I wrote this piece long before the pastor’s wife was the co-pastor or the assistant pastor or even an associate minister, so some expectations and responsibilities have probably changed for a few, but I still think there are many wives who have no other “title” but pastor’s wife. This is for that woman who lives her life as the pastor’s wife in the ministry life fishbowl.
I was a pastor’s wife, for twenty years I was a pastor’s wife. I might as well have said, “I am a martian,” for that was about as much as people knew about the pastor’s wife. It was to many (too many), an alien lifestyle — one to which they could not (and probably still cannot) relate.
Even if people attend church regularly, they may still only know the pastor’s wife from a distance. Though many members do recognize her as the woman who is married to their pastor, they may not even know her full name and more often than not, she is simply introduced as “our pastor’s wife.”
How, then, does the pastor’s wife see herself?
Well, if you ask ten pastors wives, you will probably get ten different answers.
One wife may proclaim involvement is the key, while another shuns any visible involvement at all. “Sweet and quiet spirited,” this one says, while the proponent of gregariousness makes her thoughts known. “Modesty in dress,” is advocated by that one over there while the fashion diva over here is astonished at such nonsense.
Actually, each wife probably sees her place only as it relates to her temperament, her church, her family, and above all else, her husband/pastor’s wishes.
Wives have conveyed to me that their husbands state, rather emphatically, “The husband is called, not the wife.” I have heard a pastor or two say that their wife’s “job” is to take care of them. Period. When my husband was called to the pastorate, I was astounded at the advice he received from “seasoned” pastors. “Don’t let her sing int he choir; dress her up and sit her down. Let her look pretty. Don’t let her get involved with the members.”
I had no prior experience as a PW, but this “advice” did not go over well with me. I had no clue what being the pastor’s wife would entail, but I knew there was something fishy about that counsel given to my husband. I had to wonder what was I in for (pardon the grammatical faux pas). I had no mentor. No experienced wife with whom I could talk. To fill in the experience gap, I read books; I learned through trial and error. I bumped my head more than a few times against tradition and what seemed to be the latent male chauvinism of the clergy.
Here is what I discovered. The idea that God calls the man and not the woman seems to imply an engine-caboose relationship between the pastor and his wife. Wherever the engine goes, the caboose must follow. The caboose has no power of its own. It is totally dependent on the engine. No one ever wrote about the caboose that could. Only the engine could.
If the PW is indeed the caboose, she never has to get involved in anything. All she has to do is attach herself to the engine and show up when the engine shows up. She can then be disconnected and moved to a side track where she quietly waits for her engine to return. She sits……. and waits. The world may say they also serve who only sit and wait, but the pastor’s wife who sits and waits finds herself with time to think, and think, and think. About being the caboose. About being disconnected. About being neglected. About being ignored. About being useless. In the engine’s ministry, she is usually the last one into the station and as other cars are added, she may find herself being moved further and further away from the engine.
Would God make such a move, to call a husband and leave the wife without a place, to be mere decoration, an accessory on the arm of her husband? Would God leave her place to be defined by the whims of others? Does it make sense to believe that God would forget or overlook a place for the wife in the ministry of her husband? Is the pastor’s wife the only member of the body of Christ who has absolutely no spiritual gift at all. Is she excluded by the Holy Spirit when it comes to being an active member of the church?
The PW who is a homemaker (in the midst of a congregation of professional women) needs to be assured by her pastor/husband that she is vital to his ministry, that her maintenance of home and hearth provides him with sanctuary, a quiet place for him and his family, a place of refreshing and restoration.
The PW who is a business woman, needs to be acknowledged as enabling her husband to focus fully on his ministry without the additional concern of how to adequately provide for his family (despite the press, very few pastors receive sufficient salary or benefits). The church needs to know that the pastor loves and respects his wife, and appreciates her support of the ministry.
Yes, I do believe that the woman is called to the place of pastor’s wife. No, I do not believe it to be a pastoral type of call (for that woman who does not believe she has been called into the ministry). Rather, each PW must see the ministry as her friend and not her enemy. She must recognize her value to the ministry as a member of that assembly of God. She, too, must realize that she has been given a spiritual gift (or gifts) by the Holy Spirit that are vital to the well-being of the body of Christ.
But, what if the husband is adamant? The wife is not called to anything. Her place is to sit and look pretty. She is to be silent in all things at all times. What then?
As a child of the Most High God, in all situations the pastor’s wife must obey God. What does the Word say? Wives submit to your own husbands. Members obey them that have the rule over you. Yes, it is a double whammy, but it is also the reality of being the pastor’s wife; you have two commands rolled into one person. YIKES!
In spite of the YIKES, the pastor’s wife must come to this conclusion: As a wife, I am called to submit to the headship of my husband. As a member of the body of Christ, I am called to obey my pastor. Therefore, I will sit and wait until God moves on my behalf. Not sit and chafe; sit and wait (which means, according to Dr. Charles Stanley, “to pause for further instruction”).
Frustrating? Probably. Still, God may be teaching a most important lesson to the pastor’s wife. She should see the waiting period as an opportunity for growth. Be still. God is still God. If a door is to be opened, God will open that door. Give it time. It will happen. I have seen a pastor’s opinion change when it suddenly dawned on him that when he could not depend on anyone else, he could depend on his wife.
The wife must wait on the Lord, and while she is waiting, she can think on Philippians 4:8.
The pastor’s wife’s place is not an elevated position, but it is one which she must see as being ordained by God. It is a place which only she can fill, a helpmeet suitable for that pastor. She stands, figuratively and literally, by her husband’s side loving God’s people. She has already filled the void in her husband’s life (remember that missing rib) and without her there very well could be a void in her husband’s ministry.
When my husband was called to pastor the Trinity Church, I was just a church girl, practiced in the ways and traditions of the church, but nowhere close to being a student of God’s word. There were, however, two women who joined the church that knew the Word well; they were his go-to teachers, women who knew the history behind the context and could make it come alive for the members of the church. I did not see them as a threat but as role models for where I needed to be. Eventually, as members grew in the Word of God (including me), God called these women to other ministries and by that time I was ready to step into the place of teacher. When that time came, my husband began to challenge me to stretch myself, moved me into those challenging ministries and engaged me in theological conversations without talking down to me or pooh-poohing my thoughts. He invested his ministry in me and I am the Christian and a student of the Word I am today because of him, because of his ministry of teaching and evangelism. He never treated me as an accessory or an after-thought and even when I did not believe it, he would say to the Church, “My wife is the best Christian I know.”It was just as well, because I never did figure out how to sit down and look pretty.
By the way, those doors for public ministry did not open until after my husband’s death. It is a truth I am still learning: God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55).
Coming Up: The Pastor’s Wife and Self-Esteem