Shepherdess International-What is it?

The minister's wife has been one of the most neglected, yet most valuable resources of the church. To meet her unique needs, a new organization has been set up on an international scale.

The Bible has a surprising lack of information about the life and character of the wives of ministers. But in the New Testament we do find six distinct references to Priscilla, or Prisca, gracious wife of Aquila.

The first time Holy Scripture mentions Priscilla by name we find her in Corinth, having just come from Italy. Then she and her husband went to Ephesus. Soon they returned to Rome, and again were directed to Ephesus. We imagine her with good cheer always accompanying her husband in their exhausting itineraries.

In an age when the educated woman was a rarity, Priscilla proved to be a noble exception. Upon visiting the synagogue in Ephesus she heard the scholarly speech of Apollos, "an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures." Perceiving that he lacked a better understanding of the true work of Christ, she and her husband invited him to their home, where they conversed intelligently, and as a result of their teaching, Apollos became one of the ablest advocates of the Christian faith (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 270).

The loyalty of this extraordinary lady deserves special mention. In a moment of violence and persecution when the church's enemies conspired against Paul and threatened his life, Aquila and Priscilla fearlessly jeopardized their own lives in order to save Paul from the criminal plottings of adversaries.

The last glimpse we have of Priscilla appears in Paul's Epistle written while he was incarcerated in a dark and filthy prison in Rome. "Salute Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila," Paul enjoins (2 Tim. 4:19). Almost ten years had passed, but during that time, in spite of the vacillating faith of many, we find Priscilla and her companion enduring in the rugged battles of evangelism.

The church today has thousands of faithful Priscillas, serving the Lord with undivided dedication. The role they are playing is of such importance that steps have been taken by the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Ministerial and Stewardship Association to provide a more effective support system to foster and strengthen their activities as women, wives, mothers, and leaders. As part of a one-year pilot program, a new organization was formed, called Shepherdess International, that aims to assist our modern Priscillas in their activities, performances, and achievements for the Lord.

To introduce you to this organization, Enoch Oliveira, a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, interviews Marie Spangler and Ellen Bresee, who are coordinating the Shepherdess International pilot pro gram.

Oliveira: Why did you select this particular name?

Marie: "Shepherdess" is very fitting for the name of the wife of the one who is the "shepherd of the flock." For many years MINISTRY has had a section with this name devoted to ministers' wives. Through North America and some other parts of the world field, organizations with the same name have come into existence. Although other names, such as By His Side, have been used, a recent poll of the world field gives Shepherdess an overwhelming majority vote. Since the services of this pilot program include all divisions of the world field, it is only natural and fitting to call it Shepherdess International. We welcome suggestions if there is a better name that will meet the minds of the majority.

Oliveira: What are your goals and objectives?

Marie: Our purpose is to help strengthen the pastoral home and to bring back into focus the importance of team ministry. We have several main concerns that need addressing at this time, such as the following: 1. Training through continuing education courses for the pastor's wife as well as courses for her and her husband to study together. 2. Resource materials directed at the establishment and maintenance of good rela tionships within the pastoral marriage. 3. The development of materials dealing with the role of the pastor's wife. 4. Materials for the encouraging of team ministry where husband and wife can cooperate together in saving souls. 5. The fostering of Shepherdess organiza tions on the local level that will provide support for the wives of ministers in their fields. It is our plan to give suggestions and materials to these local groups for their use. 6. And above all, our most important objective is to encourage wives to take time for personal growth.

Oliveira: Why do you feel that it is important to have an organisation just for ministers' wives?

Marie: In our interaction with ministers' wives at various seminars, retreats, and camp meetings, we have come to realize that they have real needs that for the most part have been overlooked. In a recent study of Seventh-day Adventist pastors' wives it was discovered that they have a sense of isolation from, and an absence of, meaningful human relation ships (see MINISTRY, June, 1981). Owing to the mobility of the pastoral family, the wife seldom has close relationships with neighbors, and she feels that she must treat all members of their church family impartially, showing no favoritism. Her husband is the focus of attention by the church organization, but she feels at times alone and inadequate.

Ellen: A second study conducted by Andrews University (see MINISTRY, February, 1982) pointed out that less than 8 percent of pastors' wives have done graduate work, and another 31 percent have completed four years of college—which means that the majority do not have a college degree. In contrast, the Master of Divinity degree is the standard preparation for pastors, and a large number are earning their Doctor of Ministry degree. This creates 'a gulf between the educational level of the husband and wife. Eighty-nine percent of pastors' wives affirm the need for continuing education. With the move by our denominational leaders for pro viding continuing education opportuni ties for pastors, I feel that these same opportunities should be afforded the wife if she so desires. This will help raise the level of their self-confidence and effec tiveness.

Oliveira: If I'm hearing you correctly, it seems there are major problems confronting ministers' wives. Is this true?

