Ask Jani: “Ministry Wife Dilemmas”

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Episode Synopsis

Jani answers questions from pastor wives about caring for the wives of church leaders and balancing ministry with caring for your children.

Audio Transcript

Jani: We welcome you to our podcast this morning, He Restores My Soul. Heidi and I do pray that these short podcasts are soul restorative through the power of the Lord.

A Note of Thanks

Jani: I wanted to personally thank many of you who have emailed in, and you are a pastor’s wife. You have questions and you have comments. Some of you have read my new book, Help, I’m Married To My Pastor, and have responded to that. Heidi and I thank you. So we’re going to take a couple of those questions this morning in our “Ask Jani.”

Heidi: Yes, and this is just a shameless plug: if you have not purchased Jani’s new book, Help, I’m Married To My Pastor, it’s sold on Amazon and in bookstores now. And it is just such an excellent read. The Lord really did a wonderful work with that book, Jani, and we are so thankful for the efforts that you put into it.

Jani: Well, thank you, Heidi, I didn’t know you were gonna say that. But I do thank you and I just praise the Lord for anything he’s given me. I just say, “Well, it’s only because I’m so old that I have something to say.” I’ve lived through a lot. Longer than many people.

Question 1: Caring for Elder’s Wives

Heidi: Yes, so here’s our first question from a pastor’s wife:

“Hi, Jani. I wanted to see if you could share more about how senior pastors’ wives can care for the elders’ wives in the church. My husband pastored a church the last five years and, by the grace of God, just finished his internship. He’s now the leading candidate for a senior pastor position. The church has experienced hurt as a whole. And a segment of the hurt has come from the previous leadership and lack of care. I am an extrovert and am eager to, Lord willing, know these people. I hope to tenderly care for them and especially the other elders’ wives. What have you done in the past? Monthly get togethers? One on ones? I know everyone is different, but I hope to pick your brain in this area.”

Jani: Hmm. Boy, that’s a real good question. I’m so glad to hear that this pastor’s wife wants to get to know the elder wives and other leadership wives. Way to go!

Jani: I think being an elders wife can sometimes be harder than being a pastor’s wife. Oftentimes, more often than not, the elders are working full time outside of church and then they’re coming to elder meetings, sometimes once a week, and then they’re also ministering because of their role as elders—some of them are teaching, some of them are visiting, some of them are working on different committees for building or missions or whatever. So to be an elders’ wife, you can be giving your husband to ministry but not receiving very much and feel kind of lonely. So I strongly commend this pastor’s wife for wanting to care for them.

1. Let them know they are “seen,” both individually and as a group

Jani: I think the main thing that you can do is let them know that they’re seen. Get to know them. And however that works for you. I’ve been a pastor’s wife in different sized churches from very small to very large and it depends on the size of your church. But I would get to know them as individuals as well as a group. I think it’s great to have all the elders wives over for lunch or if some of them are working maybe for an evening together once in a while. I didn’t do it every month because there were other activities and I had little children and couldn’t do it monthly. But whatever works for you. Make it something that you enjoy, and then they will enjoy coming.

Jani: Give of yourself. Talk to them. Get to know their names. Get to know their children. Get to know what they like and dislike. Get to know if it’s hard for them that their husbands are in ministry. Let them be open and honest with you. And then pray for them. And follow up on your prayers for them.

Jani: I strongly recommend one on one as well if you can meet for coffee or tea just. Let’s say there are 12 elders in your church on the elders board. Maybe you could make it a goal of once a month taking one elder’s wife out for coffee or tea and just getting to know her, praying for her, and understanding a little bit more about what her life is like.

Jani: And also, let them get to know you. Let them understand what it’s like for you to have a husband in full-time ministry. Be vulnerable and open with them and invite them to be the same with you.

“But what if I forget the details of our last conversation?”

Heidi: Jani, I have a question. I have not been an elders wife. But I know within a large church, there’s so many people and so many stories. Did you ever struggle as you got to know women and invested in them keeping their stories straight? They would be vulnerable and share these wonderful facts and then how would you not forget it two months later, the next time you saw her again?

