After 17 years of marriage, three children, and five churches, I still love being a pastor’s wife to my amazing husband Tim. In Heaven people will worship and serve Jesus eternally, so it stands to reason that full-time ministry can and should be the closest thing to Heaven we can know on Earth.
But then the church splits. Or a pastor’s family discovers that the church is not what the search committee said it was. Or a pastor is on the opposite side of an issue from important members of his congregation. Or an individual is intent on “running-off” the pastor. Or a pastor is in a church that simply doesn’t want him and his family anymore.
As hard as it is for a pastor’s wife to endure ministerial trials, it is even harder for her to watch her child suffer. So what can she do to help her children through the tough times in ministry?
1. Pray for and with your child.
Bathing your situation in prayer will call on the God of the universe to help your child through the problem, while also teaching her how to handle every problem she will ever face. As much as you love your children…Jesus loves them more. To successfully navigate our kids through ministerial trials, we must place our children in the hands of the One who holds the map and knows the way out.
2. Study examples in Scripture of godly people who came through hard times.
Matthew 5:11-12 HCSB tells us, “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Remembering that we are in an historic “club” of God’s people who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake will not only make our trials tolerable, but actually noble. Enlighten your child that she is now in the same league as Paul, Daniel, John the Baptist, Isaiah, and of course Jesus Himself. And remind her that just like great heroes of the faith, your family will be rewarded for persevering through the tough stuff.
3. Be honest with your child.
Preachers’ kids aren’t blind, deaf, or stupid. They see the angry glares, hear the unkind words, and yes…they know you cry. A woman once came up to me at the end of service on a Mother’s Day and chewed me out in the front of the sanctuary about an issue over which I had no control. I came home hurt and humiliated, canceled our family’s Mother’s Day plans, and locked myself in my bedroom for a good cry. Although I tried to be quiet, my oldest son – who was nine at the time – heard me weeping and asked, “Dad, why is Mom crying?” Instead of lying (“Nothing is wrong…Mom’s just fine”) or sugar-coating the situation (“Mom just doesn’t feel well right now”), my husband Tim was honest with our son. Tim said, “This morning after church, someone raised her voice and said mean things that made Mom sad. Mom is going to be ok, but we could pray for her.” And so they did.
My husband’s honesty that day did not scar our son. It taught him how to minister to someone in need. And guess what? Their prayers worked! By that night I felt better enough to go out for a late Mother’s Day dinner.
Granted, it would be unwise for a pastor and wife to expose their child to every church problem. Children and teens are less capable of digesting TOO much dissention. But while we can and should shelter our child from people’s sinful behavior, the older a child gets the more we as parents can share with her. If we practice honesty during tough times in ministry, our child can learn how to deal with bad situations in a Godly way.
4. Love their dad.
I believe that the greatest Earthly gift I can give my children is a loving, Biblical, passionate marriage to their father. But in times of ministerial challenge, I must be on-guard that the Enemy is hovering over my marriage. My inability to take-out my anger on the person at church who is hurting my child, self, or husband often tempts me to take my anger out on…my husband. Ironic, isn’t it? When difficult people start causing my family trouble, I must cling to my husband and reinforce to my kids that even though a storm rages outside the walls of our home, everything is safe and joyful inside those walls.
5. Create fun times together as a family.
I was going through some pictures and realized that during a rough ordeal in ministry, my family made some incredible memories together! In those pictures we are smiling at the beach, playing board games on Friday nights, cuddled-up on the couch watching movies, eating yummy food together, and taking long walks through the woods. Creating joy is imperative to helping my child survive turbulent times. Which takes me to my next point…
6. Get out of Dodge.
Take your daughter shopping at the mall in another city. Take your son to dinner and a movie an hour away. When you’re in the midst of church problems, relaxing with your kids in an environment where there is little chance of running into difficult folks from your congregation will do your child (and you) a world of good. In fact, even when church is going well, taking a day trip is truly refreshing to a pastor’s family’s soul. Sometimes it just feels nice to jump out of the fishbowl for a day!
7. Remind your child about the good stuff in your church.
That sweet lady who crocheted your daughter a blanket. That talented youth pastor who has taught your son so much. Too often in the midst of ministerial stress, we become focused on the bad and lose sight of the good. Fix your eyes – and the eyes of your child – on the pleasant people and happy things at church.
8. Don’t forget to parent.
I once found myself repenting to the Lord for spoiling my children during an especially tough time in ministry. My empathy for my children’s plight during that difficult time had prompted me to stop disciplining them, begin indulging them monetarily, and allow them to be lethargic about doing chores and following instructions. Wouldn’t it be tragic if Satan used our situation to ruin our children’s obedience, material contentment, and work ethic? I must remember that I discipline my children because I love them and because discipline is good for them.
9. If things get bad enough, redefine what “faithfulness to church” means for your kids.
Occasionally, a pastor’s wife finds her family in a situation so extreme that it can be damaging to her children. In that instance, she and her husband must prayerfully determine what “church” will look like for their kids until the situation improves, or until he finds another church.
The darkest days my husband and I ever experienced in ministry entailed our then-six-year-old daughter being mistreated by a woman at our last church who did not like us. This woman (whom I will call “Sally”) constantly worked in children’s ministry, and we learned that over an extensive period of time Sally had been intentionally and extensively yelling at, ridiculing, and emotionally wounding our daughter.
No one at the church questioned that the mistreatment of our daughter had occurred. But the church lay leadership had no interest in helping us because Sally’s family was so well-established in the congregation and community. Sally’s refusal to meet with us or the deacons to resolve the situation – coupled with her disinterest in stepping down from children’s ministry – forced my husband and me to take extraordinary measures to keep our daughter out of harm’s way:
–We removed our daughter from all classes/activities where she would be under Sally’s care…which unfortunately equated to all children’s ministry. Our daughter stayed in services/classes with me.
–To compensate for our daughter no longer having children’s ministry at church, we bought our own curriculum and taught her at home.
–Because Sally also had a history of being unkind to our children outside class time, my husband and I kept our daughter within our sight at all times for our remaining time at that church.
I wish I could post a “Use Only In Case of Emergency” sign on this point. Before removing your child from services or activities at your church, you must ask yourself, “Am I willing to endanger teaching my child to drop church when things get bad?” You will hopefully never experience an ordeal so severe. Occasionally, however, extreme action must be taken to protect a preacher’s kid when she is in physical or emotional danger at church.
10. Fear not.
I understand how a pastor’s wife fears that turmoil will sour her children on Jesus and church. But the most-often repeated command in Scripture is “Fear not.” A pastor’s wife must recognize that nothing happens to our child without first going through the loving hands of God. That painful circumstance is happening to our child because God is allowing it. NOT because He wants it to happen, but because He has a purpose for it. My family once profited from making the story of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-47) a focal point of study. Recognizing that the Lord has a plan for my children’s suffering – just as He did Joseph’s – gives me peace when they hurt.
In the last few years my family has been through some tough times in ministry, but we are alive and well and more excited than ever to serve Jesus! We have forgiven those – including Sally – who have sinned against us. We have a wonderful new congregation who is sweet, care about our family, and ministry here is productive. By the grace of God our daughter has bounced-back from the mistreatment she suffered at our last church, and our new congregation “loves-on” her continuously.
So let me encourage you, Sister. Although it might feel otherwise, the tough times in ministry you and your kids are undergoing WILL end. And I must truthfully admit that the ministerial trials the Lord has allowed into my family’s life have made us better. Stronger. Kinder. And more patient. I can attest that once God moves you and your children into your Promised Land, the milk and honey will taste sweeter because you’ve been wandering in the desert a while.
Hang in there.