6 Ways Ministry Spouses Get Hurt By the Church

Endangered Pawn

Researcher Thom Rainer identifies Six Ways Ministry Spouses Get Hurt.  I have listed them below, slightly reworded:

  • Complaints About Their Minister-Spouses
  • Complaints About the Children
  • Unreasonable Expectations About Ministry Involvement
  • Gossip & Murmering
  • Isolation
  • Attacking the (non-Staff) Spouse to Get Desired Results

Every non-staff church leader should be aware of these. Every church member should be aware of these.  They are very real.  I have experienced all of these in one form or another, in one church or another.  I see these happen to friends serving other churches.  While I am fortunate that all of my children, now grown or in college, have not only continued in their faith journeys but have actually increased ministry involvement, such patterns of behavior are common contributors to the high numbers of ministry children leaving the church, if not also the faith.  The behaviors Rainer identifies are often devastating to ministry families.

For those serving in churches where you are experiencing some of these abuses, perhaps causing you concern for your spouse and children, I will share the counsel I received from a godly older minister during a time when our experience was most acute.  I was told: “If you don’t let it crush you, it won’t crush them (the children).  Don’t share details (with your children) – they likely already know.  But do talk with them, be honest about it, and make sure they understand that those in the church are also broken and sinful, just like those outside the church.”  Our children learned this lesson; they consequently have a pretty good grasp of Total Depravity and Luther’s concept of simul iustus et peccator (Simultaneously Just and Sinner) -even if they don’t necessarily know the term. But because they understand that even as believers – as those “credited” as “righteous” – we are all still infected by our own selfishness and sin, they have a greater appreciation of why we all are in need of Jesus’ redeeming grace.   Though the blood of Christ was shed “once for all”, bringing forgiveness, we all have an ongoing need for the blood of Christ to continually cleanse us from our sin.  Though shed “once for all”, a one-time shot of Jesus’ blood is not all there is.

I encourage you, whether on church staff or a church member, click the link above to read Rainer’s descriptions.  One important thing to note, Rainer does not limit this behavior against only the Pastor’s family; it happens, at one time or another, to almost all ministry families.  Check your own church to see if (where) this is happening. Then step up, and step in where necessary.

Chrysalis Factor


There are times I feel somewhat like a sea captain who took charge of a ship that had experienced unprecedented prosperity under the direction of his predecessor, and then sprung a leak a few months into his tenure.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the church where I serve, but some of the challenges came as a bit of a surprise.  Chiefly a decline in attendance and a corresponding budgetary strain.

In some ways this was inevitable. In some ways this is circumstantial. And in other ways it is personal.

It was inevitable because nothing stays the same forever. No organization, or organism, experiences perpetual increase in prosperity.  Sooner or later, changes, challenges, and a period of decline is certain.

It is circumstantial, if for no other reason, the nature of the community where our church is located is a very fluid, very transient community, Many who live here are in the military, and so they are only here for a short time. Others who live here have retired – often early – and come to enjoy the wealth of cultural, historical, and natural amenities. However, there seems to be a pattern – when one member of the marriage, husband or wife, experience injury or become ill, the couple moves away, back home, or somewhere near their children.  Understandable. While Williamsburg is a beautiful place to settle, they have no roots here, so they move on.

It is personal in the sense that whenever a church changes pastors there is almost always some turnover among the members.  No matter how capable the new minister is, his presence is a constant reminder that things have changed; that this is not exactly the church that they had joined anymore.  And as American church culture becomes increasingly more consumeristic, the less likely folks are to stick around to get used to the changes.  After all, if they have to adjust to change, why not use it as an opportunity to trade in for a new model that has some amenities that they had not been looking for a few years ago, but would provide a pleasant upgrade.  Consequently new pastors are often not treated like people, who might have feelings, but rather as a commodity to be embraced or discarded at the whim of the customer.  Or another aspect of the personal – some church members just don’t like the new pastor’s personality (or lack of it).

I suspect differing measures of all three of these played a part in our initial decline.  Fortunately we remained stable. We have a good cohesive staff; wise and godly officers who work as a team, a band of brothers; and no panic or finger pointing from the congregation.  So despite our leak our ship has remained in pretty good shape.

As we move forward it is essential to assess where we are, and to map out where we are headed.

