When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want to Serve in Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
October 18th, 2016

A letter from a Youth Ministry Spouse:

“I support my spouse’s call to working in the church with teenagers. I mean, we have some of our own so I know the lasting importance of what youth workers do. I see firsthand the planning dedication, late night texts, calls from grumpy parents, one too many meetings, etc., that my spouse puts into the job.  I’m the one who happily stays at home with our own kids when my spouse leaves on yet another summer trip with someone else’s kids. Total support here.

But please: don’t assume that I have the same call in ministry.

Just because my spouse stepped into student ministry doesn’t mean that’s what God has in store for me. We’re not necessarily a two-for-one package deal; pay for one, get us both wasn’t what we agreed to in the job description. Oh, I love God and want to serve His Church. I just don’t want people to assume it’s in youth ministry because honestly? It’s not for me. But I can’t say that to just anyone without sounding shallow or bringing criticism our way, can I?”

I get it.

I’ve served in youth ministry for 30+ years and it was clear early on: I was called but my hubby, Steve? Not his thing! He’s always been very supportive, believed in what I was doing, and moved with me when God sent us somewhere new to serve. But hiring me was not hiring him. He’d help out when I really needed him, but he was NOT going to be one of my adults at a lock-in, emergency or not. He always found other ways to serve. He’s kind of Mr. Hospitality so he ran the Coffee Café at one of our churches and was in charge of the Sunday morning bus/van pick-up system. He spent several years driving the church bus on New Year’s Eve for our downtown “First Night Celebration” so that people could see our church nestled in the midst of town life.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand regarding spousal involvement:

  • Churches are much easier on husbands of female youth workers than they are on wives of male youth workers about ministry involvement expectations. Why? I think it’s a little leftover inequality of career/job importance – “The man is the main breadwinner” – so they don’t expect the male spouse to do as much as they would the wife of a male youth leader. (On a side note: the salary discrepancy between a male and female full-time youth worker in the same director role is 12K per year average.)
  • When interviewing for a new youth worker, churches are no longer allowed (by federal employment standards) to ask about a spouse’s employment and potential involvement in the ministry.
  • Although churches can’t ask about spousal involvement or make hiring decisions based on 2-for-1, it is perfectly acceptable for the interviewing candidate to ask about the expectations. You may have to dig a little because it’s not something that’s written down and won’t be in a job description anywhere. Best having honest conversations upfront than to set your spouse up for hardship at your new church.
  • I make sure to not answer for Steve when people came to me about something they wanted him to do. I try really hard for them to see him and his place in the church to be about him and not because he is “Mr. Stephanie,” which he is not.
  • Whether it’s fair or not, even if a spouse doesn’t serve in the youth ministry, it still is very helpful when the spouse is seen at the church on a regular basis. Whether involved in some other ministry or at least in the pew during worship, “spousal sightings” keep people from wondering what’s up. So a savvy couple takes that into consideration, making sure that the spouse is “around” where lots others are present. A little can go a long way.

I’m happy to say that we’ve come a long way in allowing our spouses to have a life of their own inside and/or outside the church. Providing a climate that allows the youth ministry spouse to be happy just makes things ultimately better in the youth ministry.

STEPHANIE CARO has been involved in ministry for more than thirty years. She’s the author of Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker. She’s senior consultant for Ministry Architects and lives in Houston with her hubby and puppy.


Youth Specialties

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