Finding balance in a multichurch district

How does the pastor's spouse effectively juggle marriage, parenthood, and ministry?

Ellie Gil is the wife of a pastor who serves in Gonzalez and Denham Springs, Louisiana, United States.

Whether you are the type of pastor’s wife who is up front and visible alongside your husband or the quiet strength in his shadow, you have to find your place in ministry. It might not be a job you asked for or ever dreamed of, but it’s the one that comes from having married a minister.

We often have the challenge of trying to fit in, to share our gifts and talents, and to find balance between serving and living. Of all the normal challenges of ministry, you will likely have to face the reality of a multichurch district, where you’re pastoring two or more churches with your husband.

To every question about successful service in a multichurch district, there is usually not a clear right or wrong answer. The following, however, are a few answers that have worked for some pastoral families working in a multichurch setting.

Benefits of serving in a multichurch district

Serving in a multichurch district has not only challenges but blessings as well. Sometimes we might be called to serve in a church where turmoil and discord reign. At those times we might feel every bit of joy drained from our soul. It is then, though, that we have the opportunity to escape (usually every other week) and serve another church that usually, either by Conference design or divine providence, will boost our spiritual energies and help us keep going. When one church might be draining, the other usually is Spirit-filling.

We also have the benefit of getting to know and serve two congregations. I enjoy the challenges of moving from district to district as I meet and befriend those whom I expect to spend eternity with. It is truly a blessing to serve many.

Challenges of serving in a multichurch district

Over and over I hear the same concern from pastors’ wives: It is difficult to balance the time factor in wanting to give equal service to both churches. Yet each church is unique in needs and expectations. The 50/50 ratio of time is not a rule you must follow. Learn what the needs are of your congregations; then prayerfully ask for the Lord’s guidance as to how and where to share your gifts, time, and talents in order to meet those needs. Some churches function well with little involvement from the pastor and his wife; others are much more dependent.

As a pastor’s wife you must find balance between serving the churches entrusted to your care and serving your family. Always remember that your children, marriage, and family come first. If your home is in turmoil, your ministry often suffers.

The service you may offer will differ depending on the age and needs of your family. Often young pastors’ wives feel alone and overwhelmed as they try to serve the church while juggling small children during Sabbath. When the children are small and their demands great, we must not overload our plate with trying to do more than we can.

When our families are young, we should serve in a helper capacity only. Do not take on responsibilities that will stress you to the max. When you feel overworked and overextended, your children and your husband will usually be on the receiving end.

As your children grow, you will find it easier to take on leadership roles, if you feel that is your calling. More often than not, successful pastor’s wives are not always upfront and visible. Many church members appreciate the quiet commitment of a dependable helper. Remember—it is their church, and we are there only to help lead and serve.

Choosing between the needs of my family and being visible

We have to choose what is best for our children. Sometimes in a multichurch districtone of the churches will have a stronger program for our children, yet we may feel an obligation to give equal time to the other church. I don’t have a definite answer to this question, other than to tell you that the spiritual needs of your children should come first.

Early on in our ministry, at our first district with three churches, I felt that I should always be with my husband. I would make our oldest son, then two years old, sit through two church services with no Sabbath School. I did my best to record Bible stories on cassette so that he could listen to something he liked and be quiet and still. One Sabbath a dear saint told me that it was highly irreverent for my child to be listening to tapes during the sermon. The following Sabbath, I took a book for my son during the sermons, and after about three weeks of this, my son told me, in tears, that he did not want to go to church. In my effort to please others, I had neglected to make meeting Jesus every Sabbath a happy occasion for my son. At that moment I decided that the spiritual health of my children would come first.

I decided, with my husband’s blessing, that I would choose the church with the best Sabbath School program as my home base. I would attend there three times a month, and visit the other churches on the other week. I have continued this practice, and now that my children are 19, 14, and 11, I allow them to attend their home base church alone when my husband and I are at another church. We do ask them to be with us in the other church at least two to three times a quarter, for special Sabbaths, church socials, picnics, and other special occasions. This has worked well for us.

Many times a family will mentor your children when your responsibilities call you to the other church. If this happens, always make sure that the family that helps you has the same standards you have taught your children.

Serving the churches even when I’m not visibly participating

If you have time to accompany your husband during visitations, especially to the church you attend less frequently, the members will not feel that you are neglecting them. Prepare a big batch of vegetable soup and freeze it to send with him to a sick member, along with a note of care and concern. Take advantage of your cordless phone while you’re are cooking or doing chores to make a quick phone call and pray with someone who is discouraged. During your break at work, mail a word of encouragement to someone you have not seen in a while.

Invite members from your churches to a Sabbath lunch or to share a vespers worship with your family. Each of our churches usually has one potluck a month, leaving two Sabbaths open, one of which we keep for a special family Sabbath; on the other we enjoy the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of these are ways to be active in ministry without always having to be visible.

Accepting leadership roles at either church

No matter what your choice is as to the level of involvement in ministry, at some point the nominating committee will ask you to take on a leadership role.

First, you must learn the art of saying No. But never say No right away; always take time to prayerfully consider each opportunity for service. Let the Holy Spirit guide you as to where your talents can be best used. Always consider how much time such a commitment will take from your family. If you would like to take a challenge but are concerned about time, ask the nominating committee to elect a co-leader to serve with you. This will ease your load and also allows you to mentor a church member for more church responsibility. We are successful when we equip God’s people to serve.

Another concern for many pastors’ wives is to accept a position on the board. Over the years, when any offi ce that I have held in the church called for me to have a board position, I have always refrained from voting. This way, if I disagreed with my husband’s vote, the other board members would not have something to talk about when the meeting was adjourned.

Finally, speak to other wives that you may feel have a successful multichurch ministry. They will have a plethora of knowledge and advice. Talk to your husband about your concerns and pray together through the hard decisions.

No question, a multichurch-district ministry comes with many challenges, especially if you let the work overwhelm you. But the blessings are there too, once you learn to juggle the fine line between serving and living.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Ellie Gil is the wife of a pastor who serves in Gonzalez and Denham Springs, Louisiana, United States.

August 2006

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