Isolation: an Enemy of Ministry

I never wanted to be a Pastor’s wife. I didn’t. I intentionally didn’t date the ministry students at Samford University when I was a nursing student there. And I held out, too, right up to my last semester.

So I married a minister. How bad could it be?

I can remember my mom saying once that the hardest people to be married to were doctors and pastors. I’m not sure how she knew this, seeing as my dad was a businessman, but that’s what she said. Imagine her joy when I told her I was going to marry a pastor.

I’d like to say that her worries over me were unfounded, and to some degree they were. There have been hard times, for sure, really hard times, but I love my life.

So when my husband left the role of pastor behind, I was very sad. Partially because I thought he was a fantastic speaker and teacher, and partly because I didn’t know where that left me. And everyone knows it’s really about me. I suffered a huge identity crisis back then, but God had called Matthew to do something different and fabulous in ministry, so we did. And it has been. Different and fabulous, I mean.

I’ve never been a particularly “normal” ministry wife. I was intentional about that. I loved serving God, and His people, but I refused to be forced into any kind of stereotypical role. My greatest calling as a ministry wife was to support and love my husband. What most people failed to see was that while other people could rock babies in the nursery, or serve food to the needy, no one else could love their pastor in the way that I could.

No one else could, or at least they better not, lay awake with him into the wee hours of the night searching for answers and direction for the church he was called to lead. There are no holidays or vacations from being the pastor’s wife. They don’t serve just on Sundays, the Pastor, yes, but his wife- no. (That’s a little joke.)

When it seemed like the whole church, and maybe the whole world, was against him, I was the one to pick up the pompoms and cheer him on. I continued to believe in him when everyone else had their doubts. I made room for his failures while others expected perfection. That was my job, and I was good at it.

But now what he does these days is less about us serving together and more about him doing his thing, and me doing mine. We are blessed to serve in a life giving church that makes room for ministers to be, well, people. Yet sometimes I see ministry families in other places and I remember the days of isolation and loneliness.

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I remember having to put on a smile when it felt like your world was falling apart. I remember trying to live on a salary that the church had decided was enough, but in reality, was not.

I remember the criticisms that came of the person you loved so much, and having to squelch the impulse to run those mudslinging naysayers over in the church parking lot. The struggle was real. The pressure to present your children as perfect angels was real, too. You might be able to imagine the admonitions my young children got on the way to church each week! They hadn’t even done anything yet, and already they were in trouble for it. Sigh.

Over the years, I have had more than a few pastors ask me to invest in their spouses. I am a safe place, I guess. I know stuff that would curl your eyelids, and it will go with me to the grave. Everyone needs a safe place to be honest and transparent. Ministers and their families love the church, but most churches don’t create a safe place for ministry families to be real about their problems so they isolate themselves.

Without a safe place to live and breathe and just be honest about things, sometimes serious things happen. Only no one knows they are happening because isolated people keep their stuff to themselves. So by the time it worsens to the point that they can no longer conceal it, the situation is so bad that it has catastrophic results for the pastor and the church.

Isolation is bad for everyone.

We all need relationships where we can be honest about what’s going on at home, in our hearts, and in our lives. The Apostle Paul claimed to be the “chief of sinners” even though he wasn’t. That would be me, or you, or most any of us who struggle with our sinful natures.

Pastors and their families struggle sometimes, and many of them feel isolated. To all of you who serve the Lord in vocational ministry, God bless you. Please step out of your isolation and reach out to someone. You need that safe place. Find someone that can handle your stuff and love on you.

And frankly, that’s good advice for all of us.

So what do you think?

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