Refreshing Your Spouse’s Spirit


Far too often we overlook the needs of our spouses as we’re taking care of our flocks. It’s important for our ministry and our
personal lives to keep in touch with the needs of our spouses. Taking time to make sure we’re caring properly for our loved ones will increase our effectiveness as pastors and set an example for other couples.

Water from the clouds! not such a novel idea, you say. Well, it’s a novel idea if you live in Chungungo. Even though incessant clouds and fog from the Pacific Ocean swept over the dry, parched Chilean visage of Chungungo, there was virtually no rain, no dew, and no water from the clouds. Nestled at the foot of Mount El Tofo, its 330 residents used to truck in an average of four gallons of water a day. (Compare that to the average American’s 90 gallons a day.)

Four gallons a day, until Canadian cloud physicist Robert Schemenauer devised an ingenious wall of finely woven propylene nets,
each the size of eight queen-sized bed sheets sewn together. Seventy-five nets sift the clouds and fog on top of El Tofo, collecting tiny water particles which yield a total of 3,000 gallons of water every day Chungungo residents now drink the freshest water they’ve ever tasted, and bathing’s no longer a luxury!

From time to time, and even for life seasons, living with the demands, challenges, and sacrifices of being a ministry spouse may seem like living in rocky, parched Chungungo. As a professional church worker, you can ingeniously harvest the clouds and bring the refreshing water of encouragement to your spouse. Schemenauer, the cloud physicist, used common resources like clouds and eucalyptus support poles, as well as new-fangled plastic nets and fibers. What kind of encouragement-collection means can you use to water and refresh your spouse’s spirit? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Share the Word of God and pray together each day. I know many more lay couples who have daily devotions together than clergy couples. And the failure to collect and drink the Living Water of God’s Word especially harms pastors and their spouses. Unless we drink of the Word’s refreshing streams in a personal and intimate way with our spouses, we both tend to forget why we’re teaching, serving, and sacrificing. Without that personal, intimate ministry from God, our faith and ministry focus dries and cracks. Make it a priority!

And be sure to keep your devotional time personal and private. Make a promise to each other that you’ll never say, “when Pastor and I were having devotions yesterday… ” This is private time in which God joins you and, by the wonder of his special arithmetic, God builds your marriage and creates unity in faith and shared purpose–one plus one plus one equals one!

2. Avoid denying or abandoning the role of the pastor’s sponge. As you comfort and encourage your spouse, you may be tempted to try relieving some pressure by saying, “You’re just like any other member” But it’s not completely true, is it? While you and your spouse certainly are as accountable for your gifts, talents, and service as any Christian, you’re both undeniably occupying a unique position and role.

It’s a paradox, but it’s actually freeing to acknowledge the ministry spouse’s role and refuse to minimize its importance and challenge. Embracing, not denying, the role often enables the spouse to serve in special ways and to look around for unique ministry opportunities, some only available because your spouse is married to a trusted servant of God–you!!

3. In your own mind and in conversation with your sponge, make clear distinctions between confidential, secret, and private
information. Not only is sharing confidential information and secrets a serious breach of professional ethics, but one of the many unfortunate consequences is that doing so unfairly burdens your spouse. Blessed is the spouse who can honestly say, “I don’t know,” when asked a nosy question about someone’s troubles.

On the other hand, private information about your members such as anticipated surgeries, trips, family connections, and work news will naturally be the stuff of your prayers and conversation at home and helps a ministry spouse feel connected to members. Of course, that information also isn’t repeated outside your home.

4. Work on your finances together. Clergy marriage studies indicate that one of the most stressful parts of being a clergy spouse
is the necessity of living on a tight budget. No matter that your spouse may indeed sacrifice without anger or complaint, money–and the scarcity of it–can often be a source of anxiety and resentment. So even if you’re not the financial wizard in your home, sit down together and talk over your finances. Make dealing with those pressures a mutually supportive activity. It will be like a cup of cold water on a hot summer day!

5. As you no doubt advise your members, take your anger and criticism to the appropriate person. When you come home angry, hurt, or boiling with frustration after a difficult dumping it all on your spouse. Not only is your spouse at a distinct disadvantage in not having been present at the meeting, but he or she will naturally take your side and be infected with your resentment.

