Do you ever wonder just where you fit into the church picture? How is it that a pastor's wife can play such a major role in the church but yet not merit a place on the organizational chart?
For years I struggled with a real identity crisis in the church. Don't misunderstand me, there was never a problem with knowing who I was in Christ. I was secure in my identity as a child of God. I knew I was an ambassador of Jesus Christ, a new creature accepted in the Beloved, an overcomer and all those good things that are so clearly spelled out in black and white in the Bible. But my identity in the church was another matter entirely. There did not seem to be any written job description for the pastor's wife.
Jack and I had always been a team in ministry. For years we held prayer meetings in our home where Jack led the meeting and I led the worship. Nearly every weekend we were on the road, side by side, sharing the gospel up and down the east coast. It was a joint ministry in the truest sense of the word. We even did team teaching, standing together in the pulpit and moving as equals in ministry.
Then we started the church ministry and suddenly I was cast into the role of pastor's wife. I still worked at Jack's side as a co-laborer, carrying my share of the load. On the surface nothing had changed. I found myself teaching the adult Bible study, leading worship, organizing Sunday school and nursery, writing the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, counseling the women, attending leadership meetings, confidently making decisions and even running tapes.
But I started to question who I was. It was not an easy time in my Christian walk as I struggled to adjust to my new identity. It was obvious who Jack was. He was the pastor. But I had been delegated to something called the pastor's wife, a nameless entity who walked in the shadow of her husband. I actually was a real enigma to everyone. The church had elders, deacons and Jack's wife. Even the congregation was at a loss as to how to describe me and my role in the church.
I suppose the identity crisis came to a head when my husband had new business cards made. In the past, our cards always had "Jack and Jean Coleman" engraved on the front. But the new card simply read, "Jack Coleman, Pastor."
Where had my name gone? I can still vividly recall that day nearly seventeen years ago as I sat on the couch with the new card in my hand, trying to reconcile the fact that my name was no longer included on our ministry card. I felt like I had been banished from the kingdom. Jack was the pastor, but who was I?
I suppose the expression on my face gave me away. "Do you want me to have a card made for you too, honey?" Jack asked. "What do you want it to say?"
I pondered his question for a few moments, vainly trying to come up with an answer. "I really don't know what the card should say," I finally replied. "What is my position in the church?"
My question was met with silence, and although my husband didn't have the answer to my question, I was confident that God did. For several days I spent time in fervent prayer seeking the Lord. Finally He spoke, but instead of a cut and dry answer, the Lord responded by asking me some very pertinent questions:1. Why is having your name on a business card so important to you?
His questions had the desired effect of breaking my heart, and revealed a lot of hidden pride that I never knew existed. In all honesty, I had to admit that I didn't like playing the outfield. My preference was to be in the batter's box or standing on the pitcher's mound. My attitude was that I was as good as my husband, as smart as my husband, worked as hard in the ministry as my husband, was as called as my husband and deserved the same acclaim as my husband. I didn't like being in a subservient position where he got all the glory and I was virtually ignored. Nor did I like walking in Jack's shadow—a shadow that kept me out of the limelight.
And there was more. I also had to confess that I hated the label of pastor's wife where I was forced to draw my identity from my relationship with Jack. It was an offense to me when I was introduced to someone as the pastor's wife. I wanted to be recognized as me—as Jean—not as the pastor's wife.
My eyes were opened to the truth, and I realized there was an ugly Pharisee living inside of me, one who was seeking the glory for herself! I had a glimpse of the hidden Pharisee who delighted in titles and recognition and position. Instead of the servant, I wanted to be the master. Instead of the subject, I wanted to be the ruler.
Suddenly I understood. My missing name was not a printing error. My missing name was not an oversight on Jack's part. God was dealing with a prideful woman who needed to learn that her identity is not dependent on position and title, but only on her relationship with Jesus Christ. I was face to face with my desire and need for recognition.
With a repentant heart, I found myself praying, "Lord, as my life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), let me be content to have my life hid in Jack."
Many scriptures that previously seemed to have had no personal application began to take on new life as the Holy Spirit focused on my selfish attitude. I read how Jesus made Himself of no reputation and actually took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-7). And then there was John the Baptist who humbly declared, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
Carefully I studied the parable in Luke 14 where Jesus taught the importance of taking the lowest place and the dangers of exalting oneself. I was amazed when I realized that the twelve disciples argued among themselves as to who would have the highest position in the kingdom. Some very important principles seemed to leap out of the pages of my Bible.
The Lord patiently began to teach me what it meant to be a helpmate to my husband. Perhaps the greatest revelation was coming to the understanding that I wasn't a second-class citizen as a pastor's wife. In God's eyes, Jack and I are equal, but I am given the opportunity to humble myself and take on a submissive role, just like Jesus did when He came to earth. The Lord wanted the Pharisee in me to be put to death and to see a helpmate raised up who would delight in being a servant to Jack and to our congregation.
I'm not going to pretend that the transition has been easy, but over the years a definite change of attitude has taken place in my heart. There is still no written job description labeled "pastor's wife" in the church file, but I no longer battle feelings of being left out and unimportant. Some-times I laughingly say I handle all the things that Jack doesn't want to do himself. The miracle is that I am now able to laugh when I say it. I no longer strive and struggle for position and recognition. That also is a miracle. I am comfortable in my calling as the pastor's wife.
I have finally learned to be content to ride in the passenger's seat of the car while Jack sits behind the wheel and does the driving. He may be doing the driving, but notice that I am sitting beside him on the front seat, not locked up in the trunk. Actually (just between us), I am just as good a driver as Jack is, but I don't need to prove it anymore. After all, what does it matter who drives as long as the destination is reached?
Many helpmates have shared with me their inner struggles in the area of identity. These are anointed women who are called and equipped for ministry but who feel rejected and unappreciated when their pastor husbands get all the praise and recognition. I have opened my heart to you in the hope that it will free you to enjoy your role of pastor's wife. Rejoice that you are storing up treasure in heaven and seek the praises of God and not men.
Maybe I should have some business cards made up after all. What will they say? You guessed it,
The Pastor's Helpmate."