At present we are in what Thom Rainer calls the Chrysalis Period.  According to Rainer, during the Chrysalis Period a church or organization undergoes changes beneath the surface that are necessary to become what we will inevitably become.

The chrysalis is the pupa of a butterfly encased in a cocoon. It is the former caterpillar and the future butterfly. It is the stage when the worm-like, slow-moving caterpillar becomes a beautiful, free-flying butterfly.

I like the imagery.  It seems apt.  We are a work in process.  And not all that is going on is evident to all who take a look.

Leading in the Construction of Christ’s Church

Blue Construction

As one who has benefited from reading Jim Collins, John Kotter, Stephen Covey, and several other leadership gurus from the business world, I found this quote from Tony Morgan‘s Developing a Theology of Leadership  to be a very helpful reminder and convicting corrective:

It is true that we church leaders can learn from business leaders, but the corporate world should not set the foundation from which we lead. We can also learn from fellow church leaders, but they are also human and don’t provide a perfect model for Biblical leadership. When we look to other leaders, we are essentially holding on to our traditions rather than embracing the truth about leadership found in God’s Word. The Bible needs to become our filter for truth in every area of our life and ministry just because we see others doing it doesn’t mean that’s how God designed it.

Like Morgan, I still believe there is much to be learned from those who are effective in business, government, coaching, and other spheres. But as a pastor of a church – an under-Shepherd of part of the Church that Jesus is building – it is essential that I not fall for the notion that I will or can gain the most wisdom from these sources. I must never neglect or assume what the bible has to say about Leadership. Instead I must constantly submit all ideas of leadership, from whatever sources, to the scrutiny of the Scripture.

Matthew 16.18 reminds me that I am but a foreman, and that it is Jesus who is the architect, developer, and contractor. My job is to follow his design, and his lead.

5 Things Church Members Wish Pastors Knew

Germoe Cathedral Impressionism (Slimm)

Anyone who has ever served on a ministry staff for any measurable amount of time knows the twin realities of the incredible joys and the exhausting difficulties.  Perhaps this tension is part of the reason why there is such large drop out rate among pastors and other ministry leaders in the American Evangleical Church.  Ministry is a tremendous privilege, to be allowed to be with people at both their best times and their worst, but it carries with it inevitable frustrations and hurt feelings, which frequently seems to lead to burnout, exhaustion, and isolation.

Part of the problem may be the disconnect between what those in pastoral ministry do, and what those in the congregation assume – and want – their ministers to do.   Just like some of the memes of various professions that one may see on Facebook or some other social medium suggests, there is often a difference.  Misconceptions easily become a source of tension.

Recently I re-read an article by Jason Boyett that I find helpful, reminding me to look at things from the other side: 5 Things Church Members Wish Pastors Knew.  it reminded me of one of Stephen Covey assertions from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:”seek first to understand, then to be understood”. While I may desperately want to be “understood”, I have little to no control about what people may understand about me.  But I do have the ability to try to see things from the other side; to understand why people may not appreciate the same things I do, or agree with all that I may believe and say.

So, for my fellow ministry leaders, here are Boyett’s five assertions:

  1. Who you are reflects upon your membership. Churches reflect the character of its most visible pastors and ministers. “It’s not always fair,” one church member told me, “but people associate churches with the pastor.
  1. Churchgoers have lives (and ministries) outside of church. “I don’t eat and breathe this church,” a parishioner said.
  1. They value excellence but not showiness. Everyone makes mistakes. Every speaker, worship leader, or musician can have a bad day on-stage. Church members realize this, but at the same time appreciate good preparation.
  1. They want to be led…with honesty. Stories abound of churches that embarked on an exciting new vision only to backtrack a few weeks into it for a variety of reasons — too few volunteers, lack of funds, complaints from prominent church members, or some other kink.
  1. Sometimes, it looks like you have it easy. Anne Jackson, the author of Mad Church Disease and a former church staffer, once blogged about the perception — which she felt was well earned — that church staffers can be lazy. The post’s comment section should be required reading for pastors and ministers across the board.

To read more


Ministry Diagnosis Questions

Country Doctor

As a pastor it is not only requisite to be a student of God’s Word, but it is also essential to be a student of the people to whom I preach and teach.  This is true for any church or ministry leader.  If we do not know the Bible, and sound doctrine, we have nothing to offer. But even if we have voluminous knowledge, if we do not know the people with whom we are called to share these truths, then we will not know how to apply these truths.  It would be as ineffective as a medic possessing all the medicines but without enough biological understanding to make a valid diagnosis.

