Seven Potential Pitfalls for Married Senior Pastors & Their Spouses


Joseph Mattera gives reasons why overseeing a church can be hazardous to a marriage.

2010 marked the 30th year I served in full-time church ministry and also my 30th year of marriage.

Because of these two correlating facts, I have learned a few things about the possible pitfalls that can be deleterious to senior pastors and their spouses. The following are reasons overseeing a church can be hazardous to a marriage.

I. Senior pastors often don’t talk to anyone about their marital challenges because they are afraid if they speak to their elders they will lose respect, and if they speak to their overseer they will be sat down.

I have found this not to be true in most cases since all leaders have had struggles in their marriage and will not be quick to sit down another leader or disrespect them since they have been in the same situation. Often the devil lies to senior pastors and makes them think they are the only leaders struggling in certain areas, thus isolating them and stopping them from opening up and being honest. Pastors need to have transparent relationships with their closest leadership associates–both among their local leaders and with their overseeing leaders or presbytery.

II. Senior pastors and their spouses often don’t have enough space to work through their own family issues because they are constantly dealing with the marital issues or family issues of their primary and secondary leaders.

III. Senior pastors and spouses who work closely together in the church can often have misunderstandings and clash over their different approaches to ministry.

IV. Senior pastors and spouses are living in a public fishbowl which can lend itself to play acting for the sake of the church and tolerating a less than authentic marital relationship in which they rarely deal with anything beyond the surface issues of ministry and family. The biggest challenge today to traditional marriage is not the gay community, but the low standards of marriage senior pastors and Christians have in our nation!

V. Senior pastors and spouses are usually so overworked that they rarely have enough quality time to enjoy one another without the usual ministerial pressures. Often, even when they are on vacation, they have to be on the phone or computer keeping up with serious situations that may pop up unexpectedly. This inordinate schedule often mitigates against them having quality time to speak on a regular basis.

VI. Senior pastors and their spouses are expected to be experts on marriage. Thus they are embarrassed to admit to anyone that they need counseling. Furthermore they are afraid of getting counseling from anyone they know because of a fear it will leak out and get back to their leaders and church members.

VII. Senior pastors and their spouses are often dealing with multiple issues regarding financial pressures, relational challenges, personality clashes with other leaders, and an innate sense of failure and/or dissatisfaction in their ministry. All of this usually spills over into their marriage relationship.

Eight Practical Tips to Counter the Seven Challenges:

I. If at all possible, plan a date night at least once per week in spite of your busy schedule. Block out regular vacation time annually with your spouse alone before you fill up your time with ministry engagements. Thus your calendar should work around your spouse and family and not the other way around. (This is, of course, within reason and with the mind of the Holy Spirit based on the particular season you are in with your family in general.)

II. Have an accountable relationship with an older, more experienced couple in ministry that can coach you through the rough patches you come across in your marital journey.

III. Regularly read good books together for mutual edification, conversation, and clarification related to marriage and family relationships.

IV. Set limits on ministry conversations when the both of you are with your family or are together at home so that church issues and challenges don’t “suck the air” out of the relationship.

V. Set limits on how much you actually work together doing ministry projects if you are not compatible in this stressful environment and don’t produce the best synergy.

VI. In general, always prioritize marriage and family more than church activities, problems, and church members. Problems and people come and go throughout your life; your family will be a part of your life post-church and post-earth.

VII. Never give up on the covenant you made in marriage! Marriage is sustained by a commitment to covenant, not your feelings of romance.

VIII. Plan regular seasons of private and corporate prayer and fasting for your marriage and family. Above every other target, Satan looses demonic powers against ministry marriages so the marital standard diminishes in the church and culture. I have had to spend hours upon hours fasting and praying for the spiritual and emotional health of both my marriage and my children. Merely following principles found in a good book is not enough to stave off demonic attack when you are in the middle of spiritual warfare!

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