Marriage, Prayer, Praying Scripture, Support your pastor

10 Ways to Encourage Your Husband When He is a Discouraged Pastor

Lately in our online community of pastors’ wives, there have been some questions and discussions concerning the topic of how to encourage discouraged pastor husbands. As I have answered emails and prayed for these pastoral families, I realized it has been awhile since I wrote about this topic. I don’t write because I consider myself an expert encourager- rather, I consider myself a learner. With that in mind, I can’t exhaust this topic, but I’d like to share my favorite ways to encourage my husband when he’s feeling especially pressured and discouraged in ministry. {My husband collaborated with me on a few of the points:}

1. Stand where he stands, sit where he sits, walk where he walks, and PRAY.

If prayer is the most important thing you can do for your husband, creative prayer is the cherry on top. An empty church auditorium is the perfect opportunity to walk in your husband’s shoes. I’m sure that many of us have walked through the pews, gently touching the spots where our much loved people sit, while whispering their names to God. But there is something special about stepping behind the pulpit. I’ve always felt a holy hush, the weight of my husband’s vocation realized afresh. Stand there and pray for him. Pray Scripture for him, and ask God to empower him and use him.

Your husband’s office is another great place to go and pray for him. I’ve sat in my husband’s chair and even lain on the floor (right before a particularly difficult funeral) of his office to pray for him (and for myself.) Stand at the music stand in front of the choir loft, sit on the piano bench, go to his Sunday school classroom or meeting room. Walk the halls he walks and linger in his shoes for a bit. You will have a prayer time like no other for the one you love.

2. Cultivate your own spiritual growth and personal encouragement.

Wait, what? Isn’t this about ministering to HIM? Yes, and you will be less likely to do it if you yourself are discouraged and have an empty well and a languishing spiritual life. My husband and I have talked about how difficult it was for me to encourage him in some of our most difficult years because I myself was so discouraged. We made for a team that was surviving, but not thriving. It’s taken a lot of trial and error (and a sabbatical) to learn what I need to do to proactively care for myself spiritually. Be in the Word daily. Pray daily. Read good books. Reach out to a life coach or mentor who can pour into you and help you keep a healthy perspective. Go for counseling or therapy. Ask friends to pray for you. Soak up encouragement however you can. You’re doing it for your own health and wellbeing first, but also so that you can minister to the one you love the most.

3. Talk to him about the Gospel. 

The more I grow in my understanding of and connection to the Gospel in everyday life, the more I’m convinced that it is an inexhaustible source of hope and encouragement. The Gospel is the heart of Christ Himself. The Gospel speaks to everything we experience in life and ministry. No stone is left unturned, no heartache left in unaddressed silence. In my own times of heartache, it is the study of the Gospel and of the heart of Christ that has carried me through. Studying the suffering of Christ has a powerful effect on our ability to hope. And it is a hope that we can boldly and consistently share with those we love. Paul states several times in his epistles the importance that we not be removed from the hope of the Gospel. Part of keeping this hope a reality is sharing it with one another so that we don’t lose hope.

When your husband is suffering, under intense pressure, or wriggling out from under false accusation or misunderstanding, talk to him about Christ. When he is so very tired in the milieu of serving and shepherding like the Good Shepherd Himself, tell him how much he looks like Jesus. Remind him of the eternal worth of following in the footsteps of Jesus, and of the crown of glory reserved for faithful pastors- to be given by the Chief Shepherd Himself. (1 Peter 5:1-4) Make the Gospel your language of encouragement: Sing it, say it, write it, pray it. Do it often and with intentionality.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of little things.

His favorite coffee, his favorite snack, a handwritten note, his favorite meal or dessert, a note in his suitcase, a flirty text, a surprise “in home” date, a thoughtful gift, a walk hand in hand, a back rub, a word of praise……the list in endless, and you get to fill in the blanks. The little things mean a lot, especially when rendered on a consistent basis. Pastors can come to feel as if the world and everything in it is against them. Let there never be a question that you are in his corner, through the language of little things.

