Advice for the Pastor Struggling in their Own Marriage

What advice could help a pastor struggling with his own marriage?  What advice would you give him?

Pastors are usually the ones who are counseling marriage partners who are undergoing some difficult issues but pastors have their own struggles too.  Is it okay for a pastor who is often the counselor to seek counsel?  Is there anything wrong if a pastor is struggling with his marriage to go and seek out godly marital counseling?  I don’t believe so.  Every family struggles from time to time and Christian couples are certainly not immune to having marital problems.  I believe that the demands of the ministry extend to every member of the family and so it isn’t surprising that pastor’s families are facing difficulties these days.  Sometimes a pastor doesn’t know where to turn.  There is certainly every reason to be praying for the pastor but this reason might be one of the greatest reasons of all to do so.

Connect with a Mentor Family

Next to serving God in the church, the pastor’s first and foremost, and certainly most important ministry, is that of his family.  Satan would love nothing more than to have this family unravel because it affects the church in many ways.  Sadly, many of the pastors, their wives and surely their children are under a microscope.  They are constantly under scrutiny and all too often the butt of criticisms.  A recent study by Leadership Magazine discovered that a full 95% of pastor’s families felt pressured to have the ideal family and when there were things that didn’t appear idealist, they often heard about it. [1]  Many of these pastors don’t feel like they have a safe place or person that they can talk with about their marital problems.  This might be one of the best reasons that we all need a mentor and an older, more experienced pastor is one of the best resources that a pastor can have.  He needs someone that he can confide in and trust and not have to worry about others hearing about his problems but so does your wife.  See if your mentor’s wife can be a mentor to your wife (if she wants this).  Sometimes just talking helps and frequently the mentor has been there and done that and can give the pastor and his wife perspective.

Schedule Family Date Night/Day

The pastor’s family is often neglected by the demands of the church and it is far too easy to have them take a back seat since he only has so much time on his hands.   If you went into most pastor’s studies or offices you’d be amazed because their desk is likely covered with papers, books, sermon notes, and a calendar that is bulging with appointments.  I know one pastor who blocks off a set time each and every Friday from 3 till 10pm and it is protected for a date night with his wife and some of this time is included for the children.  Take in a movie, a dinner date, a walk in the park or hey…just ask her what she wants to do.  Do things that you might not actually like to do but she does!  Sacrifice man!  Isn’t she worth it?  I suggest you make at least every other night (whatever night that is) a date night…just for you and your wife.  Hold your ground, stand firm in this commitment remembering that next to God, the family must come first and your wife should be your greatest earthy priority in your life.  It is not the church and not even the children.  If you don’t put her first, you risk creating an emotional distance between the two of you where you might end up light years apart, so take the initiative.  When you married, your vows usually included loving her, cherishing her, esteeming her and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Remember that Jesus went to the most extreme measure imaginable to show His love for His Bride, even giving His life for her.  I cannot ever remember any couple who were in serious danger of a separation or divorce where the husband cherished and loved his wife after the biblical model that Paul gave in Ephesians 5:25-28 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”  Do this and you will nourish and strengthen your relationship with your wife and your family.

Listen Up

I have so often been guilty of pretending that I am listening to my wife but really wasn’t.   My crime is later discovered when she reminds me of something she said but I didn’t really hear her.  I discovered that you can really listen but not really hear.  I need to do the “stop and drop” or stop talking and drop what I was engaged in.  How tragic it was when I pretended to be listening to her and really wasn’t so I plead “no contest” and guilty as charged.   How disrespectful of me!  I am ashamed to admit it but pastor, have you ever done this with your beloved?  I even went so far as to write down some of the things she told me.  I need to make time to sit down with her and just let her talk to me.  Put the duct tape over my mouth and don’t interpret until she is finished.  Give her time to finish her sentences.  I want to show her how serious I am about esteeming her feelings that I sometimes write these things down.  She doesn’t want me to solve everything but just sit and listen.  I need to take the initiative to sit down and ask her “Honey, how’s it going?  Is there anything you want to tell me?  Is there something that I can do for you?”  I believe the 5 most important words a husband could ever speak to his wife is “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”  Don’t try to (as I sometimes do) justify what you did or didn’t do…let her finish what she is saying and allow some time to go by in case she wasn’t finished speaking.   Stop, drop, and listen.

Forgive

One woman came up to a pastor in the airport and recognized the man as her pastor.  She saw the two holding hands and asked “What’s the secret of your marriage?” and before the pastor could get a word out of his mouth his wife said “Learn to forgive.”  Wow…that is spot on the mark.  The pastor chuckled and said to his wife “I am sure I have improved her skill in forgiving in all these years.” The woman laughed.  Marriage is a miracle in itself where a man and a woman, about as different as you get in nature, can live together under the same roof and still stay together. It’s a great analogy of the relationship between Christ and the church.  Since the husband could be the example of Christ and the wife as the example of the church, guess who forgave the most?  Christ surely did and so husbands must be willing to forgive if the marriage is to ever thrive or at least survive.  Paul’s admonishment to the church should be the pastor’s admonishment toward his wife “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his live, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil 2:1-2) and “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10) and even more so to the one you’re married too.

Conclusion

There are so many more things that I could tell you that would help your struggling marriage.  They would be things that I have done and I could add many under this heading:  Don’t do what I did.  I have learned a lot from my mistakes and I thank God that my wife has been such a good and godly woman all of these years.  She been so faithful and that’s an understatement since she’s had to put up with me. So my advice is to find another older mentoring couple in that’s been or still is in ministry, mark off some specific time for your beloved and protect it like a junk yard dog, take time to listen carefully and consistently, and learn how to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.  Marriages are struggling but they are worth fighting for. I have discovered that I do my best fighting on my knees…if you know what I mean.

