It comes in a text message or a phone call.
It comes in the middle of the day or it can awaken you in the middle of sleep.
It comes loud like a loud and jarring freight train but it can also come as the most deafening silence.
“It” is that all-too-familiar feeling of discouragement, exhaustion, and depression that can cast a shadow over our lives. As a pastor’s wife, I know well the unique challenges that come with being married to a leader in ministry. We witness their dedication, passion, and the immense weight they carry to shepherd their congregation with love and wisdom.
According to a recent Barna study, there has been a concerning rise in the number of pastors reporting emotional and mental exhaustion, increasing from 22% in 2015 to 31% in 2022. Additionally, the feeling of being supported by close ones has significantly decreased, going from 68% to 49%. These figures highlight the alarming isolation and discouragement prevalent among leaders today, but what remains unexplored is the impact on those married to these leaders.
As a pastor’s wife, I’ve personally experienced moments of searching the internet desperately for answers or seeking solace through tearful messages of a trusted few. If you too are married to a pastor and find yourself wrestling with discouragement, you are not alone.
Here are four essential tools that have helped me navigate discouragement as a pastor’s wife:
Tether Yourself to Wisdom
As a pastor’s wife, you hold a unique role as one of the few safe places for your husband, being his only spouse. As he pours out his shortcomings and frustrations, the temptation for us is to step into “fix it” or “mama bear” mode. As a pastor’s wife I continually find myself in the tension of when do I speak up and when do I stay silent? When do I share the problem and when do I keep it to myself? These questions don’t have one-size-fits-all answers; they vary based on the circumstances and the day. But the way we respond is crucial and depends on the position from which we answer. Reacting from pride, self-preservation, or a fight for justice, without the tenderness of the Spirit, can lead us down a path of fleshly responses instead of wise ones. It is essential to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, listen with empathy, and approach each situation with love, humility, and discernment.
Put it into practice: Read James 3:13-18 and list your questions and fears to God.
Pray Heaven Down
We cannot be the saviors to our husband’s pain. While God may use us as agents of love, grace, and support, the deepest wounds, longings, and questions in our husbands’ hearts can only find true healing through God’s work in their lives. Hardships and struggles often lead us to rely on God more than ever before. Therefore, in times of his discouragement, let us earnestly pray that God becomes his ultimate place of retreat, strength, and renewal.
Personally, I’ve struggled with this at times, as I tended to treat prayer as a last resort or a secondary option compared to trying to work through solutions myself. This realization exposes my own lack of faith and a desire to maintain control. However, I’ve come to understand that there is nothing more powerful that I can do than to wholeheartedly ask God to work and move in ways that only He can. It requires letting go of my own agenda and trusting in His divine wisdom.
As a pastor’s wife, I can offer my husband love, support, and encouragement, but I must recognize that the deepest aspects of his life are in God’s hands. By surrendering control to Him and consistently lifting my husband up in prayer, I acknowledge that God’s plans and actions are far greater than anything I can accomplish on my own. This humble reliance on God’s guidance allows me to be a true source of strength and support to my husband, as I trust in God’s perfect timing and His ability to bring healing and renewal in his life.
Put it into practice: Pray Colossians 1:11-14 each morning over your marriage, family, and church family.
Remember God’s Faithfulness
Leadership demands perseverance, and through this perseverance, we develop the ability to focus and realign our hearts with God’s work in the past, present, and future. In our journey as a couple in ministry, my husband and I often find ourselves reflecting on moments of conflict or hurt when it seemed impossible to make it to the other side. Yet, in those moments, we remind each other of how God faithfully sustained, grew, and carried us through.
With over two decades of experience in ministry, we no longer question whether God will come through, as we did in the past. Instead, we firmly hold onto the truth that we can trust Him, and we continually seek Him to strengthen our faith. These experiences have taught us the value of relying on God’s faithfulness, leading us to cling tightly to His promises and the assurance that He will always guide us through any challenges we encounter. As we persevere in leadership, we draw confidence from God’s past faithfulness, find purpose in His current work, and anticipate with hope His future plans for us and those we serve.
Put it into practice: Spend time together listing how God has been faithful in big and small things in the past.
Don’t Fight Alone
Over the weekend, Josh and I spent a few hours with another pastor and his wife. It was a simple gathering. No fancy arrangements. Just genuine connection. We shared the unique privilege and burden of ministry, feeling seen and understood. It’s essential to find people who can share the load, celebrate wins, and pray through tough times. Consider communities like Church Answers Central and Church Answers Women, or local associations, online groups, and reaching out to fellow pastor’s wives. Building this support network makes a significant difference in our ministry journey, providing encouragement and strength along the way.
Having this network of understanding and compassionate individuals can make a significant difference in navigating the highs and lows of ministry life. It allows us to share our hearts openly, find strength in one another, and be reminded that we are not alone in this rewarding yet challenging calling of serving as pastor and pastor’s wife. Together, we can encourage, uplift, and inspire each other to continue serving with love and dedication.
Put it into practice: Text or call one other woman in leadership and let her know how to pray for you this week.
One final, tender thought to leave with you. As you read through these tools, there is a temptation to read them as a checklist. Approach them with empathy, not just as a checklist. I understand the real wounds and hurt you may be facing, especially from second-hand criticism, gossip, or betrayal in ministry. Your feelings are valid and deserve acknowledgment. In your discouragement, know that I’m praying for and cheering you on as you lead, love, and support your spouse and faith families. Healing takes time; be gentle with yourself. You’re not alone, and together, we’ll find strength in our shared experiences.
Jacki C. King is a respected and popular Bible teacher, conference speaker, and ministry leader. She has a passion for seeing women fall in love with Jesus and His Word while challenging them to be on mission in their homes, workplaces, and communities. This article was originally published at churchanswers.com on August 4. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer