9 Ways Pastors Let Ministry Harm Their Marriage

Too many of us know a ministry couple that has divorced. I encourage pastors to be aware of ways we sometimes let ministry harm our marriages – and be ever alert to not let disaster hit their own home. If you are not a pastoral leader, let these words lead you to pray for your pastors.

  1. Too little energy is left for relationship building at home. Pastors serve others in various difficulties of life such as hospitalization, relational conflict, job loss, and death. When you minister to others all day, you have little left to give to your spouse when you get home.
  2. The home becomes the one place left to complain. Think about it—pastors have few places to let their guard down, share their frustrations, and work through their occasional anger. Home is the one place where they can open their emotional vault – and their spouse must bear the brunt. Even the most gracious spouse will likely grow weary at some point.
  3. Spouses see us serve others but then feel neglected themselves. They see us sacrifice for others, give time to others, listen to others, and pray for others. At the same time, they long to be prioritized, heard, led, and loved. Many, though, will never speak up for fear of being a hindrance to their spouse’s ministry.
  4. Ministry interruptions eventually get old. I’ve watched young couples adjust well when the minister must take a phone call at dinner or miss a family gathering for an emergency.  However, when we allow those interruptions to  multiply over the years while we do nothing to protect our relationship, even the gentlest spouse can become resentful.
  5. We pray with others, but not with our spouses. I need not linger long here to make the point. If our spouses have to ask us for prayer, we have relegated them to the position of church member rather than life partner. Trouble lurks.  
  6. A spouse becomes a ministry trophy. It’s great when both spouses use their giftedness as a ministry team. It’s fun and fulfilling. It’s not so good, though, when we see our spouse primarily as a trophy to build up our ministry. 
  7. We never relax with our spouse. Even as I write these words, I feel the tug of Holy Spirit conviction. My guess is that most of us relaxed and enjoyed our dating days. When pastoral workloads replace those relaxing times, we risk harming our marriages.
  8. We treat our children as “the pastor’s kids” more than “our kids.” The former prioritizes our ministry reputation over our children; the latter rightly gives our children priority. Most spouses quickly become protective when we mess up these priorities.
  9. Others of the opposite gender turn to us for comfort. They seek us for guidance. They share their pain. They respect us as the “men of God.” The attention becomes attractive, and we convince ourselves that the next step is acceptable. That’s really stupid. 

In what other ways might pastors allow ministry to harm their marriage? 

13 Comments

  • Leonard says:

    Insightful as always

  • Thank you Chuck. I once asked my wife after the church had grown, we had just completed a new worship center, and had the world by the tail etc.: “Babe, how are we doing?” She promptly responded; “Sometimes I feel like you are more married to the church than to me!” Needless to say I was taken back and realized that I had not been paying attention. I did make some adjustments and still making them after all these years. Thank You Lord for Your grace and my wife’s!

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Mike, for the honest testimony.

  • Peter says:

    As an associate pastor I ended up quiting while woking for a pastor who could not respect the boundaries in place to protect my family. Best decision I ever made. It earned my wife’s trust and respect

  • Hi, I love the list you wrote. This is so helpful to me. Also, I am currently a young man in transition into the ministry (working w/college students) as well as attending SEBTS and I am wondering what are some practical ways to protect my marriage from being prioritized below the ministry. For example if I have a meeting every Sunday after church that interferes with our traditional family lunch, is it wise to choose the ones I can make it to and choose the ones I can’t? I know this is ultimately a discussion with my wife but just wondering what are some ways you (and others) implemented boundaries w/o neglecting the stewardship of your ministry.

  • John Bartuska says:

    Pastors must first and foremost, as a top priority, like with all of us, cultivate a personal, ongoing, growing, engaging, talk and listen relationship with Jesus. Quiet time, daily, in the dark, alone, face to face (so to speak) with Jesus, is mandatory. It is easy for Pastors and other church leaders who give so much in the ministry to then neglect their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing matters more than getting this right as a priority. All else flows from the health of this.

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