In a recent post, 9 Questions for Ministry Leaders, Paul Tripp identifies nine helpful questions to ask ourselves, and to discuss with the other leaders in our churches or ministries, as we attempt to become effective students and exegetes of our people:

  1. What are the cultural idols that are particularly attractive to my people?
  2. Where do they tend to buy into an unbiblical worldview with its accompanying hopes and dreams?
  3. Are there themes of spiritual struggle that I need to speak to?
  4. Where do they tend to get discouraged and need the hope of the gospel?
  5. What is the level of their biblical literacy and theological knowledge?
  6. How many of them are actively involved in service, and how many are “ecclesiastical consumers”?
  7. What do they tend to struggle with in the workplace?
  8. What do they wrestle with at home?
  9. What are they reading, watching, and listening to, and how are they influenced by it?

Growing People for Service

Every Acorn

by Daniel Radmacher

Have you ever wondered why we are not born as adults?  Probably not, I would wager.  Seriously, though, have you ever considered the fact that God could very easily birth us as grown-ups?  We could come out of the womb fully formed intellectually and spiritually, with only our physical dimensions to catch up.  Honestly, it would save quite a bit of hassle, particularly in the teen years.  Clearly there is something special about our growth, something in the process of development that is very important to our Creator.  I believe that God values the growth process as highly as He values the end result.

And yet, have you ever noticed how frustrated we can be with the need to grow?  From childhood, we are anxious to be better, stronger, faster, smarter, and don’t want to have to wait for it.  As humans, we resist the reality that we must move so slowly from a place of incompetence to effectiveness, from clumsiness to acumen and hate the fact that there is often so much pain along the way.  We long to be complete now, and not have to struggle through the process of becoming, whether that process is physical, intellectual or spiritual.

Unfortunately, this tendency can also inform many of our churches and their ministries, in that we are sometimes hesitant to bring people into ministry who are not fully developed in their skill sets.  This bias can greatly impact our worship and music ministries.  In all honesty, we are probably more interested in those singers, dramatists, speakers and players whose skills are already well-developed than in those we must train to reach their potential.  I understand, because I struggle with this issue as well.

Moreover, our worship services easily become a place in which we highlight those with the most extravagant development in their skills and abilities, and neglect the ones who are still growing and developing.  Of course, we will march out the occasional children’s choir and listen with gilded ears, but for the most part, we are not that excited about working with those who are further back on their growth curve.  I often wonder if maybe we have become more interested in collecting a group of ideal musicians than in growing all of those that we have been given.

We all understand why.  If we are offering a sacrifice of praise to the Lord, then we want to bring forward the very best in our presentations.  That makes good biblical sense.  Moreover, it takes a lot of time and work to grow people in their abilities, time that we rarely have to spare.  I know that I would rather have a guitarist who can nail something right out of the gate, then have to work with someone in his or her musicianship to help produce growth.

However, I think that there might be a deeper reason, and perhaps it is the result of the first.  I think that we are probably more interested in the quality of performance for the program than in the quality of growth for the individual.  Many in the church seem to have slipped into the belief that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  I wonder if this philosophy is truly biblical.  I could be wrong, but it seems that the church is subtly becoming a culture in which we are more concerned with pleasing the whole than in deeply blessing the few—a kind of blessing that is truly life-changing.  Maybe we need to grow deeper before we grow wider.

I have been at both ends of this spectrum.  I have been the one who was weeded out of the worship team because I just didn’t seem to fit the sound of the group.  I have also been the one who became part of the inner circle, the one who performed at every big event, because I had the potential to bless the people without fail.

At the end of the day, I believe that the growth of people is more important to God than performance.  I believe that God is probably more blessed by the long-term shepherding of a few as tools for ministry than by a thousand of the most breathtaking productions that we could create upon our church platforms.  I believe that He is more interested in seeing us form well-rounded servants of the gospel than in music teams that could win a Grammy for their sheer prowess of musicality.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t I have come out of the womb singing like an angel?  God loves and blesses growth in people, and so should we.

