I have written three blog articles about avoiding burnout in ministry (post 1, post 2, post 3) that were mainly focused on the pastors (For the purpose of this article I am assuming these pastors are men. Women pastors have a whole different set of issues to deal with. Hopefully I can address some of those in the future.). But what about their wives? Do pastors’ wives ever experience burnout? How do they deal with it? Is it even an issue in the church?
Yesterday I spent an hour and a half on the phone listening to a woman unload some of her burdens. She wasn’t unloading on me, I was a willing listening ear. She just needed a safe place to vent and talk without any interruptions. She needed to know that someone, anyone, was listening to her and not judging her.
A few days ago my husband got a follow up email from a pastor whose wife decided she needed a break from the church and wanted to take a sabbatical. Initially the pastor wasn’t sure if that was the correct thing to do, so he called my husband and me for advice. His concerns were for his wife, of course, but he was also concerned about any possible fallout from the congregation. He wanted to protect his wife, but he also didn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest. People talk, you know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. Presently, my husband isn’t actively serving full time as a pastor on staff at a church, although he is a pastor to the marrow of his bones. While he doesn’t receive a paycheck from a church, he is still pastoring! I know a thing or two about being a pastor’s wife. That was part of my identity for 33 years!
Let me say first that I have loved being a pastor’s wife. The good parts far, far outweigh the bad parts, even though I will be talking about some of the bad parts today. There are some incredibly precious saints in the Body of Christ that are a pleasure to serve, and to serve with. I have been the recipient of amazing love and generosity, so much so that I was brought to tears of gratitude and humility. Those are the pictures I keep close to my heart at all times. Yet, now and then a few of the difficult pictures come to mind.
I know very intimately what it is like to be liked or disliked, depending on someone’s whim. I know what it is like to be judged by what I say, or don’t say. How I dress. What vehicle I drive. Whether I go to the movies and what I watch while at the movies. Who I sit next to at church, or even whether I get to sit in church or spend my time behind the scenes with the children. I’ve heard the judgments on my children and on my husband, firsthand and through rumors.
It hurts. It is true that the people who you love the most have the power to hurt you the most. Ask any mother or father. Ask any pastor or pastor’s wife. We are all flawed people and sometimes we hurt each other. Purposefully at times. Unintentionally quite often.
In my desire to find out what has been written, if anything, for pastor’s wives facing burnout I did a Google search. Pastor’s wives + sabbatical.
One of the first articles was from a man with very negative opinions on the “healthiness” of a pastor taking a sabbatical. Since the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the idea of a sabbatical for pastors, then it must not be God’s intention for pastors, as it would be “unhealthy” for them and their congregation.
Seriously, dude? Whatever. Close that window. Pull up another one.
Then followed a series of blogs, articles, and comments debating whether or not a pastor “deserved” a sabbatical. Yes. No. Time spent alone with God. Selfish use of congregation’s money. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Only one or two even mentioned the pastor’s wife. One, however, did specifically recommend the healing and refreshment that a sabbatical would provide for ministry wives. Finally I was getting somewhere.
So, here are my two cents. Agree or disagree. That’s your choice. I just feel like it needs to be addressed from the point of view of a pastor’s wife!
Is it a sound, Biblically-based, healthy option for a pastor’s wife to take a break from her church for a short season? Yes and Amen!
When facing imminent burnout, the wisest choice is to remove ourselves from the daily activities that are causing stress and mental and physical fatigue in order to get refreshed, regain perspective, and renew our spirits so that we may step back into the fray and continue to fight the good fight. Because that is what we are doing. Every. Single. Day. We fight the forces of Satan in real time, much like Jack Bauer on 24! That clock keeps ticking off 24 hours each day and our enemy is devising plans to steal, kill, and destroy – us, our families, and our congregations. I thank God that He never sleeps or slumbers!
We’ve all heard the saying, “A happy wife makes a happy life.” Well, how about this one for our pastors’ wives – “A healthy pastor’s wife makes a healthy church life.” I can’t stress enough the importance of caring for our pastors’ wives’ mental health! If given a chance to step back, take a deep breath, relax (for perhaps the first time in years), rest for a short season from the myriad “church balls” she is juggling at any given time, and given the opportunity to reconnect with the lover of her soul and rediscover that passion that directed her into a life of serving the church body in the first place, then your pastor’s wife will come back to church with a renewed spirit and heart to serve God’s people. Whew! How’s that for a run on sentence! But it is true!!
So how about it church? Many of our pastors’ wives are in dire need of a break, yet they fear retribution if they even mention stepping away for a short period. Please, offer grace and mercy to these amazing women that do so much behind the scenes, yet don’t expect, and rarely get, any of the credit. Allow them time, even encourage them to take the time, to fall in love with Jesus and his people all over again.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Any pastor’s wives out there that agree or disagree?
It is a blessing to serve,