This post is designed to help give insight to the wives of male pastors who have burned-out or have been terminated. We do understand and support the many ministry leaders including pastors who are female, but this is written from a male point of view because that is my personal experience.
When your husband announces to the family he is totally burned-out and plans on resigning next Sunday, you and the children are thrown into a life change that has great stress and uncertainty. Even if you were expecting him to make such a decision based on all your conversations over the past many months, the finalization of the decision still has strong emotional repercussions.
What will we do now? How long until he has a new job? Will I have to work two jobs to support the family? Are we staying in the same denomination? Why are our friends not calling us anymore? Why have our pastor friends in the same denomination abandoned us? How long will this whole trial last? A year? Five years? Forever? When will I have my husband back? The zealous man I married who wanted to save the world for Jesus – now he seems a different person who is disillusioned and sometimes very cynical. Will our family ever be back to normal?
How will this impact our children? Will they give up Christianity when they realize how the church and pastor friends have treated us? Will we even have good friends again we can trust and share with?
Never stop looking to God, and place all your trust in Him. Try to understand what is happening to your husband, and give as much support and encouragement as you can. Please refrain from criticism, your husband has had all he can handle. To not support him is to further isolate him, and that is a very strong feeling that is flooding his life right now. To join the ranks of his critics will probably lead to the end of your marriage faster than you may think. Your husband is in the crisis of his life.
Being a male, your husband may have allowed his position and title to become much more than Jesus ever had in mind. Position and title and all the trappings may have become his entire life, and now, he finds himself with no identity. No longer are people seeking him out for his wisdom and counsel. No longer is he in charge of a staff that works with him and gives him the feedback he wants. No longer are his teaching gifts being used. No longer is he Pastor Joe, Reverend Smith or Mr. Smith. Now he is simply unemployed Joe, or, “hey-you.”
Your husband may become a yo-yo emotionally. One day is up, positive and still enthusiastically teaching the family Bible study that evening around the kitchen table. The next day his heart may be filled with bitterness and rage against denominational leaders or church members. One minute he is praying forgiveness over all who have hurt him, the next moment his is ranting and raving about the stupid Christians who abuse people so badly. Perhaps the next day he will be sullen and introspective as he ponders all the mistakes he made and the people he hurt along the road. The desert he is walking in now will change him and draw him closer to the Jesus he moved away from when his calling and position became what your husband anchored his life to. For you, this process will not be easy. You will be there trying to give support, and his moods will swing back and forth like the desert breeze. Through it all, ladies, remember the desert is a good place. It may be a lonely, dry, thirsty place, but a good place. God has taken many a ministry leader including his own son, Jesus, out in the desert to prepare them for the next phase of ministry.
Give your husband time, just as God was patient with Elijah wandering in the desert, moaning and groaning about how he was the only worshiper left in Israel. By the way, ladies, don’t expect your husband to be totally rational at this point. Burnout can create irrational reasoning. Elijah claimed he wanted to die, and if he really meant that, he should have just stayed put and let Jezebel do her thing!
Ladies, for a while don’t take your husband’s exaggerations and irrational statements too seriously. He is working through a lot of abuse and feelings of failure right now. If he starts talking suicide, take that very seriously and seek help immediately. But in other areas of irrational talk, just listen and let the healing love of Father flow out of you and ever so s-lo-w-l-y begin to heal your husband. Should his irrational reasoning grow to greater proportions and wilder in nature, then indeed you need to seek help for him immediately.
In another area of life your husband may become depressed over his lack of avenue of expression of his speaking, teaching, counseling gifts. He may become frustrated attending church and listening to another preach a sermon. Just walking in and sitting down to listen is something your husband has done little of. He’s been the mover and the shaker, not the quiet follower.
Here are a few aspects to watch for regarding the difference between stress and burnout in your husband. If your husband is still overengaged, he is at the high stress point. He may have just been terminated by the denomination, but if he is talking about immediately doing a church plant, or packing up the family and heading to Asia for a two year mission trip – he’s not burned-out yet – just stressed. Burnout is characterized by disengagement.
Having a better idea of where your husband is at mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically will help you serve him in a more effective manner. When he gets into those emotional swings and rants and raves a little – he’s stressed. If his emotions have become blunted, almost non-existent – he’s burned-out. If his physical health is not so great, that is the result of stress. In burnout, emotional damage is primary. When he has lost his ideals, dreams and hopes – he is burned-out. Stress alone will rob him of energy, but the loss of his ideals and dreams is most definitely burnout.
We urge you, ladies, to seek the help you need to cope with your husband, and to cope with what is happening to you and the family. Seek counseling for yourself. There are providers who offer love and encouragement free of charge. Call or write and let us be part of your prayer cover as you walk through the desert. We are here to serve you, and we do know how you feel. God bless you and stay godly no matter how long you have to sit in the bottom of the dry well.