Today, pastors' wives are discovering that their roles are changing, while recognizing more opportunities than ever. A group of pastors' wives and other expert panelists recently held a national forum to talk about the role, influence and responsibilities of a pastor's wife in the 21st Century. The forum also served as a springboard to introduce "The Free to Soar conference," a national conference for pastors' wives, which will be held in January.

"The pastor's wife, years ago, was the 'sacrificer,' the one who gave, the one who was just 'there,' stated Dr. Lois Evans, president of Global Pastors Wives Network. "She was in charge of decorations and the women's ministry. Today, pastors' wives are partnering with their husbands in key areas of ministry. They are using their gifts, education and skills that they might have used in the market place."

Participants discussed the stereotypes, challenges and expectations of a pastor's wife. "At Focus on the Family, we do pastors' wives' surveys all the time as part of our ministry,' said HB London Jr., vice president of Pastoral Ministries, Focus on the Family. "What we find is that there is a lot of loneliness and isolation on the part of the pastor's spouse, but there can also be a loss of identity. I think that it is really important that the pastor's wife be encouraged to use her best gifts, most often, and find her place not only in the church, but within the community so that she has real fulfillment."

In addition, the panel addressed a number of questions including, "How is the role of the pastor's wife different today than it was 40 years ago?" "Why is her calling unique in all of Christendom?" "How has she influenced the church and society?"

"I believe that all pastors' wives need to know who they are; they are God's chosen woman...and to use the gifts that God has given each of us. We are so favored by God to be in this place at this time," said Lynn Mathison, women's leader and wife of John Ed Mathison, Frazer Memorial Methodist Church.    

A pastor's wife is certainly a helpmate to her husband. In light of that role, Evans encouraged pastors' wives to develop her own strengths and talents that will help her in assisting her husband and within the ministry. "God has given us a lot of skills and I think it is an insult to Him to not use the gifts and skills he has given us as helpmates," said Evans.

Gayle Haggard, author, ministry leader and wife of Ted Haggard of New Life Church agreed, "In the context of Christian marriage, we are indeed added to our husbands, and if our husbands are called to be pastors or ministry leaders, then we can rise up with the gifts that God has given us to really help them and be a strength to their lives."

Pastors and their wives should sit down and talk about their roles and expectations and decide how the wife can complement her husband the most. "The communication between a husband and a wife makes the role clear," said Vonette Bright, founder of Global Pastors Wives Network and co-founder with her husband, Dr. Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ. "And, remember sometimes that role changes. I will never forget one time when my husband said 'I just need you, honey, to give me clean shirts, take care of these children and have this house open for guests,' and that was what I did for a little while."

Ultimately, God should define the role of a pastor's wife, and so many times those roles are defined by the expectations of the congregation, and by others. "I think it is important for the pastor to understand his wife's role, as well. It is an understanding between a husband and a wife, and respecting that role," said Tom Mullins, pastor of Christ Fellowship Church of Palm Beach Gardens. "I think this (upcoming) conference will help us to stay focused, balanced, and will show us the value of that. I know in my own situation, I could not be doing what I am doing without my wife, Donna, if it wasn't for her taking an active role in leadership, using her giftedness and compassion. I think all of us who are pastor's would declare our wives as our greatest asset."