Long before Mrs. John Wesley dragged her husband around the house y his hair in her fit of anger, Christian pastors had already discovered that the most difficult persons in the world to live with were their own wives. No other area of human endeavor so dramatically and quickly brings to the attention of the pastor his own humanity and sinfulness as his relationship with his wife. The minister who is successful at helping other people solve problems of relations with others may still fail to have a happy and warm relationship with his own wife.
Why is it hard for pastors and their wives to live together peaceably? Several reasons suggest themselves:
- The pastor is likely to have a strong, aggressive personality. He is more used to treating and promoting ideas and programs than to accepting and implementing the ideas of others.
- The pastor is deeply committed to his work and gives it his best time and energy. Other responsibilities tend to take second, third, or even fourth place in his scheme of priorities.
- The pastor is constantly giving his attention and energy to others. He may come to use his home as a refuge from the demands of people, perhaps as an opportunity to work with things thus giving himself an emotional rest from the pressures of relationships. In fact, he may separate his work from his home life to the point that he refuses to discuss the work at home. His wife may thus infer that he thinks she cannot comprehend his problems and ideas or is unable to make any valuable response. This reduces her sense of worth and contribution to the pastoral ministry.
- The pastor's time is not his own, or at least it seems that way. He is often away from home, and his income hardly permits him to offer his family the compensation of conveniences that make family living easier.
- The pastor and his family live a fishbowl existence in which the normal problems of family life tend to be magnified.
- The pastor's wife has no pastor besides her husband. She may find it difficult to have confidence in his counsel, for she receives it as prejudiced by the fact that as a counselor he sees faults in other people, not in himself.
- Tension may arise because the pastor's wife observes his unending patience with others but seeks in vain for the same patience in his dealings with those in his own home.
- The pastor spends a good deal of time with couples who are having problems, and his wife may sometimes fear that the women he counsels are transferring their affections to him. Unless he takes ample measures to reassure his wife, he leaves room for wonder, doubt, and perhaps even suspicion as to his thoughts in such situations.
- The pastor is in a spotlight most of the time. He receives spiritual, emotional, and material rewards as he carries out his work. His sense of fulfillment may be much greater than his wife's because of his first-hand experience in witnessing the blessings of God and seeing the results of his ministerial labors. If his wife receives the full dosage of the problems, criticisms, doubts, and unresolved questions, she may feel unhappy and frustrated because she seems unable to do anything.
- Men who make good pastors usually choose to onarry enthusiastic women with strong, sensitive personalities. Unless continuous effortis made to build bridges between these two strong personalities, a great gulf may develop. Also, the wife may feel inferior because she does not consider herself competent in the areas of doctrine, public speaking, and social exchange. This is tragic. No husband should ever let this happen to his wife.
A successful union
Developing a strong, healthy relationship between the minister and his wife must be seen as a continuing project. There are no laws or rules to follow. Yet the degree of success in this is a good indication of how effective the pastor can be as a servant of Christ.
Creating a successful union between a pastor and his wife begins when both husband and wife mutually desire and agree to develop a happy working relationship, regardless of the sacrifice required.
Pastors know they must have a clear sense of their aims and goals so they can make judgments about the right use of time, talents, and treasure. The same is true in a husband-wife relationship. Both should agree where they want to go, what they want to do, and how they want to get there.
The pastor has his responsibilities and the wife hers; each understands the other. The wife shares in the work of the church, both by helping her husband to be free to help others and by rendering services of her own in the church and community.
It is easy to see how her sense of participation may weaken when she has to keep the family on her own for a week or ten days at a time while her husband is away in other church work. A church that appreciates its pastor should make it possible for him to compensate his family in special ways because of the large amount of time he must spend away from them.
Whenever two people live and work together, there must be continuous communication between them. There should always be a climate in which opinions can be exchanged without either feeling threatened by the other.
Open communication channels
How can communication channels between the pastor and wife be kept open?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Have regular times for discussion and sharing, carried out on schedule as nearly as possible, and done in an open and caring manner—not leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
- Husband and wife should pray for each other both in the presence and in the absence of family. They will find that so long as they can pray openly and honestly together they can remain sensitive to one another's feelings and attitudes.
- Husband and wife should read and discuss books together. This helps them to respect each other's ideas and feelings. Perhaps the husband excels in intellectual insight while the wife has a spirit of great compassion and warmth. The two can greatly complement each other.
- A good stimulant to communication is for the wife to evaluate her husband's sermon. The degree to which she remains constructive as well as honest will determine the usefulness of this type of exchange. Such discussion helps the pastor's wife become more informed and thus more confident in the areas of theology and human relations.
- Periodically, the pastor and his wife should take time for little trips together. This may be for a few hours during the day or evening, or even for a couple of days. This allows them to give undivided attention to each other, something they can seldom do. It is also helpful for several pastors and their wives to get together and in the fellowship of Christ share their hopes, dreams, disappointments, and problems. It is an unforgettable experience to find that other couples, who are dedicated to the work of Christ, have to work to make adjustments in their married lives. And it is informative to see how they are working out their differences.
- So far as possible, the pastor should share with his wife the events of the day and seek to relate them to the goals the two of them have set for their ministry together. This keeps the wife informed about the successes, failures, aspirations, and challenges that her husband is living with. The wife should also be free to share her experiences in the home, church, and in the community.
- Periodically, the pastor and his wife should review what has happened in the past. This can help them to see where they have allowed Christ to work in their lives and where they must strive to let Him work in the future. This assumes of course, that both are committed Christians who desire to serve their Lord in thankful service. Together they should rededicate their lives, their home, and their ministry to God in Christ so that the natural pressures of life and human nature will not erode the sensitivity to God's will that is needed to be good Christian ministers.
- Reassurance of love for one another must be both spoken and shown. Confidence in each other as husband and wife can cover a multitude of shortcomings.
- Husband and wife should inspire each other so that their ministry and life together becomes not a duel but a duet. They must be careful not to let walls begin to build up between them, either by permission or by neglect.
- Ministers' wives can develop their usefulness in ministry. By learning and discovering how to contribute in the fields of theology, practical arts, preaching, ethics, nature, home life, spirts, church growth, etc., they will agument the effciency of working together as a team.
- Wives should enjoy what their husbands enjoy doing as pastors in the light of dedicated ministry.
The call of the pastor is one of the singular calls of God. Yet the pastor is not God's angel. And while marriages may be made in heaven, they must be lived on earth. Let the husband and wife aspire to live and serve together in a way that will merit these gentle words of commendations: "Well done, good and faithful servant! . . Come and share your master's happiness" (Matt. 25:21, NIV).