A Pastor's Wife is not a Free Unpaid Staff Member4
As we continue in this series of blogs about rethinking the pastoral ministry through a healthy paradigm, and deconstructing unhealthy patterns, I want to hit on an issue that is the closest to my heart on any in this series. It is closest because it involves the pastor's wife. I want to say at the onset, I am not writing this because of any mistreatment of my wife or to describe any personal experience. We've been incredibly fortunate and both my wife and I have been treated so well, but not all are as fortunate and I wanted to offer some food for though. As you read along, it should become apparent why this is an important issue to be addressed.
I have the honor of being able to assess and assist in training church planters and pastors. We assess them for many reasons, some of which ensure they are men of character, theologically astute, have healthy homes and are set up to do ministry for the long haul.
An alarming trend that I have begun to see is men leaving the ministry because their wives can't take "it" any longer.
Now, that statement can mean a lot of things. We have to define the "it" that they are unable to take. But what scares me is that this should not be an issue at all, and it is becoming widespread across Christianity. I don't know that I have all of the answers. I don't know if pretending to know the answers is even where you start to grapple with this issue. But I do think that we should be asking the right questions -- starting with, "Why should a wife ever feel crushed under the weight of their husband's calling?" Or, "Where in the Bible do you see the expectations put on a pastor's wife that our Christian Culture puts on a pastor's wife?"
The Bible seems like the right place to start. After all, it is the place we go to for our foundation of truth. So, let me list for you, in order, all of the verses that have to do with the expectations we are supposed to put on a pastor's wife, that single her out and make her different than what would be expected of other Christian women. Are you ready, because I am going to unload all of them at once...
Did you read all of those? Oh, it was just a giant blank space you say? Well isn't that interesting? It would seem as if the Bible is silent on that issue and our culture has taken the opportunity to fill in the blanks. That should be the first indicator that there is an issue going on.
When PEOPLE put expectations on others that GOD does not even expect, it always leads to problems.
I wanted to say it as strongly as I could. Did that statement get the point across? This is not to say that there are no expectations on the pastor's wife. She is expected to love Jesus, obey His Word, grow in grace, be a submissive wive, have a humble spirit, keep an orderly household,and be a disciple who makes disciples. In other words, the same expectations that are put on any godly woman.
She is not expected to be Super Woman. She does not wear a cape. She is a fragile sinner saved by and in need of grace like every other woman, man or child on the face of this planet. She is working out her own salvation just like you and me.
I have spoken to hundreds, maybe thousands of Christians about the everyday struggles of the Christian life. Imagine that with having hundreds of unbiblical expectations added on.
And that is where the problem begins. In unhealthy soils, pastor's wives are not given room to bloom because they are too busy running around trying to meet the pressures of other people's expectations, often to the neglect of the expectations that actually are biblical. Can you see where I'm going with this? Can you see where this epidemic begins?
Let's look for a second at the day in the life of a typical pastor's wife:
1. She has her own relationship with Jesus to fan into flame -- Cultivating a relationship with Jesus takes time. Any woman will tell you, especially one with little ones at home, that time is not something that they have a whole lot of. Keep that in the back of your mind. It's important. When there are very little ones at home, she must often choose between having those extra few minutes of quiet time or having an extra few minutes to catch up on the interrupted sleep that she had during the night. It's a tough call. Do you wake up early before the kids to get that extra time to feed on God and His Word, or do you take the gift of sleep so that you have the energy needed to serve them well throughout the day? It's a tough call, and one that is not unique to the pastor's wife. I don't think there is a right answer (other than the husband getting up with the kids when possible to give the wife both some extra sleep and some time with Jesus). But, it's already a sacrifice...
2. If she is a mother she has children to raise -- And if we are talking about a pastor's wife who may be a little bit older, she may have grandchildren -- and if she has grandchildren, she still has children that are in need of her love and attention. My wife was sick last week and I was pulling triple duty- trying to be pastor, dad and take care of mom. As I say any time my wife gets sick, "it really opens your eyes to how hard a mom works". That's where the saying "moms can't afford to get sick" comes from because when the mom is down the household turns...well...chaotic. But, the point is, raising children is time consuming and sometimes feels completely consuming. Trying to find time on top of raising children, well, it's a sacrifice...
3. She has a home to keep -- We are fortunate to have a wife who stays at home with the children. I have friends who are pastors who have a two-income home because the wife works outside the home. But either way, I have yet to see a house clean itself. Dishes do not wash themselves. Laundry, that's a particularly interesting one when you have kids -- HOW DOES LAUNDRY PILE UP SO QUICKLY? And then there are bed times and getting the kids ready for school and packing lunches. It is literally a job that never ends. I am not saying that it is not a beautiful job, or a job to not find joy in, but I am saying it is endless. So, trying to find time on top of cultivating her own relationship with Jesus, raising children, keeping a home, and then squeeze more time on top of it, it's a sacrifice...
