As a new 21-year-old Christian, I blew unto an Adventist college campus tabula rasa, as far as my expectations were concerned. So when I read an amusing (!) piece in the student paper on "What A Pastor's Wife Should Be" I laughed—and read on. The article, concocted by some seminarians, purportedly as a joke, included such morsels as:
- Be able to play the organ
- Make the perfect cottage cheese loaf
- Single-handedly teach large Sabbath-school classes
- Know how to wisely shop at the nearest thrift store
It didn't concern me because I was following my own career track in the communications field. I could afford to laugh it off. Then I married a pastor.
Ironically I followed, however subconsciously, the tenets laid out in that long-ago article, lived out by so many pastors wives before me. Submissive and cheerful, they dressed conservatively, didn't voice their opinions too loudly, took up the slack in their own churches in the music and children's divisions. Every Sabbath they had groups at their homes for meals and managed, on meager salaries, to provide gifts for every expectant mother and bride-to-be. With husbands on call 2417, they were the glue that held the family intact. Then I watched as many of their lights faded out, one by one.
As my personal ministry has shifted now to nurturing the broken and wounded, delicately removing church-related shrapnel, I've come to recognize the value of healing the pastor's wife and her church from the inside out. Here is some of what I've learned along the way:
We Can't Do It All
As trite as it may seem, we can't do it: all. I know we might say it, even laugh about it. But deep down there is a sense that maybe we should at least try. After all, we're taught to be mission-minded, which translated means doing without and giving your all.
Jesus took great care to replenish his spiritual well on an on-going basis. He established healthy boundaries with those he ministered to. Giving ourselves permission to do those things which bring us joy will have a greater impact for good on those around us, than simply performing a task merely because it's part of our self-proscribed 'job description'. In Nancy Pannell's book, Being a Minister's Wife and Being Yourself, she describes this dilemma. "The more self-understanding we gain, the easier it becomes to recognize when we are doing good things for the wrong reasons. We can be pretty sure we are shaping our lives to meet the expectations of others if we've lost all joy in service. If we continue on that course we can expect to become depressed, or physically ill, or both."'
I used to think I needed to bake a loaf of bread for everyone experiencing difficulties in their lives. You know what? That's just about everybody. And while I still enjoy baking bread, Isave my hand deliveries for those occasions where it is most appropriate.
Not Every Pastor's Wife Is a Women's Ministry Leader
I've mentally kicked myself over the fact that I have no interest or ability in leading a women's ministry department. Somehow I had the idea that, as a pastor's wife, I would naturally fit into that role. Now the kicking has stopped and the acceptance has set in. I know I will never be a leader—my spiritual gifts lie in other areas. Romans 12:6 tells us "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." My gifts may lie in hospitality and music. Yours may be in teaching and discernment. Our task is to joyfully embrace those areas God has generously gifted us with, and share them with others. In the book Investing Your Life in Things that Matter, speaker and teacher Linda McGinn says, "God knows us exactly as we are. Fully aware of both our shortcomings and strengths, He loves us. And as an outgrowth of that love, He develops the gifts, talents and abilities He has given us as a testimony to His love."' My friend Judy is a dynamic women's ministry leader in our church and has an amazing ability to bring women together. She has confidently taken the reins in an area I am not comfortable leading. Knowing we are all members of one body, we can happily affirm those who have a variety of gifts, praying for their leadership and abilities to impact the lives of others in ways we can't.
Counseling Changes Lives
I have seen Christian counseling positively redirect the lives of so many around me. I've watched it change my own. Not dramatically, at first. Change comes slowly. But it does come, I can promise you. Counseling helps us to gently unfurl the fingers we keep tightly balled into white-knuckling fists. It teaches grace in accepting our very human selves, a lesson Christ has been trying to teach us all along. I have heard some people say God is their counselor. Great! But know that God doesn't work alone. He uses you, He uses me, He uses the lady behind the counter at the post office. And He uses objective, caring, committed Christians who are trained to help us get at the root of that which baffles us. I may not see my counselor for months, maybe years. But I do go. To untangle emotional knots, to have a safe place to unload. Learning acceptance of ourselves and our limitations is the key to accepting others.
Develop Close Friendships Outside Your Church Family
Sometimes we're too close to our church family to be too close. Maintaining intimate friendships within our own church can be challenging, sometimes devastating. If the friendship disintegrates, it is often awkward and uncomfortable to continue to associate on a weekly basis, as well as at other church functions. And how close do you get? How much can you confide about your own relationships with your husband and other church members without placing them in jeopardy?
Several years ago I confided something of a highly personal nature to a church friend believing I could trust her. Later I discovered I couldn't. She had spread my story with lightning speed and I was crushed. Crushed, but not broken. I still take the risks of friendship within my church because I ain a lover of people and a believer of connectedness within the body. But three of my closest friends are women not in my denomination, strong, spiritual women whom I trust, love and admire. They are not saints. And therein lies their value. We can talk about unsaintly things. We can share our burdens, our sorrows, our joys. Different perspectives, but the same spirit j. ins us. Cultivating friendships outside of your church is not difficult. Nancy Pannell shares that, "God has placed in my path many wonderful people outside our church family. He has given me innumerable opportunities to be salt ... God can (further) enrich our lives when we take a step beyond the church."' This is true in our own lives. They are all around, waiting to be touched by you. Nondenominational Bible-study groups, exercise classes, your favorite bookstore, the park, evening classes at the local community college, twelve-step groups, are all places of friendships in embryo. I made one now-close friend through my dentist. It also takes vulnerability and the releasing of expectations. And it is worth it.
Celebrate Your Femininity!
This past year, in a newsletter to pastor's wives, I was reading valentine's messages pastors had posted to their wives/husbands. While my own husband had penned (wisely for him!) a loving and affirming epistle, a few other pastors had not. One that I read particularly bothered me. It said, "Thank you for helping out in my church." Ouch! MY church? Wasn't it supposed to be OUR church? Too often it is the husband in the forefront celebrated, lauded, pressed for his opinion while his wife is relegated downstage to be taken "as needed." My husband may be a minister, but then, so am L and so is every other child of God. The Apostle Peter tells us, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect. I Peter 3:7(NE1T). "He is to be considerate of his wife. That means that he is to be thoughtful and observant of her rights and needs, sensitive to her feelings, respectful of her intelligence and the contribution she makes to his life, to the kingdom and to the (church) family."
You are uniquely suited for the work God has given you in your ministry today. You bring to your church incredible spiritual gifts which no one but you can bestow. Your strengths of nurturing, of evangelism, of discernment, .f teaching as well as a host of others, are as valuable and needed in the eyes of God as those of your pastor husband. Pastoring is just one of many spiritual gifts. We need to celebrate the fact that we are partnered together, male and female, in an tine mmon opportunity to reach others for Christ.
I can honestly say, after fifteen years of ministerial pinnacles, train wrecks, and everything in between, I wouldn't trade what I have lived and learned with my pastor husband for another profession. The hardest lesson for me has been to admit mistakes promptly and often, and of course this has been the most important lesson of all.
It is certain I will never play the organ. But I will continue to encourage others to see themselves as God sees them, to celebrate the path He is leading them along, and to know there are no spiritual limitations to a woman who knows she is called into ministry with her husband.
1 Nancy Pannell, Being a Minister's Wife and Being Yourself (Broadman Press, 1993) p. 80.
2 Linda McGinn, Investing Your Life in Things That Matter, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) p. 79.
3 Pannell, p. 97.
4 Zig Ziglar, Courtship After Marriage, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990) p. 159.