The Pastor's Wife's Greatest Ministry
Author’s Note: I write as a Southern Baptist, where all our preaching pastors are male. While I know a few women pastors, they’re in other denominations and I know zilch about what goes on in their households and how they relate to the husbands. I respect them highly but for me to write about what they need would be presumptuous.
“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
A pastor’s wife’s greatest ministry is to her husband first, and her children second.
We were two weeks away from beginning a new pastorate. A couple of days earlier, we had been informed that the church had voted 85 percent to invite me to become their new pastor. After praying long and hard about such a less-than-unanimous call, we felt it was the Lord’s will that we accept.
It was a difficult time in our lives. I had just come through the most difficult three years of ministry in my life, and the church to which we would be going was still reeling from a massive split just 18 months earlier. It was not going to get any easier.
Nothing about this was fun. We knew going in that we were bruised and that the people we would be shepherding were hurting.
My journal for Monday, September 3, 1990:
Margaret said, “I want you to know that I believe in you. Those people need what you can do for them.” I thanked her and said, “What concerns me is that they may not respond.” She said, “You’re not responsible for their response.”
And all these years later (she’s been with the Lord now for over 2 years), that blesses me to this day. It’s a pastor’s wife doing her best work.
The wife of a minister is a lot like a pastor with a very small congregation; the preacher and the children. Everyone else takes second or third place.
Let the pastor’s wife…
1. Believe in him.
This more than anything else will be a strength to him. There will be 10,000 occasions when the preacher feels inadequate for the tasks he’s facing. But his life-partner long ago settled with the Lord that God’s call is on this man, and she is “all in,” as they say. She has every right to say to him, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, my love!” And send him on his way.
2. Pray for her man.
Her prayers will be constant and positive and faith-filled. When she prays with him, she must guard against trying to be manipulative (as in “Dear Lord, would you show Charles that he needs to spend more time with his family?”).
3. Look for ways to encourage him.
No one knows better than the wife the burdens he bears, the wars he wages, and the temptations he faces each day. She is better situated than anyone to speak God’s comforting truth to him when he needs it, to administer a swift kick in the seat when that is required, and to know which time is which.
To a few wives I need to say: Don’t overdo it. If your husband can do no wrong in your eyes, if your words to him are always praising him, you will suffer from praise inflation. As a result, at the times when he really does need an emotional boost, your words will not work. So, ask the Lord when to brag on him, when to mention the negatives, and when to be silent.
4. Keep herself close to the Father.
The Lord alone is going to meet all her needs. No husband on earth can be everything to his wife, whether he’s in the ministry or far from it. Ruth Graham has said many a wife makes the mistake of expecting her man to be to her what only Jesus can be. And the result is a great deal of disappointment and frustration, and anger toward the husband. So, let the wife have her place of prayer in the home and a time as early in the day as she can, to draw herself close to the Lord in Scripture and prayer and quietness. The demands on her are going to overwhelm her if she fails to do this.
5. Tell him the truth.
If she gives him only endless praise–not that I know of a single wife who does this!–she loses her credibility. This means that sometimes when he asks how a sermon went over, she will speak truth even if not all the truth. “Well, honey, you’ve done better” might be sufficient. Or, “I thought you spent too much time on the historical background.” Doing this will require that she actually listen to the sermon.
6. Be his biggest admirer and best team member.
After all, she loves this man in every way possible. My bride of six months loves, loves, loves her role as a pastor’s wife. (She was married to a pastor friend of mine for over 50 years.) She told me early on, “I know some people think a pastor’s wife tires of the endless repetition of the same stories. But not me. I love listening to them. I will enjoy each story as though I’m hearing it for the first time.” That’s a gift, but for it to be legitimate it must be sincere, as it certainly is with her.
7. Be his counselor and confidante, but not his supervisor or boss.
She will work at knowing the best time to bring up matters, and when he needs to be left alone in quietness. Sometimes it may be necessary to remind him, “My love, God has not given you the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” Or, as the Lord told the disciples, “Come ye apart and rest for a while.”
8. Know what she needs to do to protect him.
Does she need to take his phone when he comes into the house? Convince him to shut the phone off completely on his off days? Does she want to conspire with the pastor’s staff to protect him from himself (accepting too many outside invitations, taking too much upon himself, protecting his off days)?
9. Be wise in putting her foot down and insisting on what she wants or needs.
Do not misunderstand this. Most pastors will be needing their spouses to take a firm stand from time to time, to insist on something the family must have and there are no two ways about it. When we were six or seven years into our marriage, my wife began asking me to go with her for marriage counsel. When I refused–my pride was at stake, I felt, a very foolish notion–she went without me. And that was a good thing. However, some ten years later, she gave me an ultimatum: Go with me for counseling or I’m leaving. That got my attention. We saw that counselor for a solid year, and gave him credit for saving our marriage.
10. Love him and take care of the children.
When someone said to Anne Graham Lotz how much they admired her father, the esteemed Dr. Billy Graham, she answered, “Well, that’s good, but Mother is the saint in the family.”
We have read enough of the Graham family story to know the truth of that. Not taking anything away from the great preacher, but his amazing wife had to stay home and raise the five children while dealing with the unending demands on her personal life as the wife of a famous man, one who traveled the world and received unending acclaim, then came home just long enough to change clothes.
11. Find a mentor.
The ideal mentor for a minister’s wife is an older woman who has served with her husband for a half-century or more. She will have seen it all, and have a perspective invaluable to the younger woman.
12. Pull together a group of her peers.
I’m a strong believer in ministers’ wives getting together once in awhile for coffee or tea, just to visit and chat. They will not spend the time running down their husbands (and if one starts, the others speak up and say that is forbidden in this group) or criticizing the deacons. They will have a thousand things in common and be able to share and pray for each other.
Such a gathering of ministers’ wives should cross denominational lines (although doctrine will not be discussed in these sessions). Ideally, they should meet in someone’s living room in order to have privacy. They could even bring their children and have a teen to ride herd on the kids in the playroom while the mothers meet and chat. And to the mothers who insist that “I’d be embarrassed to bring the other women into this house,” I tell you most of the other wives feel the same way. So, go ahead and do it.
Since there is no end to her responsibilities and God alone is going to be adequate for all her needs, there is no way this one small piece of writing can touch all the points, answer all the “but what ifs”, or cover all the bases. We send it forth to these good women with the prayer that they will realize several things: they are not alone, God is using them in ways they will not know of until they stand before Him, and their quiet service in the background is every bit as important in the Kingdom as anyone else’s.
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