When I made the decision to marry a preacher, a missionary, and a foreign national, I knew I was walking into a unique calling. I’d heard, seen, and read much about the expectations and responsibilities that a pastor’s wife faced. As a person who had no family ministry background, I knew that it would be interesting for me to find a place to fit into my husband’s ministry world. Fortunately, my husband’s ministry work of more than 20 years and his lifetime as a missionary and pastor’s son has given him great aptitude and maturity for leading a ministry family.
I grew up seeing many a minister’s wife who was a wan, silent, smiling shadow sitting lonely on the front pew or in some dark corner of the sanctuary. Either that or she led Sunday school class, VBS, youth ministry, home group, and sang in the choir – sometimes even a biweekly church special.
Now I have had the privilege of getting to know some of those women and realize that the shy, background woman may well be the church's greatest prayer warrior, or perhaps is caught between raising children, caring for ailing parents, and working part-time and she just needs to be fed when she comes to worship. And that front-and-center pastor's wife? Remember that old 80-20 rule, that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Well, often the pastor's wife and family have to do everything from the teaching to flushing the toilets after worship.
I have also seen some of the struggles the pastor’s family were dragged into with church conflicts. And so I always declared emphatically to myself that I would never marry a preacher.
And now, here I am. When all those ladies come up to shake my and my husband’s hands after church – not to mention out of the blue in the grocery store and at the lunch deli – it still seems like a hard role to fill, and sometimes I feel myself metamorphosing into that smiling statue I always saw beside the preacher at church.
So, it does my heart good and encourages me whenever I discover a woman who is able to be honest, funny, and relaxed about being a ministry wife.
March, being pastor’s wife appreciation month, seems like a good time to point out some of these authors who give encouragement both to those in ministry and those who wish to serve those in ministry.
I previously wrote some articles for AFA Journal containing interviews with ministry wives Barbara Bancroft and Susie Hawkins:
Barbara Bancroft, author of Running on Empty, told AFAJ in “What I think you think about me”: “If I was trying to sell makeup, my job might be to look really good whether I was old and wrinkly underneath or not. But with the gospel, I want people to understand what Jesus has done for me and can do for them. To model that, I have to be real.”
“Bottom line, every minister’s wife needs to know who she is: how God has gifted her, what He has called her to, how she can best support her husband and her church,” Susie Hawkins, author of From One Ministry Wife To Another, told AFAJ in the article “I didn’t sign up for this.”
In the book Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry, Sherry Surratt deals more directly with how ministry affects the personal relationship between husband and wife and shares some of the things she has learned since her 19-year-old beginning as a pastor’s wife.
“Somewhere along the way I realized I was expecting myself to make it all OK for Geoff,” she writes. “[J]ust because there’s a ministry hole doesn’t mean you’re the plug. You can be sure of this: God called you to be the best wife and mom your husband and kids could ever need or want. Whatever else God calls you to do or be is icing on the ministry cake.”
“I was just trying to survive.” Jeana Floyd opens her book 10 Things Every Minister’s Wife Needs to Know with these words. And so she describes a ministry wife’s survival basics – what is so simple and easy for the common person, perhaps, can be surprisingly hard for a ministry wife.
“It’s not about being the perfect pastor’s wife to the perfect pastor with perfect children,” she adds. “Survival in ministry to me is knowing that I have a personal relationship with Christ, who knows every detail of my life and gives me the awesome privilege of coming before Him – in the “secret place.”