Spouse and Children
I am learning that some of the staff and other leaders don’t know certain things (or need to be reminded regularly of things) that I would have assumed they would be mindful of. What are two or three things that other pastors regularly emphasize or remind their staff and key leaders about?
My wife and I have been in full time ministry since the first year of marriage, 21 years ago, and our kids are 20, 17, and 11 years old.
Here are some ways we have kept our family thriving in the midst of ministry.
- We laugh together—a lot!
- We work hard to keep our life real and relational—not religious.
- Forgiveness: we ask each other for it and we give it freely.
- My wife and have worked hard to make sure we don’t gossip about the church or speak ill of anyone—no matter the situation. We talk about church at home but we gauge our conversations very carefully.
- We allow each other the freedom and grace to be ourselves—not who others want us to be.
- We are the same people at home that we are at church. We have been blessed to be a part of churches that allowed us to be ourselves and not some cookie-cutter version of the “perfect” family.
- Regular scheduled DATE NIGHTS. Personally, I get so wrapped up in church work that I have to be careful to make sure my wife knows that she is more important than our ministry. Thankfully, we do ministry together so we both share the burdens and joys of the church. I will admit that sometimes we have to remind each other when it is time to stop talking about the ministry.
- Healthy personal boundaries. For example, the weekend I began pastoring our current church (6,000 weekly attenders), I stood on the stage with my family and lovingly told the church that I would not be available for dinner with all of them because that was time set aside for my family. I may do breakfast or lunch, but never dinner in this season of life (with kids still at home).
- Biggest thing: NO HYPOCRISY IN THE HOUSE! My wife and kids know that who we are at the church is who we are at home. We don’t put on airs or masks. I’m blessed to lead a church that allows us to be ourselves in Christ! I want my kids to recognize the guy who is preaching when they get home. I want them to see me model what I preach. I want them to know that my walk with Jesus is real and active and never a show.
Thank God that after 21 years, we all still love each other and every one of us has a serving role that fits our individual gifts and personalities perfectly. If you can believe it, we all still look forward to Sundays! I thank God for that!
My top half dozen:
- Avoid using them as examples/illustration in your message without permission.
- From the platform, tell everyone that the only reason your kids make bad decisions is because they hang out with their kids.
- Don’t expect a higher level of spirituality or perfection because, ‘you’re the pastor’s wife/kid.’
- Don’t allow a special event in their lives to be replaced by a special event in church life (be VERY mindful of that when you set your annual calendar).
- Don’t allow unrealistic expectations become your expectations of them.
- Keep discussion of church problems and problem-people for appropriate times in the appropriate context for the office, not the dinner table or home in general.
Always put your spouse and your children FIRST before the local church and ministry. Remember, congregation members will come…and congregation members will go. There will always be meetings, but a marriage and a family COME ONLY ONCE IN A LIFETIME!
First of all, let your wife be herself. The hardest job in the church is the pastor’s wife. There is no job description for her. Don’t push her to do things she doesn’t want to do.
One thing I believe helps our children, is to allow them to be kids. Don’t parade them in front of the church. Don’t expect them to be perfect. If they make mistakes, correct them but don’t ever make them feel like they have to be perfect because what people in the church will think if they are not.
Live for Christ at home. Have fun! Pastoring is very difficult at times. Don’t put pressure on your family to be something they are not. Protect your children by not having conversations about members who are coming against you in front of them. People will put pressure on you about what they think your wife and kids should be or act like. Be yourself because everyone else is taken. This will free your wife and children to serve God and realize no one is perfect.
Although the role of a pastor can be difficult and very challenging, the role of a pastor’s wife can carry its own challenges as well. Being aware of these challenges can help you, as the pastor, to be an encourager to your wife and children. As pastors, we care for and encourage the sheep all the time. Let’s not neglect to care for, encourage, and lift up the spirits of our wife and children at all times.
Every congregation has its own unwritten rules and expectations for the pastor’s wife’s behavior and involvement in the church. If I had it to do all over again, I would have communicated to the congregation more clearly in the beginning something like this: “My wife’s primary ministry is to help me and to raise my children. She is not hired staff so don’t expect her to do every little thing in the church. Please allow her to get involved in ministry as the Lord leads her, not according to your expectations. Thank you for giving my wife freedom and space to be who God made her to be.” After eleven years as senior pastor, I came to discover the practice of many pastors and what their wives did in the church. Their wives were not half as busy as mine; their congregations were fine with it, and their wives were not on the verge of burnout like I had seen in many. We, as pastors, must stand against unrealistic expectations about what the role of pastor’s wives is in the church.
