When the new LifeWay Research study on pastor’s spouses came out last fall, I asked my wife Janet for feedback the results since she has been a pastor’s wife for 30 years, and a pastor’s daughter her whole life. Janet also speaks to approximately 1,500 pastor’s wives each year in conferences, retreats, and Pastor Date Nights across North America. This representative study of 720 spouses revealed that their lives and ministries were a mixture of challenges and blessings.
In the last 7 days, 52% have had personal time with the Lord involving Bible study and prayer five or more times.
Mark: You seem to have some concerns about this survey response on a spouse’s personal time with God.
Janet: Yes. I know for me there is an obvious direct correlation between my outlook on life and my personal time with God. I am left wondering if some of the other survey results like, “26% could not say they have a clear sense of purpose in ministry” came from those who indicated the least amount of personal time with God?
Mark: What would you say to these women?
Janet: Years ago I felt trapped and guilty in the legalistic idea that if I were truly spiritual I would spend an hour every day in prayer and Bible study. I am proud to announce that since now I have an empty nest and am unemployed, I am finally spiritual! I joke, but in all seriousness, an hour every day has not always been a reality for me. One year I was working 40 hours a week, working on my master’s degree, with a husband, two kids, and a ministry. Beth Moore was going to have to wait! It was in that year that I spent short, but highly focused time with God. Like the poor man’s offering, I gave sacrificially of my time and God was faithful to meet me there. Andrea Lennon of True Vine Ministry says, “As busy women, we need to practice the presence of God throughout the day. Start in His Word, whether 10 minutes or an hour, and use it as a starting point to cultivate a relationship with Him. Find creative ways to stay engaged with Him and our faith will be spurred on through the busyness of life’s activity.”
When I had preschoolers and mornings were chaos, I looked forward to my 2:00 p.m. date with God during their naptime. I have always lived by the principle that if I am too busy for my personal time with God, then I am too busy. Not only do I need it, but also it is why I was created. According to Jesus, everything and everyone else needs to fall in line behind Him. The fact still remains that my quiet time has not always looked the same. I have worshiped while exercising, listened to sermons while cleaning house, memorized scripture while doing my hair, and one year I did a read through the Bible plan—all in audio.
Obviously, more time in His Word and concentrated prayer is best, but Christianity is not a rigid formula, it is a relationship with a loving God of grace who eagerly awaits us. Determination is key.
56% agree they have too few relationships that make them feel emotionally connected with others.
7 out of 10 agree they have very few people to confide in about important matters in life.
Mark: More than half of pastors’ spouses have few friends or people in which they can confide. Why do you think that is?
Janet: I understand what these spouses are saying. Friendships take time and energy. We are busy and other priorities often take precedence over friendships. Add to that the layer of ministry and questions like, “Who can I trust?” and “Who will see me for just me and not my role as a ministry spouse?” These questions make friendships more challenging. I knew that God could move us at any time, which made me cautious in the past.
Mark: Do you have any advice for these spouses?
Janet: I’ve been lonely in ministry, and made myself a promise to do all I could to avoid it again. Each time we have moved to a new ministry location I prayed for a good friend who could be a safe place for me. God has always provided. One friend told me years later that as the church prayed while searching for their new pastor, she felt God call her to be the new pastor’s wife’s best friend. She was a true friend.
1 out of 10 say they can “count on” friends in their church a great deal when they feel under stress.
Half agree that they are not willing to confide in others at church because their confidence has been betrayed too many times.
Friendships in the church are risky, but I believe it is well worth the risk. Because we are busy, church is one of the places we can develop deeper relationships more naturally. What better way to develop bonds than doing ministry together?
Mark: Some spouses expressed that they feel like there are not enough people they can “be themselves” around. What are your thoughts on that?
55% agree there are not enough relationships where they can be themselves.
Janet: Again, I get it. It’s hard to give up that pedestal, even when we resent it. I have always tried to be myself (not always succeeding). In a new ministry in my 30’s, I found myself keeping my distance from people. I was afraid they might find out I don’t have the Bible memorized or that my kids were not really perfect. While reading the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, God spoke loud and clear to me. Warren says, “At some point in your life you must decide whether you want to impress people or influence people. You can impress people from a distance but you must get close to influence them and when you do that, they will be able to see your flaws.“
I’m in ministry! Yes, I want to influence people!
I wonder how many of our people believe that we belong on that pedestal because we have not shown them otherwise. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of God.” In other words, when we live under the burden of perfectionism, we are slaves to the people we are trying to please. I believe that the way to really influence people for God is to be real with them, walking alongside them, and navigating the Christian life together. My ministry became much more effective when I became authentic and real.