A new view of the pastor's wife

According to this survey, most pastors' wives are dedicated Christians, actively assist their husbands in church work, and do not feel that the demands of the pastorate are excessive. But all is not well in the parsonage.

Roger L. Dudley, Ed.D., is coordinator of research and development for the Institute of Church Ministry and assistant professor of church ministry at the Theological Seminary, Andrews University.
Carole Luke Kilcher is assistant director of research and development for the Institute of Church Ministry and the wife of Pastor Doug Kilcher, of the Wenatchee, Washington, church.

While his wife stands largely unnoticed in the background, the pastor has had his role and functions analyzed in consider able detail. We have studied his training, his evangelistic strategies, and his sermon preparation. We have defined his shepherding tasks and written about his work as a church administrator. But how extensive is our knowledge of his wife? Not very extensive at all!

To remedy this lack, the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University surveyed 250 wives of pastors scientifically selected from the entire North American Division. This report will present a profile of the wives who serve in 155 churches with predominantly white, English-speaking congregations.

For the most part, pastors' wives are dedicated Christians. They rate their own relationships to Jesus Christ as very close and claim a devotional life that is person ally significant. One third are involved in prayer and fellowship groups. They spend time with the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Two thirds believe that Ellen White's counsel to ministers' wives is very practical, and the majority are doing their best to practice the principles she sets forth.

They are active in the church, too. One third attend more than one church service each Sabbath with their husbands. A third are currently giving Bible studies to nonmembers (the average is between one and two studies each). In addition, the average pastor's wife spends four hours each week accompanying her husband in pastoral visitation both of members and nonmembers. When their husbands visit women who live alone, 40 percent of the wives accompany them. Half entertain church members very often, and 12 per cent frequently entertain non-Adventists. Most wives say they have not felt undue pressure to involve themselves beyond their personal resources in the work of the church, and most do not find it a serious problem to deal with the expectation that they should be an example to the flock.

Pastors' wives are also willing to make time for God's work. Only 21 percent are employed full-time outside the home. A full 40 percent do not work outside the home at all. And most of those who do have a full- or part-time job say they do not permit themselves to be diverted from active Christian service.

But all is not well in the parsonage. The most alarming finding of this study is the sense of isolation and the absence of meaningful human relationships being experienced by many of these women. More than two thirds report that they do not have a close relationship with any of their neighbors, and nearly three fourths are not acquainted with pastors' wives of other denominations in the community. Contributing to this is, no doubt, the mobility of the pastoral family, which fosters a sense of rootlessness. The average wife in this study has moved three times in the past seven years! As one wife commented, "The only thing our neighbors know about Adventists is that they move a lot. We are the third pastor's family and the fifth Adventist family to live in the parsonage in the past five years."

Feeling alone also extends to her relationships with the church family. The majority of the wives report no close friends within the congregation. As one wife put it, "I am surrounded by many, yet feel very much alone." Often they have gained the impression that it would not be professional to develop such friendships, since they must treat all members impartially and show no favoritism.

Yet a minority of the women have begun to ignore this traditional expectation. Write-in comments indicate that pastors' wives have human needs just as other Christian women. They want to be accepted as individuals—not merely as an extension of their pastor and his work.

But of even greater concern is the fact that pastors' wives often feel alone in their own homes. The tremendous demands on the husband's time and energy often lead him to be so busy "doing the Lord's work" that he has no time for his own wife and children.

How, then, should the pastoral couple order their priorities, not only for their own survival but as a model for other families in the congregation? This question, the study reveals, is a pressing one for ministerial families in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. On the average, wives view their husbands' present priorities as: (1) church work, (2) time with God, (3) health, (4) wife, and (5) children. Would not a more Biblical, and ultimately more effective, ranking be: (1) God, (2) wife and children, and (3) occupation?

The average number of hours that pastors spend each day in church work as reported by their wives is:

8 hrs. or less 16%

9-10 hrs. 36%

11-12 hrs. 27%

13 hrs. or more 20%

Nearly two thirds of the wives report that their husbands spend fewer than two hours per day with the family, including mealtimes! Even when he is home the pastor is likely to be studying, on the telephone, or involved in other job-related tasks. "Our whole life is centered upon our members and church work," commented one wife. "It's hard to say when work ends and family time begins."

Write-in comments indicate some con fusion regarding why Mrs. White's counsel on the importance of the family has not been given more emphasis by conference administrators. A number of wives suggest that pastors should not feel guilty about taking one day off each week, considering their heavy six-day schedule. Yet one third of the wives report that their husbands rarely or never take a day off. One wife wrote that she did not mind helping her husband with church work, but felt a balance was needed between professional duties and time spent with the family.

It is no longer a secret. Disruption exists in far too many Adventist pastors' homes. Some clergy marriages are ending in divorce. In other cases men are giving in to the pressures and leaving the ministry. Many who do not take this drastic step are frustrated, unfulfilled, or unhappy in their work.

The roots and solutions to this problem are complex indeed, and this article does not presume to present a simplistic answer. Still, there seems to be strong reason to believe that the pastor's total effectiveness in ministry is related to the quality of the relationships in his home life. A 61-year old experienced pastor's wife summed it up this way: "The home is the very basis of a strong, successful ministry. Ellen White supports this repeatedly, yet many ministers' families suffer from the husband's preoccupation with work. Children are lost and ministry is weakened or fails altogether." The wives seem to be trying to tell us that unless we have strong families in the church, we will not have a strong work. And unless we have strong ministers' families, we will not have strong families in the church.

A second major concern that surfaced in this study is the need of the wife to feel that she is a recognized partner on the pastoral team. The minister receives the advanced education necessary to his profession and is in the spotlight of constant attention in the church. The wife is expected to support him in his roles and to do her part in church work, yet stay in the back ground. For a number of reasons the ministry has often been viewed as a one-man show rather than as a true partnership.

The wives indicated that they felt left out of conference programming and plans. One wrote, "Pastors' wives need to be considered by the conference as part of the team." Another noted that there were meetings, publications, and seminars to help her husband in his work, but often she was called upon to perform similar tasks without the benefit of any training. She pointed out that workers' meetings were geared for the men and did not generally teach a team approach. Others expressed the desire for professional educational programs that would elevate the position of pastor's wife to a true professional standing. Some referred to the Spirit of Prophecy counsel concerning remuneration of wives who work side by side with their husbands and wondered why it was generally ignored.

Many wives were hopeful that the study would focus leadership attention on their plight. "You mean finally someone out there recognizes that we do exist?" wrote one. "Pastors' wives have needs too, you know!"

In summary, wives in the study feel that the basis for a solid ministry is a strong home with the wife supporting her husband in his work and sharing it with him. In return, she needs to know that her husband, the church members, and the conference recognize her as an integral, indispensable member of the partnership.

Perhaps a new perspective of the pastoral family as people who require the same building and nourishing of their interpersonal relationships as anyone else will allow the calling of the ministry to take on a new vitality. A focusing on the ministerial couple as a team, composed of equals who each contribute an essential component and share in the rewards, may yet herald an era of unprecedented fruitfulness in soul-winning leadership.


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Roger L. Dudley, Ed.D., is coordinator of research and development for the Institute of Church Ministry and assistant professor of church ministry at the Theological Seminary, Andrews University.
Carole Luke Kilcher is assistant director of research and development for the Institute of Church Ministry and the wife of Pastor Doug Kilcher, of the Wenatchee, Washington, church.

June 1981

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