Finding Purpose in a Multichurch District

A crash course on surviving as a pastor's wife.

Ellie Gil is the wife of a pastor who serves in Gonzalez and Denham Springs, Louisiana, United States.This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Ministry, International Journal for Pastors.

I often wish there was a crash course on how to be pastor’s wife. After all, it seems that the moment I said “I do” to the man of my dreams (who happened to be a pastor), I signed up to be a partner in team ministry, whether or not I was ready.

Once, when a good friend saw me frazzled and drained as I tried to juggle work, family, marriage, and church ministry, she said to me, “I think being the pastor’s wife is the only job where you are expected to work alongside your husband. After all, a surgeon’s wife is not expected to operate, a teacher’s wife is not expected to teach, and the list could go on.”

Those of us who are pastors’ wives fell in love and married a man for his love and qualities and for who he was—and not what he did. But, in marrying a pastor, we signed up for a ministry that we must learn along the way.

It gets more complicated

Just as you are trying to figure out what your role will be as a pastor’s wife, you suddenly realize that you will often have twice the challenge when serving in a mul­tichurch district, as is often the case for today’s pastors. You, then, have to learn the art of getting to know each of your church’s distinct personalities and how you fit into the puzzle. Add a family and a career to this equation, and you will need to also learn how to balance more than you ever thought humanly possible. The good news is that no human effort will make your ministry with your husband a blessing but rather a complete surrender of your will to God’s purpose for you.

Learn the basic skills

During the past 20 years, I have learned not to plan for a definite schedule but, instead, to live in the moment. Plans can change in a moment’s notice; you’ll need to learn to be flexible so you won’t be disappointed. When serving a church, let alone two or more, you will always face one emergency or another.

Learn, too, that your children will be expected to behave a little better than everyone else’s children. Therefore, you should put their spiritual well-being above living up to what others expect from you as a pastor’s wife. Decide early in min­istry, before your children grow resentful of sharing you with others so often, to give them the time they need, and deserve, to grow to their fullest spiritual potential. If you cannot make time to have family worship with your children because you are too busy with ministry, then you have misplaced your most important responsibility before God.

Learn to smile when your heart is crying. You might think that this is hypocrisy, but in ministry we often need to worry about the perception of others as we serve as am­bassadors of Christ. God knows the pain in your heart, but try not to let it interfere with bringing joy and encourage­ment to others. And who wouldn’t rather be in a happy and joyful situation all the time? However, sometimes the best ministry we can offer includes listening and crying with someone who feels disheartened and needs the comfort of someone who cares.

Learn to accept criticism as a way to grow in the role where God has placed you. Your first reaction to criticism will be defensive; after all, that is our human nature. Try to listen and decide if there is any validity to the criticism, even when it comes in a nonconstructive way. Ask yourself, What God would have me learn from this?

Learn how to find that “invisible fine line” that you cannot cross as a pastor’s wife. Do not get ahead or behind your husband in ministry; keep your communication open so that you both serve as a team.

Learn to share your husband with others; your husband, the pastor, is the one you share and not your husband, the man. Make every effort to help him share the love of Jesus, and be his support when he needs a comforting word.

Is it really my job?

If you think of the ministry of a pastor’s wife as a job, you will be greatly disappointed. In a job, you expect to receive some type of reward or recognition for work well done; this is often not the case in ministry.

What is the difference between a job and a ministry? If you do it because you are expected to, or because no one else will, then it’s a job.

If you do it because you want to be used by God, it’s a ministry. If you quit because no one appreciated you or thanked you, it’s a job. If you’re committed to doing it, expecting only to feel God smile down on you, it’s a ministry. If your main goal is to be successful, how you can move upward, it’s a job. If your main goal is to serve God, it’s a ministry.

God wants us to be happy in ministry. You might not feel qualified to do the ministry before you, but remember, God does not call the qualified—He qualifies the called. God shows off His mighty power when He works with impossibilities and uses those who have fully surrendered themselves to serve Him.

What is my ministry?

Many times you will be asked to take on the responsi­bility of a church position for which you might not feel a burden. Think about it before you answer. If God has not placed this position upon your heart, you will do a dis­service to Him and to the church to accept it just because you are expected to do so.

The best ministries in which to get involved are the ones that the Holy Spirit places on your heart. How will you know? If you notice that the children’s departments seem to have fallen by the wayside, and no one has been selected to do something for them, maybe the Holy Spirit has impressed you to get involved. If the church facilities look dreary and abandoned, take an afternoon with your children, clean out a flowerbed, plant some flowers, and teach them that we should care for God’s house as much as we care for our own.

Early in our ministry when our children were young, I served in the Sabbath School department. Often the room used for our children was filled with outdated, dreary, and faded materials. I wanted to see a happy place for our children to meet Jesus, so I asked several individuals in the church if we had anyone with art skills who could paint a simple mural. I found several qualified people, but they did not have a burden to help; thus, I, the most unquali­fied artist, took it upon myself to paint a mural for the Cradle Roll classroom. So with paint and pictures in hand, I painted my first mural. The expressions of joy and awe as the children came into Sabbath School made all the hours spent worthwhile.

It’s hard to get excited about a job, but it’s easy to be excited about a ministry. Let your children see the joy in you as you serve in a ministry for which you feel called. Teach them how to find their place in ministry.

Encourage your younger children to color pictures for shut-ins. Have older children find verses of encouragement to send to others. Once when I sent food to a family with a critically injured son in the hospital, my children, then 13 and 11, decided they would wrap the plastic utensils in a napkin and attach a verse from the Bible that talked about healing. This was a tiny gesture that meant the world to the family, and it gave my children an opportunity to share in ministry.

How do I choose where to minister?

One of the biggest challenges in serving in a multi-church district is deciding how to divide your time. I have learned through the years to step back when we first begin to serve in a new district and see where and what the needs are in each church. Sometimes your help may not be in taking on a challenge byyourself, but rather to support and help another church member to do a ministry for which they have felt a burden. When the church members feel that they are called to a ministry, we serve them best by offering the help they need and request. We enable them to serve better when the ministry is their own, a ministry that they can continue long after we have been called to serve in another place.

Even though you may consider yourself a big super­woman, you cannot be in two places at once, so choose where you will give of your time. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you feel discouraged and overwhelmed. The devil delights in making us feel as failures; we cannot pos­sibly accomplish all the responsibilities that we might be called to do. Sometimes, we take on things with the best of intentions, even though we have not thought through the consequences of how it will affect our personal spiritual life, our marriage, and our children.

Don’t give up

You might wonder what challenges you accepted the day you said “I do” to your husband, the pastor. You took on a role you might not have wanted or for which you did not feel qualified. You will always fall short of filling the expectations that others put upon you, but remember that it is God whom you are serving.

I have learned that I will never be the perfect pastor’s wife, but I do know that I received this call almost 20 years ago. When I said “I do” to my husband, the pastor, I said “I do” to my Jesus, my Lord and my Savior, who has given me a special call, a call that I accept gladly and seriously, and one that I believe will make a difference in the lives of others now and for eternity.

Ellie Gil is the wife of a pastor who serves in Gonzalez and Denham Springs, Louisiana, United States.This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Ministry, International Journal for Pastors.