I’ve spent the last several days among pastors, missionaries, lay workers, denominational leaders, and their families. As I’ve watched the interaction I’ve wondered, “how many of these wives are thriving and how many are hurting, just keeping their head above water?” I have prayed for the wives among us. If I could sit down with each one, this is what I’d say:
Ministry wife, I know you. I know that you’ve closed the door to your house and sobbed over the hurtful words just lobbed at you by the “well meaning” congregation member. You’ve questioned if your children will survive to adulthood unscathed by the decisions your family has made, in the name of ministry. You’ve wondered if you will ever get over moving all your worldly goods every few years. You miss your family. Sometimes you question what you signed up for. You wonder if you can ever forgive.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the course of my own ministry life. I walk where you walk. I ask the same questions. There have been high highs and low lows. But in the midst of it all I’m learning the secret, as Paul says, to be in need or have plenty and be content in every situation. Because ministry life isn’t about me or about my husband or even completely about the church. It’s about Christ.
- Ministry should flow from the right motivation. If you are serving the church because it’s what your husband expects or you parents expected or out of guilt you will eventually crash and burn. No two ways about it. Be honest. Ask Jesus to search your motivation and then heal it if necessary. Serving for the joy of serving, because it pleases Jesus, brings life. His kindness to us enables us to wash dirty feet, to bear burdens, and to love his church along side of him.
- Fill your cup before you fill anybody else’s. You will be asked to pour into your husband, your children, the congregation, families in crisis, and your neighborhood. If you aren’t drinking deeply from the well of scripture and intimacy with Jesus you will run bone dry fast. Not only will your own heart be dry but you won’t be able to spare a drop for those precious ones you love. There is no substitute for soaking in the presence of Jesus. It takes time, it’s necessary.
- Be honest. Church should be a place of safety and honesty, even for the pastor’s wife. That freedom shouldn’t be abused, discretion is important. But, if you feel there are things in your life people could never know, that’s a problem. You will feel isolated and resentful over time. Even though you should feel free to be honest about who you are and what’s happening in your life there will be sensitive issues you may only be free to share with certain people. Find an elder’s wife, or the wife of a pastor in another congregation, or even a counselor to confide in.
- Forgiveness is a must. You will have to forgive if you are going to be a pastor’s wife. Bank on it. You’ll have to forgive if you’re human, that’s just the nature of being alive, but pastor’s wives bear unique wounds. Our families are very often in the line of fire. I recently bore a wound in a previous church that carried over into our current ministry. I found myself fearing my current congregation, more than loving them. Forgiveness softened my heart and freed me up to love again.
- Look for the good. Just like we’re often in the line of fire, we’re even more often in the line of good! If we’ll just look for and expect it. The amount of generosity and goodwill from a congregation can be enough to bowl you over! Shared homes, understanding words, financial kindness, investment in our children, holiday invitations, etc. Nurture that by having a grateful heart, appreciating the good, and setting the example when necessary.
- Know who the enemy is. Your husband is not the enemy. Church leaders are not the enemy. The crabby congregation members aren’t the enemy. The got-it-all-together deaconess is not the enemy. There will be days when it feels like your home, your children, your marriage, your identity, and your husband are under attack. It’s important to know who the enemy is and is not. Hurt, scared, and immature people can hurt others (and those can be found in every place in the church and your own home). If you can see beyond harsh words you will probably find they have surprising wounds of their own. The enemy we have is supernatural.
- Assume the best. About your husband and everyone else around you. If you expect to be offended you will be. It’s not always easy, especially when you’ve been hurt in the past, but expecting the best in our churches can set them up for success. If you give the benefit of the doubt to off-handed comments, attitudes, or expressions you will most likely find the source of an offense is not about you. Be slow to assume and quick to think well of people. It will go a long way in producing an atmosphere of trust and love.
- Give yourself the permission to rest and heal. It’s going to happen, if it hasn’t already, you will be wounded and worn out. Take the time to draw back with Jesus and heal. Recognize the season you are in. Whether you have to get someone else to take over your responsibilities for a while or you seek moments to be alone in your busy schedule, when your body and heart say rest, listen.
- Clearly define expectations. There is no one way to be a pastor’s wife. Some of us dive in and work alongside of our husbands laboring under our own calling. Some of us quietly support our husbands from home. Some of us work full-time to make ministry life a possibility, but are limited in our own personal ministry involvement. The only wrong way to be a pastor’s wife is to not love. But there are hundreds of ways to love. Let your congregation know what that looks like for you.
- Receive ministry from others. It’s humbling but so important to be able to receive. We cannot always be the givers, we shouldn’t be. Sometimes our dirty feet will need washing from all of the messy places we’ve been. Let your people love you. Let them minister to you. It will give them a sense of satisfaction and increase the love among you. This can be hard for us, sometimes it makes us feel vulnerable, but we must learn to receive to participate fully in the body of Christ.
You know that being a pastor’s wife is an amazing journey! A privilege. But it’s not easy. If you would like some encouragement or someone to pray with you please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my honor to hear your story and share your burden!