious conversation out of the blue. So I usually say something like, “I have something I want to talk to you about that is important to me. When is a good time for us to talk?”
This gives him some time to be ready for the conversation and prepare himself mentally to talk to me.
Which is not to say that I am difficult to talk to. It’s just that he often comes home completely drained and likes to sort of veg and watch tv or read books to our kids or play board games.
That is a totally different head space than discussing your satisfaction with your marriage, home life, and role in church ministry.
Go through the four points above together.
Figure out how to reconcile your marriage and your ministry.
Because it’s not just his ministry.
In marrying him, it became your ministry too.
So find a way to be a part of it and have joy.
Find joy filling a need.
Choose a place to serve that you love.
Or take a break from service to be poured into.
Each marriage, each person, each season of life has different needs.
Getting this right will help you and everyone else to keep on loving your husband and make you more effective in serving God.
What are some ways you’ve found to balance your ministry and marriage? Tell us in the comments!
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kerry pappas says
I think we need to be careful about even using language of “balancing” ministry and marriage. The language itself sets one against the other as if they are in competition. Rather, ministry and marriage are reciprocal, “a seamless embrace,” to quote a beloved mentor. Balance also implies that I am the sculptor, taking one thing from another, to create “balance.” Not the way it works in real life, where Christ is all in all and things are often out of whack. I think the sooner we eliminate the language of balance as clergy wives/couples, the more we will open the door for seeing our families as the church, the first “church” to which we belong and to stop pitting church/parish/ministry as being in competition with the clergy marriage/family.
kerry pappas says
I think a better approach is: Nurturing marriage in the midst of ministry
I don’t have anything to contribute or any suggestions for others, but I just wanted to thank you for this. I know it’s probably an old post, but you hit the nail on the head for where I’m at right now. Every single point. Also, your post about being an introverted pastor’s wife. My husband is an executive pastor right now, but I believe he’ll most likely be the lead pastor when our current pastor retires, and I’m so down on myself right now thinking that I am so not cut out for this. I can’t live up to all the pastor’s wives I know. I feel like I’m doing him such a disservice as his wife, and holding him back from his ministry because I’m not ready for it. So thank you for being an encouraging voice.