Jani: Oh, that’s such a good question. And Heidi, the older I get, and the more people I know, the harder it is for me to keep all the stories straight. Whose mother has Alzheimer’s? Whose cousin is struggling with gender identity? Whose son…and you know, the list goes on.

Answer: Have a Prayer Notebook

Jani: What I found most helpful, Heidi you know we’ve talked about this before a little bit, is I have a prayer notebook. And so in my prayer notebook, when Ray was a senior pastor, I had a section for church leadership, and if someone had a special need, I would just write that elders wife, or that youth pastor’s wife, or whoever it was their name right on the top, put the date of our meeting and then make a note—just a short note a sentence or two—about that special concern. Then usually on Sundays, I would pray for church leadership. On Sundays, I would review them and maybe write a note, send a text, call, checkup and see. If I don’t write it down, I will forget. Two or three months down the road, I do forget.

Jani: On the other hand, let me say that I found people very kind when I did forget. And if I would be talking with him, I could say, “I am so sorry. I know we talked at depth about your mom. But I can’t remember the whole story. Can you remind me and catch me up on how she’s doing?” And they would be very gracious and say, “Oh, yes, this is what it was. And thank you for asking.”

Heidi: That’s great, Jani. Thank you for taking the time. It made me think how you talked about praying, specifically praying for them once a week. While I’ve never been a pastor’s wife, I have led discipleship groups. And the women are always so responsive to know that I’m praying for them once a week. Often once a month, I’ll check in with just a text after I finished praying for them. I’ll say “Hey, I prayed for you about this.” Or I’ll send a text and say, “Hey, I prayed for you today. And this was my specific prayer.” And they always say, “Oh, Heidi, it means so much that you would text and reach out.” So that’s kind of another idea too, of how to keep up with the elders’ wives, even if you might not be meeting with them week to week or month to month just through prayer and saying how can I pray for you this week? How can I pray for you this month?

Question 2: How to “balance” Ministry without Neglecting Family

Heidi: Alright. So here’s another question, which is very good in light of this talking about serving the church. It has to do with ministry and family.

Heidi: “Jani, I would love to hear your insight into how we can practically walk in the calling of ministry to others in a way that does not neglect our family and young children. Yes, as much as we can, we are looking for ways to include our children in this but there are times it does require us to step away and make time for whatever ministry The Lord has clearly led and called us to. How can we do this without fear of their hearts being hardened to the Lord in this? Fear of them equating more importance to this calling versus them? The Lord is so kind to fill in the gaps of our absence and do more than we ever could if we were in those spaces. But there are many times where this concern, even wrestling, seems to occupy my mind. I recognize these years with our children at home seem to pass by quickly. How did you balance this? And what guardrails did you practically set up so you didn’t do more than what the Lord was asking?”

Jani: Hmm. That’s a long question. But it’s a good question, isn’t it?

Heidi: Yes, I think the heart of it is how do you balance ministry and caring for your children? How do you not feel like you’re neglecting your children when you’re working in ministry? That’s a hard one.

Modern Concept of “Balance” (and the guilt we feel)

Jani: Yeah. It’s interesting to me that she uses the word balance. I think that’s a modern American idea. I never see it in Scripture. As far as I know, correct me, Heidi.

Heidi: No, I don’t see it. I can’t think of a verse that says, “Find the right balance in your life and devote the right amount of energy to each particular area.”

Jani: Yeah. But it is a very much a heartfelt concern. What this mom is saying is, “I have two wonderful things to invest my life in: ministry and my children. I try to blend them together, of course, whenever I can but there are times when ministry is calling me and I worry about my kids.”

Heidi: Or, I often feel guilty if the Lord is calling me to ministry and I step into that area, there’s always a plaguing guilt in the back of my heart that you should be with your children and they’re going to be harmed somehow, if I’m not devoting that energy to them.

Jani: Mm hmm. That’s good, Heidi. Let me speak to that guilt, that guilty feeling we have at times first, and then I have some other thoughts, stirring, brewing around this brain of mine.