Another challenge for pastor’s wives is constant criticism. They serve so faithfully and give so sacrificially only to receive one blow of criticism after another. As the heads of our homes, look for the positives that you see in your wife and children and communicate these often to them. Become a protector of your wife from the hurtful things that people will say.
Loneliness is something that pastor’s wives face as well. Imagine being a part of a large community of people but never knowing whom you can trust and what you can safely say. This is the world for your wife most of the time. Plan special times together with your wife and children. Be proactive and schedule on your calendar quality time to spend with them. Always be mindful to balance out those times of church crisis and caring for the sheep with quality time spent with the most important ones, your family. Encouraging your wife to accompany you on conferences, speaking engagements, and continuing education events can also combat loneliness for her.
In regards to your children, take time with each of them, treating each one as unique individuals. Despite your time-consuming ministry at the church, make time for your children. Value what is on the inside of each of your children more than what they display on the outside. Communicate to your congregation that kids will be kids and that your children are no different, so please give them a break.
Happy Easter everyone! I hope Easter weekend was everything you expected it to be and more at your churches. I hope more, that you enjoyed it with your families. And that, in a nutshell, is what you can do for your wife and children to not just survive church and ministry, but thrive.
When I first started in ministry I held to one very important priority and that is, my family comes before the church. I felt that I was on good Biblical standing since the scripture tells us that if we don’t know how to manage our homes, how can God trust us to manage the church? My take away was that if I put my family before the church I pastor, that God will grow the church and bless the church more than if I put the church before my family; and He has! Over the years, here are some of the practical things I have done to put my family first:
- I have made every athletic event, dance, play, school production, drama or recital that my kids have been in—even if that meant missing church and having someone else preach for me.
- I only stay late at the church one night a week and am home for dinner by 6 every night.
- I’ve regularly shared with our congregation that the reason I am not at all the men’s, women’s, youth, small group, Bible studies, etc., is because my family comes first.
- Every year in ministry, I take off for at least 6 weeks straight and do nothing but spend time with my family and go on vacations with them. I’ve done this from year number 1 until now, year number 23, and our church has never suffered.
- I never talk about the brutal side of ministry in front of my kids and often spare my wife of things that I know would hurt her or cause her to be defensive of me.
- I regularly talk about how much of a privilege and how wonderful ministry is and that we are blessed to be leading God’s Church.
- I take my wife and kids with me when I travel for ministry, even if that means missing a few days at school.
These are some of the things that have helped our family to stay strong and thrive while in ministry. I hope these suggestions help you.
Amanda and I have been married 37 years this June. We have been in full-time vocational ministry for 37 years this November. Our son is 31 yrs. old and our daughter is 26 yrs. old. Our children were born and raised in the ministry. Today they are both married, serving the Lord with their spouses and involved in their local churches.
Amanda and I made a lot of mistakes raising our children. As most young couples, we were not trained and experienced parents when we started. So, we learned most child raising principles by trial and error and error and error. Being in ministry didn’t make raising children more difficult, but it did require us to be more strategic with our time.
We installed some non-negotiables in our schedule concerning our marriage and children:
1). Our children always took priority over the ministry.
This non-negotiable may seem unspiritual and sacrilegious to some, but we discovered ministry was our assignment, our children were our gift. Children are a gift from the Lord and we refused to allow our assignment/ministry to become more valuable than our God given gift/children.
Our children knew they were priority in our lives, and they had permission then and now to interrupt meetings, phone calls, counseling sessions and even church services. We refused to give our children the impression that our profession was more important than them.
As my son excelled in sports, I arranged my schedule to go to almost every practice for every sport. I would go in the office early daily so I could leave the office early to watch his football practices. Even when he was a freshman in university, I drove 16 hours to watch him play his first collegiate baseball game. He only played two innings but it was worth the drive.
We continued the same discipline a few years later when our daughter excelled in equine competition. Honestly, it wasn’t as exciting watching a horse walk around an arena for dozens and dozens of hours as it was watching football, baseball, and basketball, but she never knew I was bored. In fact, I did some excellent prayer work throughout the years at the horse barn.
