I’ll never forget the moment when I reached out to a seasoned minister’s wife and she pushed me away. It was several summers ago at the Southern Baptist Annual Meeting when I, a young newlywed, approached this seemigly wise and invested woman for a chance opportunity to meet for coffee and glean from her years of experience. Her response to me was, “I never signed up for this.”
Her words hung in the air like a tightrope that I dared not cross. My first inclination was to judge her, and to be honest I did judge her initially. But after I walked away from this encounter I considered her words and the heaviness which carried them from her heart through her mouth. She had a backstory while I was just developing my own. I never did call her up for that cup of coffee.
Come to find out, her story included a wayward child, a busy ministry, and a public life. She never signed up for this.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of pastors’ wives: those who know they are marrying into the ministry and those who get adopted into the ministry. There are those wives who marry men who never set out for the pastorate, but sometime early (or later) into their marriage their husbands sense the call of God and they enroll in seminary and enter full-time ministry. Then there are the wives who marry men studying for the pastorate knowing at the onset that they will be the wife of a pastor.
Then there is me.
I had a personal call from God to enter full-time ministry that became evidently clear to me in college, though I believe it began in high school. I did not know what I would specifically do in the ministry (I am a conservative Baptist after all), so the pastorate was definitely not on the list. I did know that my love for the local church and all that swells out of local church ministry (i.e. discipleship, evangelism, social justice, etc.) was not impressed upon my heart by accident. The call of God on a person’s life, vocational ministry or otherwise, is not some passive thing. When God arrests you for His Kingdom purpose, He enables and emboldens you to respond in the most unlikely ways. I transferred schools in the middle of my sophomore year of college, moved back home away from the college scene, worked in a local church’s youth and music ministries, and enrolled in seminary following my college graduation. I signed up for it.
In the middle of all this I was graciously mentored by a pastor’s wife, pastors, and committed lay leaders. Professors, seminary wives, and my church invested in me. The Lord intentionally placed the right people in my life to pour their wisdom, experience, and love into me. I am forever indebted to them.
When I went to seminary I went to get my ministry degree, not my MRS. degree. I assumed that if I ever did marry (and I wanted to) that I would marry a man in ministry, but that was secondary. I had a personal call to ministry. I could have married a welder for all I cared! It would not change anything about my passion for gospel ministry.
I did eventually marry a pastor. He is an incredible man, and though I didn’t know it back when I was preparing for ministry, God was preparing me for him and for our lives together as ministry partners.
This is the beginning of my story, but there are other stories from wives of pastors that are different from my own- stories that have their own message and meaning. I have met some of these women, and some I consider personal friends. Every one of these wives has a specific calling to her home, her work, and her church even if she never set out for any of it. To place expectations on these pastors’ wives is burdensome and unfair, because each one of them is different with unique gifts and responsibilities.
There are a lot of blogs lately related to pastors’ wives, which I find to be interesting. Some of these articles are directed to pastors’ wives, and others are directed to church members on how to view and treat pastors’ wives. It is such an ambiguous non-role, the pastor’s wife. We don’t say, “the surgeon’s wife,” or “the CPA’s wife” as if there were some nondescript traits for these wives to exhibit. But the pastor’s wife can often be pressured to be a certain way or do certain things in the church that may or may not be a part of how God has wired her.
So when I married a pastor I comfortably entered this role in an almost familiar way. Not because I have done this before, but because I have journeyed with other pastors and their families, served on staff in churches, and experienced joys and trials in local church ministry. I was already misunderstood before I married a pastor. I was already busy in ministry life off the clock and on the clock (there is really no clock…it is just an illusion) before I married a pastor. I was already failing before I married a pastor. I was already growing before I married a pastor. So, when I married my husband I already felt like I had been through some battles with some scars to prove it. There have been surprises along the way, still. There always are. But this is just how ministry is. Surprises, both good and bad are all part of it. When I said, “Yes!” to God’s unique call on my life, this is what I signed up for:
- People. The broken, the wise, the young, the old, the immigrant, the poor, the rich, the believing, the doubting, all of them. The giving to and receiving from the people that God brings into my life enriches me probably beyond what I even know.
- The Great Commission. Making disciples is what this whole deal is about- not just vocational ministry, but the whole Christian life. A pastor’s wife has a front row seat in a sort of way where she can meet missionaries, pray for missionaries sent on short-term and long-term trips from her church, be on mission herself, and see people repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized.
- Prayer. The warfare is real. There are enough books and blogs on marriage, motherhood, ministry, and all the rest. I have determined, though, that there cannot be enough prayer. I am not sure if this is unique to the pastor’s wife or to Chrstian wives in general, but the spiritual attacks are daily. No exaggeration. I am not a mystical type, but I truly believe that the enemy is after my marriage and my kids. I am not fearful about this, but I am sober in my desperate need for God and His help to guide us in the truth and wisdom of His Word.
If you are a pastor’s wife and are unsure about what you signed up for, be encouraged! God makes no mistakes and you are not where you are by accident. You are intentionally placed in your husband’s life as His helpmate, ministry partner, and friend. You do not have to be like the pastor’s wife at the church down the road, but be the best pastor’s wife you can be- YOU! That is what you signed up for, and that is who God called you to be.
Pastor’s wife or not, all of us are not where we are by accident. We may not have signed up for our lives, but here we are. Ask God what He may want you to do with your life. He has intentional plans with you, and the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (see Romans 11:29). Say “Yes!” to the call and in obedience walk with the One who designed you for His glory. You were made for this!