The Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas

I am tempted to say that my ministry would be incomplete without my wife, Nellie Jo. It is more accurate, however, to say I likely wouldn’t have a ministry without her. She not only has been supportive; she has been a vital partner in my ministry.

Pastors and church staff members across the nation have shared with me the importance of their spouses in ministry. I was again reminded of this reality when I read a recent article in Harvard Business Review. The article was based on an incredibly impressive research project interviewing almost 4,000 business executives over a five-year period.

There were many parallels in this study and the anecdotal information I have heard from pastors and church staff members. To be clear, the HBR study looked at business executives, not those serving in churches. And they broadened the survey from “spouses” to “spouses and partners.” For those reasons, we can certainly expect divergence in the results compared to those serving churches vocationally.

Still, look at each of these key five areas and see for yourself if you can identify in your own ministry. The numbers may differ, but I think the sentiments will be similar.

  1. The importance of a spouse for emotional support (34% of the men and 29% of the women). A pastor recently shared with me his frustration with his church and his temptation to quit ministry. I asked him what has kept him going thus far. He told me: “The call of God and the support of my wife.” Many of us in ministry have similar stories.
  2. The importance of a spouse to accept career demands (16% of the men and 17% of the women). Someone who serves on a church staff is typically on call 24/7. Though pastors and church staff should do everything they can to give their families time, emergencies happen. Many needs are time sensitive. It takes a special spouse to handle that reality.
  3. The importance of a spouse to provide practical help (26% of the men and 13% of the women). In the HBR article, this practical help specifically addressed child raising and housekeeping and similar functions. I know a man whose wife serves as children’s minister in a church. It is very important for him to be home on weekends, particularly Sundays, because that’s his wife’s workday. He needs to be available to take care of the kids.
  4. Career advice (19% of the men and 13% of the women). I have looked to my wife every time I sensed God leading me to another place of ministry. She not only has been supportive, she has offered me wise and timely counsel. I was talking to a pastor just yesterday about a possible ministry change. He shared with me how important his wife is in providing counsel and advice.
  5. Willingness to relocate (10% of the men and 8% of the women). I feel confident that these percentages would be much higher among those in vocational ministry. The ministry is more often than not a very noble and mobile calling.

Keep in mind that the percentages noted in each of the five areas were for business executives. I believe, for the most part, the numbers would be much higher for those in ministry. And though the numbers are not mutually exclusive, there are hardly any leaders in businesses or churches who do not lean on their spouses greatly. Frankly, I can’t see how any pastor or any church staff person can make it in ministry without a supportive spouse.

How do you view these five areas? Are there some areas you would add to the five? Do you have a specific story of a supportive spouse in ministry? I would love to hear from you.

And by the way, Nellie Jo, thank you. I couldn’t make it in ministry or life without you.

photo credit: mynameisharsha via photopin cc


  1. Mark Dance says

    I can see each of these examples of spousal support rooted in the virtue of unselfishness (w/ possible exception of #4). Philippians 2:2-4, “Fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

    I have always said that Janet is the most unselfish person I know. She demonstrated it last weekend by having our vacation interrupted by a couple of ministry emergencies – without complaint. This morning she will pitch in on a church landscaping project, which is outside of her skill set or area of interest. If you have a Phil 2 spouse – make sure she is appreciated!

  2. says

    I agree completely! My wife provides me the encouragement and the accountability I need on a daily basis in ministry. I fully believe when God called me to be the pastor that He called us to do it together. I thank God for her wisdom and her understanding. I am blessed to be a minister and blessed to have a wife who embraces the ministry God has called us to!

  3. says

    #1, over and over again. If I did not have the wife I have I don’t think I could be in pastoral ministry. I know some dear brothers in ministry who have wives that disqualify them for one reason or another, and my heart breaks for them.

    • Thom Rainer says

      You’re so right Todd. We need to thank our spouses regularly for their sacrificial love and support.

  4. says

    Thom, this is huge! I’ve seen so many young men with tremendous potential for ministry, starting from my peers in seminary days through the present, flame out because they did not seek a spouse with ministry in mind. It’s not that the spouse needs special skills for professional ministry, but they do need to be mature Christians who are examples (as any mature Christian needs to be), who love God, love people, love his church, and love to serve.

