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