An Interview with Gail MacDonald by Linda Moore
The Barna Group (Barna.com) recently released a report titled “The Resilient Pastor.” The report compared responses to an interview conducted in 2015 with 512 Protestant senior pastors and another interview conducted in 2022 with 584 Protestant senior pastors. The results showed a significant and troubling downturn in a pastor’s self-perceived overall well-being.
Pastors were asked to rate their satisfaction from excellent to poor in six areas: 1. Spiritual well-being; 2. Physical well-being; 3. Mental and emotional health; 4. Overall quality of life; 5. The respect pastors receive by those in your surrounding community; 6. Having true friends. [You can find the actual percentages from these interviews on Barna.com by searching for “Resilient Pastor reports” or “7-Year Trends: Pastors Feel More Loneliness & Less Support.”] The largest percentage point drop was in the pastors’ “overall quality of life,” which dropped from 42% in 2015 to 18% in 2022.
To address this disturbing trend, by design reached out to Gail MacDonald to elicit her insights. Gail has been a pastor’s wife for over 40 years. Gail and her husband, Gordon, have served in four churches as well as a parachurch organization. Gail led ministry wives’ retreats for Focus on the Family for 10 years. Today they continue to minister to the body of Christ through mentoring, teaching, and writing. Gail is the author of the book, “High Call, High Privilege.” The following is the gist of a conversation between Gail and Linda Moore, director of by design and herself a pastor’s wife.
Part 2 of 3
Linda: What are some practical ways we can pray, particularly for young families in ministry?
Gail: When our children were young, I asked a group of trusted women if they would pray for Gordon and me to find a young person who could give us time when we both needed to be away for a few hours. It so happened that our Kris was a few months old. We were counseling a couple who took two weeks away to strengthen their marriage. Their teenage daughter needed a place to stay while they were gone. It was a beautiful “fit” for us, and she bonded to Kris and Mark. From that time until she left for college, at the beginning of each month, she would ask us for times in our calendar when she could come and be an older sister to our children. She never took a dime. That answer to our friends’ prayers was truly a gift from heaven! Sometimes, we have not because we ask not … I can’t tell you how meaningful her life and commitment to our children was during that time. Today I realize this seems impossible. Still, there may be older women, who have love and stamina and who don’t need the money, but have time on their hands, and they don’t want to go to work. There are many, many women who are able and ready to respond to an opportunity to help—especially their pastor and his wife.
Linda: Do you have any comments regarding the pastor’s children?
Gail: When we pray for ministry children, let’s pray they will be loved by the community. We were very fortunate in our congregations when it came to our son and daughter being loved. There were very rare times when a lay person gave unwarranted advice or correction. This can cause harm. Fortunately, the majority loved them well. But we know of some families who have had to speak to someone about their behavior toward a child. Children are going to make errors in judgment; let’s treat them the way we would hope others would treat our children.
From the smallest thing they do well, let them know how much they are appreciated. If we see a ministry couple’s child, or any child, doing something well or kind, let’s tell them and thank them. I heard a quote that someone wrote in his book, “Catch somebody doing something good and affirm them!” Because we had already led two congregations and a parachurch organization when we came to the Northeast, we could make comparisons. God gave us the idea to grow Grace Chapel on the Scriptures having to do with thanking God and each other. Yes, we would affirm each other, we would build into each other’s lives, rather than detract. And we would pray very carefully before we were critical and were sure to go directly to that person if we had a concern.
A friend gave me of copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. I loved it because I’m a person who loves short tasks that I can do. And this book is full of ways in which you might improve how you love people. This has stuck with me for 60 years. Here’s a quote that inspired me. “If you have any good, believe that others have more … it is no harm to you to place yourself below all others, but it will do you great harm if you place yourself above even one.”
Gordon and I work hard at reminding ourselves of these truths, and we do fail, but it is important to keep this as our goal. In an article titled “The View From Eighty,” Gordon identified five words that we believe could change a lot of relationships if implemented at every level in every group—beginning at home. The five are “thank you,” “well done,” “I’m sorry,” “please forgive me,” and “how can I help?” If we could humble ourselves and practice these words, lives would change! Relationships would move toward health and the world would be a better place. Recently I was studying in I John, and I was surprised to learn that John at Patmos, the same John, of course, who wrote the fourth Gospel, used the word LOVE 46 times in I John. If we want to encourage our weary pastor and his wife, find out what they do well, and affirm them. But often and always lift him and his wife to our Lord in prayer.
Stay tuned for the last part of this series, coming soon!