Advice for Ministers and their Spouses. Tips for Surviving Ministry
Monday, 6 October 2014
A group for the spouses of the students at Rev T's college met regularly. As the college is on one side of London and we lived on the other, I never attended any of the meetings. There was only so far I was prepared to travel for tea / coffee, biscuits and a chat.
They did their best to support the remote people with emails etc. One of the things they shared were Tips for New Ministers and their Spouses, I've improved it with some thoughts of my own! Hope you find it helpful.
Don’t judge the previous minister until you've walked a few years in their shoes.
Find out why things are how they are before coming to any conclusions. People don’t wake up one day and think I’m going to do this badly / brilliantly. There is always a journey.
Spend at least 6 months getting to know the church before making any big changes.
Some people have agendas. Spend time observing before making friends / judgments.
Pick your battles. Once you've drawn your line, don’t give up at the first sign of resistance.
Spouses try and avoid joining anything for six months. Say no to everything to break people’s expectations. Then do what you believe God is calling you to do.
My friend Jen says he whole two preaches and a congregational lunch + Q & A (the BU standard) is insufficient to get to know a church. They visited two churches looking for a new Minister on the sly. At one of them, one of the congregation cheerfully told them a few things they probably wouldn't have heard otherwise. Or not until it was too late. A very quick and painless red light. Or a green or amber one.
The Spouse Factor
Introduce your spouse and your children etc. Everyone will know them but they won’t know everyone!
Decide how you see the Spouse's Ministry working. Some couples feel that God called them both to Ministry and will look for churches with roles that "suit couples". Others feel that it was the Minister who was called, don’t see themselves as a BOGOFF and are less hands on. Making that clear from the start helps prevent problems later.
You are not more or less than any one else. You can't save the day, be everyone's friend and make the perfect church. Do what you can. Don’t try and do everything.
Manse and Finance
Get the Minister's contract to specify there will be a manse inspection once a year. With any necessary work being done. (This may be a big ask for a small church).
Agree what additional things the church will pay over and above their legal obligations. In the contract. A smaller church might not offer a massive book fund etc, but they may offer more Sundays off.
Claim your expenses honestly. Not committing fraud goes without saying. Don't be tempted to not claim "as part of your giving". This gives the church a false impression how much things cost. It causes problems if circumstances change or the next incumbent sees things differently. A Minister's spouse I know had an extremely well paid legal job. Her tithe paid her OH's salary. When they left, the church realised they'd stopped budgeting for the Minister's salary. The money had been spent developing other ministries. The Ministerial OH also says that in one interview, when the church secretary found out what the spouse did for a living they said, "Great! That means we can pay you less!" They didn't feel led to take things any further!
Be free to make it your home.
Keep the public areas reasonably tidy. There will be unexpected callers.
If you have to fill in a tax return, make get advice about how to fill it in correctly.
It will be tough if you've only got one wage. Budget wisely. Set aside an amount of treat money each month you can use for yourselves if you can.
Decide what to tell your spouse about pastoral and church related things and then tell the rest of the church. Rev T tells me nothing!
Be prepared for what you've said to be repeated. Not always accurately!
Don't get suckered into discussing church policies, decisions etc. There might be an agenda behind what seems like an innocent question. You may let slip something you shouldn't.
Don't speak for each other. Go direct.
You don’t have answer straight away. Stall.
Don’t stop talking to each other. Accept what the other says and don't take it personally. Deal with issues between yourselves in private. Don’t criticise each other in public. (Actually, this is good advice in any relationship).
Book family time / time off etc. as an appointment in your diary. When someone ask you if you're free, you can truthfully tell them you're already got an appointment. Low cunning is a good quality!
Pace yourself. There will be slower and busier times in Ministry. Take the long view, not the short view on work.
Have days off that are truly days off. No housework / DIY / weekly shopping etc.
Ministry allows you to be flexible and pick up kids from school, go to sports days etc. Be grateful for this. Not everyone has this perk.
Take holidays / Sunday's off. Spread them out over the year.
Let phone calls go to answerphone on your day off. Listen to them later. Most so-called 'emergencies’ can wait, but you don't want to miss something important.
Be prepared to go the extra mile, but have boundaries! The Lion technique is good - growl, then growl louder if they don't take the hint. If two growls don't work, roar. If roaring doesn't work, pounce and use them as a chew toy. Better than going straight to the roaring, the pouncing and Peggy Mitchell style shouts of "Get outa my church!"
Separate phone lines for home and church. If you can. Other suggestions - Caller ID and telling people who ring all the time that you will only speak to them so many times a week.
Be clear what is appropriate use of the Manse, It is the family home. Both the Manses we've been given had one big room downstairs. Using them for meetings means I have to hide upstairs. We don't do that unless we have too. When the church heating broke a few winter's ago, all the evening meetings were at ours until it was fixed. No one was being turned into a Popsicle so I could watch TV.
Find friends outside church. Other Ministers and their spouses, parents at school etc. Keep in touch with old ones. (Note to self, take own advice!). Find interests outside the church as well.
Be cautious about friends in the church. The Minister may have to hold them accountable one day and they might not like it. Too close a friendship and people forget who you are and either moan at you about the leadership or ask you to influence discussions / policy. They may just want to be your friend because you are the Minister's spouse. That improves their standing in the church. Having never been one of the cool kids, I find the whole idea that I've suddenly become one by association hilarious.
Get to know your deacons socially. Don’t just see them as work colleagues.
Feed yourselves spiritually. Go to conferences, read, listen to sermons, retreat etc. Be intentional as this isn't going to happen by accident. Find what works for you.
It can be hard listen to your spouse speak all the time, especially as you know them so well.
Write down the journey of your calling. Look at it during tough times as a reminder / encouragement that God has called you.
You are not there by accident or misfortune, but because God put you here. Ask God to show you why. (Must resist obvious sick sense of humour joke).
Look after and be kind to yourself.
Find some support. Someone to talk to who can give you perspective. Use the regional ministers!!!
Use the Ministers & Family Counselling Service (CMCS).
It can be difficult to cope when your spouse is the one getting a good kicking. As there are only so many bodies you can dispose of before the police come calling, you need to find a sensible way to cope. Find something that you enjoy that helps take your mind off things and gives perspective.
The spouse who didn't sign up for this. Find a friend and be honest.
To sum up:
You will make mistakes and get it wrong. Rely on God’s grace. Don’t forget the joys of seeing people grow. The fun times of being involved in special moments in church life. The community – we never had problems with finding someone to feed the gerbils!
I'm sure that each Minister and their spouse will have a slightly different list and a completely different take. Some of the other advice that came from the Group wasn't so good. I'll share The Best Piece of Advice. Ever. another day.