Ministry work often feels like a 24/7 job. The hours are long, the parishioners are many, and the needs are great. It is important for all ministry workers to separate themselves at times and focus on all the other wonderful aspects of life outside of church; marriage, children, hobbies, pleasures, rest and so forth. We’ve tried to maintain a full life outside of the ministry, but have discovered that church can be very sneaky. It creeps into our everyday conversations and we all too easily let it reign supreme in our quality time together.
It’s hard not to discuss church issues, politics and people when so much of a youth worker’s life is invested in such things. However, allowing ministry topics and concerns to dominate what you and your spouse talk about can be detrimental to your marriage and to your overall well-being. Conversing constantly about church related issues can alienate loved ones and lead to a boring and one dimensional life.
Additionally, the church you work for is your family’s spiritual support system. When a ministry worker comes home and complains about “work” to their spouse, it has huge implications on how that spouse will then feel about church. Your boss is also your spouse’s pastor. Your co-workers are the people in their small group or Bible study. Too much negative venting can easily lead to spousal bitterness against the church and can dramatically affect your family’s ability to fully worship and integrate into their church community.
Here are a handful of things we’ve learned about how to tame our ministry tongues.
1) Be Intentional About Other Topics.
Spend a few minutes each day intentionally investigating what is happening in the world outside of church. We have found it valuable to try to read news articles, listen to the radio, surf the web, or even read a novel during lunch. When you broaden your exposure to a world outside the Christian bubble, you’ll find lots of interesting things besides church to discuss when you get home.
2) Limit Conversation Ministry Conversations.
Ministry workers need to talk about their day just like everyone else, but because a church is made up of a large quantity of people and a never-ending supply of drama and problems, it’s best to place limits on sharing. Agree on a set amount of time to decompress with your spouse once you get home and then dispense with church topics for the remainder of the evening. A walk together is a great time to talk about ministry and it has the added bonus of a definitive beginning and end. So when the walk is done, so is the church talk.
3) Personally Decompress Before Getting Home.
In my (Jake’s) first eight years of ministry, we lived very close to the church building and offices. It was a short walk or car ride away. Living near the church was great in some ways, but we found it had a negative impact on our conversational life.
I struggle with a bit of workaholism, like many other ministry workers we know. A five-minute walk home wasn’t enough time for my mind to shift out of ministry mode and become fully present at home. I would be fixated on that last email of the day or ideas for an upcoming sermon and thus those things would dominate our conversations.
Two years ago we decided to move one town over from our church, so now I have a twenty-minute commute home. This time allows me to decompress, listen to the radio, think or talk on the phone before arriving home. It really helps with shifting his focus from church to family. Obviously, not everyone can (or should) move the way we did. But other ways to decompress could be things like taking the long route home, stopping for a quick cup of tea, taking a moment for prayer and reflection, or calling another youth worker and talking to them about your day. Anything that will help you process what you need to and then shift your focus away from church.
4) Your Spouse Doesn’t Need to Know Everything.
This has been one of the most difficult things for us to learn. When it comes to frustrations or conflict in the church your spouse doesn’t need to know every detail or incident. Sharing every issue with them is one of the quickest ways to ruin your spouse’s feelings about church, which has a dramatic impact on their ability to worship and be spiritually fed.
Unless your job is in jeopardy, we have learned that is better to keep negative situations to yourself, at least at first. Pray about what upsetting thing happened that day, talk to another person, and spend time processing the situation yourself. Half of the time you’ll realize the issue is isn’t that important or it’s just something you need to let go of. The other half of the time, you will want to talk to your spouse, but by praying and processing first, you will be able to communicate the issue in a way that is healthy and non-reactive.
5) Talk to Someone Else.
Jake has a mentor he meets with regularly and together they share about life and ministry. Additionally, his father is a pastor, so Jake can run church related questions and concerns by him as well. Both of these men help absorb and process some of the ministry conversations Jake needs to have so that they don’t all happen solely at home.
Your spouse is your greatest confidant and support system, but usually has limits on the amount of church talk they can handle. By curbing church talk, processing with others, decompressing by yourself, and pursuing interests outside of church you will create a balanced and healthy conversational life, marriage, and ministry.