Jani: When I am struggling with guilt, when I do something and then I feel guilty about it, I asked myself, “Lord, is this guilt from you? Is this a sin that I’ve done that helped drive the nails into your hands on that cross?” If not, then I’m going to let it go, and I’m going to assume that Satan is trying to trip me up in my guilty area of my brain and heart. Let’s not be women who stew in our guilt. I think that that’s wrong. I think it actually could be sinful.

Jani: So if we do something, and it’s wrong, we repent, we learn from it. We don’t do it again. If we do something, and we wonder if it’s wrong and we feel guilty, because maybe we should have been doing something else, then I say that might be (might be) a waste of emotional and spiritual energy. Let’s be clear for what sin is, and what it isn’t. I don’t know, Heidi, if that’s helpful or not.

Heidi: That’s very helpful as a woman that struggles with guilt a lot that’s extremely helpful, Jani. Thank you for sharing that.

Jani: I can only speak because I’ve struggled with guilt a lot, and eventually, the Lord spoke to me. And he said, “Give it up, girl. Come on!”

But how did you know when to say, “Yes” and when to say, “No”?

Heidi: So then how did you find that? How did you care for your kids and do ministry? How did you figure out what to say yes to and what to say no to?

Jani: Yeah. Well, there’s no simple answer, because it’s like much of life. It’s a both/and. Some of my lifetime, when I had young children, I had to work full time outside of our home—as you know, Heidi, some of our listeners know that; that was a disappointment to me. But the Lord asked it. It was a both/and. I had to teach school and care for a family of the six of us. And it’s never easy, but it’s glorious. It’s wonderful! A both/and—if you know what I’m saying a both/and—does not have to be a major mountain to climb. You can do both.

IMPORTANT: This doesn’t just apply to mom’s with young kids…

Jani: I want to say one other thing before I go any further: this is not just for moms with young kids. Our kids are in their 40s and the youngest one is in his late 30s. I still struggle over the both/and because God has called Ray and me to minister still. And we would like to continue ministering as long as we have breath. But as our family grows, there are 24 of us now total, there still is a lot of need. I still feel that both/and because Ray and I still, by God’s grace, are asked to minister in different places. And because of that, we can’t always say yes to be with our kids. All four of our children and their families live far away from us. The closest is an eight and a half hour drive. We have some overseas, some a three-day drive away, you know they’re far. And yet we want to invest in our children and grandchildren as well. We feel that as a responsibility from the Lord. So they’re both ministry to our family and ministry to those outside our family.

★★★ Communicate Value to your children ★★★

Jani: One of the most important things I feel we can communicate to our children, even as we minister is this: “I value you. You are so important to me. I’m here for you. I delight in you. I enjoy you.” I think we experience mutual enjoyment as love. If someone enjoys me, I feel loved. If I’m bugging them, I don’t feel loved. So, as often as possible in as many different ways as possible, communicate to your children, whether they’re young and still at home, whether they’re teenagers, whether they’re at college, or whether they’re grown and raising their own families, “I value you. I delight in you. I enjoy you. And I’m here for you. All you have to do is ask.”

TIP #1: Remember the “First Commandment”

Jani: One consideration that has been very important for me, Heidi, as I’ve worked this out with ministry and family, is the first commandment, you shall have no other gods before me. God needs to be first before both my family and my ministry. If he is first, before my family, he’ll guide me in how to lead them, how to teach them, how to handle my finances, every aspect of it. If he is first in my ministry, he’ll help me know what to say yes to, what to say no to. He’ll discipline me when I’m disobeying him or not following him according to how he is calling me to. So the very first thing I have to say is, “Let’s follow the first command. And let God be first.”

TIP #2: Invite Others In

Jani: Secondly, I would say, let’s live inviting other people in. Asking other people, even as this listener asked, how did you do it. I had a mother-in-law, who helped me see how to minister with older children. She loved me very well, even in the midst of her ministering full time. I appreciated that and she taught me some things.

