During May and June, my Facebook timeline fills up with anniversaries and wedding announcements. I find myself writing, “Happy anniversary!” to someone nearly every day for weeks. This is the time of year a lot of us decided to marry and begin life together. For those of us in the pastorate, it was also a time when we began preparing to be a pastor’s family.
While every marriage always brings with it its own set of blessing and challenges, entering ministry together adds more layers of complication. Not only will you begin your new, biological and extended family, you will begin a new spiritual family. And so often, if we are not careful, the families of pastors carry an unseen and often heavy burden.
I grew up in a pastor’s home. All my life, my parents pastored. My dad pastored at a sizeable church, and my mom led worship and the choir. As most pastor’s kids can attest, that meant I spent at least half my life at church. I knew every nook and cranny of the building, and a lot of congregants knew me, maybe too well.
Now I find myself as a lead pastor who has held pastoral positions for thirty years. My wife and I have been married for 28 years and were engaged in ministry together before we were married. This is a long time to be involved in church life, and it is a lot of time for either bitterness or grace to grow.
Preparing for ministry as a family and looking ahead to the possibility of decades in ministry means we need to lay a good foundation and be ready to build the right walls and doors. Pastoring is not easy, and it is not getting easier. But, be of good cheer, our Savior has overcome the world, and he gives us his grace and peace.
Pray and Trust
Even before we were married, Heather and I would pray that God would use our hands to further his kingdom. Over time, we return to that prayer often when we were either blessed by circumstances or confused by them. Building a foundation of prayer together becomes a touchstone through the years, and it takes on new meaning the more of your ministry is in the rear-view mirror.
Learning to trust each other includes trusting each other as committed marriage partners, but it also means learning to trust each other with decision making and discernment. Difficult and unclear moments of decision are inevitable. They are made harder when husband and wife are unable to communicate, listen and then trust each other when decisions are made.
More pastorates are cut short for lack of character and integrity than we might think. The longer I pastor, the more I value a reliable character in another minister. Being trustworthy over time is not easy, but it sets ministers of the gospel apart from the kinds of games we expect to be played in the corporate world.
Spouses can keep each other honest in the safety of their home and family. A foundation of integrity and trust between spouses acts like a catalyst for trustworthiness with a church.
Build and Maintain Friendships
Common advice given to young pastors is that they need to be careful building close relationships with people in the church. While that is often true, we need to be ready to open the door of friendship with the right people.
Many congregants may not be able to bear the burden that comes with befriending a pastor. There are stresses and expectations they may not understand, and when we reveal too much, their reaction may be a combination of anxiety and confusion. Even if that is the case, pastors and their spouses need good friends.
Who has God put in your life who has the maturity and grace to love you as friends before they need you as pastors? While those may come from a church you serve, they may also come from outside the circle of people you minister to. My parents have been graced with lifelong friends who pastored alongside them for several years. My wife and I have been blessed with friends inside and outside our congregation, many of whom we have known for decades.
However they come to you, God-given friendships can save your sanity over and over. They may even save your ministry. The door for friendship needs to be open in your hearts.
Prioritize Family Health
Know that the pastorate will create stress and difficult seasons. God calls us to shepherd sheep, not robots programed for spiritual perfection. These times of stress, however, can become a way your marriage and family grow closer to each other and to the Lord.
But there are times when church work lays too much of a burden on our family, and it cannot be fixed with a few meetings or a vacation. In cases like that, prioritizing your family over your paycheck is the right thing to do.
We hope your wedding anniversary marks a blessed time in your lives together and that it represents the years in which you have shown God faithful by putting your trust in him over and over. People and churches will fail us, but God never will.