2). We involved our children in ministry.
Our children knew the church facilities and campus was their second home; even their playground. No place was off limits to the children of the staff. After services, they jumped from the platform, played hide and seek in every room and had major games of tag in the fellowship hall.
Our children continually accompanied us to the hospitals, member’s homes and church work days. They didn’t just grow up in ministry, they grew up doing ministry. Ministry wasn’t their parent’s life; it was their life also.
As ministers understand, ministry is an adventure. Most days in ministry are never duplicated, so we decided to allow our children to enjoy the adventure with us.
3). My wife was, is, and will always be my best friend.
Over the years, I have heard wives of ministers complain about having to compete for their husband’s time. One broken wife of a Pastor told us that the ministry was her husband’s wife; she was the mistress spending time with him on occasion.
Amanda and I made it a priority to spend quality time together every week. Whether it was a secret rendezvous for lunch or a night out for dinner, we guarded our time together. We realized early, church folks and other ministers come and go out of your life frequently, but our spouse is our forever friend so that relationship takes priority.
We have shared the thrills, joys, and moments of exuberance together. At the same time, we have cried a bucket of tears because of disappointment and betrayals, but we did it all together.
Thirty-seven years of ministry and Amanda and I are wildly in love, our children are strong Christians and successful in their careers, and we still love all of God’s people; well almost all of them.
I LOVE this month’s forum question!
Context: I am a PK myself, and I have 2 children (10 & 7). Amy and I have been married for 18 years. My two brothers chose other career paths (and are very successful), and I followed in my parent’s shoes and became a pastor at age 24. We are in our 16th year serving as the senior pastor. We have GREAT parents!!!!
I believe the answer lies in having proper VISION.
Vision is the art of seeing where you are going and knowing how everyone involved can go there with you.
A close friend of mine is a full-time traveling minister. He has observed (over decades of dealing with senior pastors) that when a pastor has proper vision for his church, he almost always is also successful as a parent. When he encounters a pastor with an improper vision, the family is often frustrated as well.
- The leader sees the people involved.
- The leader utilizes the people according to their strengths.
- The leader empowers and promotes others.
- The team working together is the most important event.
- The leader sees others succeeding.
- “I train you, and together we accomplish the common goal.”
Improper (small) Vision
- The leader sees himself (herself) accomplishing the work.
- The leader sees others only supporting them.
- The leader sees themselves succeeding.
- The sermon is the most important event.
- “I preach. I preach on the radio. One day, I will preach on TV.”
When the leader has proper vision for the ministry, he most often also has proper vision for his spouse and kids. It’s not all about “me,” it is about “us!”
For years, I was the center of my church and my family. Everything revolved around me. I saw myself increasing. I desired to preach more camp meetings. I desired to preach on the radio and TV. I saw God using me in greater and greater ways. I often took missions trips where I got to preach to larger crowds than I did at home…”I,” “I,” “I.”
After over a decade of living with improper vision, God answered my prayers for more wisdom in the area of leadership. The answer came by many forms, but it always pointed back to this issue of VISION—seeing others accomplishing the goal together with me.
I no longer see my wife as the lady who is supposed to tell me how good I preach; I now see her with her own wonderful gifts. I don’t see my kids as supporters and workers to do the little things so that I can preach. I see my kids as gifted, anointed kids being trained for God to use them in their callings for life.
- Be consistent with regular date nights with your wife; weekly, if possible.
- Love your wife more than other people.
- Prefer your wife over the people.
- Listen to your wife.
- Include your wife in all major decisions.
- Let her shine in her strengths, and try to avoid forcing her to roles of ministry she is not gifted for.
- Encourage her to develop relationships inside and outside of the church that strengthens her heart.
- Read a marriage book every year…sharpen your saw.
- Support your kids in their activities.
- Attend your kids’ events.
- Brag on your kids publicly, NEVER embarrass them.
- Prefer your kids over church people (they can tell).
- Include your kids in your success.
- See your kids accomplishing great things in life (doesn’t have to be ministry related).
- Find a mentor that has successfully raised kids and pay attention.
- Spend individual time with each kid.
- Help them live with a proper vision. It’s never too early to encourage teamwork and build their skills to work with others.
- Listen to messages by ministers like Joe McGee who are anointed to teach on the family. Don’t listen for preaching material, listen to apply to your own life.
