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When the Pastor’s Wife Wants to Quit

When my husband and I moved out of state for his new senior pastor role at a small rural church, our sending pastor prayed for our future suffering in ministry. At the time, I couldn’t understand why he’d pray about such a thing. What kind of suffering was he anticipating for us? Wasn’t church the safest place for a pastor and his wife?

That was nearly 20 years ago, and if I could go back to my younger self, I’d tell her that little would bring her more sorrow than the local church. But I’d also say her suffering in ministry would absolutely be worth it.

Friendly Fire Hurts the Most

Ten years into our ministry, my husband and I were ready to throw in the towel. Pastoring was hard work, with emotional and spiritual burdens we couldn’t untangle from the other parts of our life. I struggled to make friends in our church because I wasn’t sure who I could trust. Members who had previously sworn allegiance left in droves. Criticisms about methodology almost always became personal character attacks, and if people were unhappy with my husband, I usually heard about it. Maybe the comments and complaints weren’t aimed at me, but they stung just the same.

I was surprised by how deeply ministry life hurt. The church is a family, and the wounds inflicted by brothers and sisters cut deep.

During those early years of church turmoil, a missionary on furlough stayed with us, and we shared some of our struggles with him. “Friendly fire always hurts the most,” he told us. He’d endured deep persecution from people hostile to the gospel in the country where he’d served, and yet, he explained to us, nothing hurt as much as problems within his church and between other missionaries.

As people united by the gospel and reconciled to both God and one another through Jesus, we’re supposed to not only get along but love one another with “brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10). When we fight and stand against one another, that reconciliation threatens to unravel. The place we’re supposed to be safe and loved can become the place we most dread. Church became that place of dread for me, but I couldn’t walk away from the body of Christ because I knew Jesus loved her. Somehow, so must I.

Jesus Loves His Church

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called the Bridegroom, and we learn he’ll one day present the church as his pure and spotless Bride before the Father (Eph. 5:27). Paul used the marriage metaphor to help us see how important the church is to Jesus. He laid down his life to make her new and righteous. If Jesus is committed to the church, we should be too.

I couldn’t walk away from the body of Christ because I knew Jesus loved her.

Though we can damage relationships there by our sinfulness, the church is one of the primary means God has given to us for sanctification and perseverance in the faith. It’s not an optional activity (Heb. 10:25). It’s God’s gift to each of us who used to be far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The church is a means of grace by which we’re sanctified, taught, disciplined, and encouraged.

Paul wrote, “Warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14, HCSB). The body of Christ offers protection for the wayward, comfort for the grieving, provision for the poor, and teaching for all. John repeatedly called believers to work out their obedience with love for one another, noting many times that this very love would distinguish them from the world (John 13:35; 1 John 4:20–21; 5:1).

Love means exercising forgiveness and kindness to one another as Christ has done for us. It means presuming goodwill, leading with grace, and bearing up with those who are struggling. Obedience is the path forward when we struggle to love the church.

Church Can Hurt—and Heal

In God’s kindness, our church survived a decade of turmoil and began to heal from dissension. Around that time, I attended The Gospel Coalition’s women’s conference for the first time. I signed up for a breakout session on church hurt, and with tears in my eyes, I listened to Jackie Hill Perry say, “God can use the church to heal your church hurt.”

Was it possible that healing could take place in the same church where I’d been hurt so deeply? I believed it was. I went home with renewed fervor to love the body that God called us to. As my church family grew closer and learned to trust one another again, I tentatively sought deeper friendships that I still hold tightly today.

Was it possible that healing could take place in the same church where I’d been hurt so deeply? I believed it was.

My husband and I will soon celebrate 19 years with our church family, and we’re living proof that God has good purposes for his people. He may call us to suffer in ministry, and he may have long lessons of faithful endurance to teach us—but I can assure you it’ll be worth it. The joys of loving my church family far outweigh the sorrows. We won’t always get it right, but we can hold fast to Christ’s promise to one day present us pure and spotless before the Father.

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