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 3 of 3
Linda: What advice or insights do you have for how we might encourage our pastor’s wife?
Gail: Please allow your pastor’s wife to be herself, and don’t compare her to the previous minister’s wife. And it’s a huge help to bring food when someone is ill, but please put the food in disposable containers. When Kris was about 5 months old, I had mono. One time we had dishes stacked two feet high on our dining table. When I had to spend lots of time returning them, I promised myself I would never take any kind of food to someone who was ill except in a disposable container! And I haven’t …
Linda: I would also add as a congregation we need to give the pastor’s wife the freedom to be involved in the ministry of their church as much as she feels is appropriate. This can vary from woman to woman. It’s important we don’t hold them to our level of expectation.
Linda: You mentioned the pandemic, but what about our culture today, and how is it affecting our pastor’s family as well as our own families?
Gail: Thank you for raising this, Linda. You have young grandchildren and understand the battle that is going on for their hearts and minds. Trying to raise children in this culture is like starting a fire in a rainstorm. Pastors’ families and our own families can’t do it without lots of support.
Social media is another reason why we are losing ground in our relationships. We don’t have time for others. Many children are on their cell phones for hours each day and adults are too, as well as on our computers! It has to become a family covenant that we will communicate each day and leave the phone away from our eating experience. Even eating together has become something that many families can’t seem to make a priority. But it’s been proven over and over that mealtime can be when family values are passed down and we can laugh together as we eat. Our adult children, now 56 and 59, would still say it was our mealtimes that they recall with the greatest nostalgia.
Sometimes we have to start laying the groundwork earlier. When our children were 12 years old, we told them no dating until they were 16. Because they knew this was the way it would be, they never asked to date, and it wasn’t one of our challenges. They had group dates instead.
There are so many reasons like this that make it vital that ministry families receive prayer and encouragement. Would it help if families who had the same convictions about social media or eating meals together made covenants surrounding these challenges? This way, our children don’t feel they are the only ones being asked to pull back on social media. And could it dull the constant pull of culture to mold our families, instead of us?
Linda: Is disunity in the body of Christ a pressing concern to pastors?
Gail: Yes, I think disunity in the body of Christ is a major issue that wears down our pastors. This subject can become a crippling thing. Too often the moment anyone mentions disunity, the conversation may move to politics. How else do you ever talk to people about the importance of oneness in Christ? So, the pastor feels inept, there are so many things he fears he can’t mention … so many things. Can we rediscover the love Jesus showed his disciples?
Linda: There are several other concerns that we could mention that weigh on pastors and their families, but having unrealistic expectations or serving a demanding congregation certainly is a top concern. People expect a lot of ministers. We’re not their Savior, Jesus is. They should know that. But it’s an ongoing challenge in caring for people and can take a heavy toll on the pastor.
Gail: Yes, expectations are something all congregations have to one degree or another. That’s why it’s so important that the couple is called to God in Christ, and not what their church is necessarily telling them what to do. If pastors are always trying to please people, their ministry will be short-lived. Pastors need to know in their conscience that they’ve tried to live the truth and are endeavoring to build up people in Christ and grounding them in Scriptures such as Colossians, Philippians, and Hebrews 11-13. We always need to come back to God’s promises. Generations ahead will be helped by our heart work, working hard not to find fault in people, forging ways to build bridges, and loving like Jesus does, even when we may feel like they want to crucify us. Jesus is our model. He didn’t fight back. These are the things I constantly look at when I sense anger inside me is starting to rise. I tell myself, “This is not Jesus in you. Get rid of it. It’s a trap.” We’re fighting principalities and powers, not flesh and blood.
Linda: Indeed, these are challenging days; the church and its leadership are being attacked, but it is nothing new. Peter writes, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. We are not alone! The apostle John writes greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. And Paul concludes his first epistle to Thessalonica with these words: He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. So, then, whether we are together or apart, we constantly seek to stir up one another in love, and with thankful hearts undergird our pastoral leadership with gratitude for the work of grace that is evident in their lives. For we know that He who has begun a good work in us will Himself bring it to perfection.
Now I pray: May His grace overshadow you with His love, peace, and mercy and bear you through the days to come; and may the Son shine His blessing upon you as you press on toward your high calling in Christ Jesus.