I knew something had changed when he walked in the door. Avoiding my gaze, he walked through the kitchen into the dining room and sagged down into a seat in front of the baby’s high chair.
“How’d it go, today?” I asked, turning to stir the vegetables, ignoring his body signals.
Silence. And then a series of giggles escaped from the baby, happy at the sight of her daddy’s return home. When I turned to look at them, I saw my husband’s shoulders slumped forward.
His body was shaking from the sobs. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, he barely got out the words, “I was fired today.”
My husband is—now—a former pastor; the words still seem surreal. Unfortunately, the term “former pastor” isn’t unique to our situation. Many men walk away, willingly or not, from the ministry (I am thinking of believers who, for a season or the rest of their life, turn from an earlier call of pastoral leadership for reasons other than gross misconduct). According to an article from 2012, nearly 800 Southern Baptist pastors are terminated each year; that is just one evangelical denomination. Paul Tripp has accurately labeled the pastorate a dangerous calling.
Since this situation affects so many ministers, my husband had many outlets to turn to: other pastors, his mentor, support groups for wrongly fired pastors, and historical precedents. He, like other men before him, could take comfort in thinking, Take heart, Jonathan Edwards was fired from his first pastorate, too.
Strangely, there are fewer avenues that address the proper response for the wife. Perhaps this is because the term “pastor’s wife” is nebulous and undefined in the first place. Initially, I bucked the phrase “pastor’s wife,” citing the ill-informed stereotypes. However, as the years have passed and the Lord has changed my heart, I have grown into the role. I thoroughly enjoy ministering to those in need and especially treasure the opportunity to teach, love, and share Christ with teenagers and children.
However, because we don’t share our husbands’ responsibilities or spend every day at the church, we don’t see or experience the less desirable things: the conflict, the emotions, or the sin in many of our churches.
So how should a pastor’s wife respond to his termination? In attempt to answer that question, I offer five observations.
1. Recognize the effects of the fall.
A post-Genesis 3 world means that sin pervasively enters all aspects of life—even, sadly, churches. When Christ appoints a pastor as the under-shepherd to a church, he calls that man to love, protect, and minister to the flock. A minister of the gospel knows that this calling requires sacrifice: family, time, resources, and most of all, self. However, the pastor surrenders willingly because he loves the church body, the bride of Christ. A pastor’s family is implicated in this relationship as well: we care deeply for the people as family. When ties are severed and pastors are taken away, it isn’t merely an inconvenience, but a separation. It is like a divorce or a dissolution of a close familial relationship.
2. Don’t give in to sin.
My initial response to my husband being fired was a strange mix of sin: anger and resentment against the church leadership, relief that God had finally and definitively closed the door, and fear at the loss. My second response? Mama-bear protection mode; give me a phone to tell “those” people just what I think of their actions. Neither response was appropriate. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit prevented me from acting on either. Instead he is convicting me of sin, constantly steering me away from the trap of bitterness.
3. Seek wise counsel.
Our closest friends and family received the news first; they came alongside us with encouragement, support, biblical counsel, answers, and even gracious silence. While the counsel of friends is extremely helpful, I urge you to also seek advice outside your personal sphere. Other Christians love you, they hurt for you, but like a divorce when things get messy, ultimately they side with you as friends. Some of the best counsel we received came from a neutral party who had walked through a similar situation.
4. Know you are replaceable.
This statement really hurts. Thankfully it came from a wise and dear friend. The church continues. God’s kingdom will advance here on earth with or without our leadership. Christ promised Peter in Matthew 16, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It does not depend on us.
5. Look to the promise of final restoration.
Ultimately, we find hope in the promise that God is making his church more holy each day, as Ephesians 3:20-21 explains. We long for the true restoration, when all things will be made new, resting on Christ’s words, “Behold I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7). We can then stand confidently alongside the past, present, and future church crying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” as we expectantly look for that day of renewal (Rev. 22:20).
What’s the hardest part of this situation? The transition right now. Possessing neither the hindsight nor wisdom that accompanies time, we pray that together we might obediently walk upright through this trial, looking to Christ, so that in everything we might make much of him while turning aside from our own selfish desires.