Lizette Beard: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insight into today’s church and culture.
[00:23] I’m here today with my colleague Scott McConnell and our colleague and special guest, Mark Dance and his wife Janet Dance to talk about some recent research we’ve done on pastors’ spouses.
[00:40] Mark is the Director of LifeWay Pastors. Mark, real quick, share with our listeners who you guys are and what you do. We’ll get started.
Mark Dance: [00:49] Yeah. You bet. For the last three years I’ve been helping pastors win at home and church. That’s the guiding star for us because we’re the only profession on the planet that requires that you win at work and at home. We know that going in.
[01:11] Janet has been traveling all over the country with me, encouraging the spouses. It ended up we were ministering to couples, ministry couples. In fact, we’re doing that in Canada right now, in Alberta at the Canadian Seminary.
[01:28] She speaks to the wives, the spouses, about 1,500 a year.
Lizette: [01:34] Oh my goodness.
Mark: [01:36] I get to speak this week, also, to seminary students and pastors. Sometimes we speak together at retreats and conferences. Sometimes separately. It’s so much fun doing this with her.
Lizette: [01:44] That’s great.
[01:53] The research we’re talking about was sponsored by the North American Mission Board and Richard Dawkins, MD. We always want to say a big shout‑out and thanks to our sponsors.
[02:03] Real quick for our listeners, the folks we surveyed, 722 spouses of pastors. Those are pastors working in a ministerial role. That was within any Protestant church.
[02:20] How’d I do, Scott? Was that a fair description?
Scott McConnell: [02:23] Yes, that was pretty good.
Lizette: [02:24] I’ll let you guys wrestle and tell me how did this project come about? What were you all seeing out in the wild that made this project a priority?
Mark: [02:37] Actually, it was the very first attrition study that came out two years ago this month that was really good, eye opening, and myth busting. It was really good research. It got our interest.
[02:54] We met Dr. Dawkins as we were doing two pastor date nights in Houston, one in English, one in Spanish. He and his wife took us to lunch. They went to one in Spanish because the one in English had a schedule conflict. Their hearts for pastors and their spouses was so clear.
[03:16] We wanted to hear from the pastor’s greatest advocate, their spouse. Our hearts were…anybody that’s on the pastor protection team, of course Scott’s on that, Kathy Litton, etc. These folks knew the connection between a pastor’s health and a church’s health.
[03:42] I’m excited about this new research. This is very important.
Scott: [03:46] As we saw in that earlier study, the many things that are hitting a pastor and making their role as leader of a church, a leader of a family challenging. One of those fears is the home. What better way to understand some of the dynamics of what’s going on in the home than surveying the pastor’s spouse and getting their perspective.
[04:11] A couple questions about the pastor themselves, but also what the spouse is going through, how well they’re thriving, and many of the challenges that are hitting them.
Lizette: [04:22] Right off the bat, what I think is fun is this is a project that built off of a project. That’s what we like to see in what we do, but also we think that’s a lot of times the strongest research. That puts a stake in the ground, looks at, “Hey, this is what we know on this topic.” Then it says, “Let’s take that next step so we have some things to compare.”
[04:44] Scott, you said that as you all were preparing there’s not much research out there on this.
Scott: [04:50] No. You can find some dissertations. You can find some smaller studies. There’s obviously a number of folks who work to support pastors’ spouses. Many denominations have somebody with that assignment. Really, to have a large quantitative study that looks across denominations is not something we found.
[05:12] To have some numbers in front of us, and some of these fit with our hunches and some may be a little surprising. It is a challenging situation, to be in a minister’s home.
Lizette: [05:25] I’m going to throw this out there. Janet, you jump in. If you want to knock one of them out to answer some of these. Anybody can go.
Janet Dance: [05:33] OK.
Lizette: [05:34] This is wide open. As I was starting to read the report, I noticed that the idea of well‑being seemed very foundational in what I could understand and how things were written. A sense of daily happiness, but then, also, this concept of thriving.
[05:53] What is it about this well‑being idea that was sown throughout the entire project or was so fundamental in how the project was laid out?
Janet: [06:08] A lot of a pastor’s well‑being is based on his wife’s well‑being because they are so connected. How she feels about the ministry, how she feels about their specific ministry that they’re currently in. A lot of those attitudes and feelings are going to be expressed at home and can either ease stress for him or cause greater stress for him.
[06:40] That sounds like I’m saying that they should have a good well‑being for his sake, but it’s not quite that simple. It’s more for the sake of the ministry and God’s work.
Lizette: [06:52] Are you anticipating any nervousness as you think about talking to pastors’ spouses about this? Saying, “Hey, we were thinking of your well‑being. You have permission to be talking about your well‑being.” Do you expect some may be hesitant for that or relieved? What are you expecting as you think about sharing this?
