Marriages are the backbone of the church. When families are healthy, the church can be healthy.
But how can families be healthy if the pastor’s own marriage is struggling? And because of the nature of the job, and the demands on a pastor’s family and a pastor’s time, it can be very difficult to keep a family together.
So I asked on Facebook recently: What are ways we can support a pastor’s marriage? I had so many insightful comments! And I thought today I would write about 10 ways we can help a pastor’s marriage stay strong.
Can you do me a favour as you read this? Pray and ask if one of these speaks specifically to you. And consider forwarding this to someone on your elders’ board or asking for it to be an item on a meeting agenda. This stuff matters, and the health of our churches really does largely depend on the health of the pastor’s family. So, here, then, are 10 ideas to help keep a pastor’s marriage strong:
1. Don’t make them be out of the house too often.
When we require pastors to attend all elders’ meetings, and all congregation meetings, and small group meetings, and every event that happens at the church–too soon pastors are never home. The biggest impediment for building a great marriage when you’re a pastor is never being home.
So have someone in the church look at the pastor’s calendar and ensure that most nights are free.
2. Don’t expect your pastor to always be reachable by cell phone on days off.
It’s amazing how much parishioners will text pastors if they have their number! Encourage your pastors to keep cell phones off on nights off or on weekends off. Or if you have a multi-staff church, you can pass around an “on call” pager so that if there are emergencies, one person will get it. If it is something important, obviously, then someone can get a hold of the pastor, but let your pastors have their time.
This is especially true for youth pastors, since teenagers honestly will text at all hours of the day and night. I’ve written before about how to handle it when a husband’s job never really ends, and I think this is something that a pastor can’t do individually. The church has to create the policy and enforce it. Please do.
One woman even suggested taking it one step further!
Be the person that others in your congregation can call on if they need something that’s not a true emergency and they don’t have support close by (i.e. Helping them find the phone book or figuring out how to work their tv, again)
Yep. That should not be a pastor’s job.
In fact, these first two points–not requiring them to be out of the house and allowing down time–are likely the most important ones. One woman summed them both up like this:
I grew up the daughter of a somewhat workaholic pastor. My thoughts- On a regular, daily basis, recognize that he is a person that needs to be allowed margins in his life. Show him grace if he didn’t immediately call you personally when something was going on in your life. If you have an evening meeting, be as brief as possible and then encourage him to go home rather than staying and shooting the breeze with him for another hour. You don’t realize how many other nights this week he has meetings. Don’t expect him to cancel his family vacation to do a funeral or a wedding for you. Encourage him to actually use the 2-3 Sundays off per year he is allotted so he can take a weekend trip with his wife/family.
Exactly–let your pastors have margins! If you do nothing else on this list, do these two. But if you want to keep doing something practical, read on!
3. Give them a mandatory date night
At one reader’s church, they provide baby-sitting and gift cards for dinner out once a month. I love that! (Though honestly, there are likely other people in the church who could use that, too).
Even if it’s not “mandatory”, offer baby-sitting occasionally. Many pastors leave extended family when they are called to a church, so they don’t live near natural caregivers. Becoming substitute grandparents or aunts and uncles can make such a difference. One woman wrote:
One of the best thing that supports our marriage is just people loving our child. Having local “grandparents” that help stand in the gap on school holidays or sick days so that we don’t always miss work is a huge help!!!
4. Actually schedule vacation time
One woman wrote this:
Don’t just “encourage them” to take their vacation, set up the church calendar so they feel like they can get away…either schedule things off if the pastor HAS to be there for them or get the appropriate people to fill in so he can feel comfortable being gone and that things are taken care of. Many pastors feel like they can’t leave and the “encouragement” without solutions only piles on the stress.
So true! If you’re going to give your pastor 2-4 Sundays off a year, then make sure there aren’t mandatory elders’ meetings or congregation meetings right then!
And make those vacations fun! Do you have a cottage? A time share? An RV? It can be a real blessing to gift that for a week to a pastor’s family.
We’ve lent our RV out before, and it can make the world of difference for an awesome family vacation. Churches don’t always pay well, and allowing them to enjoy something you get to enjoy is amazing.
5. Send the couple to a marriage retreat
Keith and I are just back from speaking at FamilyLife Canada’s Weekend Getaway. I absolutely love the conference, because it’s focused not on “marriage is so tough, you have to commit, because there are benefits”, but instead on “look how awesome marriage can be! Now let’s talk about very small and simple things you can do in different areas that make a huge difference–and let’s see how we can get to that awesome marriage.” It’s really upbeat, but even if the couple is going through a really, really difficult time, it still gives so much hope.
You can see where the conferences are across Canada here. And we always give major discounts for pastors!
FamilyLife in the U.S. also has their Weekend to Remember conferences, and then there are other weekend conferences run by other groups. I find that a weekend away is super powerful. We’ve done one-day retreats as well, and they can be awesome, too, but a weekend away can make a huge difference.
6. Offer them tickets to shows in the area or community events
Community fundraisers or community events can be super fun evenings–but they can also tend to be expensive. If you’re going to a fundraiser, consider buying tickets for your pastor as well. Those fundraisers are great ways to help the pastor integrate into the wider community, but they can also be a fun time to dress up and have a fun experience that many on a pastor’s salary can’t afford. And if you want to support the cause anyway, sending more people helps.
7. Invite them over just to be friends
I remember we once invited our pastor and his wife over for dinner and coffee (our daughters are super close friends!).
(Our daughters when they were younger!)
I asked if they played cards, and Peter mumbled something about occasionally doing so. So we got out the deck to play euchre.
Peter decided to shuffle, and went on and on about how he really wasn’t very good at the game and he would try to keep up, but the whole time he was talking he was cutting the deck with one hand and shuffling them with just one hand and doing these absolutely amazing tricks. He had us in stitches! But pastors can’t always let down their guard and just be themselves with people in their church because so many will judge.
I remember another pastor’s wife, who was a good friend, who wanted to borrow some chick flicks from me (in the days when we all watched VHS). She asked me to bring them in a big gift bag that you couldn’t see through, because when some people in the church found out that she watched movies, her movie choices would get debated and the issue would eventually end up back on the pastor’s desk.
So if you can, invite the couple over and don’t talk pastor things. Just be yourself. Allow them to be themselves. It can be a great gift!
8. Don’t have the “2 for the price of 1” mentality
You hired the pastor, not the pastor’s spouse. One woman wrote:
Don’t think you hired two ministers for the price of one and expect the wife to be involved in everything – run the youth group, organize the ladies group etc.
Exactly. If you hired a youth pastor, you hired ONE youth pastor. If you hired a pastor, that’s who is on the payroll. Leave the spouse alone. I know one woman married to a pastor who had a busy job of her own in a caring profession. She loved her job. But she was always made to feel like she wasn’t supporting him enough because she had that job. She tried to volunteer in one ministry at the church, just like everybody else, but somehow that was never enough, and she felt a lot of judgment. Let the spouse be!
9. Show hospitality
When pastors are at particularly busy phases in their lives–like when the kids are really little, or when teens have busy schedules that affect the whole family, doing practical things to help can make a pastor feel like they are valued and recognized.
One woman wrote:
One woman who DID help out when I was a kid was an elderly lady and she did baking every Friday for our family …. all our birthday cakes, tarts, cookies etc. – two or three things every week ready for pick up. Really blessed my Mum busy busy with four little kids. If you enjoy cooking you could do meals like that too.
I love that! Maybe baking isn’t your thing. But maybe you can babysit every now and then, or even offer to drive the kids to youth group with your kids so that the pastor doesn’t have to be on the road to the church one more time every week.
10. Work hard at your OWN marriages!
I love this comment, and thought I’d leave it for last. A reader wrote:
Honestly, by working hard to take care of your own marriages; you are supporting your pastor’s marriage. If your home is healthy then you can be busy making disciples as a couple by offering hospitality, and lift some of the burden from his shoulders.
So true! And I’d throw this one in, too: tell your pastor when you’re doing well. They hear so much all the time about everyone’s struggles. Tell when you’re doing awesome, especially when something your pastor said made a difference. It matters!
I know reading through this list you can start to think, “Well, we have issues, too, and busy jobs, too, and I wish someone would do this for MY marriage.” So do I. Truly. But I do think that pastors are in a unique group, because they are shepherding the church. If we want the church to be healthy, the pastor needs to have home stress reduced. So, yes, we all need help. But realize that even if you are all busy, your pastor is in a unique situation.
Invest in your pastors’ marriages. It’s one of the best things you can do as a church!
Now, let me ask you: What would be #11? What idea did I miss? Or what one is the most important one? Let’s talk in the comments!