It is with much reluctance and with the deepest sense of insufficiency that I attempt, at the request of the Ministry editor, to write on the possibilities of the pastor's wife in cooperative service with her husband, in endeavoring to strengthen his work by standing at his side in all his interests and activities. Instead of writing a formal article, I prefer to present the subject in the form of a quiet friendly talk on the privileges of the high calling of the minister's wife, and the specific and important place she holds in relation to her husband's work. The minister truly has a high and holy calling, but does the Lord expect anything less of the woman who stands by his side as his companion and helpmeet?
The encouraging note that is echoed in Gospel Workers on the influence and work of the minister's wife has always been an inspiration to me. The thought is this: Although the hands of ordination have not been laid upon her, if she possesses the spirit of self-sacrifice and works to save souls just as devotedly as her huband, she can with him do almost an equal amount of good, and will be recognized by God as being necessary to make her husband's work effective. But if she fails to sense her responsibility, her husband's influence is more than half destroyed.
Much could be said on the important part the wife plays in having a well-ordered and happy home, where her great mission begins as a dutiful wife and mother. This responsibility and privilege must not be neglected. The atmosphere which the minister breathes there influences his work all the days of his life. However, the burden upon my heart centers primarily around the wife's prerogative, by virtue of her position, of keeping in close, sympathetic touch with her husband's immediate problems and work.
The duties of a minister's wife are manifold. There are the rounds of housekeeping, and if she would answer the call of hospitality, that alone is not a small matter. Then the Dorcas Society must have an enthusiastic leader, and she is just the one for the place. No one else could take the church school teacher to board, and there is that orphan boy who needs mothering and must attend church school. The young peoples' division of the Sabbath school is far below the standard, and to lift its banner from the dusty rut would be an act of love and mercy just at this time. There is no one who could superintend the newly organized Sabbath school but her, until an inexperienced superintendent can be trained to take her place. Also, her husband needs her with him daily in visiting the homes of those who are interested.
The evening evangelistic services beckon her on as soloist or pianist. Then, of course, she would count it a privilege to mingle with the people in friendly greetings after the service. At this time she might learn of a sick neighbor or a destitute family to whom she must minister, and she is aware of the fact that this act of kindness may pave the way for her or her husband to make personal contact for Bible studies.
As her quick and discerning eye catches a glimpse of the weak spots in the church, she should be glad to use her influence to strengthen every one, if possible; it is a problem in itself to determine where her duty lies. However, with so many avenues of Christian service open for the help her willing hands and heart can render, she must draw the line cautiously and prayerfully, for there is the danger that she may become too weary of mind and body to join her husband in study and research, and as a natural result he will advance far beyond her intellectual ability. She would then become dwarfed in her thinking on matters in which he needs her most. Consequently, in time she may find herself swallowed up with an inferiority complex, and very often the results are that the pastor and his wife live and work in two different worlds, although both are doing commendable service for the Lord.
May the minister's wife bear in mind then that there is no one, or nothing, aside from the presence of Jesus, that her husband needs so much in all the world as herself. Although his hair may be streaked with gray and he may have spent more than a score of years in the service of the King, this still remains true—whether it be in preparing a sermon, writing an article, teaching a class, visiting in a home, praying for the sick, planning an evangelistic campaign, or preaching a sermon. Therefore, with a deep sense of her sacred calling and responsibility uppermost in her mind, she will not pledge herself to serve in any capacity that would forfeit the privileges of that inner circle of contact with her husband and his work.
