Find a Need and Let Someone Else Fill It

This article first appeared in Serving Together (Vol. 5, No. 3, August 1994), a publication of CTM, and is used with permission.

Linda Riley is a ministry wife and the director of Called Together Ministries (Gni!), a ministry offering services and resources to ministry wives.


I have occasionally talked with church-going women who report that their pastor's wife "does everything." Imagine them saying this brightly, bursting with pride and admiration! Then keep imagining, because you won't see it in real life. The tone of voice and facial expression conveys more of a dejected, resigned sadness, or some­times angry resentment.

If you are the kind of pastor's wife who does everything around the church, you might be shocked to see this kind of reaction. You're working so hard, it's all for them, they ought to be grateful, and no one volunteers for anything anyway, so who do they expect will do it all if you don't?

Poor dear, you must be tired! Put your feet up awhile and read on about why you might want to make room for more members on your church task force.

Many cooks may spoil the stew, but they make the potluck a triumph of culinary creativity.

Okay, I've never been to such a potluck either, but it could happen! It is true, though, that if you let women contribute their best and present it in their own way, it makes the banquet of life far more appetizing.

After all, how interesting can a one-woman show be? (Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler excepted!) I'd rather go to a variety show. Ed Sullivan was popular for a reason, and the reason was not Ed's vivid personality or amazing abilities. All he did was showcase other people's talents, and was well-loved for his humble, in-the-background efforts. Find each person's unique talents and abilities and bring them out for all to admire.

Being perfect is not all it's cracked up to be.

As a recovering perfectionist (actually, everyone around me is recovering), I can attest to having faced a terrible dilemma. I was always trying to prove myself (with my perfect and tireless performances) to be worthy, wonderful, and most especially, lovable. But people, in general hate perfectionists. We make everyone else look bad. What's a perfectionist to do?

Let's get theological for a moment and recall what happened after the Fall of Man. Perfection hit the dust, along with the serpent. Ever since, everyone's been making mistakes. Things don't go right. This is now the natural state of man on earth. So stop being surprised when things don't go right. This is why the sense of humor was invented. It comes in handy. Frequently.

One time, while in my natural habitat, the kitchen, I began to gather ingredients for baking cookies. My sweetie-pie, Alex, tilted her little face up hopefully and asked, "Morn, do you think I could help this time?" It pierced my heart when I realized how rare it was that I let her help. I was robbing my children of the gift of experience and the pride of accomplishment. And their future spouses were going to be furious with me if I didn't get with it and teach them more than toaster oven pizza muffins and Jell-O fruity faces! Since then we've thrown away several hatches of inedible experiments. Frugal gourmet that I am, I admit it's been painful. But I've trained four junior cooks who know the basics and a few show-off recipes besides. Mistakes should be welcomed as the most valuable learning tools available. Give people the chance to experience them.

Follow the leader

Some people sing that little chorus, "Make Me a Servant," and add, "And hurry up, Lord, because I'm getting behind on the ironing!"

Some pastors' wives will gladly designate jobs like nursery worker, kitchen crew, and the like, but anything with the words "director," "chairwoman," or "leader" all go to the pastor's wife.

Read the Word, ladies. If you want to go to the front, sit in the back. If you want to teach like the Master, demonstrate servanthood. Sure, if Mabel heads up the women's retreat committee, the retreat won't be as great as when you do it. But everyone will enjoy the change in style, Mabel will enjoy growing, and you might enjoy the retreat instead of running around making it all happen day and night.

Your chore can be someone else's joy

Like all our single parents, Marie received a lot of help and support from the church. She wanted to give back but found it difficult with small children and little time. We finally hit upon an idea she loved.

Jay and I like to send anniversary and birthday cards to our members, but I was having a hard time keeping up. Marie agreed to be our "card secretary," a task she can do from her own home. I provide boxes of signed cards, stamps, Address labels, and occasion lists. Also, some gift enclosures, bookmarks for grown ups, stickers and "pegs" for kids. Now the cards get mailed every week, but I only have to think about it a few times a year. People love receiving the cards. Marie smiles more often and holds her head up higher at church.

Be an entrepreneur, not a founding director

Founding directors make a job for themselves and never let go. Entrepreneurs start things off and move on to the next challenge as soon as possible.

There are many annual events or ongoing ministries in our church that I could rightfully claim as "my idea" if it wouldn't send up howls of protest from other members who now feel the pride of ownership. know my work is successfully complete when a program endures and the memory of who started it disappears into obscurity.

My method consists of starting with a partner or a team and leading, while watching for my successor to emerge as we establish the work. I gradually invite my coworkers to assume more and more responsibility. The process can take several months (church newsletter editor) to several years (Kids' Church Director), depending on the size and complexity of the task. My role evolves in the following stages:

  1. Trainer—"This is how I do it."
  2. Encourager—"You'll come up with better ideas."
  3. Helper—"I'll work beside you."
  4. Supporter—"I'm still available to help you if you need any­thing."
  5. Cheerleader—"You're doing great!"

The people who take over jobs I have started never fail to develop the program or task gloriously beyond my own capabilities.

I know this about myself: Pm better than average at any one thing. I'm not a specialist. But I am a giver and an encourager, and one thing I love to give away is a task wrapped up in a pretty silver vision. On the church volunteer roster, it appears that I do next to nothing. That's the way I like it. I want others to experience the thrill of learning, the pride of accomplishment, the satisfaction of completion, and the warmth of recognition.

I like being an entrepreneur. But don't worry. At CTM, I'm the founding director and I don't want to let go. Not until I find my successor, anyway.

Linda Riley is a ministry wife and the director of Called Together Ministries (Gni!), a ministry offering services and resources to ministry wives.