This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.
I want to affirm something you already believe but might hesitate to embrace. You are not alone in your ministry. God has given you a friend to love you, a companion to support you in your calling to serve Christ, a woman who has promised God that she will stand with you as long as you both shall live, whatever the future holds.
Your home is where you are most loved.
Your wife knows you better than anyone else does. Out of all the men in her generation, she said yes to you! She loves and admires you deeply and longs to see the Lord fulfill his sacred purpose for you (Ps. 57:2; 138:8). She is your most trustworthy ally, your most steadfast companion, your most valuable resource in all the world. “The heart of her husband trusts in her . . . ” (Prov. 31:11). Dr. Bruce Waltke points out that this is the only time in the Old Testament where a human being is commended for putting his trust in another human being.1 When you lean on her love, rely on her insight, depend on her loyalty, God commends you!
Is your ministry going well? Thank your wife for the support that she uniquely provides—her steady work in your home as well as her cheering presence at church. She alone understands how hard you work, releasing you to your calling six days a week, as well as many holidays when other husbands are with their families.
Is your ministry not going so well? Thank her for standing with you when others forsake you. She sees the anxiety in your eyes and hears your weighty sighs, and she aches with you. The reason she feels for you so deeply is this: God made her to be your closest companion (Gen. 2:18). She loves you more than she can express. See the unique favor your wife brings to you from God himself (Prov. 18:22, 19:14). Open your eyes to the wonder of a friend you can trust in and never be betrayed.
It could be that at this point in your ministry marriage you are not experiencing the comforting realities described here. Your wife’s support seems more hurtful than helpful, more adversarial than advantageous. You hesitate to lean on her, befriend her, trust in her because of her past responses. Sometimes when you open up to her, she reaches for her “chairperson of the advisory committee” badge and, much as she loves you, she starts advising you in ways that are disheartening. And then you find yourself faced with the choice of disagreeing with her and explaining and defending yourself, or wordlessly withdrawing. Either outcome chips away at the warm and satisfying bond you both long to build in your life together.
The reason I can describe this scene is because I have often played the starring role! For many years I thought it was my wifely duty to advise and correct Ray in all the ways I (or others who talked to me) thought he could improve. I suffered from what I call the “fix him fever,” and it usually peaked on Sunday evenings, sometimes creeping into our Mondays off. But it rarely—if ever—had a healthy effect on our marriage or ministry.
Dear pastor, your wife didn’t marry you to fix you! She married you because she loves you more than she can express.
As we grew together, Ray had the wisdom to approach me tenderly “in an understanding way” (1 Pet. 3:7), helping me to see that my attitude was hindering our union. I remember him asking me one evening, “Is this working for you? It’s not working for me, and I want our marriage to be a win-win relationship where we each feel listened to and understood and respected.” He had my ear. “May I tell you what works for me?” he gently asked, adding, “And then you tell me what works for you, and we can grow in caring for each other.” Then Ray lovingly and clearly explained what didn’t work for him when I tried to fix him. He helped me understand more fully by adding, “I feel supported by you when you . . . I feel accepted by you when you . . . .” After I had time to absorb what he had said, he asked me to share what makes me feel supported and accepted by him. And he listened intently, with no defensive comebacks.
That was a turning point for me. I was able to see it through his eyes, and I felt seen and heard. Now, when we need to talk something through, we ask, “How can we make this is a team win for each other? What would work for you?”
Dear pastor, your wife didn’t marry you to fix you! She married you because she loves you more than she can express. She wants your home to be a haven for you, a respite from all the burdens you bear in your ministry. Gently coach her for your mutual blessing.
Your home is where you are most needed.
You may be wondering if I have any idea about all the people who need you! After more than fifty years in a ministry marriage, believe me, I understand. I know something of the never-ending, ever-increasing needs of your flock, the real pressures of your church family, the job insecurity you sometimes face. Those needs are real, and they are noisy! And you took a sacred vow to help meet those needs, by God’s grace and for his glory. You consider your ministry a glorious privilege to be treasured and fulfilled.
But there is a deeper reality to your life under Christ. You really shepherd two families—your church family and your own family. Your family at home should have no doubt that they are the church members you love the most! You are raising your family in a very public setting that your children never bargained for. They need you. They want—and deserve—your protection, your praise, and your presence.
Protect your children from the comparers and critics at church. Make sure your own kids know that they don’t need to worry about what people at church might say about them, because you don’t worry! Show them that you are not surprised that they are sinners like everyone else on earth. It’s perfect that your children aren’t perfect! You get to serve the Lord your God while dealing with the realities of sinful parents raising sinful kids in this broken world.
Look for authentic ways to praise your kids, especially in front of others. That praise will also be a form of protection from congregants’ unhelpful comments about them. Affirm the good you see in your children. Highlight what is lovely and true and courageous. Assure your children that your chief desire and most sincere prayer for them is that they walk with Christ all throughout their lives.
Most of all, they need your presence. How can you protect and praise them from afar? Ray proved to our kids again and again that he wanted to be near them, with them, a present reality in their young lives. Whether it was bringing the three boys to muck out stalls at Krista’s riding stable to help pay for her lessons, or re-arranging his own schedule to be at our sons’ sports events, he was there. And he worked hard to be present at our daily evening meal, guiding us in healthy conversations, supporting me in managing manners, and leading us in Bible reading and prayer. Our children knew that they were a top priority in Ray’s life because he placed their needs before ministerial needs. He was the security hub of our family.
Our children had the privilege of seeing up close a man who followed Christ with an earnest and open heart, a man who exuded the joy and delight of knowing him. They knew he considered his ministry a sacred privilege from God. When times got hard, he lived out his belief that our present challenge is never our permanent reality. He showed our family that we get to serve the God who sees and knows and cares, and who promises not to overlook our work in serving the saints (Heb. 6:10).
Dear pastor, your home is where you are most loved and most needed. Enjoy their love and embrace their needs for Christ’s glory and your whole family’s eternal joy.
- Waltke, Bruce K., The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31, Wm. B. Eerdmans, p. 521
Jani Ortlund is the author of Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those Who Love Them.
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