For every ministry wife with an M.Div. and a personal, passionate discipleship strategy, there’s another one who’s just trying to love her husband and survive ministry life without picking up a smoking habit. I’m not a Marlboro girl, but I did spend many years struggling to find my place as the wife of someone called to ministry.
For me, it was all about overwhelming expectations that I put on myself, which caused a fear of engaging in ministry and wound up morphing into deep discontentment that crippled me and hurt my husband’s ministry. I never could have imagined, just a handful of years later, finding such joy and fulfillment serving alongside my husband.
Here are three tips I would give to those who feel called to be group leaders, but who find themselves with less than supportive spouses.
This is huge. Having differing opinions on your role in the small group leadership or ministry team will cause problems in your group and can lead to struggles in your marriage. Before you commit to leading, sit down and clarify what your expectations are and ask your wife what she wants to contribute to the group (if anything).
Maybe leading the group will look like you leading discussion time and your spouse being the emailer/caller/communication guru. Maybe it looks like sharing all the responsibilities. Maybe one of you takes ice breaker question prep and the other one handles the chips and salsa. Try to agree on what that will look like from the get-go to avoid conflict down the road.
Because I had ministry baggage from the past, my husband and I were intentional about laying out the expectations of my role when he felt led to lead our current small group. My expectations were zilch. I’d just had a baby, and I didn’t want to be responsible for anything other than making sure my babies were mostly kempt. So, he led the group with another man from our church at the other man’s house, and I came along for the ride with my daughters who were both in clean clothes and had their hair usually brushed. Or at least one of those things.
You’ll also want to make your role clear to the group. If you are leading a group, but your spouse doesn’t want to be seen as a “leader,” make sure to field all communication. If someone does text/call your wife asking for group info, tell your wife to pass it along to you, and you go ahead and respond. This will relieve your spouce and send a message to the group that you are the one leading
Let Your Spouse’s Involvement Be on His or Her Terms
Do you know what happened after my husband led our current small group for some time? I started taking on some responsibility and ownership. I began coordinating the babysitters each week because I wanted to relieve one of the other members of the group. I brought ice cream and flowers to one of our members who had suffered a death in the family…because I love her. No one pushed anything on me. I did it because I wanted to. If you want your wife to grow spiritually and engage with other members of the group, give her the freedom to do so by letting it come from her heart, not from yours.
Although groups can sometimes feel like an obligation to a weary heart, the whole point of a small group is to do life alongside other believers. Look to the Bible and follow the example of the early church. Pray that your wife will be loved and encouraged by members of the group, spurring her on to love and encourage them.
Model the gospel in your group and love your wife well. Someone who has been well loved will love well.
Ask for Permission
If your spouse really doesn’t want you to lead a group, you probably shouldn’t. Nothing can kill community quite as quickly as disunity in the leading couple.
Involving your wife in the decision is so important. I’m an over-communicator. My husband doesn’t have to guess what’s on my mind. I used to think that was a good thing. But, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that how you communicate can be even more important than how often you communicate.
So communicate your desire respectfully. No one likes to feel “bullied” into anything. If you want to lead and your spouse doesn’t, one of the most loving and freeing things you can do is say, “I won’t do this if you aren’t on board. We’ll just attend a group together until you are ready for me to launch one.”
Scarlet Hiltibidal is a writer living in Nashville, TN. Scarlet has a degree in biblical counseling and worked as a Christian schoolteacher before she started writing. She has written for and managed various online publications. Currently, she writes small group curriculum for children and articles on motherhood for Smart Mom. Scarlet is wife to Brandon, who is part of the Groups Ministry Team at Lifeway, and Mommy to her daughters, Ever Grace and Brooklyn Hope. Visit her blog at scarlethiltibidal.com and follow her on Twitter @ScarletEH.