10 Differences Between Leaders & Cheerleaders

Leadership Word Puzzle

Philip Nation distinguishes the difference between genuine leaders and cheerleaders, or what he calls the difference between those in leadership positions who use buzzwords and those who actually lead.  Think for a moment about this vital distinction:

I think that a key facet of leadership is knowing the difference between a strategy and a collection of buzzwords.

So what are some of the differences Nation notes between leaders and cheerleaders ?

1. Buzzwords begin as a rallying cry and end as words to broadly applied. / Leadership constantly looks for fresh ways to keep the movement alive.

2. Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content. / Leadership offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialogue.

3. Buzzwords give a false sense of momentum when stagnation is the reality. / Leadership identifies stagnation and tackles it.

4. Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you need to hear something. / Leadership shows the willingness to have the difficult conversations.

5. Buzzwords kill the meaning of a movement. / Leadership continues to give life to a movement.

6. Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared. / Leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person in the movement.

7. Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable. / Leadership actually learns.

8. Buzzwords give false hope of a possible future. / Leadership tells a beautiful and detailed story of what can be.

9. Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought. / Leadership offers everyone a way to access the big ideas and bring understanding to them.

10. Buzzwords make important words eventually seem disposable. / Leadership redeems the important meaning of words and phrases.

To read Nation’s full article: Buzzwords & Leaders

8 Questions to Diagnose Your Leadership

King & Queen

In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:

  1. Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
  2. Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
  3. Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
  4. Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
  5. Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
  6. Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
  7. Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
  8. Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?

H.T. > Justin Taylor

What If We Omitted Gospel, Community, or Mission?

The refrain from an old song says: “Two out of three ain’t bad.”  But would this be true for a church, or a Christian, who incorporates 2 out of 3 of the core values: Gospel, Community, Mission?

Consider these thoughts, framed as a mathematical equation:

Gospel + Community – Mission

If we have a Gospel Community, without the mission or ‘sent’ aspect in our DNA, then we become a church that is all about ourselves.  We may love the gospel, and love that the good news has impacted our minds, and even desire to live that out with other people like us.  But living as ‘sent ones’ to our neighborhood seems too difficult.  When this happens a Christian ghetto surrounds the church, and an “us vs them” mentality is created.  This misses the entire point of the “go” in Christ’s great commission. (Matthew 28.17-21)

Such communities of believers are often very good at living as gospel families.  They take care of each other well: they provide for one anothers’ needs, and they draw very close to one another. But the lack of  engagement with the world, and and absence of multiplication,  is  vividly evident.  Sometimes such an inward focus is even worn as a badge of honor, since it may be believed by our isolation we are not being ‘polluted’ by the world.

Such communities usually have a heavy emphasis on bible studies, men’s groups, women’s group, children’s programs, etc.  The groups will usually have an “open invitation” to those on the outside. But because they don’t believe they are “sent” to their community, they rarely see disciples made of the un-churched people around them.   Numerical growth typically comes from like-minded people moving into their area, or through having children, or stealing the members from other churches that may offer fewer activities or which may be going through some turbulent times.  Rarely will they be faced with the general public pushing into the Kingdom, because they never engage general public with the gospel message outside the walls of their church building.

The overall goal is usually to prompt a great understanding of the Word and theology, but it is often intellectually gluttonous and missionally starved… because the reason for the Word and theology is to drive us to glorify God and show us our role in God’s redemptive drama.  If it’s not being used towards that end then it’s being misused.

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Christian Leaders Learn to Think Theologically

Here is an important thought for my fellow pastors, and other ministry leaders. It is also important for shaping what church members should value in and expect of their pastors and Elders:

Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological and sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists… They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.  But that has little to do with Christian leadership.

~ Henri Nouwen, from In the Name of Jesus

10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

Researcher Thom Rainer warns of signs of a church that is so inwardly focused that it has ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ and has become, at best, a museum to (assumed) past glories, in which the membership makes up the board of directors.   Rainer writes:

Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

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Who Do You Listen To?

I am blessed to have some great friends. While I always enjoy making new friends, there is nothing like an old friend. Someone who has known you long, and known you well. These are the friends who can see right through the veneer we sometimes try to hide beneath. And because they can see through it they won’t let you hide.  These are the ones who ask penetrating questions. I have to come clean because they will know if I am skirting the issue by giving some vague reply.  These are the folks I go to for counsel. These are the folks I always listen to.

In a post not long ago, Perry Noble asked the question: Who Should You Listen To?  He then proceeds to make a list of 8 qualifications.

