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Help Your Spouse Survive Church Transitions

Q: About a year ago, we came to a stagnant church with high hopes of seeing it grow. I’ve seen some progress, but it’s still a long, uphill climb, and it seems that my wife is growing frustrated by the challenges of transitioning a church. How do I convince her that the issues we’re facing are worth it?

A: First, I can’t express how important a healthy and supportive marriage and family life is for the transition leader, because the most effective ministry any spiritual leader engages in stems from his or her personal life. I believe that developing and maintaining God-honoring, healthy marriages and families is essential for pastors.

Leading a church through transition, coping with resistance and a lack of support in your ministry all day, and then going home and facing more of the same at night will prove to be personally destructive and defeating. Most leaders don’t grasp that the success or failure you have at work directly correlates to your home life. So, it’s important that your home be a place of support and renewal.

Second, to answer your question more specifically, you must share with your family members the values that are motivating you to transition the church. If you can’t get your family on the same page, the church transition experience will be miserable, both professionally and personally. Your family must understand and accept that leadership often demands turbulence before peace. Jesus made this clear in John 16:33, where He said that the world hated and persecuted Him, and if we lived for Him, we would experience the same adversity. Your family should be prepared for and willingly commit to the reality that leading a church won’t always offer a positive environment.

However, as a leader, protect and shield your family from the negativity as much as possible. My wife didn’t have to bear the burden of criticism that stemmed from my leadership decisions because I protected her as much as humanly possible, a decision that was vital to our marriage and my leadership. Though she has always been both fully involved and committed to the churches I’ve led, I knew that because she is naturally protective of me, it would be difficult for her to love people who were being negative toward me.

Of course, as a leader, you must have someone to talk to and vent your frustrations with, but that someone doesn’t necessarily have to be your spouse, especially if it would turn his or her heart away from the church. So, if you’re leading a transition, take steps to protect your family from what are often the harsh realities of the experience.

If you don’t have a healthy marriage or family setting and/or your family members are not fully supportive of your leading a transition, don’t even start one. Doing so will hurt you, your family and the church—outcomes that are never acceptable or God-honoring.  

As senior pastor of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Mich., and author of Change Your Church for Good (Nelson), Brad Powell consults with church leaders to help them lead their churches through transition.
Excerpted from Outreach magazine, “Seeds of Change,” September/October 2007. ©2007 Outreach Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission.