When Your Husband Is Burnt Out
Growing up in rural north Georgia, I never had aspirations to become a pastor’s wife or a writer. Here I am doing both in Queens, New York! I’ve done one far longer than the other. For 33 years, I’ve had the privilege of ministering alongside my husband, Ed, who has been in his current role of senior pastor for 26 years. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.
But that’s not always been the case.
Occasionally, we reflect on certain seasons of ministry that produced little to no long-lasting fruit. There have been a few of those over the years—times that you look back on and say, “What happened?” You think of people who slipped through the cracks and wonder.
“Where are they now?”
“Were they properly discipled?”
“Were they even saved?”
“Did I do something to offend them?”
“What could we have done differently?”
Although we may never know the answers to all these questions, it does no good to beat ourselves up about it. Rather, we try to honestly assess the situations, learn from them, search our hearts, change when necessary, and realize God is sovereign and rest in Him.
But the fruitless times haven’t been the most discouraging. Rather, seasons of turmoil within the church have caused the most hopelessness and disappointment. The attacks from within have required the most energy and effort. One such attack nearly brought us down and drove my husband out of the ministry.
It was about 10 years into his current position that the battle began—more than 15 years ago now. The first, peaceful decade came to an abrupt halt when the church divided over proposed changes to the church by-laws. The divisions felt like a personal attack—mostly because it was. I wondered, how could they betray my husband? How could they betray us? I was shocked that church members, some in leadership positions with whom we’d served for so long, were now acting out a scene from Jekyll and Hyde.
The assault seemed to come out of nowhere but obviously it had been festering for quite some time. There were filibusters at the business meetings as we discussed the rewriting of the by-laws. There were the darts of false accusations. There was betrayal. Some of the attacks that were levied at Ed and the other elders were not unfounded, but the spirit with which the criticism was given was malicious and ungodly. And all this dragged on for months.
My husband grew weary. He was most definitely burned out. Many nights, he’d sit in his chair in the living room and weep. He was ready to give up. I’d often heard it said to young men seeking to go into full-time ministry, “If you can do anything else and be content, then you are not called into the ministry.” When Ed said he was ready to move back to his hometown in Pennsylvania and work in retail, I knew it was bad. Was he cut out for this? Had he really been “called”?
Before totally throwing in the towel, he began a desperate search for a job at another church. The only one that showed interest was on the opposite coast of the United States. That seemed far enough away from all the problems, but in God’s providence that church didn’t offer him the job.
So there we were, back home in the middle of it all. Though things were still bad, little by little relief came. The contentious folks began to leave, and the church members who stayed began to rally around the elders. Truth prevailed. A great sense of unity and peace pervaded the church.
How did this happen? What—or should I say who caused the change? Ultimately and simply put, God did! There really is no other answer. And as the tide turned, he graciously used various means to sustain this pastor, his wife, and the entire church.
As difficult as those months were, when one of us was particularly down, the other would usually have a renewed spirit and strength from the Lord in order to be an encourager. When both of us were so low that we couldn’t lift our own heads, the Lord was the lifter of our heads. I know my husband was far more crushed than me, but he often kindly shielded me from specific details of the attacks. And when there was nothing I could do to help him, I could still pray. We prayed a lot during this season.
One of the greatest gifts God has given to our church and to my husband is a plurality of elders. In these darkest hours of our ministry, these men stood for truth and tenaciously fought for the unity of the brethren. They were under attack as well. Their families felt the sting.
They rallied around my husband, not as “yes men,” but as loyal brothers and a source of great encouragement and reinforcement. On several occasions over the years, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of God in using these various men at exactly the right time, and in tearful joy I’ve expressed my gratitude both to him and to these elders.
During all of this turmoil, it wasn’t just the two of us. We had four young children—little eyes and ears we wanted to shield from the onslaught, little hearts we wanted to protect from harm. I’m so thankful to God that we were able to maintain a somewhat normal family life throughout this battle. We were able to consistently have family devotions in which we continued our reading through the Bible in a year. Maintaining a sense of normalcy for our family became tremendously helpful.
Loyal, dear friends also showed their support. I knew they loved us and were praying for us. Just as my husband’s enemies seemed to come out of the woodwork, those in support seemed to as well. Some of the ladies of the church were especially kind to reach out to me—calling me, praying with me, reading the Word with me. They knew I was suffering, too. When it was all said and done, the attacks actually served to make the church stronger and increase the love and unity among the brethren. Furthermore, Ed and the other elders had a renewed vigor to shepherd the flock.
But the most wonderful sustenance we had was that Jesus Christ stood with us. If all others had forsaken us, he would have remained. Why? Because he loves his bride, the church. We are precious to him—and to him I am most grateful!
Perhaps you’re just beginning your journey as a pastor’s wife. Perhaps you’ve been one far longer than me, or you’re in the midst of a very rough season of ministry and your husband is experiencing burnout. Whatever the case, remember and rejoice in the gospel. Draw near to Christ. He, above all, will sustain you and restore your joy.