4. She is usually trying to keep the home together on a tighter budget than the other people in the church -- Again, not complaining, just stating the facts. Statistically, pastors work longer hours while making much less money than other professions that require the same education level and are typically below the average income of the families in their churches. Let me reiterate, because people get weird when you talk money, we do not feel entitled to anything and are grateful for all that we have received and I am not writing this autobiographically, but about church culture in general, just to clear all that up. But, just because you are grateful does not mean that things are not stressful at the end of the month when the money is gone but the bills are not. But most pastors and pastor's wives I know are fine with all of that, but it is a sacrifice...
5. She is trying to squeeze in time for corporate worship and fellowship to nourish her own soul, just like any other Christian -- Before talking about the things that she leads or oversees, lets just take things in order. She has her own soul to attend to through fellowship with the Body of Christ. I can't tell you how many Christians I meet that struggle to find meaningful fellowship because they claim that they are too busy. Well, if you read #1-4, you see that the pastor's wife already has the exact same things that make her busy as any other Christian. She's got the band practices to get the kids to, kids sports games to attend, friends in need of a favor, and all of the other things that pile up and can make life seam so busy. Then on top of that, she needs that time of corporate worship and fellowship for the nourishment of her soul. And when you are a church planter's wife, that typically means sitting in a basement with everyone else's kids or a nursery room on Sunday mornings with other people's babies so that other people can get the fellowship and worship they need to nourish their souls. But they do it joyfully because they knew that was going to be part of the deal when they joined their husband in ministry, but it is a sacrifice...
6. Most pastor's wives I know are involved with or lead a ministry -- And when I say "A ministry", it usually means multiple ministries. Do me a favor and read back through #1-5 and find the space where leading a children's or a women's bible study fits in. But, somehow, God bless them, they manage to do it. But by this point, we are usually talking about trying to make time appear that simply does not exist. But, they move things around, cut other things short, and neglect some of their own needs, and do it with joy, but it is a sacrifice...
7. Most pastor's wives I know try to meet with other women one-on-one for counsel and discipleship -- We want to be a church that makes disciples who make disciples. The ideal is for the pastor's wife to not lead all of the ministries. But to take some off their plate, it requires taking time to train others. That takes time. Plus, because they love Jesus, love the church and love people, they want to meet with unbelievers to evangelize, new believers to disciple and hurting believers to comfort. I am getting overwhelmed just typing this, but somehow these amazing women fit it all in, but its a sacrifice...
I could keep going, but I hope by now you are getting the idea
So, when we take that seemingly impossible list of tasks and add to it the fact that they are invited to many things in the church that they want to go to, prayer groups that they would love to attend, other ministries that they dream of birthing, women that they see each Sunday and want to prioritize time for during the week and feel guilty for not doing so -- Do they really need the crushing weight of other people's expectations?
Or even worse, the expressed disappointment from people that they do not have time to meet every need, meet with every woman, or have to feel judged for not being able to attend or participate in another person's ministry? Does she need to feel the weight of people placing frustration that she goes to "x" person's ministry but can't make it to "y" person's ministry?
The pastor's wife is not an unpaid, freed up staff member that gets thrown in as a package deal with her husband. She is a Christian, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend -- those are her priorities. With the precious little time left, they are a disciple maker, a servant, a counselor, and I could add more, but if I have to add more after reading all of the above, then my point isn't likely to sink in anyway. She does not wear a cape (though maybe someone should get her one), she does not receive a penny, and she has 24 hours in her day just like you do. And most of the time, they do it with great joy and do not look at their sacrifice as a sacrifice...
I did leave out one thing that should be an expectation of a pastor's wife, and perhaps this one is a little different than the expectations that every other Christian woman faces
She should be able to love her church, not feel the weight to carry the church on her shoulders.
It's not even her husband's job to carry the church on his shoulders. That job belongs to Jesus. If you want to run counter cultural and cultivate a healthy community, for those being led and for the leadership, help your church to be a place that the pastor's wife can love. And help the pastor's wives be freed-up to be healthy, fruit bearing members of the church. They sacrifice a lot so that others may bloom.
More in Pastor's Blog
March 28, 2020Can This Be Our Cathartic Moment? (Saint Augustine and our current fragile state of America)
March 14, 2020How Do We Respond to the Present Crisis as The Church?
December 24, 2019Active Waiting: Expectant Worship