Lastly, I asked a good friend once, “Why don’t more ministers teach on marriage and raising kids?” He quickly responded, “You can’t preach on what you don’t know.”
Invest in your own spouse and family, then you will be more proficient at helping others. Strong marriages produce strong families. Strong families produce strong churches. Strong churches produce fruit!
PS – Sorry for the length, but this is a passionate subject for me.
My wife has always been a vital part of my ministry—in fact, we pastor together. I have my strengths and she has hers, which make us a great team. There are ministry families, however, where the wife is “the pastor’s wife” and really has no involvement concerning teaching, etc. In order for those kinds of wives to not get jealous of the ministry, and of the women who do serve at the church, it is vital that she knows what is going on. I would suggest she attend staff meetings, planning meetings, etc., to get and keep her involved. What are her interests? What are her gifts and callings? Is she artistic? Would she like to be the one who designs and paints different areas, i.e. the nursery or children’s rooms, etc.?
We never meet with a person of the opposite sex alone, so my wife has always been present when I meet with another woman. Too many ministry marriages have failed because the husband gets so wrapped up in the problems of a woman or women and it leads to other improper behavior.
I involved my children in church as soon as they were born. The first week of their birth, they were in church. Church is our way of life. It is never a question of, “Do we have to go to church today?” Or, “I don’t want to go to church, can I stay home?” My children never asked that question. Church days and times were church days and times. I had my sons become “Jr. Ushers” at a young age. They can stand with an adult usher and pass out offering envelopes. They can run little errands. When they were older, they could help in the nursery, or children’s church, or become musically involved, etc. Their friends were church kids! My wife home schooled much of the time, so developing their social life was important. The kids their age from church were invited to our home all the time. They had sleepovers, played on local Little League teams together, etc.
One of the most important things for children, since ministry parents are always tending to the needs of other people, is to schedule special time just with them. Take them out to eat after church. They love that! Plan special days to go camping, or fishing, visiting relatives out of state; become interested in what they are interested in.
This turned out pretty well for us. Of our four children, three serve in the ministry with us, one as associate pastor, one as worship leader, one as young adult and sports leader. Our daughter is in Alaska with her military husband, but she is active in her church there.
First of all, I never expected my children to act like PKs. I did not expect them to “be good” because they were the “pastor’s kids,” but I expected them to “be good” because they were my kids.
Second, I never put undo pressure on them to be involved in church ministry. They saw the example that we as parents gave, and all three of my daughters just followed in our steps.
Third, I was involved in my children’s activities whether it was sports, coaching, or going to plays or choir/orchestra events. Life as a pastor is pretty busy, but my wife and children always came first. Quantity of time is not important, but quality of time is very important (and yes, sometimes I missed a Wednesday night service because of something they were involved in).
Concerning my wife, I never put pressure on her to act like a “pastor’s wife.” I want her to fulfill the gifts and callings that are unique to her. I am very supportive of my wife both in the pulpit and outside of the pulpit. I make sure that I compliment her in front of the church and give credit where credit is do.
Date nights or days are very important. It is important to have time together where the staff and other leaders know that this is your time together and that we are not to be contacted unless it is an emergency.
For every generation that has experienced the spiritual freedom God promised through the redemptive work of Christ, someone in that generation had to give up theirs. Jesus said, “Except a seed fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but IF it dies, it will bring forth fruit.” That’s true regarding all relationships—from the marriage union, to sibling relationships, to the church family. When someone discovers and experiences the ‘life of God’ in any degree, from salvation to spiritual growth, someone up to that point, had given up theirs.
The call into full time ministry is rewarding; yet not without resistance from the unseen, spirit realm. We know it as “spiritual warfare.”
Before Vicki and I entered full time ministry, we owned a Mayflower moving franchise; and though there were those long and challenging days, never did we experience ‘warfare’ like we have in our 36 years of ministry. We know what Paul meant when he told Timothy, “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Paul understood by personal experience that, the Kingdom of God has never nor will ever be advanced without warfare. The good news is, God graces you for these kinds of battles, and if you don’t quit, you will win in the end.
