I'm More Than the Pastor's Wife: Authentic Living in a Fishbowl World

(Paperback - Feb 2003)
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Lorna Dobson knows firsthand the struggles and joys of being married to a pastor and the questions, not the least of which is, What is a pastor's wife, anyway? As her poll of hundreds of women reveals, the wife of a minister is rarely the piano-playing, committee-leading stereotype. With humor, disarming genuineness, personal stories, and wisdom rooted in Scripture, Dobson cuts through the labels. How I live has little to do with whether my husband is a pastor; rather, my life reflects my growth, or lack of it, as a Christian. In this revised edition of I m More Than the Pastor s Wife, she includes new perspectives as a grandparent, soon-to-be empty-nester, and speaker. Here are frontline insights on .Making friends and cultivating personal support outside the church .Learning to handle expectations and pressures .Balancing time and using your gifts .Supporting your husband and growing closer to him .Prioritizing prayer for your husband, family, and church .Knowing your capabilities and limits .Dealing with problem people and church conflicts . . . and much more "


  • SKU: 9780310247289
  • UPC: 025986247287
  • SKU10: 0310247284
  • Title: I'm More Than the Pastor's Wife: Authentic Living in a Fishbowl World
  • Qty Remaining Online: 5
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Date Published: Feb 2003
  • Pages: 192
  • Illustrated: Yes
  • Weight lbs: 0.42
  • Dimensions: 8.47" L x 5.51" W x 0.51" H
  • Features: Price on Product, Illustrated, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: CHURCH LIFE
  • Subject: Christian Church - Church Administration

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

The Bible

Your Only Blueprint

Bringing up the issue of the "role" of pastor's wife to some pastors' wives is like hitting a land mine. Several women who responded to my survey objected to my use of the word role or felt that it is erroneous to assume that there is such a thing as a role. Two wrote that they are "trying to be free from that," and more said that they already felt free from "it." Many object to the term ministers' wives and feel that "'wives or spouses of ministers,' or 'those married to pastors' seems more palatable since each implies a certain distinctiveness of persons." A far greater portion of the respondents are not bothered by terms and have accepted them as the means of verbalizing the way life is or is not perceived. One of our church staff wives says, "Anyone who is married to someone in ministry should know and accept the fact that there is 'stuff' that goes with it!" Not everyone can easily accept the "stuff."

Let Me Be a Lawyer's Wife

"The minister's spouse cannot be just another member of the parish. Everyone has some idea (usually a different one) of how the minister's spouse ought to behave and be involved in the parish. Clergy spouses face these projections all the time." Imagine marriages with the husbands in a variety of professions: Would a client expect the attorney's wife to be in the courtroom, thereby eliminating doubt that the lawyer could be trusted to defend him/her satisfactorily because he is trusted by his spouse? Would the obstetrician's wife be expected to attend every delivery, or the surgeon's wife scrub so that she could be near her husband while he was under the pressure of performing surgery? Would the plumber's wife attend every pipe fitting? Would the pastor's wife be expected to go calling at all times with her husband even when they had three small children? Would she be expected to do office work, type the bulletin, direct the choir, and be an officer in the ladies' missionary society for no pay? Would she be expected to go out to Sunday dinner at the invitation of church members while leaving their children, ages six, nine, and eleven, at home?

Couldn't happen, you say? I doubt that it would for an attorney, doctor, or plumber, but the pastor and his wife alluded to above are real, faithful members of our present church, and the expectations listed touch only a tip of the iceberg. When they lived in one parsonage, they had to ask for permission to paint a room or to hang something on the wall. They were expected to entertain church members in their small home with no dining room and with very limited finances. Certain members complained because a porch light was left on during the evening service-the "Lord's money" was being wasted! A member walked into the parsonage one evening and informed the daughter that she should turn off the kitchen light-she was wasting electricity! That's enough cause for a normal person to want to be the spouse of anybody but a pastor!

This couple wrote on their survey questionnaire that "traditional, midsized, and small churches have unrealistic expectations of the pastor's wife and family. The board or members take it upon themselves to dictate their private lives. Small churches in particular have strong church traditions and preferences with-out biblical support when it comes to pastors' wives and families. She is often not allowed to be her own person."