  5. Mark Dance says

    In Dr Rainer’s opening remarks, he commends Nellie Jo for not only being “supportive” of his ministry,” but also “a vital partner” in his ministry. I can testify that this is true of Nellie Jo, as well as my wife Janet.

    Pastors, I am curious as to what some of the differences are between the spouses who are ministry SUPPORTERS and ministry PARTNERS. I will chime back in later to share what I believe the difference is.

    • says

      I think the traditional answer would be a pianist, does kids ministry, leads ladies studies, etc, but my wife would be the last person who would want to do anything that involved being in the spotlight. She has been such a help with counseling women. She has sat in on several counseling sessions and I think gave better guidance for certain situations than I ever could have. So she is definitely a partner there. She also give me great feedback on the drive home after Church, and lets me vent on those days I am frustrated.

      • Mark Dance says

        Sounds like you have a great ministry partner Todd. I think it is possible to be supportive, yet detached, like a fan in the cheering section of a game. A partner on the other hand is in the field with you, regardless of the position they play on the team – or serve in the church.

  6. Stephen says

    As a young, unmarried pastor (I’m 26) I often suffer from loneliness and depression. I’m the only staff member at my church who is unmarried and I’m quite envious of the other pastors in that they have someone to talk to about life and ministry and to support them emotionally. My singleness is certainly an asset in that it allows me more time to focus on ministry (what married pastor can stay up ’til 2 in the morning playing basketball with students, right?), but at the same time, I feel that I am more susceptible to the emotional struggles than married pastors.

  7. Mark Dance says

    Stephen – I appreciate your honesty and totally understand your assessment. My first couple of years of seminary and ministry were very lonely because I was in the same scenario that you are in now. I loved God and enjoyed ministry, but was lonely, depressed and more susceptible emotionally than my married friends.

    I learned some important lessons from that season: 1. Ministry with a supportive spouse is better than serving as a single adult. 2. Ministry with an unsupportive spouse is much worse than serving as a single adult. I learned this from several pastor friends who lowered the bar in dating and overlooked some potential problems. Some lost their ministry and others lost their marriage. 3. My single adult days were used to mature me beyond the adolescent dating scene that I eventually grew out of. God was preparing me to be the husband Janet needed and deserved. Had I married even a year earlier, it would have been too soon.

    I hope this helps!

  8. Allen Calkins says

    Thom, this really is critical! One I would add is the spouse being ‘realistic’ financial expectations, being OK with having her needs met less lavishly. I have seen situations where the woman came from a pretty well-to-do family and struggled with the financial challenges of ministry. A spouse has to redefine her ‘needs’ to not include things like ‘Coach’ purses, lots of jewelry and a large home. The clothes budget in most single staff pastor’s households is better maintained by shopping at Goodwill and Target/Kohl’s clearance racks vs, “Macy’s and beyond”. Other reasonable spousal expectations that need to be curtailed to make ministry work are entertainment (movies and out to eat) choices, vacations (the lavishness of them), home furnishings and even the home food budget (less precooked stuff/more cheaper ‘cooked from scratch’ meals). A wife who can stretch the family dollar is such an asset! I know because I have a wife who has been WONDERFUL in this area.
    BUT, one reason she is so reasonable is because I deferred pursuing my ministry calling for nearly a year until she was fully on board. And one reason she stays on board is because I gave up some of my own hobby ‘money pits’ like wanting to restore an old car and golf (heresy, right?).
    In my pastoral ministry class in seminary we discussed the importance of spousal support in the financial area. BUT there was one area our professor said we pastors should refrain from penny pinching, anniversary celebrations and lingerie’. Observing that ‘rule’ has worked well too.

  9. Spouse says

    And now a word from a less favorable viewpoint. I am a spouse who tries to be supportive but my opinion really doesn’t matter to my ministry husband. He overrules and overrides my every concern or wish. He makes plans that affect our family and informs me after the fact. Then labels me as unspiritual and unsupportable.
    It’s a great article but please remember there are some of us who have reason for what qualifies as “unsupportable.” Thank you.

  10. Mark says

    Just don’t forget that this can go the other way where the woman is in the pulpit and the husband works full time as well.

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