Chapter OneThe 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'
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"
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
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.