Help! I'm now a pastor's wife: Leaders need to look after themselves too!

Claire Musters

Earlier this month my husband and I were able to enjoy a weekend with the other leaders from the network of churches we are affiliated to. It was a great time catching up with those we know but don't often get to see. But the thing that struck me most was what a privilege it is to be led by such honest, trustworthy and transparent leaders.

The first session covered something the speaker said isn't often spoken about in conferences: a leader's health. He talked about the fact we have a responsibility to ensure we are spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically fit so that we can continue being passionate as we work out our calling throughout life's seasons.

Obvious huh? But actually we don't talk about it much – although I think he probably got every leader's attention when he said that very few leaders finish the race stronger than when they started.

I immediately thought of a couple who have 'finished well' and continue to inspire us. They were in overall leadership as our church started, were significantly older than most of the others in the team but we kept commenting on how much more energy they seemed to have than us! They had – and still have – such passion for God and huge enthusiasm for His church. To be honest, I've already had my concerns about whether we will be able to continue at that level…

We also heard from other mature couples who have a wealth of wisdom gleaned from years in ministry – and through facing many struggles and difficulties. There were a few things that really struck me, and which I haven't been able to stop mulling over, so I'm going to do some of that mulling here – if that's alright with you! ;)

So often we believe we have to be busy 'doing' all the time, so the first thing we were told was to stop feeling guilty about focusing on ourselves and our general health for a bit. I do think we have a tendency to push ourselves too hard, as there are ALWAYS issues to sort and things to do, but it is so important for us to learn to slow down and work at a sustainable pace.

I think that it is vital that as leaders we are given the time and space (or learn to simply take the time and space) to regularly check up on how we are doing and the level of output we are trying to maintain. It seems to be an unwritten rule that leaders need to flog themselves until they are about to drop – but how counter beneficial is that?

I know that as leaders we are called to pour ourselves out as offerings to those in our particular congregation, but there are times when we do this too much. God has spoken to me a lot over the last couple of years about taking time to refresh myself in Him as, after all, a broken person ministering to a broken person isn't going to be able to do a lot more than empathise are they?!

When a church's finances are wholly made up of the tithes and offerings of the congregation, the leaders can subconsciously feel like they need to be working every spare second they can – and be available to those who 'pay their wages' all the time too. But that simply isn't practical – or sustainable.

Which brings me on to the next point I've been pondering. We were also reminded that every leader is wired differently and has their own level of capacity; we need to be aware of ours. That is so true.

I think that as a couple we are often in danger of running at far too fast a pace until we collapse, take a tiny breather, then we are back up again running hard. Part of that has come from necessity – this past year has seen my husband as the only full-time member of staff; but we have to recognise our own tendencies too. And the irony of the fact that I've been worried we can't keep up the pace of the previous leaders hasn't escaped me either! ;)

We also have to recognise that the statement about capacity is true of every single person, not just leaders. We can often expect others to be able to run at the same level as us, and yet everyone has their own level. We need to accept one another as we are and not try to impose our own thoughts about what is acceptable onto someone else.

As a leader it can be frustrating when people aren't going at the same pace as you, but to judge them for it, or leave them behind rather than making time and space for them, is wrong. Of course there has to be a balance here; sometimes it is about spurring others on to reach their potential, but I do think we can all be much more aware of this issue than we are.

The other big thing we were challenged on was whether we have a detailed budget for our time as a couple. I was really struck by this, as I know the pace we have been living at can't continue for much longer. We need to sit down and work out together what our weeks should look like.

I know in the back of my mind I'm wondering when on earth we'll have time to do this, as it will take a lot of prayerful consideration! And yet we can't afford not to because we should be modelling something to people.

So we will be embarking on drafting a time budget soon. It will be interesting to see whether we agree it quickly or if it takes a lot of negotiations and compromise. It will be even more interesting to see if we actually stick to it! ;)