October is “Pastor Appreciation Month”. This is an article with a different slant which deals with the need to encourage your pastor’s wife. I want to give you an inside look at what life might be like for your pastor’s wife.
“Most mornings I wake up with a sense of purpose, destiny, direction, and confidence to begin a new day. At other times I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Did I volunteer, or was I drafted?’ ”
That’s the way I began an article written in 2006 for a newsletter that featured women in ministry, whose vocation included being a pastor’s wife. I revisited that article and realized that I’d lost some of the optimism of five years prior. I was in one of those places where “purpose, destiny, direction and confidence” seem to be shrouded, as if a fog had moved in to obscure my vision.
Maybe twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry can do that to you? One thing I know: those of us who find ourselves in this fogged-in place can easily become disenchanted with people-ministries.
Being a pastor’s wife can be one of the loneliest occupations in the world. It’s one thing to look at the pastorate through rose-colored glasses, how fulfilling it will be, how much you can help people and how grateful they will be for the help. The truth of the matter is that some of the people you help most will not be grateful. Sometimes they will resent you, be angry with you, take sides against you, talk behind your back, resist your husband’s leadership, and complain about how you don’t reach out to them.
Others in whom you invest time and energy and love will be gracious, friendly, accommodating, supportive, co-operative – all the things that encourage you in the ministry – and then leave for greener pastures during plateaus or tough times in the church or in your personal life. Those of us who are pastor’s wives feel the pain – it’s very hard not take it personally. It’s a sense of desertion – like a divorce.
So what would make anyone crazy enough to take on this role? For most of us, it simply came with the territory; we married someone who became a pastor, so we in tandem became a pastor’s wife. It’s not a role that we always enjoy, though it is sometimes very rewarding; especially when you see someone grow spiritually because of your investment in their lives, your encouragement toward spiritual things, your prayers for them, or just your friendship with them. It’s also rewarding when someone appreciates those investments.
There is something else that helps us not only to cope, but to find pleasure in fulfilling our particular ministry role: that coping mechanism is a sense of “calling”.
What do I mean by a “sense of calling”? The “calling” is three-fold:
- First, the pastor’s wife is called to Christ by the Spirit of God. A woman who is not sure of her own salvation would do best not to marry a man with a pastoral gift and office. If her life is not dedicated to loving and serving her Savior, she will burn out very quickly in church ministry.
I believe that my first “call” is to minister to the Lord God Himself. I am becoming more and more convinced that until I get this part right, all other ministry will have little eternal effect for the kingdom.
Sometimes in the midst of the busyness of ministering to others, I sense my Father God calling me to come and sit down by Him for a while so that He can refresh me. He also wants me to minister to Him, as a cuddling child ministers to its parents; it’s a matter of “my child acknowledges her need of me”.
The “calling” has in it that sense of total dependence on God and deep love for the Father. When I focus on staying close to God, delighting in Him, the sense of “calling” on my life increases.
A true calling of God does not end. Rom. 11:29 . . . For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Is this different than any believer’s “call” to discipleship? I believe it is. It takes a special unction from the Spirit to hold up under the spiritual attacks that come against ministry couples and their families and to continue loving those who can drain you.
- Second, the pastor’s wife has a “calling” to her husband. Even if she is involved in the activities of church ministry, she must be able to create a space of peace and contentment for her husband. She needs to be a safe harbor for him – not just to minister to him, but to help protect him from other women who might try to fill the void if she leaves it vacant.
The pastor’s wife must be a consoler, good company, a playmate, an encourager, a sounding board, a counselor or confessor, a good listener, and a sympathetic friend.
So many ministry couples have ship-wrecked because the wife does not recognize, desire, or know how to fill this calling to be her husband’s helpmate.
A pastor’s wife who does not have a strong sense of “calling” will have a hard time with the stresses of pastoral life. She can easily grow to resent the time and energy commitments that pastoring necessitates, both her husband’s and her own.
Though on paper the pastor’s job description does not include time commitments from his wife, and even though she is not obligated in any way by written or verbal contracts, there are usually unspoken expectations regarding her role in the church body.
In a small church, often it is expected that the pastor’s wife should fill in where there are church needs within her skill areas. She should do the recruiting for or planning of special events. She should envision and implement the vision for women’s outreach, participate in the women’s missionary program – or head-up that group. She should be able and willing to teach kids’ church or lead the youth program. She should also do one-on-one ministry with women in the church,visit the elderly shut-ins. Such are some of the expectations, often unspoken, that a congregation may subtly impose on a pastor’s wife.
I remember the congregational interview prior to our coming to our current pastoral situation where the question was asked, “And what ministry will Marcy be doing when you [my husband] comes here as pastor?” To which my husband responded that we would wait for the Lord to lead me in that regard. (Yes, I have a good man.)
