Church, Marriage, Ministry

The Mailbag: My husband is a pastor. How do we know when it’s time to leave a church?


My wonderful conservative, seminary-trained pastor husband is in such a battle against evil forces in our church. 

There are a few women members who are angry he doesn’t endorse their favorite false teacher, women preachers, or women teaching men. Another woman, who was actively involved in two previous church splits is stirring up division.

Praise God our church has attracted strong Christian men who have come alongside my husband, standing firm, supporting Biblical Truth. When does one know when it’s God’s testing or when He’s nudging to move us along? I don’t enjoy seeing my husband hurt. Do you have any advice?

I can definitely empathize with your situation. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my husband is a minister of music, and God has seen fit to send us to several…shall we say… “challenging” churches in the past. Most have been smaller churches in which the only staff members were my husband and the pastor, so my husband had more of a leading elder-type role than a minister of music in a larger church with several on-staff pastors might have.

We have also faced this dilemma of “We don’t want to give up just because it’s difficult, but maybe these difficulties are God’s way of telling us it’s time to shake the dust off our feet and move on to somewhere where we can be more biblically productive.” It can be a confusing situation to be in because you want to be pleasing to the Lord and serve His people, but the Bible speaks to both hanging in there through adversity and leaving people who refuse to be led as appropriate in various situations.

Like so many scenarios in life, there’s no “one size fits all” answer because every situation is different. But maybe we can look at a few basic principles that can help ministry wives (and even those whose husbands aren’t in the ministry) when church difficulties strike and you’re wondering whether or not to leave.

Take Off the Rose-Colored Glasses

If you’re new to being a ministry wife, you may have romanticized ideas of what it will be like. It’s no accident that God calls pastors “shepherds.” Shepherding is not like those pastoral landscape paintings you’ve seen where the shepherd is sitting under a stately, spreading tree on lush carpet of verdant grass by a babbling brook, happily petting a docile lamb. There are moments like that, but generally, shepherding is hard, hot, sweaty, often thankless, often underpaid, tireless labor. Sheep can be stubborn animals who have no idea where to go, what to do, or what’s best for them, and leading them is, at times, no picnic.

I don’t say this to discourage you, only to make sure that you’re going in to this thing with your eyes wide open. No pastor steps into the pulpit at a perfect, problem-free church. Every church has its issues. You need to be prepared for that, and you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work, not run, the first time a problem comes up. The church isn’t there to serve you. You are there to serve the church.

Pray, Pray, Pray, and Don’t Jump Ship at the First Sign of Trouble

All of us should be praying for our churches daily, but we need to double down when problems arise. Pray for all those involved in the problem, including your husband.

We also need to initially approach problems with the desire to work through them and bring them to a point of biblical resolution. As a ministry wife, if you approach every problem that arises in the church with an attitude of despair, giving up, and wanting to leave the church, it’s going to discourage your husband. Now, not only does he have the problem itself to deal with, he has the added pressure of making his wife happy. Try to be part of the solution rather than an added problem.

Remember – and Be Thankful for – Your Position

When you’re a ministry wife, especially in a small church, it can feel like you and your husband are both in his ministry position. You’re probably helping him with various job-related tasks, you know all the problems and issues that are going on in the church, you talk together about possible solutions, you know about the big meeting that’s coming up, etc. It even comes out in the way we talk sometimes: “When we pastored ABC Church…” or “When we were on staff at XYZ Church…” (I finally realized I needed to be more careful about using that kind of wording so that people would not think I was a co-pastor!)

But, even though it can feel like you’re shouldering almost as big a load as your husband, you’re not. You’re not the pastor. You’re also not the husband. Be thankful for that because it’s one of the blessings of being a woman. You’re the helper. You do everything you can to help, support, and encourage your husband, but the burden and responsibility of making the decision whether to leave or stay is on his shoulders, not yours. Be grateful, and use that relief you feel to help you understand what enormous pressure your husband is under. He has to make the right and godly decision for the church, for his family, and for his career. That’s a heavy weight.

Not My Will, but Thy Will

Examine your own heart before attempting to help your husband. Do you really want what God wants in this situation, or do you want what you want? Will you be able to joyfully, peacefully, and contentedly stay at a church you want to leave or leave a church you want to stay at? Ask God to so delight your heart in Him that your desires will match His and that He will help you to pray rightly and act wisely and obediently.

Pray for Your Husband

Ask God to give him the biblical wisdom to make the right decision about staying or leaving. Pray that God will give him peace, strength, and comfort. Ask that He will bring the right Scriptures to your husband’s mind at just the right time. Ask God to make His will clear to your husband.

In one church my husband and I were on staff at :0) the situation was very 50/50 as to whether we should stay or go. We studied the Scriptures and found support for staying as well as for leaving. We really didn’t know what to do.

After much discussion and prayer, we decided we would stick with this church until God moved us. I began praying that if God wanted us to leave that He would make it impossible for us to stay. And a few months later, that’s exactly what happened. God orchestrated circumstances in such a way that it was impossible for us to stay at that church. It brought both of us a great deal of peace to know that we were not giving up just because it was difficult, but that God was answering prayer and moving us Himself.

Study Your Bible

In the situation I just described, my husband and I didn’t find overwhelming Scriptural evidence that made his decision a clear-cut one. That’s not always the case. Sometimes you will find clear biblical support for staying or for leaving.

Ask your husband if it would be helpful to him for you to search the Scriptures for passages that apply to the situation at your church. Be careful to rightly handle God’s Word in context, and discuss the passages objectively with your husband. Make sure you’re not twisting Scripture in an effort to sway your husband to do what you want him to do.

Be Your Husband’s Biggest Supporter and Encourager

Pray fervently for your husband, and let him know you’re praying for him. Affirm him by reminding him that you trust him, that he’s doing a good job, that you’re proud of him. When he’s under a lot of stress at church, do what you can to offer practical help, perhaps by running errands for him or taking over some of his household chores. Make sure he’s getting the amount of joyful physical intimacy he needs from you. Do what you can to make sure he’s eating right and getting the amount of rest he needs. Most of all, let him know you’re behind him and that you’ll support his decision about staying or leaving.

When we were trying to decide whether to stay at or leave the aforementioned church, one thing that helped take some of the pressure off my husband was that I told him, “If you decide we’re leaving, I’m ready to walk out that door. But if you decide we’re staying, I’m ready to stay and keep working.” Knowing he had my support either way helped him to be able to focus on what God wanted him to do rather than what I wanted him to do.


The decision to stay at or leave a difficult church is often tedious and stressful for pastors. It’s hard for us, as their wives, to watch them suffer at the hands of trouble-making people. Our position as helpmates is to do everything we can on our part to make things easier on them.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.