5. Welcome him home each day with a hug and kiss…and a smile.

This is a bit harder with little ones, and I admit that I did not fulfill this idea very well in our first married days. Also, honestly, I sometimes dreaded his return because of what news he would bring with him of his day or of the inner workings of the current ministry turmoil, etc. We weathered some storms that lasted for years and wore us down in many ways. I would read his face when he walked in the door and know right away whether or not all was well. It is easier during such seasons to stay at the stove stirring food, stay at the washing machine folding clothes, or stay in the rocking chair with the toddler.

Even so, as much as lies within you, meet him at the door.

6. Reserve time for non-church talk.

Oh, this one is hard. Until our sabbatical 10 years into pastoral ministry, we didn’t know what it was like to be married without the pastoral aspect in play in our marriage. We realized several years into marriage that we were virtually unable to turn off church talk. It had become our obsession, perhaps partly because we did not have many low maintenance seasons in our ministries. Even so, once we realized our tendency, we began to work harder at having dates where church talk wasn’t allowed. I remember our first date after making this resolution- we looked at each other and smiled sheepishly, rather speechless. It was harder than we thought to not talk about church! But it can be done. Make a list of non-church topics if you have to, but work at carving out conversation space that is just about your family- or better yet, just the two of you.

7. Make sexual intimacy a priority.

It doesn’t fix everything, but cherishing your husband physically is so important. If you are struggling in this area, message me and I can connect you with some helpful resources.

8. Send him to a conference or a personal retreat.

I know that time off can be tricky, and covering his responsibilities can be complicated and next to impossible. But once a year or every several years, arrange to send him to a conference where he can be refreshed. I did this a few years ago for my husband, and he still talks about it. He says that he didn’t even realize while he was AT the conference how much he needed it, but when he got home and since then over time it has impressed him so deeply how impacting it was. There are many conferences to choose from. Alistair Begg’s Basics conference is specifically for pastors, as is John MacArthur’s Shepherds conference. Steven Davey’s Shepherds 360 conference is for pastors and ministry leaders. There are many. Find one and take steps to make it happen. If a remote conference is not a possibility, consider arranging a stay at an off season cabin or cottage where your husband can get away for a few days to read and rest and refresh himself.

9. Refuse to be an ear for gossip about him. 

It’s no surprise that people will try to use you to get to your husband. But you sometimes have the choice and ability to stop that kind of behavior in its tracks. In one of our ministries, I was frequently cornered by a woman who felt the need to tell me everything she thought I was doing wrong and everything she thought my husband was doing wrong. Several things helped with this- 1. Sticking close to him before and after services. Two are better than one, especially when someone is trying to divide you. 2. Asking the person to hold for 5 minutes while you fetch your husband or a friend to be a witness to the conversation.

There will be words that come into your ears about your husband that you cannot stop. But, there are things you can do to minimize that occurrence and to protect his heart from having to absorb another negative thing.

10. Pray for him daily in the specific context of ministry. 

Prayer is so important that it’s worth mentioning twice. Along with creative prayer, regular and specific prayer for the context of your husband’s vocation is essential. You can download your free copy of the prayer calendar I designed here. I’ve used this calendar many times, as it hung laminated above my kitchen sink. Each day has a topic that is pertinent to pastoral ministry, along with Scripture to guide your prayers. I can’t tell you how many times my husband came home for lunch, and what he told me about his morning made me smile. Without realizing it, I had prayed about exactly what he needed for what he was facing or doing that day. God was active and present in our lives, and His direction in my prayers gave me a glimpse of that. It is inspiring and motivating to pray specifically and then watch God answer in such a sweet way. Nothing beats being able to say to your husband, “Wow. I prayed about that exact thing this morning without even knowing what you needed!” How can he not be encouraged by that?

May you be encouraged yourself as you engage in the ministry of encouraging your husband.


A Kindred Spirit

P.S. We just announced our next pastors’ wives retreat: