I’m thankful for the ministry of Kathy Litton. Kathy lives in Mobile, Alabama with her husband Dr. Ed Litton who is pastor of Redemption Church. She leads a national ministry for pastors and planters wives at the North American Mission Board an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. She developed and manages a website for pastor’s wives called Flourish at flourish.me.
I asked Kathy to address how transitions in ministry affects a pastor’s wife. Her counsel applies both to transitioning between ministry settings in different churches and transitioning ministry styles within the same church.
From transitioning ministry opportunities, to transitioning ministry styles, to church revitalization, the pastor’s wife often feels like the driftwood caught in a roiling tide. While her pastor husband may discuss things with her, any changes of ministry direction are usually beyond her control. The results, however, may directly affect her in negative ways.
I encourage any pastor who God is leading to lead in a transitional situation to consider these ways in which your wife may be affected.
What are her gains and losses?
Clearly you have sought your calling to transition and believe it is from the perspective of God’s call and His will for you and your family. You haven’t made this decision simply from a list of pros and cons, yet in any move we will naturally recognize the gains and losses for our families. I encourage you to focus in on HER gains and losses as well as your own. Is she leaving a job she loves? Or is she moving to a location where a high cost of living requires her to work? Is she moving closer to family or further away? Is she leaving children or grandchildren behind?
Consider the answers to these questions:
- What price does she pay for this move?
- What are the positives for her in this move?
Your awareness of her concerns can help you lean in compassionately with her losses and celebrate her gains.
Is she leaving wounded or limping?
Perhaps you are leaving a major church conflict or a termination. If so she may have gaping emotional or spiritual wounds. Leaving conflict behind can deeply affect her as she begins in a new ministry. She may be at a new address with new people and new opportunities but wounds may be affecting every moment of her day. Don’t try to cover these with Band-Aids and keep on moving. Take time to talk through and pray, and then do it again. If she needs counseling please seek it on her behalf. It isn’t a matter of making your ministry better or easier; it’s about ministering to her first and foremost.
What emotional work does this move require of her?
Moving is not only demanding physically, it is emotionally demanding. Finding housing, packing and moving, working to understand a new context can be all-consuming. It is natural to miss the emotional boxes that must be unpacked and transitioned. In most cases your wife may be doing the heavy emotional lifting for your family. She longs for this move to be a positive one for you, your children (if you have any), and for her.
These are your wife’s heart concerns:
- How will my children handle this move?
- Will my children find healthy friends?
- What are our educational options? (School choices are becoming very challenging, creating lots of angst for families.)
- Will our neighborhood be a safe, welcoming place? If not how will we navigate that? (We all don’t get to live in safe places.)
- Will this church love my husband?
- Will I be accepted in this new church or the new job I have in this new place? Weill people in the church expect me to be something I’m not? Will they forever compare me to previous pastors wives?
Don’t leave her alone to negotiate emotional transitions just because of all the demands on you. Be a team in shepherding the emotional health of your family.
What are her fears?
Assumptions can be very dangerous. You may think you know her fears but I urge you to ask her. And then listen—in a very proactive way. Invite her to write down her fears. Then create time and space to listen to her list. Honor these fears and graciously work to find resolutions or strategies to combat them.
How can you help her assimilate?
This is unavoidable reality but one you should be aware of. You will most likely make a swifter transition because your job will bring immediate immersion in the new context. Daily you will be meeting new people and learning new church culture. She may lag behind because she either is employed elsewhere or is at home. This may make her feel further isolated. Do all you can to get her exposed to new places and new people. Find ways for her to connect and help her get traction in relationships.