Fragile Vessel: Handle with Care
- 2006 20 Mar
Tragedy opens our eyes to reality. In recent years, two of my pastor friends have buried their wives. These men were about my age. In sharing their losses, I had to ask myself—How would I be able to carry on my ministry without the help of my wife?
My wife personifies the term “help meet.” Her presence is a great personal comfort to me. She notices things I miss. She possesses a remarkable intuitive sense of things that may pose a threat to the ministry. She has a talent for spotting needs among the congregation. She will say something like “You had better call the Smith family this week”; and when I do, I find a real need there that had escaped my notice.
A mission board member shared with me a survey that his board conducted among missionaries serving on a foreign field. The purpose of the survey was to determine whether they could justify the travel expenses of having mission representatives’ wives accompany their husbands on their visits to the field. The results of the survey were clear: “Send the wives! If you must cut costs, leave the men at home.”
My wife and I have had the tremendous privilege of visiting many of the missionaries that our church supports. I have seen with my own eyes the message of that survey authenticated over and over again. Little gifts that only a woman would think of, kind words of comfort, the gracious acceptance of hospitality in less-than-ideal circumstances, a sympathetic ear for a struggling missionary who seldom has a confidante, all these may make my wife’s presence more significant than mine. I preach the Word to the crowd, but she does her best work one-on-one.
Many of the challenges I face as a pastor present consequent challenges for my wife. People within and outside the church may criticize the way I do things. Some may offend me personally. Demands on my time may diminish my time with her. All of these things have an impact on her and threaten her stability, her well-being, and her ability to serve. So how can I protect her so that she can maintain her important ministry and share my joy and fulfillment in the ministry?
Provide a Safe Haven for Your Wife
A pastor should be very cautious about sharing with his wife all the criticisms and offenses against him. In that great passage on forgiveness in Matthew 18, our Lord says, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” The biblical way to clear an offense is to do it privately. Bringing others into the conflict resolution process is to be used as a last resort, and then only those who are in a position to help should be included.
Your wife will doubtless provide a listening ear. However, she may take the offense very personally and be injured by the conflict even after the offense has been properly dealt with. So it may be better not to share everything with her.
If your wife is to grow into the Christian God intends her to be, she will need safety and security. This truth is implied in Ephesians 5:26–31. Following the example of Christ, a husband should nourish and cherish his wife. He should provide her needs as he can, and security and safety are among those needs. The “oneness” of the marriage relationship should never be threatened or even doubtful. A pastor/husband must demonstrate the unconditional love that Christ so graciously extends to us. A wife should be able to rest secure in her husband’s love and care, as we rest in our security in Christ.
Include Her in Your Ministry
Many wives feel that they must compete with the ministry for their husband’s time. This feeling often breeds resentment and even jealousy. There have been times when my wife has said, seemingly in jest, that she should make an appointment so that I would have time to listen to her. By having a part in the ministry, your wife will better understand the demands on your time.
Many of the struggles between pastors and their wives occur when the children are small and the wife feels trapped at home with little chance for adult fellowship. Giving her a ministry to others in some church role gives her a sense of being part of the team and directs her attention away from her own struggles.
A word of caution is necessary here. Do not put your wife in a position in which she will have to assume the role of “enforcer.” If members need to be confronted about their nursery duties or admonished about faithfulness to teacher’s meetings, let someone else fill that role. It is much better for her to be seen as a helper and a comforter, not as a corrector.
Take your wife with you to the pastors’ conferences that you attend, even if you have to hire a babysitter. Think about the refreshment these times have been for you, and realize that your wife can benefit from that refreshment too. It can be a great encouragement for her to meet and fellowship with other pastors’ wives. Making new friends helps her to see beyond the struggles of your local ministry.
Spend Time Alone with Your Wife
Being a pastor’s wife may expose her to a variety of challenges. She may often feel lonely. Because of her role, some ladies in the church are hesitant to include her in their social plans. She feels pressure to be always at her best. She may have to make do without some of the nicer things of life. Receiving special attention from you can make it all seem better.
A pastor may not have a fat bank account, but he probably has a flexible schedule. Take advantage of this flexibility to spend time with your wife. Doing so tells your wife that you appreciate her. Lunch at a pleasant restaurant or a walk in the park takes on special meaning. For both your sakes, develop a real friendship with your wife. Remember that love is still spelled T-I-M-E.
Spend some of that time together planning a family vacation. If you have limited resources, go camping at a state park, spend a few days at a Christian camp, or visit friends and relatives. Such a simple outing can provide a welcome change from routine and create memories that last all year. Yes, the work you leave behind will still be there when you return, but the worker and his teammate will return more refreshed to accomplish the tasks.
Ephesians 5 describes the tender care that my Savior extends toward me. I know that this is the model for me to follow in my relationship with my wife. Resting in His unchanging love, I draw courage to press on in spite of my struggles. So my wife should draw courage from my unshakeable commitment to her. In I Peter 3, I am instructed to give honor unto my wife as unto a more fragile vessel. As respect for the pastoral office diminishes in popular culture, my role as her protector takes on greater significance. My wife is my special helper sent from God. My desire is to be diligent in my protection of her.
Dr. Sweatt is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia.
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