Not only is it often expected – by church members or by herself – that the pastor’s wife will fill-in the ministry vacancies in the small church, but, if the salary afforded the pastor cannot cover his family’s personal living expenses, there is often the suggestion that his wife should get a job to make up the difference.
- Third, the pastor’s wife has a calling to care for her family. If there are no natural born children, you can bet there are “heart adoptions” that are subject to compassion and energy drainage. Plus considerations of responsibility to both her extended family and her husband’s extended family and the reality of aging parents.
If your pastor’s wife has been involved in ministry for only a short time, maybe the glow of that role has not worn off, but the loneliness of the position might already have set in. And if she has been ministering for many years, you can know for sure that emoional and spiritual reserves have been seriously called upon if not depleted.
If you have never thought of the kinds of on-going pressure on your pastor’s wife that I have mentioned – both in her ministry and personal life, perhaps you should make an opportunity to consider her this week; pray for her, ask the Lord how you can bless her, and take the time to speak an encouraging word to her.
What will you do this week to encourage and brighten your “PW’s” day?
©2011, Marcy Alves
- Pastor Appreciation: Saying “Thanks” (marcyda.wordpress.com)
- How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor
- How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 2
Are you an encourager? Or a discourager?
Recently at our weekly Lifegroup meeting (a small community group from our church fellowship) we took a “self-examination” on encouragement. There were fifteen “I” statements on the exam page. We were to rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 5 – 1, being “hardly ever” up to 5, being “nearly always”.*
The self-exam had two columns in which to rate our encouragement to “family” and “others”. With my husband sitting next to me, this was a bit challenging. In case he was peeking at my self-scores, I didn’t want to overrate myself. Self-exams are hard to do with a potential onlooker at your side.
Some of the “I” statements were tough to rate, like . . . “I have a healthy balance of affirming others for who they are and for what they do.” Sometimes I find myself defining who people are by what they do, their words and actions – but “who” and “do” don’t always match up.
For instance, there are people who have been so beaten down by negative life experiences that who they really are becomes lost in depression, anger, fear, resentment, or hopelessness. If their circumstances were to take a turn for the good, without interruption by more bad circumstances, a whole “new” personality might seem to emerge. But sometimes that “new” person has been there all the time – just needing some encouragement to surface.
Anyway, at the end of our self-evaluations, we discussed our responses to the exercise.
Several of us felt we were more encouraging to “others” than to close family members. We seem to expect more from family members. Or family members may not feel as obliged to put their best foot forward at home, but expect their family to excuse their moodiness, grumpiness or rudeness. We don’t want to encourage bad behavior by being too nice, or so we reasoned.
Also, most of us tend either to put up with those negative moments from our family members, knowing (or hoping) those moments will pass, or we react in-kind – negativity for negativity. We often don’t think of giving encouragement to deflect unconstructive or pessimistic talk or actions. So, we either reflect the negativity back to the offending person or ignore the person altogether.
From my experience with depressive talk, actions, or thinking from others, I have found that much of it comes out of a hopelessness that anything will ever get better.
There is always a cause for depression – a mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical trigger. Often it only takes an injection of hope into the situation to bring about positive change; the opening of a doorway out, or even a window to let light into the space where those who need encouragement live.
I have found several keys to help move people from discouragement to hope:
- be an attentive listener and ask questions to show interest
- pray with the person whom you are trying to encourage
- share Scriptures which assure her/him that God knows about and can do something about their needs
- offer to assist in setting goals and establishing first steps towards accomplishing those goals that will bring change
- don’t give up on people who need extra time and compassion – God didn’t give up on you
There are many Scriptures that deal with “encouragement”. Here are a few to ponder as you consider your role as an encourager or “hope-giver”.
Our Heavenly Father’s Example
Psalm 10:17 You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry . . .
Romans 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus . . .
Heb. 12:5-6 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
(That last passage may not seem to be encouraging at first reading, but it is truly awesome that God accepts us as ‘sons’, with all the privileges of being His children; other people need to know that God will accept them.)
Our Assignment as Encouragers
1 Thess. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
1 Thess. 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
2 Tim. 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
Heb. 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Encouragement and Hope
Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
2 Thess. 2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
As we talked through the results of our self-exam, most of us in the Lifegroup conceded that we are not there yet as high-ranking encouragers. Yet, we would like to be people of hope who pass that hope on to others. I think the encouragement exam will cause us to look for opportunities to be encouraging others. As children of God, we want to reflect His nature to those around us. And He is the ultimate encourager.
How about you? Are you an encourager? Would you like to be? Think about it.
©2011, Marcy Alves
*How Am I at Being an Encourager? c. 2000 Ken Williams Ph. D, International Training Partners