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Being Mrs Ministry

The Resurgence posted an article today called ‘Loving the Pastor’s Wife’. I’ve written before about recognising the importance of ‘wives’ in a ministry venture and have always made an effort to love and support the wives of the male leaders in my church. Driscoll’s comments here are culturally American and somewhat overblown but I appreciate the sentiment. 

Consider this excerpt:

The truth is, the Bible has no office or job description called “pastor’s wife.” This is because the pastor’s wife is simply to be a Christian church member like everyone else. Her first priorities are to be a godly woman, godly wife, and then godly mother, after which all other duties fall. If she is busy with her family and the ministry she and her husband have, to their children, and the guests they entertain, her plate is more than full. If she desires to use certain gifts to serve in the church and she and her husband think it’s a good idea, then that is fine, but not to be expected. Perhaps, as her children grow up, she may have more time to be involved in more ministry, if that is what she and her husband desire and feel called to.

(I’m assuming that Driscoll takes the ‘women’ of 1 Timothy 3 to be women leaders generally rather than the wives of deacons; or perhaps he doesn’t see deacons as equivalent to pastors.)

I can see what Driscoll’s getting at here. He’s trying to protect his wife (and countless other ‘ministry wives’) from the expectation of having to run the women’s/kids’/hospitality/pastoral care ministries at their husband’s church. Obviously, we want women to be doing ministry according to their gifts. But I wonder whether this sort of talk loses something of the notion of team ministry.

It’s about the team, not the man

Arthur and I rarely speak of Arthur’s call to student ministry or missionary service: we speak of our call, our desire, our love of God’s people. That’s not because I’m somehow more ministry minded than other wives – it’s because we believe that God doesn’t just call individuals but couples and families into his service.

It’s a fallacy that a ministry wife is ‘just another member of the congregation.’ Regardless of what ministries she’s involved in, she will always have more influence over the minister than just about any other person. And presumably that’s a good thing, that her husband is not left to lead on his own but has a strong, competent, involved helpmate. He is not alone in his ministry because she is with him.

As much as it’s the husband who’s ’employed’, whether we like it or not, ministry is a team game and we ought to speak about it that way.

So be part of the team!

Presumably, she knew what she was in for when they got married. There’s an idea that a ministry wife ‘just happened to fall in love with a guy who’s good at ministry’ and so there shouldn’t be expectations of her. I’m not sure I buy that. It’s a decision that you make, to marry this man, with his life direction, with all the complexities and difficulties and joys that that will bring. We accept this in other spheres of society: for example, my aunt is married to a big time corporate boss and that brings with it a certain role.

To marry a minister and then expect not to be a part of ministry with him, unless you choose to be, seems to me to be a flimsy notion of supporting your husband. Just because it works or makes you feel happier doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best.

As I write this, I’m keenly aware that the way I’m wired means that I would happily slip into that traditional pastor’s wife role. So I want to be compassionate to women who feel that they don’t ‘fit’. And I’m not saying that they have to change their gifts nor am I excusing the appalling way that many congregations treat a minister’s wife. However, I do wonder whether we’ve professionalized ministry to an extent where we neglect partnership and fail to see the importance of ministry wives.

We need to help ministry couples to work out how to be a team in a way that suits their personalities and gifts. But I suspect we can be more creative about it than simply saying a wife can choose what she does or does not want to do. A ministry wife ought to be encouraged, gently and lovingly, to look beyond a role simply determined by her own preferences.

Categories: Ministry & mission Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

14 replies

  1. If you’re an egalitarian, what about the other way? Should men realise they may be marrying a minister and prepare accordingly, and once married, realise the ‘team’ nature of ministry? :)

    Somehow, I feel that there’s much less expectations for a ‘ministry husband’ than a ‘ministry wife’.

  2. Hey Elizabeth

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you’re right – there’s a total double standard. But that’s only a problem from an egalitarian point of view and I’m assuming a complementarian model here.

    The reason for that is that I think it’s worth exploring within a complementarian framework. As in, even for totally sold out complementarians, there’s a discussion to be had about how to understand ministry, marriage and partnership.

    That’s not assuming that an egalitarian position is invalid; it’s just asking an in-house question of complementarians.

  3. Hey Tamie, just popped my head in after a long time not reading blogs…nice to browse through your prolific posting! sorry my first comment in a long time is slightly critical…i still love you guys though!

