A brand-new LifeWay Research study came out last week about the lives of Protestant pastors’ spouses. The representative study of 720 spouses revealed that their lives and ministries were a mixture of challenges and blessings.
I asked my wife Janet to comment on some of the results, since she has been a pastor’s spouse 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.
Mark: More than half of pastors’ spouses have few friends or people in which they can confide. Why do you think that is?
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.
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 I 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.
Considering the importance of this groundbreaking research project, we will return to it again next Wednesday.