The Struggle Is Not New

"A minister's wife has no more call to public duty than any Christian woman in the congregation." Sound like the twenty-first century? It was written in The Diary of a Minister's Wife over one hundred years ago. In the 1880s Lucy, the young wife of a minister, was told by her visiting cousin that she should take piano lessons so that she could play for church services; that way, if choir members quarreled, Lucy and her husband could sing and play and be "it," independent of such problems. Further, she insisted that the pastor's wife should be the president of the ladies' aid and missionary societies. But Lucy's husband replied:

A minister's wife has no more call to public duty than any Christian woman in the congregation. In fact, he thinks she [the pastor's wife] ought never to hold such offices, because she is not a fixture and may leave the work just at a time when experience is a necessary factor to cope with circumstances, and the new officer might thus be put to disadvantage and the society suffer. Then, too, if she be capable and aggressive, some would say she wants to run everything, while if she is modest and self-deprecating and waits for others to suggest, these same fault-finders will say they hope the next minister's wife will be of some help to them.

Some things never change. I have been told that I should teach or lead "people-oriented groups" and should not perform in choir or on keyboards. And I have also been told that I should give up my duties as choir pianist for a month to work in the nursery. In a church that we started after nine months of marriage, I was told that I should have a baby and settle down so the church would know we meant to stay. Others told me that I should teach Sunday school. Thankfully, when I have turned to my husband for advice in these matters, he has said, "Do what you want to do." Since I was trained to play the piano, it was natural for me to do that for many years. Later in the book I will explain the process of breaking away from that to develop teaching and leading gifts.

Give Me a Break

Frances Nordland provides a "blueprint for the ideal preacher's wife" by way of a ludicrous "drawing of [a] composite creature" including every skewed idea one may have heard. The wording with the blueprint reads, "Available only with ideal preacher. We do not break a set!" Further, she quotes a layman who has written one of the most stereotypical, old-fashioned, tongue-in-cheek bits I have read about the requirements for pastors' wives:

Applicant's wife must be both stunning and plain, smartly attired, but conservative in appearance, gracious and able to get along with everyone, even women. Must be willing to work in the church kitchen, teach Sunday school, babysit, run multilith machine, wait table, never listen to gossip, never become discouraged.

A counselor friend adds, ". yet be fully aware of all church problems so she might 'pray more intelligently.'"

As ridiculous as the above paragraph seems, many pastors' wives sometimes feel that everyone wants a piece of them or expects them to do more than they can handle. Since survey respondents gave so much advice about the worthlessness of trying to please everyone, about learning to say no, and about being all you need or want to be, we will look more closely at this advice later in the book. First, let us focus on who Christ wants us to be.

Have We Really Followed Biblical Teaching?

Only a few Scripture passages address the role of the wife of overseers (pastors/leaders) and deacons, but the few are powerful. First Timothy 3:11 says, "Wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." While there is some controversy over interpretation of the original language regarding whether this passage is refer-ring to deaconesses as officers in the church or to the wives of deacons, it appears to be applicable to women who have high visibility and influence in the church because of their "acts of kindness and of help and of charity which only a woman could properly do for another woman." Wives of any kind of ministers are observed and therefore are role models for others.

Frances Nordland gives a practical solution for what ministers' wives should be like:

We need to recognize that in the early church period the leaders of the church were men whom we would now designate as lay-men. There was no separation, as now, between clergy and lay-men, making a separate class of people in the church known professionally as "ministers." So, if you want to learn from the Bible what a minister's wife should be like, you must look for references to wives. You will find no double standard-one for the pastor's wife and one for the layman's wife.

Paul's message to Timothy provides a godly basis for a weighty responsibility carried by the wife because of her husband's position and responsibility. Some women married to ministers balk at this connection. But what the Bible actually addresses here is the area of discretion and personal maturity, and not any specific duties she performs in the church. It is my observation that some of the balking may be due to a lack of biblical foundation regarding God's intended role, not as pastors' wives, but as women created to be "a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18).