Janet: [07:20] One of the reasons that pastors’ wives are drawn to me is because I am so raw. I don’t pretend that everything is great. I’m willing to talk about some of the realities of ministry, like loneliness, that maybe other people don’t want to talk about simply because we are supposed to be that example. Everything’s supposed to be great all the time.
[07:51] We know that’s not true but a lot of times, even as pastors’ wives, when we’re together with each other we’re afraid to be really honest because we might think that our kid is the only kid in the room that’s rebelling. We’re embarrassed by that. We think everybody else’s kids are going into the ministry.
[08:08] To be able to look at these numbers and say, “You know what? I’m not a freak of the ministry,” that a lot of these other women are having some of the same feelings that I’m having, some of the same struggles, some of the same joys. I think that’s huge, for us to be able to feel comfort in that.
[08:30] Maybe if there’s a statistic that’s really high in the positive and I’m experiencing that in the negative I can say, “You know what? This is not normal. Maybe I need to look into this a little bit further.”
Lizette: [08:45] What were some of the high points or some of the…I like the way you phrased it, that sometimes the things that showed up as negatives, we might automatically think as a negative, could actually be very encouraging. I think that’s kind of fun.
[09:00] What were high points or things you enjoyed seeing in the results? Mark, Janet, either one can jump in there.
Janet: [09:18] I was very pleased to see that 85 percent agreed that their churches take good care of them, even though there was some talk of financial insecurity. They agreed that their churches were at least doing a good job at trying. That was, I guess, a reflection of our churches more than the pastor’s wife. I was pleased at that.
[09:42] My favorite one, though, was…I don’t remember the exact wording of it but the interpretation I came out with was that 96 percent believe in their husbands. I loved that because I know how important that is, that we believe in them for them.
Scott: [10:00] There were a couple questions there about the pastor’s fit for ministry. When the spouse saw that, the responses there just jumped up a couple notches, feeling like their spouse was really where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and frankly, kind of good at it.
[10:25] If at all you didn’t have that impression that would make this all a whole lot harder.
Lizette: [10:31] I’m curious, say there’s a pastor and pastor’s spouse listening right now. They know that they would fall…the pastor’s spouse would have fallen in that four percent. Is that one of those, Janet, where you’d say, “Oh. This should maybe stand out to me. This may be something”? What would you say to encourage them as a next step or something to talk about for those who were in that four percent?
[11:02] What was it? Was the number 96 percent?
Scott: [11:04] If somebody’s doubting that their pastor’s a good fit for the type of ministry they’re in.
Janet: [11:08] Could you repeat that question?
Lizette: [11:09] Yes. Flipping the results there for a moment, what words of encouragement would you have for those who may be listening to this recording and saying, “I fall into that group that doesn’t believe the pastor is a good fit for ministry. I’m outside the norm.”
Janet: [11:36] That’s a tough question. I would just say, “Take it to God in prayer.” It’s possible that they’re right, that maybe their husband or their spouse is in the wrong ministry. That is a possibility.
[11:56] I would encourage them to take it to God in prayer. I don’t know what else to say other than that.
Lizette: [12:02] Do you think, with prayer and graciousness, would you think that this could potentially be something that they could at least feel permission to bring up, to discuss and not…I imagine it could be frustrating to feel like you’re holding that in.
Janet: [12:26] In marriage we need to be open about everything, even the tough conversations because they will come out in other areas.
Lizette: [12:35] I noticed that you thought it was interesting how many plan quality time each week. I think the number was 31 percent. What about that resonated with you?
Janet: [12:51] Everybody’s busy. In the ministry, the ministry is busy. I think that planning that is so crucial. It was more that not that 31 did but that two thirds didn’t plan is what I was concerned about because I know that in a busy life if we don’t plan it’s probably not going to happen on its own.
Lizette: [13:22] What are the simplest steps, just making this practical. Say someone’s listening and they don’t plan that. It doesn’t even have to be a pastor’s spouse. It could be someone in any ministry role. Working at a non‑profit, denomination, anything.
[13:37] What are some baby steps if someone realizes, “Hey, I’m not doing that.” What would you tell them to start doing, the simplest step they could take?
Mark: [13:48] We get that question a lot at our pastor day nights. Honestly, learning to say, “No,” with confidence. Pastors deal with that struggle. That tug of war was mentioned by several spouses. One out of three felt caught in that tug of war between church and family.
[14:06] It’s always hard to say, “No,” to anybody. God gave us a pecking order. He said, “I’m first. The top two commandments say, ‘No graven images. No other gods.'” The great commandment, the greatest, most important commandment in the Bible, “Love God.” “Love your neighbor,” is the second one. Neighbor means nearest one, which creates a pecking order.