Interestingly, your spouse’s resentment toward individuals or the congregation may linger long after the problem’s been resolved and you’ve moved on to other ministry challenges and interests. Protect your spouse by managing your anger appropriately and talking directly to the people involved. (It sets a great example for your members, too!)

6. When relocating, pay attention to gender differences Women live in a world of connections, intimacy, and relationships: What’s
life without friends and good will? Men are at home in a more independent world marked by task-orientation and the big picture.

At the time of a move, women may experience searing loneliness and feel overwhelmed by sadness; men may focus exclusively on solving problems and thereby ignore their feelings. Acknowledge gender differences and personality differences at times of disruption and change. Your encouragement and nurturing support will comfort your spouse like a warm bath or an easy chair at the end of a hard day!

7. Get a life. Professional church work invites immersion and a total commitment to the lifestyle; it’s easy to live, eat, and sleep
church work, especially when you love it! Don’t make your spouse compete with the church for your attention and love. Your spouse comes second only to your love and devotion to God. Then your children, if you have them. Then your work–even when your work’s all about serving God and God’s people. After all, you’ve probably been telling your members that their everyday work’s a way to serve God and God’s people!

The CEO of a multi-national company recently said: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five bass in the air. They are
work, family health, friends, and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air at once. Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls–family, health, friends, and spirit–are made of glass. If you drop one of those, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must strive for balance in your life.”

So develop your personal interests, rest, spend time with your spouse and family, take up a hobby, eat healthy, exercise, kick back
with friends who aren’t church members, tend the garden, wash the car, call your mother, read a novel, knit a sweater, polish your shoes, plan a vacation, write a novel, hang out with your kids, be surprised, and figure out why the other line always moves faster than yours! Your balanced life will refresh your spouse like a cool, damp cloth on a fevered brow!

8. Specifically thank your spouse for all those sacrifices. It might be impossible to count all the weekend family events that you and your spouse have missed because of your work. You’ve probably forgotten the ease of being just another anonymous citizen in your community. Maybe you envisioned a cushy retirement before you decided to enter the ministry, and now things have changed.

In most cases you were probably the one who made the decision to enter professional church work, and your spouse agreed and embraced the church-work lifestyle for many reasons and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Be sure to thank your partner and friend for the sacrifices, small and large, that support your special calling to ministry. Even if those sacrifices pass unnoticed because they’ve become part of the way you live, they’re sacrifices, nonetheless.

Take a fresh look at how your calling and work require your spouse’s generous sacrifice, and be as generous in your appreciation of your spouse.

9. Remember a sabbath day to keep it holy. Remembering a sabbath day will bless and encourage your spouse in three ways.

A sabbath is special because it’s a time when you’re no longer the “moving target” you are all week, and God can finally get hold of
you both and renew your spins with worship, quiet time, and sabbath rest. Thomas Aquinas called sabbath “a little vacation with God.” Sabbath shouldn’t be confused with a day off, because it’s a special day without errands and frantic rushing.

A sabbath helps us rest from clock time and enter into the quietness of Kairos, God’s time. Sabbath invites you to look at the busy, hectic, exhausting world of the pastor with an eternal perspective. A sabbath keeps both pastor and spouse focused on the “why” of church work: sharing God’s undeserved and saving love in Christ Jesus. Pastoral couples renew their shared purpose and ministry energy on sabbath.

Sabbath-keeping is a kindness and respect for your spouse. Deuteronomy 5:15 paints the picture: 400 years working in Egypt turned the Israelites into slaves–impersonal work units. And you involve your spouse in your work whether you intend it or not. Your sabbath-keeping will impact your spouse’s life as well as your own.

Your sabbath may not be a Sunday, but when you observe a weekly “little vacation with God,” you encourage your spouse to rest, too. Now that’s as refreshing as a splash in a pool on a hot summer day!

Like the residents of Chungungo, you collect fresh water each day–but you don’t have to climb Mount El Tofo!

When you study the Word of God to prepare sermons and classes, collecting the water of life–share it with your spouse! When your faith is watered and nourished by fellow Christians–tell your spouse! When you are encouraged by the way God works through your labors–carry that refreshing, encouraging cup to your spouse!

When Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, he described the gift of eternal life as “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” There’s energy, renewal, and freshness in Jesus, the Living Water! The gospel is the most refreshing water you can bring to your spouse!

Ruth Koch is a mental health educator and the Author of Grace Notes, a book of devotions for wives of church professionals She lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, where her husband, David, serves as a pastor.