The new pastor and his wife

Does the pastor's wife share an equal responsibility with her husband?

by Ruth Runyan


Sometimes we say more by our actions than by our words. Attitudes we would hesitate to verbalize may come through in very innocuous acts.

Watch Brother President introduce the new pastor and his wife to the congregation. Standing behind the pulpit with a hand on the new pastor's shoulder, the president extols his past experience and achievements and predicts great things for the church under his leadership. Then Brother President turns toward the new pastor's wife, who is seated on the front pew, mentions her by name, and says, "If it won't embarrass her, I would like her to join me on the first step."

He gently flicks the trailing micro phone cable to be sure he won't trip on it, and starts the descent to the lowest step. Mrs. New Pastor is waiting there expectantly. Her husband remains at the pulpit, with a slight flush of embarrassment as Brother President speaks of her as the "helpmate" of her husband, always at his side, sharing his bur dens, and raising a family of four fine children, now mostly grown and married. Of course she will continue to help him.

His respects paid, Brother President ascends the steps and continues his eulogy of New Pastor, while Mrs. New Pastor returns to her pew. Most of the congregation smile with satisfaction throughout the scene. The brief drama plays out for them what they have come to think of as appropriate roles for the two men and the woman. A few wonder what it all means.

Why is the wife's introduction significant to the ceremony—is it merely to validate the fact that the pastor is a "family man," a conventional citizen? Why, if verbally represented as by his side and therefore equally important to the congregation, is she brought to their attention in this awkward and off hand way? What is the significance of the "lowest step" on which she stands while the president introduces her?

The deepest significance to the short drama is the expressed attitude of all the participants—men are of higher status than women; men are superior, women are inferior. Men may lead, women support them. Women may occupy the pulpit for Sabbath school leadership, but when it comes to the sacred, the important, service, the pulpit is reserved for men.

Though this view is widely held by men, and even by some women, it is not the attitude that God holds. Ellen G. White had many things to say about the minister's wife standing by her husband's side as his equal. She said the wife could do work for the church congregation and evangelistic work for the general public that was equal in value to his—and sometimes of greater value. The section on "The Bible Instructor" in Evangelism contains many ideas that apparently have been overlooked by most readers. She wrote these counsels early in the church's history, yet they have been largely ignored. Listen to these statements:

"Woman, if she wisely improves her time and her faculties, relying upon God for wisdom and strength, may stand on an equality with her husband as adviser, counselor, companion, and coworker, and yet lose none of her womanly grace or modesty. . . . Why should not women cultivate the intellect? Why should they not answer the purpose of God in their existence?"—Evangelism, p. 467 (Good Health, June, 1880).

"When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined."—Ibid., p. 469 (Letter 77, 1898).

' 'The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. They may take their places in His work at this crisis, and He will work through them. If they are imbued with a sense of their duty, and labor under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will have just the self-possession required for this time. The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed."—Ibid., pp. 464, 465 (Review and Herald, August 26, 1902).

"Sister R and Sister W are doing just as efficient work as the ministers; and [at] some meetings when the ministers are all called away, Sister W takes the Bible and ad dresses the congregation."—Ibid., p. 473 (Letter 169, 1900). "There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God." —Ibid., p. 472 (Manuscript 43a, 1898).

"Teach this, my sister. You have many ways opened before you. Address the crowd whenever you can; hold every jot of influence you can by any association that can be made the means of introducing the leaven to the meal. Every man and every woman has a work to do for the Master. Personal consecration and sanctification to God will accomplish, through the most simple methods, more than the most imposing display."—Ibid., p. 473 (Review and Herald, May 9, 1899).

"Select women who will act an earnest part. The Lord will use intelligent women in the work of teaching. And let none feel that these women, who understand the Word, and who have ability to teach, should not receive remuneration for their labors. They should be paid as verily as are their husbands. There is a great work for women to do in the cause of present truth."—Ibid., p. 491 (Letter 142, 1909).

If God looks on women's potential in His work as equal to that of men, why, at the least, shouldn't a pastor's wife take a place beside him on the platform when they are being introduced?

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by Ruth Runyan

February 1978

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