It is very possible that her greatest work could be done just within the four walls of her husband's study. If so, how disastrous it might prove if minor interests should thwart that precious privilege. Why should he not invite her to assist him in gathering and preparing material for his sermons, articles for the papers, or talks on the radio? Should a minister permit his wife to help him prepare his sermon? Why not? Not in the sense of dictating or usurping her husband's rights or responsibility, of course. But did he not choose her because he felt that she was his equal, both spiritually and intellectually, and because he would need her help to complement his plans and to make his calling a success? And, too, would not their studying and planning together keep her storehouse of Bible knowledge replenished, enable her to enter into the details of his interests, prepare her to fit into any emergency in case he needed her, and also assure her that her preparation to fit into his life's work had not been futile? Possibly her suggestions or constructive criticism before the delivery of his sermon would prove far more effectual than after; however, a kind, friendly exchange of opinion about the sermon afterward may be very profitable. She may commend the 'good points that he brought out, and then tactfully mention helpful points that he did not refer to, rather than emphasizing the weakness too strongly.
One of the greatest joys of our early married life was to sit at the study table, the two of us together, to work out my husband's sermons. Time seemed very precious and sacred in those early days, and that impression has never been erased from our memory in these twenty-five years of service. The early morning found us working together with the home duties, and then we went to the study, where we were surrounded with the volumes of the Spirit of prophecy and the good books and articles from men of God.
Helping Pastor Prepare Sermons
After our outline of the subject to be studied was made, it was my privilege to find extracts and quotations from the material that would build body and life to the subject we were studying. The Spirit-filled comments upon each text, as found in such books as the Conflict Series, were of inestimable value to a young and inexperienced minister. I often marked these and recorded them opposite the texts, and later my husband would commit whole paragraphs to memory. The efficacy and true worth of these truth-filled books as soul-winning agencies profoundly impressed me when I saw the influence such quotations had upon the hearts of people while I was colporteuring during school days. There seems to be power in every sentence quoted, and we believe that there is no better material from which to draw in preparing sermons.
My husband's vocabulary was thus increased, and in time this material was so interwoven with his own thoughts that it became a part of his natural way of giving that particular subject.
I do not hesitate to recommend to young ministers today this method of preparing sermons.
Our son, now in his third year of theology, after preaching his first sermon, wrote me, saying:
"Mother, I wish you would come up and help me prepare a sermon." That little request, though not granted, gave me one of the greatest thrills of my life.
My first interest in going to a new place always centered around the Sabbath school.
This brought much satisfaction to my husband.
We were of the opinion that the key to success rested primarily in a soul-winning Sabbath school. How could a minister labor for souls under the handicap of a lifeless, formal Sabbath school? If it was a newly organized Sabbath school with new converts, I would accept the work of superintendent, and train assistants to bear the responsibility at the earliest possible time, so as to turn my attention to other duties such as Bible studies, etc.
On two different occasions, when my husband was pastor of large churches, we found the Sabbath schools in such a deplorable condition that to invite strangers to the church was out of the question, and my husband did not have the heart to attempt a series of meetings until something could be done to clear up the situation. So I stepped into the harness as super-intendent, with three live and willing workers as my assistants, each having had no experience in Sabbath school work. We upset the fruit basket, figuratively speaking, and made a complete reorganization, changing every teacher and reorganizing every class, striving to form classes composed of those who had not been together before, although they had gone to the same church for years. By carrying out a well-planned, interesting program every Sabbath, we found it worked like a charm in bringing new life and power, enthusiasm and co-operation into the church. As fast as my assistants were able to bear it, I gradually transferred the responsibility to them, and in a short time they were full-fledged superintendents, and I was needed only as their counselor.
Often throughout the years of our evangelistic experience, we had no help. My husband was tent master, singer, and preacher. It was necessary for me not only to act as organist but to transpose his music to a key that would fit his low voice if he did solo work. The songbooks thus made are among our prized possessions. Although the Lord gave me the precious privilege of being the mother of a son and a daughter (both in college now), and their training for God was my greatest joy, still I have had a sympathetic and close contact with my husband's problems, and his success is a part of my very life.
Now as I close this quiet chat may I suggest that in my opinion the minister's wife should work primarily with an eye single to her husband's success as a soul winner, by standing at his side to lighten his burdens, to encourage and aid him personally, thus strengthening his work and making it more effective.