Every minister's wife is a very special person! Behind every great minister there is a wonderful, supportive wife. She does not get a halo for her faithfulness or call to duty, but really, she deserves one. She must live a "fish-bowl" existence. She must live in the shadow of her husband and his call as a minister. I would advise every woman thinking of joining a man in ministry to think very seriously about the consequences of being a pastor's wife.
Like many pastors' wives, my wife felt she had to be a super woman. Since she knew that was impossible, she feared what lay ahead of her. My wife was not musical; she could not play the piano. She hated being up front and was terrified when asked to speak before an audience. She just wanted to he herself and that is exactly what I wanted her to be. I assured her of that and told her I did not want a wife who would put on a pious front that was not her natural self.
I will never forget my first assignment in ministry. I was to assist a pastor evangelist in a tent crusade. My wife and I sought an appointment with the conference president. She wanted to set up housekeeping and so she asked him where we were to stay and what kind of house we could rent. He said,"You and your husband can be tent masters and live in the back of the tent." This was to be right on one of the busiest boulevards in the Los Angeles area. My wife then asked, "Where do we go to the bathroom? Where do we wash our clothes and bathe?" His only response was that there was an oil station down the street and we could use its bathroom. Well, this was just about the end of our marriage and my ministry. Fortunately, God had other plans. The city would not allow our tent to be erected on the busy boulevard and the meeting had to be held in an auditorium. Consequently, we were able to rent a modest little house.
From that day forward to the present, some 55 years later, my wife has been the ideal pastor's wife. She never forged ahead of me. She was willing to bask in the shadow of whatever praise I received in ministry. Her modest humility was the secret of my success. I have seen too many churches where one had to ask, "Who is in charge here, the pastor or the pastor's wife?" Somc pastors' wives have ruined their husband's ministry by pushing ahead of them.
When you look back over many years of ministry, many of you have asked yourselves,"How have I done?" Others in the throws of ministry are asking, "How am I doing?" and some of you young ministry brides are asking, "How will I ever do it?" Well, don't worry, for I want to share with you six secrets of successful, supportive ministry for ministers' wives.
I know all of you have, at times, had fear and trembling regarding your roles as ministers' wives. Your role is truly a ministry. Without you, the pastor would fail. You are important to us. We know and sympathize with some of the unreasonableness of your calling.
You must, on a very modest budget, dress appropriately. Conservatively, yet not be so stuffy the younger members can't relate to you. YOI r home must be warm and inviting. In our last year in college, we had a little attic apartment. Our bedside tables were orange crates covered with curtains. Our bed was made from four-by-four posts held together with slats. Our mattress was a hand-me-down. The springs came from a dump. We had two little pine chests held together with a connecting board covered with a scarf. My wife took some sheer curtains and tied them back at the windows. We stored a friend's used organ and, with a few pieces of furniture furnished by the landlord, had a tidy little home and those who visited us said, "Your wife has a knack for hominess." And she did.
We both look back at the years between 1944 and the present with fondness and gratitude. I can truly say that our best friends today are those we made in the churches we pastored. We continue to maintain those friendships.
I. A Wife's Duty to Her Husband
I thank God my wife made me first and foremost in her life. When I hurt, she hurt; when I rejoiced, she rejoiced. Ours was a team ministry. My wife wanted us to have healthy bodies, so early on she read good books on nutrition and prepared healthful meals. I attribute my good health for my age to our years of careful diet and good living. We were fortunate to always have a garden which provided us with fresh fruits and vegetables.
During the early years of our ministry, we took nighttime walks around the neighborhood and shared the events of the day. Now-adays, we can't do that due to crime on the streets, but now that we are retired, we go to a gymnasium two or three times a week, walk on the treadmill and ride bikes. We also take care of our emotional needs by planning a weekly date. On that evening we share our concerns and joys. My wife and I work hard to live balanced lives.
All ministers are thrown into situations where they are vulnerable to the wiles of Satan. Unfortunately, there are scheming women who try to allure pastors away from their wives. Husband and wife should cleave one to another. After a difficult board meeting or a busy week of travel, it is comforting to come home to a loving and supportive spouse.
II. Responsibility to Her Family
Though a minister's wife often has the lion share of training and nurturing the children, they should not take precedence over her husband. There were many nights when I had meetings at the church. I was comforted by the knowledge that my wife read Bible stories to our children, prayed with them and tucked them in for the night. She planned wonderful outings for our family and organized our day-to-day events. Though her responsibilities made it impossible for her to attend every church meeting, her diligence in the role of motherhood made for a happy family.