    I’m all for married people thinking of themselves as a team, but not persuaded that this means they both have to play the same game as the husband.

    i.e. i dont think that because he’s a pastor, she needs to be one too.

    To argue otherwise (which i think you do?) would be to think of “ministry” in a very different (special? elitist even?) way to other vocations, which i don’t think is particularly justified.

    You say:

    “To marry a minister and then expect not to be a part of ministry with him, unless you choose to be, seems to me to be a flimsy notion of supporting your husband.”

    but i think you’re using minister/ministry in a slippery way.

    Say I’m an engineer and my wife a radiographer. In that case it’d be true to say she’s an “engineering wife” (if you felt so inclined…) but we’d never say “we’re in engineering together” or “we’re an engineering team”. True, my choice to be an engineer might have consequences for my wife but that still does not oblige her to do any sort of engineering! She really could marry an engineer and expect not to be a part of engineering with him.

    I guess i dont think that a marriage team works the same way as you suggest, sorry – it’s ok for wives to have different vocations to their husbands. I don’t think this is an outworking of professionalized ministry, but rather something that has become apparent recently because more ministry wives are professionals. For a wife to choose her profession differently to her husband is also an outworking of the freedom given to us as christians, and i’m thankful for it and want to protect it.

    To put it more bluntly: I’d argue that a “Ministry wife” MUST “choose what she does or does not want to do” and church members and leaders should let her do so. Because, like us all, she needs only answer to and respond to Jesus as her lord. And she should feel entirely free to disincline when church members or leaders try to claim his place of authority.

    And also, I don’t see the fallacy in saying she’s “just a member of the congregation”. If she’s not the one whom God entrusts the congregation to, then she is a member of that congregation without the special obligations that attach to being shepherd of God’s flock. (unless, perhaps, the congregation explicitly call them both to be such?). shepherding a flock is not exactly like a marriage – A single man, the apostle Paul for example, is perfectly capable and equipped for the task, sans wife.

  4. Egalitarian that I am, Elizabeth’s comment is spot on. The double-standard is there, I believe. Men probably aren’t expected by the congregation to be a good “pastor’s husband” in the same way that wives are.

    I saw a panel on women in ministry last fall (October) and they all discussed the role of their husbands. About half of them married men who are also in ministry. They talked about churches calling both husband and wife rather than just calling the husband and assuming they’d get the wife for free. Other’s just spoke of their husbands as very supportive but never said how, exactly.

    I’m a complimentarian too, though, in that I believe genders compliment one another, I’m just not a hierarchalist.

    To Rueben’s point – I wonder if some of the discrepancy here is due to differing understandings of priesthood. In one sense, even the pastor is “just another member of the congregation” if we take the priesthood of all believers genuinely. In that case we are all responsible for the ministry of the church through the exercising of our varied gifts. But in a more formal priesthood, I think you’re right Rueben – a priest’s spouse will not be a priest. They are “one flesh” but the spouse has gifts of his own (see what I did there?).

    One thing I appreciate about reading this blog is that both Tamie and Arthur seem to respect each other’s giftings in ministry. They expect that their spouse will do ministry and they are gifted in a way that makes doing ministry together viable!

    I have a lot of friends (well two off the top of my head), though, who have spouses that don’t enjoy the role of “pastor’s wife” because of the expectations that are placed upon them. They don’t fit the mold. They are competent women who are in leadership roles in their respective fields and they love and respect their husbands. They are active in their faith – what more should be expected?

  5. Hi Reuben

    I don’t think I’m arguing that she needs to be a pastor too. Nor that wives can’t have their own professions. Or that only married men are competent pastors.

    But I don’t think there’s a one to one equivalency between ‘single pastor’ and ‘married pastor whose wife doesn’t want to be involved.’

    I think that there is something different about being a minister’s wife from being an engineer’s wife. Not sure why that is – maybe it’s because of the historical expectation; perhaps it’s because ministry is more ‘vocational’ than other jobs; perhaps it’s because ministry is about sharing life and it seems odd to say that you’re sharing your life (ministry) but your wife isn’t involved in that.

