The Dance of Ministry: Reflecting on My First Year as a Pastor’s Wife

It is most certainly summer here at what we affectionately call "Pete's Retreat." The day starts early for the three youngest boys. They share a rather large room with separate beds, yet at night when we check in on them, they're huddled together, passed out like puppies in one bed. As soon as the sun starts to come in through the curtains & the birds start singing their morning tune, they are AWAKE and HUNGRY. Which usually means Josh is half asleep, stumbling through the kitchen in desperate need for coffee that can't come quickly enough. (That’s right - HE makes the coffee. It’s what makes him one of my favorite people).

In the hopes of offering them the most tech free summer possible, we spend our days outside. Discovery and play at its finest. Which is mostly me running them into the ground so they're completely worn down by bedtime (funny how it feels the other way around). As exhausting as it can be, Josh and I want to remember these days - praying by the end, we’ll still be in tact. Our mantra for the summer is "Embrace the moment in front of you gracefully and surrender the rest." Which means a lot of embracing the squabbling, dirty boys & sticky floors and then surrendering to the squabbling, dirty boys and sticky floors. At night we collapse into each other feeling grateful.

Sleep and repeat.

Our intentional presence with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer is a new practice for the two of us. Up until this past year we’ve been spinning so many plates, oftentimes at the cost of our relationship with our boys and each other. It’s a miracle we managed to hold on. I can only reflect on Josh’s first year in the lead pastor role in light of the years that led up to that point. And it all began when we bought our first home together.

When we came upon our house 6 years ago, I fell in love. She sat on a hill with cedar shutters, old windows and a cracked chimney. (I can approach things rather ambitiously sometimes - especially things that need repair. I find them so relatable). When I saw the huge backyard with a small English garden enclosed by a picket fence, grape vines, raspberry bushes - overlooking a golf course with huge willow trees and a beautiful pond - I was home. (By the way, did you know that landscaping needs to be maintained?!)

And over the years I found it didn’t only belong to our family, but every person we ever loved who walked through the doors and squeezed in around our dining room table. All the days spent nesting, baking, cleaning, loving our home - was an act of service. And in some way, our space, which holds many of life’s most tender moments, became sacred. The walls absorbed the laughter, tears, arguments and prayers - like a most faithful friend. And in the trenches of marriage, parenting and ministry, she became a refuge from the heartbreak and storm that raged around us and in us.

Our circle was widening and we found ourselves bearing witness to some of the worst life has to offer. Divorce, car accidents, death, heartbreaking diagnosis after another. Every phone call that stopped us in our tracks, took our breath away and re-directed us toward the hospital served as reminders that this vocation required a certain stamina that I didn’t think I had in me. There were hours I waited for Josh to come home while I tirelessly cared for our children, late nights he stayed up writing sermons or finishing up papers for seminary - plans we’d have to cancel after weeks that were packed with caring for everyone else, simply so we could be together as a family - friendships we had to walk away from because they didn’t understand the complexity of ministry. Each baby, each exam, each Graduation party invite posted on our fridge seemed to add weight to the already fractured picture. I started to believe that maybe we weren’t cut out for ministry.

In the church, oftentimes, there’s such an emphasis on “brokenness” that I began to believe that that’s what Josh and I were - irreparably broken. That feeling of inadequacy ran deep for both of us. We believed we were too young, under qualified, under educated - simply not enough for the call that God had for us. We were desperate for wholeness and then my dear mentor pointed something out to me lovingly. She said, “Heidi. You ARE whole. You are a daughter in Christ. Wholeness isn’t something to be achieved it’s what you become the minute you surrender your life to Him.”

She encouraged me to continue studying God’s Word and I would tearfully sit in this passage, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)

We were weary. Desperate for rest. Josh and I were very poorly trying to carry it all on our own and we were miserable. After many long conversations, time away, counseling and prayer, hand in hand, we began our long walk home. It was around that time Josh was asked to consider transitioning into the lead pastor role. We knew if this was what God wanted for our family we had to unlearn some bad practices we had become accustomed to. So we loosened our grip and asked God for guidance. Our circumstances didn’t change, ministry didn’t slow down but our approach to it was radically different.

We became comfortable saying no to people. We started to carve out time for just the two of us. Dinnertime around the table with our kids became an essential part of our routine where we recap the day and share stories. We began purposefully surrounding ourselves with people who have been on the path longer who could share their wisdom with us. Our family became our ministry in which we became fiercely protective. And through some wild and amazing circumstances we were given an opportunity to say good bye to our beloved little house to move on to a space that fits the needs of our ever growing family.

And packing up this place I can’t help but reflect on ALL of it -All the days ordained for me… before one of them came to be”(Pslam 139:16) Which means that it was all apart of God’s plan - the good and the bad. He was preparing us and still is preparing us for something bigger. And when I think back on Josh’s first year in the lead pastor role the only way I can think to describe it is boring. Wonderfully, boring. It has been a slow, long exhale - a much needed respite. A beautiful picture of what the church should be - loving, supportive, accessible. I’ve watched Josh grow into this beautiful, humble man of God who is extraordinarily gifted. I’m blown away by his creativity and ability to put language around Scripture in a way that’s so palatable. I’m beyond thankful for the prayers of our own Christ following parents. We could never do any of this without their support. We have great mentors who lovingly keep us on track and encourage us to stay in God’s Word. But I am most grateful for our wonderful life group who don’t allow us to take ourselves too seriously and yet take us very seriously.

Ministry is a dance. And sometimes I’m a willing dance partner. Other times I have to be dragged out on the floor. But life unfolds and we’re asked to show up in all of our brave and inadequate ways. We embrace the moment in front of us gracefully and surrender the rest to God. And I believe whole heartedly by the end, we’ll still be in tact.

Heidi Petersen is a Corporate Trainer for RDR Group who specializes in diversity, resilience and generational differences. She has been engaging audiences across the country for nearly a decade and credits her success to great story telling and a sense of humor. Heidi is also the better half to Lead Pastor Josh Petersen at Immanuel Church in Gurnee and the mom to 4 wild and wonderful boys. In her spare time she enjoys Scrabble, reading and wandering around Milwaukee with the love of her life.