III. Responsibility to the Church
I advise ministers' wives to never take a position in the church if a lay person can do the task as well or nearly as well. Be an assistant, yes, but refrain from doing something that takes away the service and talent of a church member. I think back to one church T previously pastored. My successor's wife was an accomplished organist. It was natural for her to share her talents by becoming the church organist. But in no time, other organists dropped out and in due time the pastor's wife was the only one who played the organ. My new church assignment was but a few miles from my former church, and I noticed that if this pastor's wife needed to have a day off or he on vacation, she had to come to my church to import organists.
My wife became the church greeter. This gave her a chance to become acquainted with people. She could welcome strangers as well as members. She was able to direct people to the correct Sabbath School classes. She was also a good committee person. She was full of ideas, especially when it came to church socials and decorating, and she worked with the church members to create events that were memorable.
IV. Responsibility to Church Members
Once our children were older, my wife joined me on pastoral calls. She was always appreciated. She often wrapped up little gifts like a bar of soap, a can of powder or a jar of hand lotion to take to shut-ins. She could make a simple plant look attractive with ribbons and bows. Several times when visiting shut-ins our family went. It was good for the children and certainly appreciated by the members.
Church members often seek counsel from pastors' wives. It is especially important not to allow others to confide secrets that are to be kept from the pastor. It is important for the wife to be involved, but her loyalty is to her husband and his interests.
Most pastor's wives must have outside employment to balance the family budget. When my wife took up nursing, we did not want the housework to overburden her so much that she could not enter into the church work, so we hired a lady to clean house for us on Friday so we always had the joy of a clean home for the Sabbath. It was a good tradeoff.
Wives can learn to be good listeners. Sometimes that means stirring the cake while engaging in a phone conversation. The caller wants to feel she is being listened to. Pastors' wives can learn patience when church members call in the midst of the family dinner routine only to ask for another member's phone number (instead of looking it up in the church directory).
We found that the pastor's home always remained a mystery 'to the members. It was too costly to entertain constantly, so frequently my wife invited some group from the church to our home for a potluck meal. She provided the bread and drink. This took little work. Members brought the rest. A visit always included a tour of our home, modest as it was. Usually we benefitted by the leftovers the members insisted we keep!
A pastor's wife can endear herself to the members in many little acts of kindness. My last church was a church full of senior citizens. The community around the church reflected this kind of population, so at Christmas time my wife suggested we have the senior citizens' club we called the Evergreens (meaning that they were evergreen and vital despite their ages) over to our home for a Christmas treat. We took the school bus and drove them to see the Christmas lights and decorations in the area. You should have heard the "Ohs" and "Awes" of appreciation, but the highlight was a stop at our home. The house was decorated and my wife had made a big batch of gingerbread and whipped cream. With this, she served Wassail, a special apple cider drink. Some other church members helped her serve the refreshments. A memorable evening was had by all.
V. Responsibility to Herself
Each pastor's wife is, first, an individual. She has to be herself, not what someone else wants her to be. I wanted my wife to be the greatest person she could be. She stayed with our little family till they were of school age. Then she decided to return to school. The children and I pitched in with the housework and the church members did not overburden her with church tasks. My wife found a career that gave her great satisfaction and one that was of service to others.
Being financially solvent helps a pastor's wife have a healthy self-image. It is important to budget both time and money. This means planning ahead and looking for bargains. A pastor's wife must be frugal and learn to save just a little bit each payday. I recall the wise counsel of a conference treasurer who said, "First pay God, then pay yourself." My wife insisted we systematically save just a little each month. We began a tiny savings of just $20.00 a month. In about five years we had saved $1,000.00. We were so proud of this achievement. Finally we had enough to invest in a small rental income home. It's nearly paid for now and brings us income for retirement. I urge you ladies to insist on this plan in your household. Someone once wisely said, "Don't work for your money, let it work for you." It is amazing how compound interest builds up. I don't believe in sidelines in the ministry, but to save and properly invest what you save is prudent living. Your money will work for you. This is a practical application of the parable of the talents.
VI. Responsibility to God
Though this is mentioned last, it is the most important responsibility a person has. Each pastor's wife must find time for spiritual nurture. Personal devotions and prayer are a must. Today there are many women's prayer groups to help bolster this part of your life. Compare notes with other ladies and see how they work this most important phase of life into their ministry. Pick a portion of Scripture, read and reread it, let it speak to your life. Put memory cards around the house to cue you to learn passages of Scripture. Share what God is teaching you with your husband. Enter into intercessory prayer, not only for your family, but for those in the parish. This spiritual formation can become the very foundation of your life and ministry to your husband, your church members, the church at large and to yourself.
Though pastors' wives don't wear haloes, many deserve them. Their influence, care and love brighten the lives of those around them. They truly are our "angels" on earth.