Like many young families in ministry, we have had times when my husband was appointed to a church as an associate pastor. For many families, these are some of the best years in ministry – less pressure because there is a senior minister who has the weightier responsibilities, the chance to be mentored by a seasoned clergy/clergy spouse, the ability to focus on a particular kind of ministry rather than administration. For other families, the years as an associate pastor are a tremendous struggle – senior ministers that micro-manage or are unwilling to share the pulpit, congregations that ask when the pastor is going to visit as the associate is walking out of a parishioner’s door after a visit, being stuck with the responsibilities that nobody else is willing to do.
Being the spouse of the associate pastor when things aren’t going so well can be tough. I sometimes found it hard to sit in church and be open to the senior pastor’s message when I knew what was going on behind the scenes. All I could think about was the most recent conflict in which it seemed like my husband had once again gotten the short end of the stick. It was also sometimes awkward. The few occasions when I was alone with the senior pastor were sometimes uncomfortable because we both knew that there was animosity in the air.
However, in the midst of what was one of the most stressful times in ministry was one very bright spot. The spouse of the senior pastor was incredibly gracious and kind to both me and my husband throughout that period. I am sure she was as aware as I was of the conflict going on between our husbands. Yet she always greeted us warmly and never let it stand in the way of our friendship. As the “junior” and still very inexperienced clergy-spouse, I felt powerless to do anything to make the tension better, but she extended tremendous grace to me and my family. She set the tone for how we all conducted ourselves even in the midst of conflict. Her efforts built the one and only bridge that allows our two families to have any sort of positive relationship to this day.
If you are reading this and you are the “junior” spouse, I hope you will focus on the positive relationships that will help get you through this time. If you are the “senior” spouse, know that you have the ability to build and even repair relationships in ways that your pastor-spouse cannot. Your reaching out can have a positive affect that will last throughout the lifetime of someone else’s ministry.