It's Wednesday night. At 11pm. I am desperate for sleep after a day packed with endless questions, messes to clean up, meals to cook, errands to run, and an office to run. My cup of hot tea has been consumed and now I'm left to hold my burning eyes open, flip channels, and wait for his call. The call from the evangelist out on the road.
I have found myself in this situation countless times over twenty years of ministry. I acknowledged a call to ministry at age 14 and, despite having been raised in a minister's home (and sometimes fantasizing about what it would be like to have a 'normal family' when the dad went to work at 8:30am and returned home for dinner at 5:30pm), I was anxious to answer that call. In fact, one of the things that drew me to my husband for the long haul was our mutual desire for full-time ministry and an agreement that the evangelistic field was the route God had for each of us.
But knowing this up front has not always taken the stinger out of the all-too-often "inconveniences" that ministry life presents to the marriage and family. I have often said that there are very few careers where much of the man's success rests on the support of the family. A politician? Maybe. But even some of the best politicians' wives didn't have to show up on the campaign trail for the next voting season.
I'm an advocate for revival. I love the moving of the Spirit. And I am passionate about lost souls being found. But on Day 4--the day when all hell seems to break loose with the children because Daddy really needs to come home--I just don't feel like those he needs to stay over one more day to minister to matter as much as my own needs! (Something about Day 4 of a revival series always brought out the worst in my pre-schoolers!)
If there's one thing I've learned...
If there's one thing I've learned over two decades of ministry, it's that ministry is not a 9-to-5 job. If you want that, you need to seriously consider a career change. Ministry, which involves people and their unpredictable twists and turns in life, doesn't fit nicely into an eight-hour work day. Countless vacations have been canceled or cut short for the pastor and his family because a pillar in their church unexpectedly passed away the day they were scheduled to depart. Youth pastors encounter late nights and work on weekends because that's when they have access to those students who are in school all day. Worship rehearsals take place after hours when the volunteers can show up after a long day of work on the job.
Many years ago, the ministry family was abused with unreasonable expectations, no boundaries, and the belief that the preacher should do just about everything, be at every single event and outreach, preach every service, teach a Sunday School class, and run errands for all the shut-ins. The pastor's wife should play the piano, lead the ministry to women, work in the nursery, and look like a million bucks on a beans-and-cornbread salary. And for many a rural pastor, this may still be the job description for the town preacher.
We have progressed to a point where, in many cases, boundaries have been created and a more healthy dynamic has been established. In my case, thank God, we have moved forward from one six-week series of meetings after another, staying in the homes of the locals, and no place to call home for the evangelist. But I will say that in many instances we have swung too far in the opposite direction.
Can I be honest? I have connected with many young ministry wives who truly struggle with this element. They wrestle with the lack of predictability of their husband's schedule. Many refuse to handle the little things or wrangle the kids alone if Dad can't be there. If the ministry schedule seems too demanding of their personal time, they check out altogether. "That's his job. Not mine."
If there's anyone privy to your plight, it's me. Life changed quite a bit for me right after our first daughter was born. My husband brought us home from the hospital and then packed his suitcase, got in his truck, and headed out of town for a revival in a town several hours away. Thank the Lord my mom had decided to stay with me a few days because the postpartum depression I had been warned about and quickly dismissed as "not my personality" slammed me with a vengeance. Six weeks later I was seated as expected on "my pew" with our newborn quietly sleeping in her carrier, wondering if she would be crying, hungry, wet, poopy, or content when I was called upon to take my place on the platform and resume my ministry role alongside my husband. I can recall with perfect clarity the moment I cleared things up for him: "How I serve and when I serve is completely dependent upon what mood this baby decides to wake up in today. What you do is not altered. What I do is. You'll have to be okay with that."
Before you presume I am being cynical, harsh, resentful, or anything negative, hear this: if you're married to a minister, you're married to the ministry. And there are few things of greater importance than that calling or honor. No, it doesn't always feel like such an honorable role. And all too often it's taken advantage of by people, well-meaning or self-absorbed. But how you support your spouse in this divine calling will not only enhance your marriage, but will determine his overall success.
There are a million different scenarios I could portray for you--pastor's wife, youth pastor's wife, missionary wife, evangelist's wife, staff pastor's wife. But ultimately I want to give these thoughts for you to chew on as you begin this new year.
How can you step up your game this year in facilitating the call of God on your husband's life?
What demands of his time can you dial back in order to give the man a break when he's trying to juggle so many roles this week?
How can you show up to church with your family en tow, letting him know you're behind him if no one else seemingly is?
Realize that ministry can be the glue that binds you together, rather than that which tears you a part, when you work together, side by side, and include the family. While you aren't responsible as the pastor's wife to lead the women's ministry or run the children's church, you can model what it means to be a faithful family who serves God together. What types of families do you hope to raise up in your ministry or church? Purpose to become a model of that--not a perfect example, but a marriage and family that resemble the Ephesians 5 and 6 teaching from the apostle Paul.
When you know things are stressful at the church or on the field, intentionally determine to minister to him and avoid adding stress by demanding more from him than he can feasibly offer at the moment. How can you relieve stress, not add to it?
And better yet, what can you do to improve the balance in your lives as a whole so that the stress of ministry doesn't drive you both to the place of burnout?
If there's one thing I've learned, it's that no one does ministry, marriage, and family flawlessly in every single season. No man will meet the desires or needs of his wife perfectly. He may not always know how to balance his work life with his family life. No woman will always be selfless, able to prefer the work of God to her own needs. And we don't always have to! But we can strive to fan the flame within his heart by realizing ministry is no "normal job". It's a high calling, worthy of the sacrifice.
What have you learned in this life called ministry? Share with us below. Let's redefine Sanctuary...together.
Working 9-to When? is Part 4 of our January 2018 series, If There's One Thing I've Learned, from the Sanctuary leadership team.
Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married for 20 years and have been in the ministry together for every single one of those years! (whew!) 19 of the 20 years have been spent in full-time evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. They have two beautiful blonde babies--ages 13 and 8--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives she often feels like the red flag on the tug-of-war rope with the children on one end and her husband and the ministry on the other end! When she finds time for personal hobbies, Bridgette enjoys entertaining, blogging, singing, browsing the local antique shops, and sipping on a cup of hot tea for a few precious quiet moments. Her heart is to lead others to the authentic presence of God--through worship, through Word, and through one-on-one connection.