My heart hurts for a pastor who has walked away from his church, regardless of the reason. My heart is heavy for the churches who typically endure a great deal of pain when a pastor steps down. My heart breaks for the pastor’s wife.
She gets stuck in the middle.
Her husband is deeply wounded. Her church family hurts.
Her kids are devastated. She’s flooded with emotions and her friends
don’t know how to respond. Her support system crumbles from
underneath her just when she needs it most.
Pastors often end up deeply wounded in ministry. At some point in their career, statistics tell us that the pressure, the isolation and the expectations will overwhelm most pastors to the point of calling it quits. If you click on the image below you will gain some valuable insight into why so many pastors leave the ministry.
It will lead you to a wonderful website called www.expastors.com that is both refreshing and heartbreaking. On the one hand it’s good to know we’re not alone. On the other hand, it’s heartbreaking to know that on a regular basis so many others go through the same pain we’ve been through over this past year.
I find myself resonating with this post pictured below, also on on that website. It’s written by a fellow Pastor’s wife who knows the pain of leaving her church under less-than-ideal circumstances.
It’s always hard on a family when someone loses a job. But when a pastor loses his job, the whole family loses their church. They get torn away from their support system. They get separated from their friends and alienated from their social network. Most of the time it also means they have to leave their community, which includes their home, their kids’ schools, the wife’s job, etc. Everything that is common place for them suddenly disappears or is on the verge of disappearing at any moment.
Either that, or they stay in the community and she regularly has to face the pain all over again, every time she runs into someone at the grocery store who wants the details of what happened, who wants to share their own hurt because of her husband’s departure, or who simply doesn’t know what to do or say, and awkwardly turns the other way when they see her coming.
There doesn’t seem to be a rule book on how to support a hurting pastor’s wife who suddenly finds herself no longer a pastor’s wife. But there should be. Because, I tell you what—it’s an extremely painful place to be.
When my husband resigned 10 months ago, I could barely articulate a coherent sentence on most days, let alone give a graceful response to the many people who said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
So, on behalf of all of the pastor’s wives who don’t know how to answer that question for themselves—and for all of the people that want to know how they can support her in the midst of her pain—let me present to you in no particular order:
10 Ways to Help a Hurting Pastor’s Wife
1. Pray for her. A lot. And let her know that you are praying for her. Has God laid her heavily on your heart? There’s a reason. She’s facing pressures from every direction and I can assure you that she deeply appreciates every prayer offered on her behalf.
2. Serve her. Are you close enough friends that you can walk into her home, grab a mop and get to work? If so, do it. After my husband resigned, we decided to go through with our previously planned trip to Disneyland. We had cancelled it. Then rescheduled. Then cancelled it again. Then decided fairly last minute just to get up and go. Our family desperately needed to get away. When we came home some anonymous cleaning fairies scrubbed my house from top to bottom. We’re talking sparkling blinds, light fixtures and appliances. I was a little bit embarrassed to know they’d found out my secret of how little I actually do those sorts of things, but none-the-less, it was a blessing beyond comprehension for me. Chances are, whatever caused the pastor and his wife to leave your church has been brewing for a while and/or this change came on suddenly and has left them scrambling, or in shock. Either way, housework is, has been, and will be the last thing on her mind for quite some time. If you aren’t close enough friends to barge into her house and give it a good scrub, consider weeding her yard. Plant flowers. Lay bark dust. Wash windows. Wash her car. Bring her a meal. Offer to do her grocery shopping for her so she doesn’t have to fear running into people and having to explain herself. All. Over. Again.
Whatever way you can serve her will be so very appreciated. It’s priceless to know that people care enough to take action.
3. Offer a service. Are you a mechanic, a real-estate agent, a handy-man, a masseuse, a hairstylist, a photographer, an amazing cook, a gifted ________________? While some cleaning fairies were attacking the inside of my house, a fix-it crew was fixing some dry rot under our sliding glass door. This act of kindness was overwhelming to both me and my husband. Another friend replaced our car stereo since I accidently shoved two CD’s in there. Dumb move, I know, but the gift of the stereo and the labor to replace it spoke volumes to us about this particular family’s desire to be supportive of us.