[14:30] Usually in my house is Janet. We model that for them and show them that saying, “Yes,” to your wife is the second most important decision. The next ones, at least for 20 or so years, are your kids, and your parents, etc.
[14:44] Pastoring your people is important, also. A baby step would be not so much reacting to the tug of war but getting ahead of it by scheduling time with your wife or your husband, scheduling time with your kids. Put them on your calendar is the biggest baby step.
[15:12] That might speak to some of the steps from this survey that suggest that they’re having negative…Let me just say 48 percent say it’s difficult to establish time for their marriage due to the interruptions. Ministry is going to have interruptions.
[15:40] There’s going to be some unplanned, unscheduled ministry interruptions but our job tends to have some flexibility in it so that we can bend more than some professions can.
[15:57] We need to bend back towards our family when we’ve taken from them. We need to redeposit that. That means giving yourself permission to, if that makes sense.
Lizette: [16:07] One of the things I noticed, Janet, you had marked an area of concern. You had several. One out of three agree their children resent how much time their spouse spends in ministry. What is disturbing to you about that?
Janet: [16:25] What’s disturbing to me is that as they grow they’re shaping attitudes towards God, toward church, towards the Bride of Christ. I think that’s the disturbing part.
[16:43] Going back to what Mark just said, if the minister will prioritize and make sure that when it’s important, when there’s that big game or that concert that…anything that’s important to the child, making that happen. I think that’s going to really help because it’s the big things, usually, that we remember years later.
[17:15] I do think that being present and not just at the big things. Just being present and then communicating with children, not just, “Well, got to go to work,” or, “Got to go to…” Communicating the importance of the specific situation so that they have an understanding.
Scott: [17:36] In ministry, oftentimes you might be in the same place with your kids but your attention is drawn somewhere else. There’s a fairly high level of satisfaction with the amount of time they’re spending with their kids.
[17:48] 7 out of 10 said they wished they could give their kids more individual attention. That becomes really difficult. It points to that time challenge that ministers have.
Lizette: [18:02] Scott, as a research guy, what’s the significance, I guess, and I’m just saying importance. I’m not using statistical terms. That one percent can count on friends inside the church when they feel stressed?
Scott: [18:24] That’s actually 10.
Lizette: [18:26] 10, oh! I had…
Scott: [18:28] It brings up a good point, and I’d love to hear Mark and Janet, your thoughts on this.
[18:35] When we asked pastors’ spouses who they could count on in the church, the only person that the majority said that they could count on a great deal was their spouse. Friends inside the church, friends outside the church, relatives. All had pretty low numbers where folks said, “I can count on them a great deal.”
[18:59] What does that do to a pastor’s spouse when they don’t have those trusted friends right there within their church, within that space where they’re doing a lot of their lives?
Janet: [19:14] It’s important. It’s real important.
[19:17] We talk about two basic types of people, introverts and extroverts. Introverts, it’s harder for them. Honestly, just one person, one or two persons being a not great need for an introvert. Just to have one or two is sufficient.
[19:34] Sometimes with the extroverts, because they have so many friends they don’t go to that deep level, possibly, with one or two individuals where you can really share all that. That’s a risk that we take when we make that kind of friendship within the church.
[19:56] There is risk to it, but I think it’s worth it. Doing ministry alone, and if we don’t have a friend that we can count on and share those deep feelings with other than our spouse we might become a burden to our spouse, become too needy for them.
Lizette: [20:18] There’s a lot more we want to talk about. We want you to come back for a second interview, which will technically be in about five minutes as we do a second podcast on this.
[20:30] We want to thank everyone for listening. To keep up with more of what Mark and Janet are doing, you can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkDance or visit his website and blog at MarkDance.net.
[20:40] Mark, any other ways to follow you online?
Mark: [20:44] It’s just the Facebook ministry page, MarkDDance.
Lizette: [20:47] Terrific.
[20:47] If you have any questions about the podcast, please tweet to us @SMcConn and Lizette @LizetteBeard or @LifeWayResearch.
[21:02] Once again, a special thank you to the sponsors of this project, Richard Dawkins, MD, and the North American Mission Board.
[21:08] Join us next time for another edition of Keep Asking. Keep asking, learn more, do better.
Mark Dance serves as director of LifeWay Pastors. Mark serves pastors by hosting date nights and roundtables, as well as speaking at retreats, conferences, and seminars. Prior to LifeWay, Mark pastored churches for 27 years. He has been married to Janet Kendrick since 1988, and they have two children: Holly and Brad.