    I’m going to stick to my guns on the ministry wife not being like other members of the congregation. :) Like I said, I don’t think that calls to ministry are all that individual. (Think mission, for example – if one partner wants to go and the other doesn’t, I’d say that neither is called.) And also, I just think it’s naive to not see her influence over the pastor. Even if a wife and her husband believe she’s just a ‘normal congregation member’, if she’s involved in ministry, he’s hearing her side of things and is emotionally invested in her. That brings tremendous power with it that other congregation members don’t get. Even if there’s no ‘office’ of ‘ministry wife’ in the Bible, we still need to recognise that she’s in a unique situation.

  6. Thanks for the reply, a few responses:

    1. could you spell out a little more of why and how being a ministers wife is different to being a pastor’s? I’m not sure what you are actually asserting in that paragraph.

    2. I’m wondering if we’re having difficult agreeing because you think that someone only has one vocation (their life = ministry). I think God gives people a life-package that involves multiple vocations at any one time. This will come up again below.

    3. “I don’t think I’m arguing that she needs to be a pastor too”.

    It seems to me that this is exactly what you are arguing – that she needs to be involved in his ministering. (unless i’m misunderstanding what you mean by being involved – you could be more explicit about that, perhaps). I’m referring particularly to the paragraph starting “To marry a minister and then expect not to be a part of ministry with him…”

    I’m saying no, that’s not the case. she needs to exercise well the vocations God has given her, according to her particular life-package – wife, perhaps mother, perhaps a professional or engaged in some other sort of work. but just because she is married to a pastor does not mean she “inherits” his vocation of pastor, or any pastoral roles by default.

    4. Joey, that’s a good observation. I had felt awkward repeating the phrase “just a member…” there is nothing substandard at all in being a member of the body of christ, however it is that you serve!

    I don’t personally want to speaking of a “formal priesthood” because (in the way Luther meant it) the bible does teach the priesthood of all believers. Luther also understood though that there is a kind of hierarchy commended for the good of God’s people. The overseer, presbyter etc. does have a unique area of responsibility to the flock and with that comes certain obligations and authority. To be clear then, i think that we should say the wife of an overseer, is not by mere circumstance also an overseer. perhaps she might be called or ordained as an overseer along with her husband, but this is not the case you have in mind, right Tamie?

    5. Individuals, not married couples get appointed to be overseers. (e.g. Titus 1.5). In that sense “calls” are individual. If an overseer is married, this involves his wife, but not as an overseer-by-association.

    6. The fact that she has influence over her husband, while likely true, is irrelevant. Lots of people can have influence over a pastor. A bishop for example, the senior minister, a valued friend etc. It’s not really a useful differentiator. It also makes me uneasy because “Influence” or “power” is not the right way for Christians to differentiate themselves as members of the congregation. We’re not people who “lord it over”, we aim to be great servants and use our gifts for building up in love. Looking to influence or power imports a really ugly version of hierarchy i think.

    I’m reacting fairly strongly because of the implications of what you are saying. I should have said this from the outset, but you probably guessed. The way you are speaking about being a ministry team makes you look great and implies that others are acting wrongly or irresponsibly. This is probably not your intention, but that’s how it comes across, just so you know. Because i don’t think you’ve substantiated that your way of being a ministers wife is to be the universal norm, you should either demonstrate that it is, or make it clear that this is the way we do things but other patterns are open to others.

  7. Perhaps I should just say, this is in no way having a go at you guys, Reuben! :)

    I’m not making an argument for ‘our’ way of being a ministry couple being universal. I’m just suggesting that the wife’s ‘life-package’ partly includes the husband’s ministry – much as any other life decision includes both. I’m happy to unpack that more (in response to your six points if you like!) but am likewise happy to stop here if you think I’m being unhelpful.

  8. I’m sure you’re not having a go at us, but i think the way you’ve expressed yourself makes the way we work our marriage and ministry together look less than ideal. Am i right to see that? perhaps i’ve just totally misread you…

    Anyway, I don’t think that many people would read this far down the comments, so perhaps it’s not a good use of time to respond in detail? up to you though. I don’t think it would be unhelpful. we can always have this discussion “offline” if we ever run out of more interesting things to talk about :)

    Perhaps you could just take the concerns i’ve outlined into account in the way you express these ideas in the future.

  9. Yeah, I think you’ve misread me. As far as I can tell, you guys fit into the model of what I’m arguing for, not against.

    What I’m getting at isn’t that wives can’t have other jobs (or identities) from their husbands but that there’s overlap in the spheres in which they operate and that that may be a good thing to be embraced by the wife.

