October 6, 2014

The Unspoken Cost of Ministry

There's a nasty habit among Christian ministers and their families. The fact is, we don't usually talk about how hard it is. We don't publicly discuss the stress, the frustrations, the challenges. 

The truth is, full-time ministry is hard on families. It's hard on ministers. The demands and expectations placed on ministers (and their families by association) could be one of the major reasons that 80% off seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years and could be why one out of three of ministers say that full time ministry is a hazard to their family. 

One of my best friends is Catholic. At her wedding, the priest asked me if it was difficult to be married to a minister. Would I recommend that ministers be married? My answer: Yes. The time requirements, the stress, and expectations do present challenges, but my husband needs me. Ministry would have been much more difficult without a support system at home to encourage and uplift.

Unfortunately, most pastors (and their families) don't have a safe outlet to share their frustrations and struggles. 

As a third-generation pastor's wife, these are some things I think you should know about those who serve you in the church:
  1. We serve because we love you and because Jesus asked us to. If Jesus asks you to do something, you do it - even if it's hard and sometimes you don't want to. 
  2. We are not perfect. We do not have it all together. Do not expect our children to have it all together . . . they're kids just like yours. This is one of my MAJOR soapboxes (don't get me started).
  3. Our family time is precious (and limited). If at all possible, try to contact a minister while he's at church rather than when he's at home with his family.  Of course there are always emergencies, but if it can wait, let it wait. 
  4. Ministry is hard. H. A. R. D. This is primarily due to the expectations of others, the stress of attempting to meet those expectations, and the perceived pressure to be perfect.
  5. Ministers don't just work on Sunday and Wednesdays. My husband easily works 60 hours a week. It's not uncommon for a minister to work all day, come home to eat dinner and then leave again for meetings, visits, or studies.
  6. Ministers need friends. We're just normal people, but I think people may assume pastors only want to pray and study the Bible in their free time. We love Jesus, but we also like to relax and have fun. Invite them over to watch a football game or to watch a movie or play games. We need people to allow us to be ourselves without any unrealistic expectations. 
  7. If a pastor takes you into his confidence, keep it confidential. Many pastors don't have a safe place to share their struggles. No one pastors the pastors. One of the major challenges of full-time ministry is that you don't always have someone to talk to if things are hard. 
  8. Words of encouragement are important. If your pastor has made an impact on your life, tell them. 55% of pastors feel lonely and discouraged. As a pastor, it can be tempting to feel like you're not making a difference. Telling someone "thank you" can go a long way. You'd be surprised how many people are generous with criticism, but stingy with praise.
  9. Defend your pastor. Don't talk negatively about your pastor to your friends or in front of your kids. There's nothing more hurtful than to hear something negative second hand. Pastors and their families have feelings. Just because they're put on a pedestal doesn't mean they're immune to the pain of public criticism. If you have an issue, take it directly to the minister rather than to the gossip patrol.
  10. Be a blessing, not a burden. We have a couple in our church that has offered to watch our kids once a month so that we can go on a date. THAT is a blessing to us. It allows us time to refresh and reconnect. This benefits both the minister and the church. Look for simple, practical ways to encourage your pastor - a written note of encouragement, an invitation to dinner (or dropping dinner off at their house), praying for them (and letting them know what you're specifically praying for). Little things make a difference and can help fight the discouragement and loneliness that many pastors face.
Ministry is hard, but it can also be a blessing. As a pastor's wife and as a pastor's kid, I've had the opportunity to see first-hand the ways that God can use the individuals in a church to impact eternity.

Yes, I've seen the ugly, but I've also seen the good side of full-time ministry. I've seen God meet our needs time and time again through the people that we've been called to serve, and for that, I'm forever grateful.

My husband and I at our first church. Hard to believe that was about eight years ago! We look so young, lol. 

My challenge: Think of a practical way that you can be an encouragement to your local church staff and share it in the comment section below. 

October is Clergy Appreciation month. This month I'll be featuring a series of articles relating to life in a minister's family. 

*If you're a minister (or a minister's spouse), I HIGHLY recommend checking out a ministry called Sonscape. Their whole mission is to minister to minsters. My husband and I went on one of their retreats when we were first starting out, and the lessons we've learned there have been a tremendous help. If you're struggling, they are there to help. If you're not struggling yet, you can learn helpful tools to maintain balance and boundaries in ministry. 

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