Question: What should I do when I disagree with the way my husband handles things at church? We have always felt called to ministry together, but lately I am becoming increasingly more frustrated with my husband’s approach to people and ministry. I think this is the reason our church is failing to grow. When I try to give my input, he becomes resistant and defensive and we usually have an argument. I understand that my husband is the pastor of our church, but his decisions affect my future.
Answer: Your question brings attention to a ministry wife’s reality. While we may understand that God calls us to encourage our husbands and support them in ministry, we also realize that their success or failure affects us. Pastoral ministry as a vocation impacts our life — location, income, well-being, and social network. We are tempted to minimize our potential losses by trying to correct our husbands.
For example, if I can stop my husband from relating improperly with key leaders, then it could minimize tension, giving us more security and longevity at the church. If I can critique his sermons, then he would preach better and perhaps more visitors would stay and join the church.
On one level, it makes sense for a pastor’s wife to offer input. After all, they are in the ministry together, and she is only trying to be helpful. However, she must take great care because people must earn the right to speak into someone’s life. When a person gives corrective input along with liberal praise and affirmation, it is often more easily received. When advice is infrequent, it carries more weight.
The problem comes when suggestions are unsolicited and frequent. Timing is important. Remember the last time someone gave you advice when you were not asking for it. Add to that your frequent attempts to correct and advise. It can feel intrusive and demeaning.
If your husband becomes defensive, it means he is feeling demeaned or misunderstood. Since this is not your intention, you may need to reconsider your timing and approach. Ask permission to give input. “I have an idea about Sunday’s sermon. Would you like to hear it?” If the answer is no, restrain yourself.
You believe the reason your church is failing to grow is your husband’s approach — he is not performing up to the standard you believe is necessary. His resistance and defensiveness indicate that he knows this. He may feel that he is failing in your eyes. This is difficult for him. Most men want their wives to admire and respect them. If your husband is confident that you respect him as a person and as a pastor, he will be more likely to entertain your infrequent suggestions. Challenge your own perceptions about the right approach to ministry. Often, there are areas of church leadership of which only the pastor is aware. Second-guessing your husband without knowing all the information can be naive and premature. Give your husband the benefit of the doubt. Realize that your opinion is only one way of looking at the situation.
As difficult as it may be, you may need to change your ideas of what ministry success looks like. The reasons for a lack of church growth are vast and complex. Be careful about second-guessing your husband.
Approach your concerns using dialogue, not confrontation or correction. “I noticed that you seemed upset about the discussion in the leaders’ meeting. Would you like to talk about it?” Seek to understand. If your husband still seems defensive, consider the possibility that he may no longer see you as his ally. Seek to change this perception by being patient and changing your approach.
On rare occasions, intervention may be needed. If there is a moral issue or out-of-control behavior, seek advice and assistance from wise leadership or counselors. Do not keep these kinds of issues to yourself, but receive help from others.
Pastors’ wives have the unique opportunity to deal with control issues in their own lives. I try to keep the following questions fresh in my mind:
• Do I believe that God has called my husband to pastor this church for this season?
• Knowing God loves His church, do I believe that God equips His servants (my husband) for the task, addressing his shortcomings in His own time?
• Can I trust God, or do I need to intervene with my own agenda?
Let your concerns direct you toward your source of security and help — your relationship with Jesus. Find freedom in relinquishing control of your life and future into the hand of God. His intentions for you are for good and not harm. In that place of surrender, you can become more aware of the right manner and time to plant helpful seeds into your husband’s life and ministry.
GABRIELE RIENAS is a licensed therapist (LPD), and ministry wife. Currently, she and her husband Werner pastor Warden Full Gospel Assembly in Toronto, Canada. This article was originally printed in Enrichment journal.