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When the Church Gets Messy, What Happens to the Pastor’s Marriage?

Reconciliation continues in the relationships at home. Marriage is a daily work of reconciling two sinful, broken people to each other—a microcosm of the work done in the church. Marriage is where we do the hard, gritty work of mutual reconciliation, opening doors we’d rather leave shut and cleaning out rooms we’re afraid to enter. It requires a covenant because of the immensity of the task.

In church, as it is in marriage, we are forced to deal with the darker sides of self. We do it by mutual repentance and restoration, knowing this process is hard for us all and possible only because of Christ. We have hope to do this because of the preceding verse to this passage: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (vs. 17 ESV).

The pastor’s work of leading a congregation along the paths of reconciliation is a holy calling, but a pastor and his family are still just people trying to be reconciled themselves. Those called to ministry must remember:

  1. Each couple must decide how to manage the burdens of ministry within their marriage. For some, full disclosure is best. For others, having an outside mentor to download to can help process events without the emotional ties. A husband who is providing for his family through ministry might be wary to make his wife feel that financial danger is ahead.
  2. Wives of pastors need support also. Wives should seek out other pastor’s wives who understand the ministry life to encourage and pray for one another.
  3. Husband and wife must understand that the ministry is God’s and not theirs alone. Surrendering control over how things turn out and letting God be in charge helps alleviate the pressure to perform.
  4. Allow space to heal after difficult situations. We are human beings who need time to recuperate—don’t be afraid to take that time.  Church, please give that time to your pastors.
  5. Pastors and their wives need to seek individual as well as marriage counseling, even if it is only for occasional tune-ups.

As a pastor’s wife, I realize there is no exemption from struggle, whether internal or external. Laying claim to the calling of God does not make a husband or wife any holier or better equipped to deal with the challenges of church life. Instead, it forces us to dig deeper down into the work of Christ to grab the anchor that holds fast when all around is messy. Somehow, through the grace of God, we help others find this anchor and hold on together, waiting for the full reconciliation to come.