Not every wife of a minister feels pressure to be someone she isn't. Pastors' wives in nontraditional churches that target the unchurched say that traditional expectations generally are not an issue with them. They feel free to serve with their gifts as they are led by the Lord, because new Christians usually do not come into the church with a set of expectations for the staff and their spouses. Conversely, couples who serve small congregations steeped in tradition often find a binding code of spoken and unspoken expectations that will not be swayed by new vision.

A pastor's wife must give serious consideration to the "position" she is in-namely, as the "wife of" a man who has set his desires on a "noble task" (1 Tim. 3:1). The position carries with it the responsibility to manage his family in a way that will cause him to be worthy of respect. So whether we feel that we have chosen our lot in life or not, whether we want to call it a "role," or whether we will forever be frustrated by not being able to change the stereotypes people have held about us, our love for our husband and commitment to help him fulfill his own dreams is cause enough to spur us to seek a heart of contentment and peace within our circumstances.

Note that Paul admonishes both overseers and their wives to be "worthy of respect" (1 Tim. 3:2, 8, 11). Commentaries translate and rephrase the words "worthy of respect" (v. 11) as dignified, honorable, holy, or stately. "It is a positive term . [that] denotes a seriousness of mind and character. [It] does not mean austere or unbending, however." (See also Phil. 4:8; Titus 2:2, 7.)

Further, Paul warns against talking maliciously. If hurtful, loose talk is an area of weakness in your life, you will suffer from a reputation that will shadow you everywhere you go, and you likely will be a detriment or contribute to the ruin of your husband's public ministry. To remove yourself from this rut you can do what the psalmist did. He placed his sinful problems under God's control and prayed, "Keep your servant . from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression" (Ps. 19:13). We can guard against loose talking by adopting a concentrated, disciplined lifestyle of Scripture memory. While God can and will forgive us of our sins of the tongue when we repent, we need to fill our minds and hearts with his Word, for it is "out of the overflow of the heart" that the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34).

Paul's admonition for pastors' wives to be temperate has been interpreted different ways by congregational members. To be temperate means to be marked by moderation, not extreme or excessive. The problem lies in the varieties of ideas congregations have regarding the areas in which a pastor's wife should be temperate. Thus, we have the basis for the impossible blueprint. For example, in the area of clothing, some may say her style of dress is too showy while others say it is outdated. Extreme hairdos and clothing styles are to some "flashy" yet to others "classy." Excessive makeup may be defined as "ready for TV" by some but as lip gloss and clear nail polish by others. Paul, however, was using the word temperate to refer to more than outward appearance; he was alluding to a gracious spirit not given to extremes or overreaction.

Finally, Paul calls wives of overseers to be trustworthy in everything. A trustworthy wife may not be able to do everything, but she is dependable for whatever she pledges her word. The requirement is for "thorough-going 'reliability' . [and] holds for women as well as elders and deacons." The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is a good example of trustworthiness. We read that she never gives her husband cause to doubt the strength of her character or her commitment to him.

Peer Pressure in Ministry?

Another avenue of life that complicates the identification of the role is an unwritten code of ethics in the ministry by which peers are judged and assumptions are made. This code involves such issues as what to wear and who to associate with. Ruthe White states a general biblical principle to be used as a guide:

While it may be true that our roles have never been clearly defined, and no church denomination (at least to my knowledge) has set down any clear-cut do's and don'ts for the clergy, we are not exempt from the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as we would have others do unto us." Living by this principle is not always easy, not even in the parsonage. Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded these words of Jesus:

"If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny him-self and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again" (Matt. 16:24, 25; see Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, TLB).

Gulp. Deny myself? The point the author is making is that ministry couples who obey this principle "have to risk being misunderstood . [and] will be called upon . to bring about a breach in ministerial relationships. We are often 'pitted' one against the other." These breaches alone expend years of many ministry lives and detour the followers whose mission is to tell others how to be followers. Although some ministry people feel called to crucify their peers by broadcasting judgment labels, that kind of name-calling should play no part in our supportive ministry.

Who Trains the Pastor's Wife?

We have our own set of expectations about our role as wives of ministers. We have another set of what we think the congregation expects of us, a set from our husband, and another from the church board. Fortunately, we can discuss these issues with our husband, and he should discuss expectations with the church board. Then we can try to balance perceptions with reality.



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