Consider how your ability to provide a service (either yourself or through connections) might be able to bless this family. They may need to get their house on the market right away, see what you can do to help. They may need updated family pictures to attach to resumes for new positions. They may need help budgeting. Their car might be having issues and now the thought of taking it in to get serviced is enough to paralyze them because of the high cost. Are you gifted at writing resumes? Can you help look for jobs? Can you babysit or take her kids for the weekend so she can have some space to breathe and process?
4. Give her a gift. I know for us, the second the “winds began to change” at our church, a year ago now, we immediately went in to survival mode. We spent only what we needed to spend, only when we needed to spend it. There were no luxuries to be had because we had no idea how long we’d be unemployed (I was also employed at the church part-time as the Children’s Ministry Director). A friend of mine paid for me to take a cooking class with her and another friend offered to pay for me to go to Women’s Camp. A previous pastor and his wife who know the pains of leaving a church all-too-well gave me two bouquets of flowers—one for mourning and one for new beginnings. I’ve had friends take me out to lunch or coffee—their treat. Our kids got well-timed hand-me-downs. It doesn’t have to be expensive. One of my favorite gifts given to us during this time is when another pastor’s family took a walk in the snow to bring us some fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.
All of these things and more, were priceless and filled very real, very practical needs for our family during a time of grief, trials and unknowns. And most of all, they all added up to regular reminders that people still cared about us and that our God is a God who provides.
5. Write her a note of appreciation. Tell her specifically how she’s impacted your life. Being a pastor’s wife is tough. An article I came across recently states that she’s the most vulnerable person in the church. When she’s just watched her husband either crumble or suffer great wounds at the hands of other’s, you can times that by 10. Either way the cookie crumbles, whether it was “his fault” or “their fault” or “everybody’s fault”, she’s left to not only deal with the grief herself, but also to try to hold her family together in the midst of it all.
She needs encouragement. She needs to know that the last ______ years of ministry she’s put in at the church haven’t been wasted. She needs to be able to cling to the good to have any hope of looking past the bad. But she won’t know what you don’t tell her. So please, please, please, let her know you care by writing her a note of appreciation—specifically one that tells of how she (or she and her husband) have impacted your life in a positive way.
6. Give her money. Churches aren’t always known for paying their pastors well, and most pastors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Many pastors feel they have no marketable skills to provide for their family outside of a church setting and frankly, most aren’t ready to head straight back into a new ministry after leaving a church. Hopefully the church has offered some semblance of a severance package, but often that decision isn’t made for a while after they’ve left, or it’s conditional on things like not talking about what happened (sad, but true). Often, it’s simply not enough to carry them for very long and sometimes it isn’t offered at all. If you have the ability to help fill in the gap, please consider doing so. Cash is lovely, but so are gift cards, groceries, or anonymously paid bills (electricity, water, garbage, etc.). If God has laid this family on your heart, consider how He may be able to use you to answer their prayers for provision in their time of need.
Do you have the ability to help the pastor’s family “get away” for a little while? Do you have hotel points? A cabin? Connections to cheap places to stay and/or people who might chip in to make this happen? Trust me, this family needs to get away. This isn’t a want, this is a need, and it’s not a need most families can accommodate on their own—you know, since they are now unemployed. But the reality is, it’s needed now more than ever. They need space to clear their head. They need to think and pray. They need to process together. And they need to not run into people at the grocery store for a little while.
If a pastor’s wife is leaving both the church and her husband due to his moral failures, I implore you to wrap your arms around her in love and make it your personal goal to provide for her and her children. Be the hands, the feet and the arms of Christ to a woman who is devastated above and beyond what any of us could begin to imagine.
