A minister's wife has a unique role within the church structure. Many of the parishioners have a multitude of expectations and though many of them are unrealistic, often times pastors' wives try to live up to those expectations. A minister's wife is expected to be the connecting link between her husband and the local church. She is expected to always be ready to drop what she is doing and help any church member, regardless of the problem. Her dress and home are to be spotless, conservative and in good-taste. Cooking for her family and other church members is to be high on her priority list. Her children are supposed to be models of perfection. She is to be long-suffering when her husband cannot meet his family obligations because of church emergencies (real and imagined) and she is to be a friend to all, a smiling face with no problems of her own. No wonder pastors' wives often fling their hands up in despair and feel they are not up to the task. Who could be?
Times are changing and the image of the "perfect" minister's wife is slowly being recognized as impossible. But for the mature pastor's wife, such expectations have been a part of her life so long, it is hard for her to free herself from such expectations. She married her husband because she was in love with him. He was her soulmate. His ministry became hers.
The mature minister's wife has given of herself for years. She has adapted to the life of ministry. She knows her husband's work rhythm largely determines the course of the day. Visitations are a part of life. She is proud of her husband and their ministry.
Moving is inevitable. One day, they get the call. Her husband is transferred to a smaller church. Each pastor's wife reacts to the call differently. One may view this as a demotion. She may make her husband and church feel her disappointment. Her dissatisfaction and bitterness may cause disharmony within the church and her marriage.
Another pastor's wife reacts to the "perceived" demotion by becoming over zealous in the work of the church. She becomes "Mrs. District Pastor" and in this role she can do her husband a disfavor. She may sit in the first pew and suggest words to her husband or even correct him. This proves to be an embarrassment to both the minister and the congregation.
Many pastor's wives find it hard to go to a smaller church. Some wives withdraw into a sulking-corner, thinking their performance to date has not been sufficiently appreciated. Feelings of despair and hurt may surface. Some women may begin to feel forgotten.
Often times, a younger minister's wife may try to help the more mature pastor's spouse by saying, "Be glad you are in a smaller church, there are not as many responsibilities." Older ministers' wives cannot understand such a viewpoint. It needs to be remembered that older ministers' wives have lived through different times.
Pastoring a smaller church may cause anxiety and anger. Different coping mechanisms are used by different people. When polled, and asked the questions, "How did you react to anger?" many different responses were given. Some women lower their stress by working in the garden reading, or taking a nap. Others pace the floor, vent their anger in words, or work on a craft.
Along with the anger of moving to a smaller church, many pastors' wives feel grief. When asked "How did you cope with grief?" some responded that only time healed the grief. Many said their faith was of great comfort. Others found solace through interaction with church members and some gained peace through prayer.
Growing old is inevitable but the transition from one age to another need not be painful. Younger pastors' wives need to be aware of the feelings older pastors' wives experience. They need to tap into the knowledge and experience of the more mature pastor's wife. Such wisdom can be an immense help to the younger wives. Those wives nearing the end of their ministry with their husbands need to remember what Ellen White said, "If we surrender our lives to His service, we can never be placed in a position for which God has not made provision" (Gospel Workers, page 15).
Our God wishes us all, both young and old, new or seasoned in the ministry, to be happy and healthy. Every stage of life is different and we can help one another along the pathways of life.
"The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can be a blessing to others. They may not realize that they are doing any special good, but by their unconscious influence they may start waves of blessing that will widen and deepen, and the blessed results they may never know until the day of final reward. They do not feel or know that they are doing anything great. They are not required to weary themselves with anxiety about success. They have only to go forward quietly, doing faithfully the work that God's providence assigns, and their life will not be in vain. Their own souls will be growing more and more into the likeness of Christ; they are workers together with God in this life, and are thus fitting for the higher work and the unshadowed joy of the life to come."—Steps to Christ, page 88