The Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas

The Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas

By Thom Rainer

I am tempted to say that my ministry would be incomplete without my wife, Nellie Jo. It is more accurate, however, to say I likely wouldn’t have a ministry without her. She not only has been supportive; she has been a vital partner in my ministry.

Pastors and church staff members across the nation have shared with me the importance of their spouses in ministry. I was again reminded of this reality when I read a recent article in Harvard Business Review. The article was based on an incredibly impressive research project interviewing almost 4,000 business executives over a five-year period.

There were many parallels in this study and the anecdotal information I have heard from pastors and church staff members. To be clear, the HBR study looked at business executives, not those serving in churches. And they broadened the survey from “spouses” to “spouses and partners.” For those reasons, we can certainly expect divergence in the results compared to those serving churches vocationally.

Still, look at each of these key five areas and see for yourself if you can identify in your own ministry. The numbers may differ, but I think the sentiments will be similar.

  1. The importance of a spouse for emotional support (34% of the men and 29% of the women). A pastor recently shared with me his frustration with his church and his temptation to quit ministry. I asked him what has kept him going thus far. He told me: “The call of God and the support of my wife.” Many of us in ministry have similar stories.
  2. The importance of a spouse to accept career demands (16% of the men and 17% of the women). Someone who serves on a church staff is typically on call 24/7. Though pastors and church staff should do everything they can to give their families time, emergencies happen. Many needs are time sensitive. It takes a special spouse to handle that reality.
  3. The importance of a spouse to provide practical help (26% of the men and 13% of the women). In the HBR article, this practical help specifically addressed child raising and housekeeping and similar functions. I know a man whose wife serves as children’s minister in a church. It is very important for him to be home on weekends, particularly Sundays, because that’s his wife’s workday. He needs to be available to take care of the kids.
  4. Career advice (19% of the men and 13% of the women). I have looked to my wife every time I sensed God leading me to another place of ministry. She not only has been supportive, she has offered me wise and timely counsel. I was talking to a pastor just yesterday about a possible ministry change. He shared with me how important his wife is in providing counsel and advice.
  5. Willingness to relocate (10% of the men and 8% of the women). I feel confident that these percentages would be much higher among those in vocational ministry. The ministry is more often than not a very noble and mobile calling.

Keep in mind that the percentages noted in each of the five areas were for business executives. I believe, for the most part, the numbers would be much higher for those in ministry. And though the numbers are not mutually exclusive, there are hardly any leaders in businesses or churches who do not lean on their spouses greatly. Frankly, I can’t see how any pastor or any church staff person can make it in ministry without a supportive spouse.

How do you view these five areas? Are there some areas you would add to the five? Do you have a specific story of a supportive spouse in ministry? I would love to hear from you.

And by the way, Nellie Jo, thank you. I couldn’t make it in ministry or life without you.

This article was originally published at on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at


    • Josiah Themba Mdaka

      This is what couples are for. I so pray that my wife can be that support pillar in my ministry as a pastor.

    • Terry Moore

      My wife and I have served several times on the mission field and I know without God`s protection and my wife`s support I would never have lasted long in ministry. Even today as we serve in our own community I still need the encouragement and love of my wife. I can always count on her for the truth in direction and support.I know that God loves me, because he put this wondeerful gift into my life. Thank You Lord!

    • Allan RIver

      How wonderful to know that everything about my life had been planned by God. He knew I needed a strong woman, my wife, on my side seeing that I will be experiencing many challenges in my life. I never would have made it alone or with somebody else. It shouldn’t just be a spouse but He chose that specific one who will know how to support me when I’m down and out, when it seems as if God don’t respond to all my prayers. I can’t stop thanking God for the spouse He gave me to be on my side.

    • Calvin H

      Barry-Excellent article. I wonder, however, how you harmonize what you say with Paul’s words in I Cor 7:32-35? (The bigger context begins with v. 7). Matt 19:12 also relates to this. It would seem that single ministry is God’s preference and married ministry is acceptable but second-best. We glorify romantic love in our culture, but Paul seemed to think that singleness was better for those in the Lord’s service. Some say that “that was only because Paul thought that Jesus was coming back in a few short years”. OK, but God apparently inspired those words and chose to have them preserved for us today. Thoughts? (I have been married for 35 years).

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