Jani: When I would travel to do ladies conferences, and the children were small, Ray and I would have to work that out. I’d make sure he was home, he wasn’t traveling that weekend and I would have to be really careful about it, Heidi. It wasn’t as hard for our three sons as it was for our daughter. She just didn’t like being the only female in the house and I didn’t blame her at all. So I had to make that up to her. One of the ways I did was Ray and I decided we were just going to do something special with Krista and he and the boys helped make it possible that Krista and I could have a horse together. Once a week, they would come out and muck out all the stalls in the barn where we boarded our horse, to pay for our lessons and to pay for some of our feed. And that was one of the ways they helped Krista and I be able to spend time together. So when I had to go away on a weekend, I could always say, “Oh, don’t forget, we’ll be riding Wednesday night. And I’ll look forward to coming back with you.”

Heidi: What a great idea spending that one-on-one time with the children. What a difference that can make.

Jani: So they do, they do hear, “You’re valuable to me, I care about you, I want to be with you.”

Heidi: I enjoy spending time with you. I liked when you said that too. That was helpful to me.

TIP #3: Communicate the Thrill and Privilege of Serving Christ

Jani: I think another thing that you can communicate is what a privilege it is to serve the Lord Christ. The fact that he has called us, he knows us, He died for us, He gave his very life for us, and if you can communicate what a thrill it is for you to be able to minister, the children will rejoice for you. They will see that how important this is to you and how much you would love it. And they will maybe even in their older years want to minister as well as they see that.

TIP #4: Watch out for Hypocrisy – Practice what you preach

Jani: Another word of advice I would give is as you are out ministering, live at home what you’re teaching, live out before your kids the life you’re trying to encourage others to live. If you’re going out and teaching other people about how to be a mom, be that kind of mom at home.

Heidi: That’s good, Jani. My counselor always encourages me and says, “Heidi, you want to be the same you whether you’re inside the walls of your home or whether you’re at Jani’s house or whether you’re at church and if you’re having a rough day, how discouraging it can be for the kids that are home and you’re complaining and having a rough day and then you show up at someone’s house and act like, “Oh the world is all wonderful.” And try to be able to be honest and vulnerable. If somebody asks, “How are you?” to say, “You know what, we had a rough morning but here we are,” and that was very convicting and that made me think of that when you share. Try to live out at home what you’re teaching,

Jani: Yes, kids can really spot hypocrisy. They don’t know that word, but they know what it is, and when they see it in their parents, it hurts. It’s hard.

TIP #5: Your Children are your “First Ministry”

Jani: And that I think would bring me to the final thing I’d want to say and that is, your children are your first ministry. Even now, in our 70s. If one of our kids called and said, “Mom, I need you” and I was headed somewhere, I would as graciously as possible bow out of that ministry because my children are my first priority. I am their only mother. Ray is their only dad. And so let your children be your first ministry. When they know they have that privilege they tend not to misuse it. And they feel safe, secure, loved and cared for.

Jani: So I hope that this can help this person who’s written in and others of you who are involved in ministry, trying to find that “balance,” as we call it, of walking in both ministry, working in ministry, giving yourself to others, and yet still fulfilling your role as a mom to your children, which you really want to do well. You only have one shot at it.

A Prayer for Ministry Wives and Moms

Jani: May the Lord restore your soul, dear listener as you’ve listened today. We thank you for writing in and Heidi, these are both ministry questions, which you’d be willing to pray for any ministry wife who’s listening today?

Heidi: I’d be honored to.

Heidi: “Heavenly Father, I lift up all of the dear moms and wives who are in ministry who are listening today. Lord, their sacrifice often goes unseen. They work so hard to care for their children so their husbands can be free to do ministry at work. They work so hard to care for the church and the women at the church. Their husbands can work long hours and they cannot know a predictable time that they’re going to get home. And it’s hard, ministry is hard. And so Father, I pray that each of these women would feel your love deeply. I pray that they would feel your hands around them and your arms around them. I pray that every morning they would hear your encouraging words. I pray that you would protect them from the enemy, from any lies or attacks or guilt that are trying to weigh them down, and that they would be able to hear your truth. God, encourage these wives for the wonderful work that they’re doing. Help them to love their children well whether their children are grown or their children are little. Be with them today God and encourage them. In Jesus precious name we pray, amen.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

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About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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