If you are in leadership (and especially if you are in church leadership) then you have probably discovered the reality that God loves you…and everyone else has an incredible plan for your life!

One of the struggles that we all MUST wrestle with is who to listen to when it comes to making decisions.  The Bible tells us that we unwise to be Lone Rangers (Proverbs 15:22) and the Bible has several stories of people who made bad decisions because they listened to the wrong people (see I Kings 12:1-16.)

However, it is IMPOSSIBLE to listen to everyone. With the barrage of information and opinions coming our way via Facebook, email, twitter and other media, anyone who tries to focus on the opinions of everyone will simply lose his mind, and most likely any leadership effectiveness, if his obsession becomes making everyone happy.

So, who do we listen to?  Who is it that should ALWAYS have access to us…and we should ALWAYS desire their thoughts and insights? Here is Perry Noble’s list:

#1 – Those who know me, who have spent time with me and understand that there is a person behind the personality.

#2 – Those who have seen me at my best and worst…and love me anyway.

#3 – Those who do not automatically assume the worse about me and always give me the benefit of the doubt.  (ALWAYS beware of the person who seeks to pounce on you as soon as they hear something bad!)

#4 – Those who are willing to stand with me in a tough time–THOSE WHO BLEED WITH ME CAN LEAD WITH ME!!!

#5 – Those who offer correction for the purpose of building up rather than tearing down (people who always seek to tear you down should be ignored!  If they do not correct/confront in love then they are nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal – see I Corinthians 13:1)

#6 – Those who are willing to take a confrontation straight to the person rather to an online audience.

#7 – Those who are not always looking for a reason to attack/hate you.

#8 – Those who have the goal of restoring you when you mess up and not wounding you!

10 Signs of Approaching Meltdown

Perry Noble reveals and responds to a stunning statistic:

My counselor shared a statistic with me two years ago that floored me – 90% of the people entering ministry do not retire from ministry. They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.

Jesus did not call us to this or wants this for our lives. Yet so many of us church leaders struggle in this area (usually inwardly because if we said out loud that we are dying inside, people might perceive us as weak).

While I am stunned by these stats, I am not surprised.  I’ve seen too many friends flee the frenzy of ministry.  And I myself have peeked over the edge on a few occasions, only to be pulled back onto solid ground  by good friends and gracious church members.  But I concur with Noble: This is not what Jesus wants for those in ministry – whether pastors or church leaders, or volunteers in other areas of the Church.

One reason we know this is not what Jesus wants is because Peter tells us as much:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…  ~ 1 Peter 5.2

But the interesting thing about this verse is that Peter tells us both that God wants leading the church to be enjoyable and that it is going to be emotionally taxing.   On the one hand, lead and shepherd because the joy set before us makes you want to do it.  On the other hand, by acknowledging that ministry will sometimes seem like a chore, a duty,  a mere responsibility, Peter implies that there will likely be times when something will rob the leader of the delight.

In his post Noble lists 10 Signs you are on the verge of a meltdown or burnout:

  1. You are beginning to despise people and your compassion for them is continually decreasing rather than increasing.
  2. You often think about doing something other than ministry and your biggest desire isn’t to honor God and reach people, but to simply find relief from the pressure that seems to be building daily inside you.
  3. You cannot remember the last time you simply had fun with family and friends, and joy is something you talk about but are not experiencing for yourself.
  4. You are disconnected at home and when you get there, you do not want to engage with your spouse or your children; you cannot enjoy being around them. You spend more time online than you do with your family and you find yourself wanting to sleep all of the time.
  5. You continually tell yourself and those you love that “this is just a really busy season and that you will slow down soon.” However, the truth is that you have been most likely “singing that same song” for years!
  6. You are continually becoming obsessed with what others say about you and one negative comment from someone who does not like you can put you in an incredibly deep valley and cause you to feel hopeless.
  7. You begin to make easy decisions rather than the right ones, because the right ones take too much work.
  8. There is no hope in you and you actually despair of life. You have thought of death and have even entertained suicidal thoughts.
  9. You are experiencing unexplained depression and/or anxiety. You are having panic attacks and can’t explain it.
  10. You are increasingly becoming withdrawn from family and friends.

While I cannot say that I have experienced all of the above symptoms, I am familiar with most. Apparently so is Noble.  He says he drafted this list from his own life. (See: Meltdown)

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