|Credit: Creative Commons (James Stencilowsky)|
Jennifer and I met nine years ago on a youth ministry retreat at Camp Id-Ra-Ha-Je in Bailey, CO. While we didn’t start dating until almost a year later (that’s a story I’ll let Jennifer share–it’s far more interesting and a lot funnier when told from her perspective), it was fitting that we met while serving side by side in ministry, because that’s exactly what we spent much of our time doing during our three years of dating and the first part of our marriage. She came on just about every retreat, and when I wrote thank-you notes to my leaders, I would address her as “my favorite volunteer.”
Today, Jennifer no longer serves as a volunteer in our youth ministry. She still has a heart for young women who are in high school, but she spends most of her volunteer time leading Bible studies at our church on Thursday mornings and evenings. While we both miss spending the time we used to spend together serving in youth ministry, Jennifer has definitely found her niche and is really good at what she does, and it’s very fulfilling for her.
Unfortunately, Jennifer not serving with me in youth ministry wouldn’t fly in some ministry contexts. Assuming and expecting that a youth pastor’s spouse will always serve in youth ministry is just one of the many ways to burn out a pastor’s spouse. It may be the case that a youth ministry spouse will want to be a full-fledged leader in her spouses ministry, but it shouldn’t be an expectation. Unspoken and unrealistic expectations of a youth pastor’s spouse will not only harm the marriage, but it will also decrease the likelihood that the youth pastor will want to stay in that church for the long haul. Here are a few common and unrealistic expectations of a youth pastor’s spouse:
Expect that the spouse will be the most dedicated volunteer in the youth ministry. Some people view a lack of involvement by a youth ministry spouse as a lack of support for her husband’s ministry. First, someone who holds this view probably doesn’t understand the level of love, care, and sacrifice required to be a ministry spouse, especially a pastor’s wife. Second, this expectation for a youth ministry wife to be fully involved in the church’s youth ministry is especially unrealistic if the youth pastor has young children. Last year, I spent eighteen nights away from home at youth ministry events. In general, that’s not a lot, but it would have been almost impossible for Jennifer to join me for all of those, or even most of them, since we don’t live near our parents. Plus, babysitting for both parents to be at weekly youth ministry gatherings, plus monthly events would get expensive. Third, to assume where a youth pastor’s spouse will desire to and be gifted to serve is silly and takes away her individuality as a follower of Jesus. Just because husband and wife are one flesh doesn’t mean they have to be attached at the hip and will always have the same spiritual gifts.
Expect that the spouse will serve regularly on Sunday mornings in the children’s ministry. This may be just my observation, but I’ve noticed that for many of my youth ministry friends throughout the years, there’s an expectation–whether spoken or unspoken–that a youth pastor’s wife will serve in the children’s ministry on Sunday mornings, or even lead the children’s ministry if it’s a smaller church. That’s great if that’s something she wants to do and is gifted at. The reason teaching Bible studies on Thursday works so well for Jennifer is that on Sunday mornings, she looks forward to worshipping with her family, meeting with her small group, and just enjoying a cup of coffee while chatting with friends. Sundays can be hectic enough on a ministry family, and adding volunteer hours for the youth pastor’s spouse may not be the best thing for their family.
Expect that the spouse knows everything about what’s going on in the youth ministry. This one’s actually pretty funny–until it occurs every single Sunday. Picture this: a youth pastor’s wife comes in the front door of the church with the youngest three of her kids in tow. It hasn’t been the easiest of mornings, because it’s snowing and the kids had to get bundled up–which isn’t a quick or easy task with young kids. She’s late getting them to Sunday school, and a mom of a junior high student approaches her with questions about the upcoming retreat, which the wife doesn’t know the answer to. As the mom of the junior higher–who is visibly frustrated–asks if the wife knows where her youth pastor husband is, two of her kids start to bicker, and the youngest child starts to cry. Not only does this make the wife feel bad about not being able to help, it keeps her family from being able to focus on worshipping on Sunday mornings, which isn’t easy as it is. Do your youth pastor’s wife a favor and wait to ask your question until you find her husband.
Question: What are some other unrealistic expectations of youth pastor’s spouse?