Resources: Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. [1] Leadership Magazine.January 18, 2013. Category: Church Leadership.

5 Tips for Pastors When Counseling Someone Suicidal

By Jack Wellman

The rates of suicide are increasing worldwide and a pastor needs to know what to say and what not to say and how to engage the suicidal person.  Here are five things that a pastor should consider when counseling someone contemplating suicide.

Ask them Questions

There are ways to approach people who are considering suicide but one approach is to ask them questions which are open ended.  That is, ask them questions that don’t require a yes or a no but require more of a comprehensive response.  Here are some good questions you might use when counseling someone who is suicidal.

  1. When did you first begin to feel this way?
  2. Have you felt this way before?
  3. Did something happen that made you start to feel this way?
  4. How can I best help you and support you?
  5. Please help me understand why you are feeling this way?
  6. Have you sought help already or before?
  7. Have you been turned away when you sought help (if they respond to the previous question with a “yes”)?
  8. (If yes), How did that go?
  9. If you feel like you want to give up, what could change things for you?
  10. How do you think your family/friends would react?
  11. Have you ever suffered from depression?  If so, have they ever seen a doctor before about it?

Make Statement like

  • I am glad that you reached out to someone like me.
  • I have had concerns that you haven’t been yourself lately.
  • I can’t really understand all that you are going through but I care about you and want to offer any help that I can.
  • You know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
  • There are a lot of people that felt this way, even in the Bible.
  • Have you ever called a suicide hotline (e.g. an actual hotline is: 1-800-SUICIDE 1-800-784-2433)?

The Dos and Don’ts

  • Be honest, open, and forthright and don’t try to solve their problems.
  • Speak to them in a calm, reassuring voice.
  • Don’t tell them to “snap out of it.”
  • Don’t say “It’s not that bad.”
  • Continue to be supportive.
  • See if you could go with them to get help.
  • See if you could meet with them right now (if they’ve called you on the phone or you were told to call them by a family member or friend).
  • Be careful what you say to them…don’t be negative toward them or regarding their feelings.
  • Don’t be judgmental.
  • Try to encourage them.
  • Do not argue over their thinking about suicide.
  • Listen, listen, listen.  Be slow to speak and eager to listen.
  • Don’t interrupt them while they’re talking.
  • Don’t try to shrink their problems for them or make them think that their problems are not serious.
  • Keep continual eye contact and pay close attention.
  • Turn off cell phones while you’re speaking with them.
  • Offer to come over and speak to them in person or go out together and meet at a neutral sight if they’re speaking to you over the phone.
  • Don’t lecture them or quote the Book of Job.
  • Try and offer hope about tomorrow but don’t force it if they reject that.
  • Show them that you are taking them seriously.

Signs or Symptoms of Impending Suicide

  • Withdrawing from church services.
  • Lethargic, unemotional reactions to others in services.
  • Withdrawing from Sunday school, church functions, or other church-related activities.
  • Withdrawing from relationships like church members, family, and friends.
  • Substance abuse, alcohol abuse.
  • Anger or violent overreaction to minor things.
  • Weight loss.
  • Divorce or separation.
  • Trouble with the law.
  • Giving away of personal, valuable possessions, while having made out a will and telling you or others about it.
  • Asking about whether suicide is the unpardonable sin.
  • Saying “Good bye, I’m done, thanks for trying to help me, I’m going away,” and “you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”
  • Reckless behavior like reckless driving, drinking, drugs, or other dangerous activities.
  • Sleeplessness (signaled by continual yawning).
  • Physical ailments; headaches, nausea, fatigue.
  • Self-inflicted injuries, cuts, burns, bruises, head banging, hitting themselves.
  • Rejecting any praise or encouragement.
  • Neglect of personal appearance, unkempt clothing, hair, etc.
  • Extreme boredom.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • No interest in conversation with anyone.

What to Do When Suicide is Impending

When you get the feeling or know for sure that they’re going to end their life, drop everything and immediately seek a one on one audience with them or at least stay on the phone with them.

  • Do not leave them alone or if you’re on the phone, seek to see them at once.
  • Directly ask them, “Are you feeling so bad you’re thinking about committing suicide right now?”
  • Have you actually thought about how to do it?
  • Ask when are you going to actually do this?

If they answer yes to most or all of these questions, this person may well be seriously considering suicide and is in the “high risk” category, especially if they have a plan made out already.  This is urgent. Ask to come over immediately.  If they refuse, call one of their parents, siblings, pastor, counselor, or one of their closest friends.  Don’t hang up the phone or if you are with them, don’t let them go home or leave your house or wherever you are alone.  Offer to pray with them and if they refuse, pray silently while staying with them. People rarely commit suicide when someone is with them. If they intend to commit suicide immediately, you might consider calling 911.

Conclusion

Pastors may be the person’s last, best hope of avoiding suicide.  We have to be prepared because this problem is growing at a rapid rate. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that almost 3,000 people a day commit suicide and worldwide rates are growing like never before, having grown by 60% in the last 50 years and the trend is increasing every single year.  Christians are not immune to this either.

Even though suicide is the third leading cause of deaths for those ages 15-34, it is not a young-person’s problem.  The highest suicide rates are for those 60 years and older. That segment of the population is the fastest growing group in the world but they also have the fastest growing rate of suicide. Many want to put a period where God intends a comma so pastors will need to keep their eyes and ears open.  Some of these suicides may have been avoided if the person had sought medical help because sometimes it is as simple as a brain chemical imbalance that is treatable with medicine.  Life is precious.  People are fragile. It’s a fallen world, and a good shepherd must keep a constant, vigilant watch over his flock.

Take a look at some more of Jack’s article here: Jack Wellman at CMM