Supporting Ministry Families
Kate was a pastor’s wife living in a tiny
town in Texas. She loved the church and the ministry. She loved her husband and
family. What she didn’t love was feeling that she couldn’t be open and honest
with the congregation.
For four years, Kate struggled silently
with depression. It was a struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. At first,
Kate thought the cause had to be spiritual in nature. But despite the
persistent prayers of her and her husband, the depression continued.
As it worsened, Kate sought treatment. She
made an appointment with a doctor over an hour away from her home. When the
doctor recommended she start taking medication, Kate chose a pharmacy far
outside of her town.
The medication helped stabilize the balance of neurotransmitters in Kate’s brain, and she began to feel like herself again. But she was still terrified someone would discover her secret. She was afraid her husband’s ministry would be negatively impacted because of her pain.
Why So Many Suffer Alone
Sadly, Kate’s story is not unique. Many loved ones of ministers, pastors, and elders deal with private heartache they never take to the church. They fear if they speak out, they’ll be judged, their loved one will lose their job, or the ministry will be destroyed.
Sometimes, loved ones don’t speak up because they don’t want to hurt their ministering family members. This happened to Joshua. His mom was the secretary of a local church. At sixteen, Joshua was attending youth group regularly. But the youth pastor’s wife kept making unwelcome advances toward him.
Joshua was uncomfortable with her attention. He wanted it to stop, but the youth pastor’s wife was well-known in the community, and Joshua worried his mom would lose her job if he spoke out.
There are even moments when a ministry family may feel like they are a lower priority than the ministry itself. When Rodney started traveling to speak at other churches, he wasn’t able to be home as much.
At first, his wife didn’t mind. But as the months began to stretch on, she started to feel like a single parent. She resented the ministry and how Rodney was always working to grow it rather than taking time off to be present with her and their two boys.
Of course, Rodney’s wife isn’t alone. Ministry can be hard on a family. It requires frequent sacrifice, most of which are never seen or acknowledged. This can be painful and bring up difficult emotions.
As a church member, you may not feel like there’s much you can do to help the ministry families around you. But the truth is you’re in the best position to help because you have “boots on the ground.” You’re close enough to see what’s going on and that gives you the opportunity to step in.
How to Bless a Pastor’s Wife
While you can’t solve everything for the ministry families around you, you can do some key things to help. Here are a few ways you can bless a pastor’s wife…
Pray for Her
Many people pray for their pastor, but they often forget to pray for his wife and kids. The truth is that a leader's effectiveness at church is directly tied to their ability to shepherd their spouse and children well.
If you’re unsure how to pray for your pastor’s wife, start by asking God to protect her from any evil or darkness planned against her. Then pray that God would strengthen and encourage her. Ask that God will give her strength to meet every battle that she’ll face today and for an awareness of God’s presence as she goes through the day.
Take Off Your Own Mask
Don’t burden your pastor’s wife by telling her every horrible thing about your life. But at the same time, you don’t have to pretend everything’s fine just because you’re around the pastor’s wife. It’s OK to be real and admit you mess up.
The more authentic you are, the more it invites others to be authentic. You may not realize it, but this is a precious gift. It gives those around the freedom to speak up and know they’re not alone.
Keep It to Yourself
If your pastor’s wife does confide in you, don’t spread it around. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone that shared your private feelings and thoughts with the world, so don’t do that to your pastor’s wife.
There might be times when you hear something you want to share. Ask your pastor’s wife before you repeat it. For example, “I have a friend struggling with depression. Would it be OK if I shared your story with her? I can share it without revealing your name if you’d like.”
Invite Her Out
The pastor’s wife is just like you—she wants to belong and feel included. Make sure to invite her along to events outside of the church. For example, if you’re going to a conference next week and have an extra ticket, offer it to her.
She may or may not be able to attend, but don’t take it personally. Your goal here is to let her know you enjoy her company and would like to spend more time with her.
Don’t Talk Shop
You’re irritated about the new tissue in the ladies' bathroom. The paint color in the foyer isn’t quite the right shade of beige. The pastor’s message was good last week, but you really thought he should have expanded on this particular passage of Scripture.
Just because you’re with the pastor’s wife doesn’t mean now’s the perfect time to bring up every grievance you have with the church or her husband. In fact, don’t bring up the church or pastor at all.
If she wants to talk about these topics, let her. But focus on giving her a break and being there for her. You don’t need to jump in and share what you think should be done differently.
