When Church Leaders Separate: What About the Wives?

My heart is breaking over the lack of concern for the wives of Christian leaders who are in conflict with a church or Christian organization. I have already written of the poor ways in which churches separate from their leaders. But the damage usually extends beyond the leaders involved.

Most of my experience with Christian leaders has been with men in leadership so my stories are primarily about men who are conflict with the church or organization.  These stories chronicle the lives of wives who are hurting in the situation while church boards are in conflict with their husbands.  They are overlooked, abandoned, and neglected.  It only makes sense, right?  When the youth pastor is in conflict with the senior pastor do we expect the senior pastor to shepherd the youth pastor’s wife?  Not usually.  When the board of the church is about ready to ask the senior pastor to resign, are they thinking about the man’s wife?  Seldom.  When the pastor is dismissed because of an affair, do you think the wife needs compassionate care?  Yes.

In my recent research I interviewed twenty-six people about their rookie youth pastor experience.  One of the items I asked about was the experience of their spouses during this time.  Here are some of the results:

  • One wife was told too much by her husband about the conflicts he was having and she personalized his wounds.
  • Another wife felt personally attacked when her husband was attacked.
  • One wife burned out in struggling with the expectations of the church.
  • Another wife felt there was cancer in the church and pressed her husband to leave.

Why don’t we shepherd the spouses of leaders who get into conflict with their organizations and leave?  Why don’t we think about the spouses while the conflict is going on prior to the leader leaving?  I’m afraid it’s often because we are focused only on justice in the situation. We are doing damage control for the organization.  We have to calm troubled constituents.  We have to determine how we are going to communicate to the public in an emotional context.

So what do we do? What can we do?

Minimally, someone in the setting needs to reach out to the person’s spouse. Call them.  Ask them how they are doing.  Don’t make promises of long-term care if you are not going to do so.  Pay for counseling.  Set them up with someone to shepherd them through this time.

Do not ignore or neglect them.  Love them.

About Ron Marrs

Ron Marrs is presently a Professor of Youth and Pastoral Ministry and Chairman of the Center for Ministry and Leadership at Western Seminary, Portland, OR. Ron is the leader of the Portland Youth Workers Network. He served at Westwood Baptist Church, a Converge church, for 24.5 years primarily as the youth pastor and then as executive/worship pastor. He has been married to Becky for 35 years, has three children and three grandsons. He is an elder at Hinson Baptist Church. He recently completed doctoral research in which he interviewed 26 people about their rookie youth pastor experiences along with 24 of their supervisors.

2 thoughts on “When Church Leaders Separate: What About the Wives?

  1. Thanks Ron,

    This is such an important reminder. I think you could go even farther and call churches out to shepherd in general in situations like this. When the focus is on justice, or tidying up the situation, shepherding is often abandoned not just for the spouse, but for the leader as well.

Comments are closed.