    How that looks might be different for each ‘ministry wife’ but I take it that she should be known not just for her godliness but for her love of God’s people and desire to care for them and see them grow. And I just think that will mean some sort of visibility or some desire to actually have conversations with people! It doesn’t have to be a ‘role’ or up front but I do take it that a ministry wife buying out of ministry is less than ideal.

    Driscoll argues that there’s no office of ministry wife so wives ought to be the arbiters of their role. I’m saying if the Bible’s silent on it, that gives us the room to bring other pastoral and pragmatic questions into the discussion.

  10. Hi Tamie,

    I think I see where you are coming from, but I agree with Driscoll here. This is mainly because, although as a complemetarian wife I believe that my husband being in ministry means that I am in ministry ( and glad about it). However…I found that when I got pregnant and then had our first child that it is much harder to do team ministry.

    All through my pregnancy I worked from home for a company in ym home office and was kids church coordinator, supported my husband with housework, food and being at bible studies he led, listened to his sermons beforehand – helped out at many many events at church and by the time my daughter was born, I was nearly burnt out and did not get very much understanding when I needed to pull out of kids church and other commitments.

    At first I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t even imagine being on any kind of roster once our daughter came into the world. This is not from any kind of over protectiveness of my daughter, or being overly focussed on her, one thing to keep in mind is that when a mother is at church with her family, she has her husband’s help, but when a minister’s wife is at church with her family, she is often ‘on her own’.
    I have found that if my daughter sleeps in her pram and I sit out the back during church I get roped into creche/morning tea/kid’s church and then when my daughter wakes and needs attention I am spent, and my husband needs to put his energy into caring for his congregation. Then when we get home, we are all wrecks.

    So I think Driscoll is being practical. No, I am not ‘just another member of the congregation’, actually I feel like there are more demands on me than ever but with much less support – spiritually and practically.

    The shift from public to private ministry is a hard one, especially if people, directly or indirectly, expect/push/manipulate you to do both.

  11. Hi all, this is a fascinating discussion to which I can’t resist having my two-bob’s worth.

    I think the model of a “ministry couple” which Tamie describes is something that developed in the era when women stopped independent employment once they married – and when there was less effective contraception so if they were able to they had children early in their marriage and often lots of them. This was the pattern in the church, and in the rest of the congregation. This means that an engineer’s wife, no less than a minister’s wife, had as her primary role supporting her husbane and their children and keeping his home – including perhaps feeding his clients or otherwise supporting his business activities.

    The rest of the community has changed and the church needs to work out how to respond to this change. That won’t necessarily mean doing what everyone else does but in a community where most married women have their own independent vocations we shouldn’t discount that possibility in the church. We always lag behind because the church is such a conservative institution – you know, “how many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?”

    As a lay person in church leadership. it also occurs to me that this is a question of how we treat our ministers. We expect things of them that we would never expect of any other employee – like keeping “open house”, having their home phone number avaiable to the public and being accessible at all hours, and expecting extra free labour from their wives or husbands. Since the rate of burnout amongst ministers is quite high, we might want to rethink this!

  12. Hi Tamie

    I’d just like to gently push back on your use of my comment about ending up being married to guy who is good at ministry.

    I do have many girlfriends who married engineers/teachers etc but then later on in their marriage he decided to go into full-time ministry. Obviously they made that decision together, but that hasn’t made it all easy for them – they genuinely went into their marriage thinking they were marrying an engineer. Not everyone starts off marriage with a clear direction of moving into full-time ministry. Not all of us minister’s wives wanted to be a ‘Minister’s Wife’ (with all the public expectations that seem to come with the title).

    Anyway, a lot of my partnership with my husband is behind the scenes – I do a lot of looking after the household while my husband is away or out late at night doing ministry. It doesn’t look important – actually it often looks like I don’t do any ‘Ministry’ – but it means that our family (and marriage) can be involved in full-time ministry for the long haul.

    Just a few thoughts – good discussion to have Tamie.

  13. Thanks Jenny. I think that it’s an important distinction to make – that not all of us start out a marriage thinking we’ll be in full-time ministry and that can be quite a shock to the system!

    I guess what I’m asking is whether being less comfortable with being a ‘minister’s wife’ has to mean kicking back against the label. As you say, there’s a whole stack of ways to support ministry for the long haul, often in very behind the scenes ways, without buying out of ministry.

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