Ministry and Marriage: Navigating Together

Navigating the world of student ministry with your spouse post-marriage can be challenging in several unexpected ways. Suddenly all of the “normal” adjustments attached with being a newlywed were seemingly put on hold as my husband and I struggled to find common ground within rationality and grace. For me, it looked like struggling to balance ministry with my chosen career path in a brand-new state; while trying to figure out why I felt selfish every Sunday afternoon we didn’t have anything planned or every time we chose to have a meal alone. For spouses in ministry, it can often feel like you married your spouse and the ministry. I’m not talking about the prayerful planning ahead, but the unplanned other parts that no one adequately prepares you for. It was this isolation for me that became the catalyst for asking a simple question: “Ministry spouses: What do you wish you’d known about ministry beforehand?”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the response to my question was overwhelming, in the best way possible. Among all the great feedback, there are three main categories of advice that I feel are the most important to share.

Boundaries are so important.

Several individuals mentioned the importance of boundaries, which I would argue is absolutely foundational to establishing yourself in ministry. Misti Hopkins (2020) said:

“Figure out how to draw strong boundaries so you are not speaking for your spouse. Just like our kids try to play us against each other, so will teens and their parents. I have lots of people come to me and ask me to mention things to my husband.”

Adding to this, it is vital to present yourself as a team to church members, but in a way that validates your autonomy and establishes that you and your husband are separate individuals who are working together for the common goal of the Gospel. Emily Conley (2020) added: “That my first ministry is to my husband [and] everything else follows. God has called me alongside my spouse; it’s a team thing! My purpose isn’t just found in the “pastor’s wife” — it’s so much more.”

Don’t take everything personally.

I remember vividly the first Sunday my husband and I visited our new church family. He had just accepted his job there, and it was a tiny church. We were dating at the time, and I was so nervous about what their first impression of me would be. In complete transparency, not only were we quite young, but I have cerebral palsy, so I’ve grown up having to endure more attention from people than I would care to admit. To this day, they are the warmest people and I am blessed to know them.

In saying this I realize that for some the transition is not as seamless. For whatever reason you may be struggling immensely, and it is challenging. Danisha Keating (2020) stated in her response:

“Not everyone has your best interest in mind, be careful who you share your things with, and keep it to themselves.”

While it’s justified and easy to have those feelings during such a vulnerable time, it is imperative that you protect your emotions and your mental health as well. Understand that hurting people hurt people by projecting what they don’t like about the situation onto the person. This understanding helps to look at a situation objectively. Jenny Queen (2020) adds, “Have thick skin… teenagers can be brutal and you can’t be offended easily by them… win their hearts and earn their trust.. be as genuine and open as you can while sharing Truth. Sometimes the most difficult youth are the ones who ‘get it’ in the long run. Be real.” With any new situation, it takes time to adjust and become comfortable; but it’s also equally important to have a support system outside of the church.

Find your support system.

In the same way that having maladaptive self-care practices while serving the church can result in isolation, thinking that you don’t need a support system can be detrimental to your health and your relationships with everyone else. Kim Bowers (2020) encourages:

“Find friends/mentors outside of your church. You are going to need a safe place to process the mess and heartaches of being a pastor’s wife.”

This is paramount when getting plugged into a new ministry, because no one understands better than someone who has experienced a similar situation.

I’ve personally come to three conclusions through this research. First, a great support system is integral to your mental health. Second, healthy boundaries and expectations are a must. Finally, learning to compartmentalize others’ pain is so important to the success of your ministry with your spouse. We cannot be a light and love others well if we do not take care of ourselves and our marriages first. We owe it to our students to do so.

Rebecca Banks is currently pursuing an M.A. in Crisis Counseling from Liberty University and is working towards becoming a licensed mental health clinician.  She lives in North Carolina with her husband and is passionate about the counseling side of student ministry.