4 Challenges in a Pastoral Marriage and Tips from the Women Who’ve Faced Them

I know I’m not alone in my journey as a ministry wife, but it sure feels like it sometimes. To combat this feeling of isolation, I invited several ministry wives from small churches across North America to speak about pastoral marriage and what they have learned on their journey. As a result, I feel a little less lonely. We bonded over several “me too” moments that indicate although we might feel isolated in pastoral marriage challenges, we don’t need to be alone. We can and should learn from and encourage one another. If you’ve been longing for that motherly advice from someone who’s been there, read on. 

Set Healthy Boundaries

If you set reasonable boundaries and hold the boundary, people will respect it.

We’ve all heard this one. In theory, it is simple. Put a fence around the things that matter. But to do that, you have to identify who your fence is meant to protect. Decide before the crisis hits where those fences belong. Guard your family time. It’s limited. One pastor frequently reminds his church family he will not answer calls or text messages on his day off outside of a dire emergency. “If you’re available 24/7,” his wife says, “people will take advantage of that. If you set reasonable boundaries and hold the boundary, people will respect it.”

Tame the Tongue

James writes extensively about the tiny yet powerful tongue. Several wives shared their struggle to learn when opinions are helpful and when to remain quiet. The suggestion to pray first, speak second, and table the ministry talk was frequently repeated. I’ve learned this one the hard way. Nine times out of ten, when I pause to seek the Lord before injecting a personal opinion in a conversation or conflict, the Spirit impresses upon me to refrain. Our opinions are needed far less than we think, yet, there are times we must speak up. So, pray first. Speak second. If your husband has asked for prayer, pray. If he shares a struggle, pray. Pray specifically for encouragement, for his walk with the Lord, your marriage, your kids, and your church community. Never forget the greatest battle you fight is the one fought in prayer. Then, make a significant effort to talk about ministry less. One wife says, “When we are not careful, all our conversations turn to ministry discussions: how opportunities are going, strategic planning, etc.” When you recognize this pattern forming, she recommends that you “embrace the awkward, call it out, and change the subject.”

First Things First

Heed the words of an older pastor who counseled a young couple, “You’re in a season of life where you are needed at home to study and raise a family for God.

We can’t do everything. We know that, we say that, and yet, we often try to do exactly that at the expense of what truly matters. Different stretches of life require different priorities. It’s important that you know your priorities and are patient with one another. And spoiler: your marriage is a priority! Once ministry wife offers this warning, “If you don’t invest in your marriage, your ministry is done.” Squeeze in time together at lunch. Schedule dates. Say no to some church events to say yes to each other. Ministry is a marathon. Heed the words of an older pastor who counseled a young couple, “You’re in a season of life where you are needed at home to study and raise a family for God. Soon enough, the kids will be grown, and you can do all the extra ministry things that you cannot do right now.” Keep the first things first.

Stay on the Same Track 

The same track is not synonymous with a parallel track. The word choice is intentional. It is far too easy to chug along on “parallel” tracks, moving in the same direction but not crossing paths. Be aware of your trajectory lest the parallel tracks begin to veer further apart in the distance. That requires a check-in with your spouse. This tidbit of advice landed in front of me at just the right time. I hadn’t checked in with my husband for a while. So, I stopped working on this article and asked him how we were doing. Are we spending enough time together? Does he feel supported and encouraged by me? He, in turn, volleyed the questions back, and we were able to have a positive and necessary discussion. So, how’s your marriage? This is me, leaning in real close and making eye contact. Like a caring older woman, I’m placing my hand on yours and asking awkward questions because I care about your marriage. When was the last time you and your spouse checked your boundaries, tongue, priorities, and trajectory? When was the last time you chatted openly with another couple who understands how hard it is to build that fence in the right place? When was the last time you and your spouse had a date? Laughed? Had fun? Talked about something other than ministry? Don’t let this opportunity slide by. Yes, pastoral marriages have unique challenges, but they also hold incredible blessings as we steward the gifts of marriage and ministry. featured image credit

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