Send Encouraging Notes
Your pastor’s wife isn’t immune to bad days. She wakes up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, too. She has bills, toddlers, or health problems (maybe even all three). Just because of her position as the pastor’s wife doesn’t make these days any easier to deal with.
Be kind to your pastor’s wife by sending her little notes. Let her know you’re thinking of her, that God loves her, and that you’re always available for a chat.
Offer to Pitch In
Many pastor’s wives wear dozens of hats. They are often anything that their husband or the ministry needs. That means they may volunteer in the nursery when a worker is sick or temporarily be the church secretary when the former one retires.
You can help by offering to pitch in when you see a need. For example, if you know the woman who normally organizes the church’s bake sale can’t be around, offer to handle it. If you don’t see a need right now, go to your pastor’s wife. Say, “I’d like to bless you this week. What’s one task I can take off your plate? Hand me anything and consider it done.”
Keep in mind that many of these suggestions work for other spouses who have loved ones in the ministry. For example, you can take some of the ideas above and apply them to the youth pastor’s wife, the church secretary, or an elder’s spouse.
How to Love On the Pastor’s Children
Unfortunately, it’s not just the pastor’s wife that can struggle under the heavy burden of ministry. The pastor’s children also grow up with the ministry, which can make the everyday experiences of being a child more difficult. Fortunately, there are things that church members can do to help the pastor’s children…
Throw Away the Yard Stick
There are few things harder than being a pastor’s kid. Like a child born to a celebrity or billionaire, pastor’s kids always have expectations thrust upon them. But this isn’t fair to the child or the pastor.
Just because a child is related to someone in church leadership, it doesn’t make them perfect. They’ll throw tantrums, break curfew, and make foolish decisions like any other kids. Instead of expecting perfection, let them be. Your commentary really isn’t needed.
It happened. The pastor’s kid did something sinful. Maybe they snuck into an R-rated movie, stole a candy bar, got caught telling a lie, or had pre-marital sex with their significant other.
In these situations, the best thing that church members can do is give grace. Most kids know when they’ve messed up. They don’t need you rubbing it in their faces, nor do their parents need a reminder on how to raise kids.
Remember the story of the prodigal. The Loving Father didn’t just wait for his son on the path—He ran to embrace him. This is a beautiful example of how the church should respond to kids who have sinned.
Let Them Discover Who They Are
Not every kid wants to follow in their parents’ footsteps. If a pastor’s child wants to grow up to be in the ministry, then that’s certainly wonderful and worth celebrating. But it’s also just as worthy of celebration if that same child decides to become a house painter instead.
Remember that Paul wasn’t just a minister. He was a tentmaker, too. Likewise, Jesus spent decades as a carpenter before fulfilling His calling to go into ministry. It can be a wonderful thing to have a profession outside of the church, just as it can be a wonderful thing to be in church leadership.
Don’t Quiz Them
Sometimes, people expect a pastor’s child to know everything about the Bible or have an extensive grasp of theology. While some children do have a natural aptitude for memorization and might be able to spout facts on demand, most can’t.
Many people feel awkward when they’re put on the spot. The pastor’s kids are no exception. It’s one thing to quiz them if you’re doing drills with the youth group as a whole. It’s another thing to expect them to be a walking encyclopedia of Biblical facts.
Encourage Fun Activities
As pastor’s kids get older, they may be less likely to participate in certain activities. It’s not that they don’t want to. But often, they spend years hearing the phrase, “What will people think…?”
Naturally, they become self-conscious and begin to worry that everyone is paying attention to them. You can be the one who encourages them to ignore everything else and simply have fun.
Affirm What They’re Good At
Pastor’s kids take a lot of negativity. They’re constantly told all of the ways they’re falling short and what they could be doing better. This kind of negativity can take its toll on young minds and hearts.
Try to take a moment to pay attention to what your pastor’s kids are naturally good at. Look for ways you can praise and affirm them. For example, you might notice your pastor’s son has a gift for art. Let him know that! You might see that the pastor’s daughter can write beautiful songs. Tell her to keep writing!
Keep in mind that these ideas work for kids who have parents in other leadership positions, too. You might want to use these suggestions to reach your youth leader’s kids or the elder’s children.
Supporting ministry families is deep, beautiful work. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. It can be as easy as giving them space and grace to simply be themselves!
Grace and peace,