7. Don’t talk about why she left. This one’s a little tricky. Of course you want to know the details of why they left your church, that’s human nature. She may want to tell you—in which case, listen attentively—but she may not. Don’t ask and don’t pry. Sometimes the reason that she left is quite personal and frankly—none of your business. Pastors, pastor’s wives and pastor’s kids have struggles and failures too. Unfortunately, theirs are often put under a high-powered microscope and affect every aspect of their lives. Sometimes, however they are leaving due to misunderstandings, sometimes it was because of personality conflicts, power-struggles or even out-right deceit and malice on the part of someone else. Perhaps they are just burned out. Maybe God has clearly called them elsewhere and it’s just time for them to go. There are a lot of reasons pastors leave churches. It’s a demanding job that often has very little tangible rewards. If she wants to talk, let her do it on her own terms, with whomever she feels comfortable sharing.
8. Don’t gossip. Whatever you do, don’t repeat anything she’s told you in confidence. If you aren’t sure if what she told you is common knowledge, ask if she minds you sharing what you told her… or better yet, don’t say anything at all. To anyone. Ever. If you hear others talking about why they left the church, instead of correcting the misinformation, direct them back to her or her husband. I know for us, we were willing to answer direct questions people had, but we were not wanting to stir up strife so we just kind of quietly retreated. It has hurt to hear of so many rumors that have flown around about why we left, especially the ones that are completely untrue or really off-base. We made the determination early on that God would be our defender and we let our words be few. But, we were more than happy to address misinformation when it was asked of us directly. Don’t hesitate to ask if you really feel it would be beneficial for you to have a clearer understanding, but be mindful of not prying if the pastor or his wife aren’t wanting to talk. I know this flies in the face of #7 in some ways, but hopefully you can see the distinction.
9. Be a good friend and don’t let her wallow. Have you ever just felt numb? There are two events in my adult life that have left me numb. One was when I lost a much wanted baby, and the other was when we resigned from a church we loved. I don’t know to accurately describe how I felt in the days, weeks and months to follow. I felt weak. I struggled to put my thoughts together, let alone express them productively. I almost felt paralyzed.
I quite literally needed other people to come along side of me and help me process my grief. I needed friends to call and check-in. I have a friend who still regularly checks in on me on Sundays or Mondays because she knows how hard Sundays have been for me. I needed friends to convince me to get up and get out of the house. I needed them to help me find hope on the horizon. Yet, I also needed them to acknowledge my pain.
When trying to care for a hurting Pastor’s wife who has just left a church, let her grieve, but don’t let her wallow. She might not be a great deal of fun to be around, but friendship perseveres through sickness and in health. She doesn’t have much to give right now—so let me encourage you to be her friend selflessly through this season. Don’t give up on her. Drag her out of the house if you need to. Help her see the hope on the horizon. Point her back to the arms of Jesus. Be there for her, always.
10. Acknowledge her pain. There are very few jobs that a man can have that automatically obligate his wife to a certain role. Dignitaries and pastors. That’s pretty much it. Though she’s not (typically) employed by the church, she fills a very unique, very important role. Good, bad, or otherwise, a lot of who she is is wrapped up in this role that she’s held as the wife of the pastor.
And just like that—it’s over. She is no longer the pastor’s wife. I thought I’d always be a pastor’s wife. The call of God on my husband’s life seemed so clear. Believe you me, I wouldn’t be writing on a blog called Real Life Pastor’s Wife if I had any doubt. Because seriously, I haven’t figured out what to do with my blog title, and my header and my bio now that I am no longer a pastor’s wife, but I digress…
Like I stated at the beginning of this article, her husband is deeply wounded. Her church family hurts. Her kids are devastated. She’s flooded with emotions and her friends don’t know how to respond. Her support system crumbles from underneath her just when she needs it most.
It’s okay to not know what to say, but saying something, anything, is almost always better than saying nothing. Because saying nothing implies that you don’t notice her pain—or worse yet—that you notice but don’t care. Clearly you do care, or you wouldn’t be reading about 10 Ways to Help a Hurting Pastor’s Wife!
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. It is my prayer that God will use this experience in my life to help others, just like he has used other people’s experiences and pain to help me through my own. God has used so many people to be of support and encouragement to me and my family over this past year, and for that I am so very grateful!
If you’ve been a hurting pastor’s wife, or walked alongside of one as she’s grieved the loss of her church, what are some additional things you would add to this list?