I blinked back shock as I listened to an elder-candidate’s wife complain about the “sudden” absence of her husband from their home Sunday mornings. She had no idea he had to be to church earlier and leave later to attend to his new responsibilities. Unfortunately, misunderstandings about the time commitment of an elder to the church is not uncommon. Whether a lay elder, staff elder, or lead pastor, the expectations by the church and other commitments push and pull not only the elder, but their family as well. Often right out of ministry.
As a lead pastor’s wife, I know first-hand how the routine and sometimes not-so-routine absence of my husband for ministry affects our family. It isn’t just when he is at work, but also when he is home. Like any person with a demanding job, sometimes that job occupies your thought-life even when you aren’t there.
My hope is to highlight ways elders and their wives can help each other navigate some of the time challenges of ministry life — especially when it creeps into “family time”.
Let’s Talk About It
Like anything, communication is key. I’m not shocking anyone by saying a husband and wife should talk to one another, but a surprising few do. Both, firm in their belief their spouse can read a situation, go on with their day without talking about what is and isn’t working. Meanwhile, they get frustrated when nothing changes. First, kudos to you for thinking so highly of your significant other, but you really do need to talk. As intelligent as your spouse may be, if you have a change in circumstance or expectation, you must tell them. I don’t know anyone who, after a challenging day, has the bandwidth to perfectly read what other people may need or want (unless you have a toddler; they’re clear on what they want).
Sometimes ministry interferes with family plans. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, your family traditions move to another day or don’t happen at all. It can be frustrating, disappointing, and sad. But really, in the large scheme of God’s Kingdom, does it matter? Traditions or not, we’re ultimately here to point one another and those around us to Jesus. If one year, grandma’s special Christmas morning breakfast must move to Christmas Eve, or your family just can’t go, will God’s witness suffer?
Like the elder-candidate’s wife who just wanted her Sunday mornings to stay the same, we must recognize when we might have to let something go or create a new tradition to help maintain family balance while serving God’s people.
What many people, including elders and their wives, don’t understand is that an elder’s wife’s first ministry is her family, not something in the church. To do that well means you take what is important to your family and work it around the ministry calendar so you can still enjoy it while giving your husband the freedom to do his job without the added strain of thinking he’s letting you down. Like a police officer, doctor, nurse, or other high-demand worker who is on-call for their job, sometimes dinner is interrupted, plans change, or a celebration is enjoyed without them for the sake of their work responsibilities.
It’s Okay to Draw a Line
To be clear, boundaries do need to be established and sometimes a “no” to members of the church needs to be uttered. Sit down as a couple and talk about what is and isn’t okay to get interrupted. What time needs to be set aside for family and treated as an appointment on the calendar? What is immovable for the sake of your family’s health and flourishing in Christ?
Our second child had somehow channeled hell’s fury from birth until four months old and by five pm, I was at my limit. I asked my husband if he could come home before dinner to be present with the kids so I could take a few minutes to myself and finish making dinner in peace. He agreed and made changes in his day so he could be home most nights. It was important for my husband to be able to draw a line and treat our dinnertime as sacred. That didn’t mean he was done with work for the day or that he might miss dinner some nights, but it took a remarkable something to disrupt that time rather than something that could be scheduled in the work-day.
It’s All for God’s Kingdom
Ministry life is a series of ups and downs while God’s people are shepherded where they need to go. Having a ground-level view of Holy Spirit’s work in people’s lives is a great privilege. Sometimes it is easy to take that for granted and get caught up in the personal cost of ministry. That’s when the principles outlined here become even more important. If you and your husband can practice clear communication, manage expectations, and remember to hold it all with an open hand because your day-to-day existence is as much God’s as major successes and catastrophes, your family time and ministry won’t have to suffer for the other.