Long ago a wise man compared a good woman to precious jewels (Proverbs 31).
Like all women, we ministerial wives begin as a gem in the rough. However because being a ministerial wife positions us in a place of prominence, others are bound to notice whether the grit of life in the parsonage scratches and mars our gem's beauty or polishes it into even greater brilliance.
I never felt called to be a minister's wife, but I did feel called to follow Jesus. Because I'm the pastor's wife, I realize my words and actions are in the spotlight more than if I were a Christian married to a man in another profession. Thus,1 have both the opportunity and responsibility to be an example to others—a model. If I am a jewel as the proverb says, then I want to cut, refine, and polish myself to bring beauty and God's light to others, and I would like to share some truths I've learned in my 35 years as a minister's wife.
The self-image facet
Start by being yourself. If you are an agate, don't try to change into a pearl. Rather seek to bring out the unique beauty of your agate self. Are you shy or quiet? Quiet people may not find it easy to be in the public eye as is often required of a pastoral wife, but people respond to quiet people just as warmly as they do to extroverts, only in a different way.
I am quiet and shy in large groups and prefer one-to-one contacts or small groups. The first six months to a year after we move to a new church is especially difficult for me. For a long time I feel like I stand out at the potluck dinners, fellowship activities, or other assemblies like a knife in a drinking glass. One day I realized very few people were really paying attention to me, so I made my uncomfortable situation a time to look around and observe who else was not a part of the group. I approach that person and start a one-on-one conversation that makes us both comfortable.
I learned many people needed a listening ear. I found it easy to minister in this way, because it fit in with my quiet nature. The more I listened and shared, the sooner I realized that large groups no longer frightened me because I felt comfortable and close with so many more people in that large group.
Are you an extrovert? You can use your love of people and outward exuberance to enliven groups, cheer shut-ins, and publicize Christianity. How I appreciate the fun and laughter I share when being in the company of extroverts.
Once you accept who you are, don't try to hide your imperfections, which require cutting, grinding, and polishing. To be helpful to yourself and to others, be honest about your doubts and struggles, sins and frustrations. Others will then feel free to share their struggles, and together you will grow more brilliant. (Besides, trying to be something you're not takes tremendous energy.)
The motherhood facet
I dislike the popular jokes about the ministerial children, because I know minister's kids are on the average no better or worse than the elder's or editor's kids. However, rearing and disciplining the minister's children is a matter that does not miss the public eye.
With gratitude I remember a special service of appreciation a church held for us after ten years with the congregation. It was a period in hich all four of our children graduated from high school and left for college. Several people spoke kind words, but the one remark that especially stands out in my memory was made by an elderly lawyer. "It has been such a joy to watch Jerry and Nola's children grow up and leave their home to take their places in society. Usually we only hear negatives about the preacher's kids. Well, they weren't like that at all, but good examples for us ail."
Of course, I realize our four kids had minds of their own and could have chosen any life style, but I, as a minister's wife, (but more importantly as a Christian mother), did my best to see that they learned to behave properly from the time they could toddle.
I didn't just follow my parents' ways of child rearing, but gained new skills by regularly reading current books and magazines. In that way I learned some of the psychology and techniques that work better with each age. I used Ephesians 6:4 as the standard to measure any new idea, "Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction" (ITV). I strove to motivate them to do right because they wanted to and not because I forced them to or shamed them.
As a pastoral wife, your children arc your first mission. Teach them patience, faith, kindness, and tolerance of others from your example. How you cope with life and respond to others is the greatest lesson you teach your children.
Do not allow your children to be disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive at home or in public. Those deadly D's infringe on their future and scratch away the influence you may have on them or others. As you smooth their rough corners, your jewel will also be further polished.
The marriage facet
A pastoral wife becomes more priceless when she ministers to her husband. Just as a jewel can be an accessory to make an outfit look better, so a good pastoral wife supporting her husband enables him to be more effective in his ministry. She can do this by not criticizing her pastor husband to others, but more importantly, she can do this by building up her husband to himself.
Pastors spend so much energy meeting the needs of others and dealing with their crises, conflicts, and cares that they are sometimes drained when they return home. They need the assurance of comfort, I ove, and support from their wife. This need to have their own cup refilled is very crucial. Pastors are often in intimate emotional settings with their parishioners, and are vulnerable to affairs if their wife is not loving and supportive. Thus, any time spent strengthening the marriage helps you each personally, helps the family, and improves your duo ministry to the church.
The social facet
Common courtesies and good manners are never out of style for anyone but are essential for a minister's wife. They are the traditions that keep the wheel of life oiled and running smoothly. Ignorance of etiquette and manners is no excuse to blunder and will only cloud the beauty of an otherwise sparkling jewel. No one finds good manner objectionable, but the more knowledgeable of your parishioners may be offended by brash errors or crude actions. To prevent ignorance of some bad habits that may offend someone, I'd suggest reading an etiquette book. I've learned things I didn't know needed learning.
The following are some areas that should be closely heeded by pastors' wives to create a more polished surface.
a. Be sure to send thank-you notes or express appreciation for the many kindnesses and gifts given to the pastor's family
b. Be prompt to meetings and services.
c. Follow through on commitments you make.
d. Dress neatly and in good taste. That doesn't mean you have to dress expensively.
e. Use good grammar.
f. Always keep confidences.
g. Display good table manners at home and in public.
h. Be friendly to all and speak, even if you don't remember their names.
Kindness and love are always "in." If you can face that angry woman with love in your heart and listen to what is irritating her, you will gain understanding of a different viewpoint and perhaps a friend as well. Not all people we encounter are ground smooth. Many are still gems in the rough with sharp corners. How we confront them results in either our surface being scratched or it being polished smoother.
The stewardship facet—parsonage care
If you live in a parsonage, take care of the property. Many parishioners take pride in the home they furnish their pastoral family. They meet for work days before the minister moves in and paint, carpet, clean windows, etc. Thus, you can see why they react negatively to critical remarks or to a minister's family who carelessly let it get filthy or unkempt. I don't mean your house must be immaculate, if that is not your style, but keep a regular cleaning schedule, including an annual "spring cleaning" of windows, cabinets, walls, etc. If you or your husband enjoy flowers to beautify the yard, all the better.
This may seem like irrelevant or unnecessary advice, but I have known pastoral wives who lost the respect of many in the congregation, and thus the chance to be a Christian influence because of their slovenly-kept homes.
I'll be the first to admit I am not addicted to housekeeping. My home usually has that "lived in" look unless I'm expecting company. However, I take pride in whatever home I'm living in and always leave i tin better shape than when I moved in. That way no parishioner will have any disillusionment about providing a nice home for the minister's family.
Stewardship of time
Mostly I've mentioned what a "polished" minister's wife does or does not do to perfect her jewel in order to inspire others and gain their respect. But a minister's wife is many faceted and needs to develop her own interests and dreams. By all means pursue or express your interests. Go to aerobics, join in the writers' club, or participate M an art class. Find some time to spend alone reading, praying, studying the scriptures, or just day dreaming. Develop all areas of your life. This broadens the scope of people who can get a reflection of God's light through you.
Do you want to work outside the home (or need to)? Most congregations understand and accept that this is necessary. Working women may even be interested in how you juggle your time and set your priorities.
When I worked outside the home, I learned to say no graciously to some jobs, even jobs in the church. I picked out what I felt I could do well or enjoyed, or what was the most needed or worthwhile and spent my energies there. Never feel like you must take every church responsibility that no one else will do. Neither feel like you must join every group, just because it is a part of the church. Be a responsible steward of your time according to your talents and abilities.
If you don't work outside the home, volunteering in local organizations can give you an outlet as well as a ministry of your own. Whatever you do for a neighbor, you do for Jesus.
The true value of a gem is measured by its hardness, color, brilliance, rarity, and demand. The way light is refracted through the gem's many facets determines the brilliance.
A pastoral wife fills this unique position. She is a model emerald, or diamond, or ruby set upon a hill to reflect God's light through her many facets into the community. She complements her husband's ministry just as a jewel complements an outfit. A person's dress and the accessories should not call attention to themselves but to the wearer. In like manner, a minister and the precious jewel to which he is married should always reflect God.*
* Good News Bible; New Testament, Copyright American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976.