“My husband just left his job in finance after feeling like he is called to full-time ministry. He’s now on staff at a church, and I was wondering what advice you’d give to a new pastor’s wife?”
Let me preface this by saying- my experience comes from being raised in a mid-sized traditional southern Baptist church, and then serving in small Baptist churches in small towns and now a very large non-denom/bible church in Dallas. I am quite sure the culture of other enviromentn and other denominations have different expectations and norms.
I love this question. Partly because I truly love being married to a pastor and partly because it makes me look back and giggle at some of the crazy things I thought I had to be or do to be a “good pastor’s wife”. My idea of a good pastor’s wife wavered somewhere between a stereotype of tall haired Christmas sweater wearing children’s minister and the wife on Footloose. My ideas were not much worse than my husband’s. A story that we can laugh about now is that when he got his first job in a church, we were both twenty. It was the summer, and we were serving in a very small, very traditional Baptist church with a large senior adult population. One sunday, I got cornered by the blue haired mafia, a group of three ladies who went to high school with Moses. They affectionately asked me how I was enjoying married life and told me how much they loved that we were there, and then told me that I was a beautiful young lady but “no music minister worth his salt would let his wife come to church in open toed shoes!” If this had happened today, I would remind them that Jesus wasn’t rocking Hush Puppies, but back then, I wanted badly to be liked and be approved of, so I nodded meekly and cried in the bathroom for the shame I had bought upon my family. Later that week, Wes said “why don’t we go get some more conservative clothes for you?” and I agreed. He chose this-
Mine was just a little bit cooler because I also had the Rachel haircut, so I think we can all agree that I was quite the stumbling block.
I wore that dress a grand total of two times before I submissively told Wes what he could do with it. While we can laugh about it now, the truth is, I really struggled for a very long time about my identity as a pastor’s wife and a lot of that struggle was done in complete isolation. I didn’t really know anyone my age who was married to a pastor, and unfortunately, I didn’t really have any older women invested in disciplining me. I also operated most frequently out of a place of fear and people pleasing, which sent me into a pattern of feeling like I had to have it all together and be all things for all people. Please trust me that you can’t keep that up for very long without some serious damage to your emotional health, your relationship with your husband and friends, and your intimacy with Jesus.
Some things to consider BEFORE accepting a position…
*Your relationship with Christ and your marriage are first. This means that if you are serving in an unhealthy, unbiblical church, these relationships will suffer. It is so easy for couples to accept the first church position that they are offered, especially for newly married couples or couples right out of school, but this is a real mistake. You are not only serving in this job, you are being discipled! You cannot give if you are not also poured into. It’s not enough to simply agree with a church’s statement of faith, you must also get a good feel for the culture of the church and of the staff and leadership. Asking questions like-
How do you handle conflict as a church and as a staff?
What is in place to build up and strengthen marriages for your staff members?
What sort of accountability is set up for staff members and how are sin issues handled when brought to light?
Pay attention to how the leadership speaks- if no one ever talks about their own personal marriage or struggles, this is a huge red flag. If they say they really don’t have much conflict, run. (they do have conflict- they just have it in secret) If they say that sin struggles are between you and the Lord, this is unbiblical and will cause you and your husband pain. Vocational ministry is a great blessing, but it can also be difficult and if you or your husband do not have others to help you and your marriage be what Jesus desires it to be, you will find yourself isolated which is a great path to more sin, pain and even divorce. I’m not saying these things can’t happen if you have others around you, but I am saying that isolation is like a great big room where you can only hear your own voice.
So you’ve found the right job and church…what now?
*Forget the schedule. I think this is especially difficult for those who have come out of the corporate world, but even for those who have only done ministry, sometimes it’s hard to remember that ministry just isn’t 9-5. People and lives are messy, and sometimes that messiness comes at the most inopportune times. It’s great to have boundaries for your family (hint- your husband’s leaders and accountability are your biggest ally in helping set those boundaries), but also know that sometimes life happens and it will bless you and your husband to be flexible. There will be midnight phone calls. There will be hospital visits that last for hours. There will be those meetings where he can’t answer any calls or texts. There will be out-of-town funerals. Pray for compassion for yourself for these “interruptions”, knowing that the Lord is also teaching YOU something through them.
*Don’t believe the hype. This is one of the oddest aspects of ministry that I’ve encountered, but it happens sometimes where people just decide that they want to be friends with someone on staff. I’m not sure why, other than just the false perception that somehow it’s more cool to be friends with someone “with power”. Sometimes this looks like someone acting like your new best friend five minutes after you meet. Sometimes it looks like someone being super friendly to you so that they can then complain to you about everything they hate about the church. Sometimes it looks like someone not being very friendly until they find out who you are married to and then they are extremely friendly (this one bothers me the most). It’s easy to get discouraged, but remember that these people are not trying to hurt you, and likely they are hurt themselves. Invest and be intentional with those who are your real friends- these people are invaluable. I cannot stress that enough. Don’t put too much stock into compliments or praise. Those who give easy compliments are usually those who will quickly turn and talk about you behind your back.
*Don’t forget that “she” is out there. Just being frank- there are women who, for multiple reasons, target pastors to try to seduce. It’s probably a combination of being attracted to a Godly man, being jealous and dissatisfied with their own lives, and the thrill of being with someone unattainable. Be aware of these women. Don’t be paranoid, don’t assume, but be wise and don’t be afraid to speak up to your husband if a woman is making you uncomfortable.
*Find your place. Your natural gifts and passions may line up completely with your husband’s job…and they may not. For years, I felt like I had to be right next to Wes, doing exactly what he was doing. Don’t get me wrong, you may be asked to serve in ways that stretch you, and that is a good thing. But if you break out in hives at the thought of singing in front of others, and your husband leads worship, this doesn’t mean you HAVE to be on the praise team. God created you as a fully formed person, not just an extension of your husband. You have gifts and abilities that you probably don’t even know about yet. Make sure to explore those, you will be blessed by developing new passions.
*Remember your purpose for your husband. Ladies, this has been the singular most challenging thing for me in 16 years of being married to a pastor. On one hand, he may have people yelling at him all day and angry at him for his job. On the other hand, he may also have people telling him how amazing he is all day. Both are false and both are dangerous for him and your family. Pray for your husband. Pray for him some more. Ask him how you can serve and encourage him. Don’t be afraid to say hard things to him. Pray about when to keep your words inside. Bring others into your marriage. Encourage him (and at times, I have made Wes) to take off his pastor hat and just be a guy. Make sure he has men around him who are NOT “yes men”. You and your husband need people who will tell you when you are acting foolishly. Make your marriage (not just your kids) a priority. Model transparency. It’s such a lie from the pit that pastors have it all together, that someone they are less sinful or smarter sinners than others, but it’s a lie that many many people believe. Guys look, it’s not comfortable for me to speak in public or write about our marriage issues. It’s just not. But I do it because it’s good for us and because of the many emails and messages I get saying “Please pray for my marriage” or “I thought I was the only one”.
Last thing- it’s so helpful to have some friends who are also in ministry. My best friends are also on staff at our church, and it is a comfort to know that when I talk about a certain aspect of ministry life, she understands. That can be difficult when you are in a smaller church or town. Nothing replaces real live friendships, but in those instances, I think that is a blessing of the online world.
If you are a staff wife, I’d love to hear how I can pray for you! Leave a comment, or email me and I will add you to my prayer list!
Have a question or subject for Mama Mondays? Email me at email@example.com
Follow me on Twitter @brandyb77