All three of our children (now in their 30’s and 40’s) have served the Lord faithfully their entire lives. Yes, they both witnessed and walked with us in those hard times in ministry; and yes, they experienced the loss of very good friends, and yes, they were at our side as we endeavored to press on towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. They have remained faithful, remained in faith, and also witnessed the faithfulness of God in those difficult seasons of ministry. And in May, our oldest daughter and her husband will be celebrating their 20th year of pastoring a very successful church in Missouri. Our middle daughter has worked full time for us for the past 23 years, and our son owns his own company and serves us also in the local church setting.
If you are real with your family and read with them some of the “tests” the faith hero’s in the Bible went through, they will understand that advancing God’s kingdom on this side of Heaven will not happen without spiritual resistance. Yet, God really does grace you and your family for whatever you’ve faced or are facing. When Saul encountered God on the road to Damascus, Ananias was sent to Saul with this message, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my names sake.” However, the good news of Paul’s life is, just before his death, he told Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7-8), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
I believe every Christian and minister would one day like to hear these few words, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” So I encourage all of you great men and women of God in full time ministry with the words of Jesus:
John 16:33 (AMP)
In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]
Vicki and I pray that God will continue to enrich you great heroes of faith with His presence and power in Jesus name!
Before my wife and I had kids, we met with several families with business and ministry backgrounds (people who had held visible roles in their community, and their children were connected to what they did, and were thriving), and we asked a lot of questions and learned a lot from them.
We reached several conclusions through this process:
- We would not parade our kids in front of the church and put extra attention (which leads to pressure) on them.
- We never disciplined our children in relation to our ministry position; all discipline and conduct was based on being believers and nothing else.
- We spent time explaining the why of things (not from a pressure standpoint, but rather to strengthen their understanding and not respond to them out of legalism).
- We endeavored to always communicate to them that as long as they do what the Lord puts in their heart, we will be happy (no pressure to function in the ministry, but rather to learn to follow their heart and serve God in whatever role in life they have).
- We purposed to have fun with them and to make sure that there were times that we missed church stuff to be at their activities in order to communicate their value.
First, I would like to discuss your gracious boundaries with your advisors, board members, deacons, whatever you call the group of people that you are accountable to for your church.
I want to raise my children and love my wife as Christ does this church! I want her to be treated like your spouse. I do not expect your wife to serve in the nurseries, children ministries, youth ministries, women’s ministry, or lead worship if that is not her gifting, talent, or passion. I want her to be treated as a volunteer that is approved to serve with the freedom and right to decline without ridicule or censor.
I am the one who is called, employed, and engaged, not my wife or my children! Please do not place unrealistic expectations on them, like they are me, should act like me, serve like me, or be as mature as a forty year old.
Please allow them to love church like your family. My kids are being raised, being trained, and developing to maturity. They are not full grown now!
I am working to raise them to be faithful followers of Jesus, not preacher’s kids that live conflicting lives—one privately and one publicly. I will not raise hypocritical people that appear pious because of the expectations of religious folk and a realistic private life with family.
As the pastor, I have to ask myself repeatedly with your teenagers, should I deal with their mistakes, sins, and rebellion to authority at church or should I communicate with you and allow you to exercise your parental judgement! I’m fine with my children being corrected if they’ve done wrong. I’m not okay with them being corrected like they are me or the “Pastor’s daughter!” I want age appropriate handling! If you’re conflicted on what to do, ask me!
Also, please respect my home. I maintain office hours and can be reached during the day. When I’m with my family in the evening, I want my time with them respected and valued. Of course, an emergency is an exception.
When I’m interrupted at night or on my day off, I always ask others, “Can we handle this in the morning/tomorrow? How long has your marital difficulties been going on? Did your financial crisis occur today? Then both will wait till morning!”
As a pastor, you must place your spouse and family as your #1 priority. If you lose them, you lose considerably more than one parishioner!
The key is to not address these issues in anger or in frustration. The best time to address these potential issues is before you reach a crisis! When there is no pain, everyone on your board and church is thinking rationally versus emotionally!
Ten years from now, who will be sitting around your homes at the Thanksgiving table? Will it be your spouse and children or the congregation that’s in crisis right now?
To help my spouse and children survive church and ministry, I put the person of the Holy Spirit as the most important person in our life—also for my church and ministry.
Our generation is remarkably the time period of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts.1:4-8). To be witnesses of the person of Jesus in the entire earth, and to be the one willing to give himself up for the benefit of everyone else, to see Christ formed in me. That has done more for my family and my church and ministry.