A Replanter’s Wife’s Perspective: We Work on Sundays

By Elizabeth Marshall

Pastors and their families work on Sunday. For many people it’s just a day they choose to attend church, but for pastors and their families, while we enjoy being there, it also is our job. Choosing to not be at church on Sunday is like choosing to not show up for an important meeting scheduled on Tuesday at 9 a.m. Pastors’ families have more responsibilities than many people realize. It is an honor to serve alongside my husband in this ministry; however, our love for Christ and His Church means that we have responsibilities and obligations that must be met on a day that for a lot of people is just another day of the weekend.

We work on Sunday

I remember when I was in high school, and I got my first job. I worked as a hostess in a local restaurant not too far from my house. When I got my first schedule, I remember looking at it and being disappointed because my new boss had scheduled me to work Sunday mornings, even though I had made it clear that I would be attending church with my family. When I brought it to his attention, he told me he had done several interviews the day I was hired, and he must have gotten me crossed with someone else. Once he had looked back over his notes, he said it was an easy switch and that I would be able to have my Sunday mornings off to attend church, but I would be needed to work in the evenings. It was a win/win situation because for me attending church at that time of my life was a choice. I had a desire to be there. On the few rare occasions when my boss or a co-worker needed me to step in and work on a Sunday morning, re-arranging my schedule and missing Sunday morning service didn’t really hurt anyone or anything. No one was relying on my being at church that week to ensure things were done. No one expected me to run the service, counsel those who need an ear to listen, visit those who couldn’t attend for the day or any number of other duties.

Before we were ever married, my husband made the decision to accept a call to a ministry position. I quickly learned that while Sunday is called “a day of rest,” Sunday is anything but that for those in ministry. Sunday is the busiest workday a minister and his family experience. Another thing many people don’t realize is that my husband’s job is not just his. It also is a job that belongs to me and there are obligations that come with this job for me as well. I understand that there are ministers’ wives out there who do not see the life path we are on the same way, but we feel that my job is to be alongside him in our ministry.  When there are people who are hurting, who are in need, who are asking questions, many times I need to be there alongside him to share the perspective, the burden or just to simply be there.  So, in many ways, for Dusty to be the most true to what he is here to do, we both accepted the call into ministry, in different ways. To say these things are not my responsibility or are something I should just tell people I am not going to do – that would be unresponsive to the job description.   

Pastors and their families do not have the same weekends as you

A few days ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with quite a few of our friends. Throughout the day as activities and events moved along there was a lot of words tossed out like: “When are we wrapping this thing up?” and “We gotta get this show on the road. I have to work tomorrow.”

During those conversations when I would attempt to commiserate with those who had to be at work on Sunday morning by saying “Yeah, I get that. We do too.” People looked at me like I had three heads! It was as if for some reason everyone we were spending time with just forgot that Sunday is the busiest workday for Dusty and me. Even though their weekend was basically coming to an end, just as ours was, they thought we weren’t actually going to “work” because we were going to church to do the job we do and because, from the outside looking in, we are done by noon or just a little later.

But our time is not our own; we are constantly on call.

The truth of the matter is that our “weekend” consists of whatever spare moments we can grab between sermon writing, counseling sessions, Sunday school preparation, visitations and any other crisis that might happen to pop up on a given day. For us, many “spare” moments consist of discussing the theme of an upcoming sermon to make sure the point is made and presented clearly.  We truly cherish those moments as well, even though they are not really couple or family time.

You see, our time really isn’t ours. Very rarely is the schedule that I set because I am actively choosing most of the things I have to do. Schedules are often set for team or committee meetings, ministry events, children’s activities and lunches or dinners that we as a family must attend. These things are out of my control, but they still go on my calendar. That often is compounded with phone calls, text messages or emails from congregation members experiencing crises and needing the comfort of their pastor. Many outside of ministry – and even some in the ministry field – would argue that none of these things should affect the spouse and family. I agree that if you have a job where you manage people in a company that, say, makes socks, or if you wait tables at the local diner or even if you are the CEO of a large corporation, your job may be largely unknown to your family. And certainly if you go off to work to talk to an employee about something going on in their life that is affecting the job, it would be inappropriate to take your significant other along for the meeting.

However, in ministry that is not how this should work.  We don’t do what happens in most of the workaday world and simply go our separate ways into our own work world and come together over a meal from time to time to share what we did at our work today. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t attend every function Dusty is involved in, but I do have responsibility to make sure needs are being met in our congregation. I don’t get to just say, “Nope. Tell them to come back in a couple weeks when I am feeling more like dealing with their crisis” or “Hey, that doesn’t sound like much fun, so let’s just not” – no more than Dusty does.

Spontaneous trips are often impossible, and vacations can have a cost

This means that deciding to just hop in the car and take a quick trip is almost impossible. Deciding on a fun “weekend” getaway just doesn’t happen because we live our lives “on-call” 24/7. Does that mean we never get a vacation? No, not all all. Everyone needs a break sometimes, but the cost of those vacations can be very high. While I would love to take a few days to just hang out with some of my friends I haven’t had the chance to see in a while, I also must decide if the only vacation time we get would be better spent with our children away from all the noise. I must take into consideration how my time is best spent because I just don’t have a lot of it to divvy up.

Takeaway: Pastors and their families love what they do, but it’s also their job, not just a hobby they enjoy at church every week. We have responsibilities, obligations and job duties, just like everyone else. Sunday isn’t just a casual choice for those of us in ministry. While a lot of people in the world use Sunday as a day to prepare themselves for the coming week, for those in ministry Sunday is their Monday. So in the future, when reaching out to your ministry friends about when they might have time to hang out late on a Saturday night or if they want to take a weekend getaway trip, just remember their weekend isn’t quite the same as yours. It’s not that we don’t want to, but often we just can’t.

Published June 21, 2022

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Elizabeth Marshall

Elizabeth Marshall is a wife, homeschooling mom of three and a replant pastor wife. She has a master of arts in Christian education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a focus on homemaking. Elizabeth loves spending time with her husband and family, reading, drinking tea, writing and almost anything arts-and-crafty. She is passionate about replanting and revitalizing churches and loves connecting with other replant pastors' wives.