Ellen: Even though many women are basically happy with their role of pastor's wife, there are some serious problems to be faced. For the most part pastors' wives are dedicated Christians. The study Marie mentioned reflected a sense of mission and commitment on their part. They rated their own relationship to Jesus Christ as very close and claimed a devotional life that is personally signifi cant. They are active—the average wife spends four hours a week accompanying her husband in pastoral visitation.

Marie: One of the open-ended ques tions sent out by Andrews University's Institute of Church Ministry was "The problem of conflict which has been most real for me as a pastor's wife is ..." Answers were classified into forty-one categories. The highest ranking one was "Expectations of me. " The pastor's wife wears many faces, and many demands are made on her, some of which she feels totally incapable of handling. Wives of pastors view the husbands' priorities as (1) church work, (2) time with God, (3) health, (4) wife, and (5) children. Nearly two thirds of the wives reported that their husbands spend fewer than two hours per day with the family, including mealtimes, and even when he is home he is likely to be either studying or involved in other job-related tasks. One third of the wives reported 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 profes sional duties and time spent with the family.

As she thinks of her church family the pastor's wife is overwhelmed with the members' expectations of her. She is to be "all things to all people" and is expected to do whatever is asked of her. However, there are those who have begun to ignore this traditional expecta tion. Our wives want to be accepted as individuals—not merely as an extension of their husbands and their work. How reassuring it would be if wives could have the freedom to choose the areas where they could be themselves and exercise their particular gifts!

Ellen: A possible solution is to elevate the vocation of a pastor's wife to a true professional standing.

Oliveira: This, no doubt, would call for a new emphasis on the preservice and in-serv ice education of the wife for her vital role of ministry.

Marie: This is what ministers' wives are indicating they need and want. The amount of formal education never should be used as a standard of measure ment for predicting success or failure as a pastor's wife. Each of us is an individual, and none should be forced to take training to fill this role or be made to feel guilty if she chooses not to. Neverthe less, the opportunity should be provided.

Another possible solution is to create a team ministry option for pastoral couples. Some of our fields are now giving programs that encourage and train for team ministry. From the inception of Shepherdess International it has been our dream to see the pastoral couple involved in a team ministry.

Oliveira: Do you have any plans for encouraging wives who have not finished their college education?

Ellen: Hopefully in the near future Home Study International will provide courses for ministers' wives, helping them not only in their work as ministers' wives but also in their pursuit of an academic degree.

Oliveira: What do you think local confer ences could do to encourage team ministry?

Marie: One of our objectives is to help administrators and departmental men on all levels of church organization become aware of the importance of the public and personal role of ministers' and workers' wives. It was noted from the research done that some wives 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 there were meetings, publications, and semi nars to help her husband in his work, but often she was called upon to perform similar tasks without the benefit of any training. We feel workers' meetings can be geared not only for the men but for a team approach. A tremendous untapped reservoir of talent is available in the wives of our ministers.

Oliveira: Do you feel it is possible to develop a team ministry in these changing times?

Marie: Today some prominent voices call for ministers' wives to find their own identity and forget involvement in their husbands' work. Christian education of children today requires more than the husband's income. Many wives feel the urgency to follow the profession for which they have been educated. Because of these and other reasons, many wives are involved in other lines of activity and have little time for the church their husbands serve. Even though changes are taking place in society today, some things remain constant with the ministe rial couple that make a team ministry possible. Number one is commitment to the Lord and a clear vision of priorities. I believe that Noah and his wife were a real team ministry in witnessing to a coming flood. What if Noah had been married to Mrs. Lot?

Another element that should never change is the supportive role wives play. Peter's wife didn't want to leave her seashore home perhaps, but she was willing to make the accommodation for his work as an evangelist. When wives team up with their husbands in the ministry, they find a tremendous blessing awaiting them, and several have expressed this to me. I think if we promote team ministry and give proper support to this concept, many wives will participate in this with their husbands.

Oliveira: I am getting the impression that the help given by ministers' wives should be directed only to their husbands.

Marie: This needs clarification. Team ministry does not mean that the wife has to participate in all the church activities that her husband gets involved in. There are opportunities for team ministry that we can do anytime, anywhere, but they are so simple that we don't think of them as team ministry. For instance, I can help evaluate my husband's sermons. Speak ing with members in a warm, friendly way is important. Visiting and tele phoning sick or discouraged members is another way. Participating in various evangelistic outreaches, and teaching in a children's division, are other ways. If a wife works full-time outside the home at a job unrelated to the church program, she can be somewhat involved but only in a limited way. One wife who recently resigned from a secular position and joined her husband in a team ministry confessed that she really was not in tune with what was going on in the church.

Many ministers of necessity do part of their work in the evenings. If the wife feels compelled to follow her chosen profession, evening time may be an excellent opportunity for team ministry; however, this is difficult. A team rela tionship is many-faceted and varied. No wife can do everything, but every wife can do something. As Ellen White has stated: "A responsibility rests upon the minister's wife which she should not and cannot lightly throw off. God will require the talent lent her, with usury. She should work earnestly, faithfully, and unitedly with her husband to save souls."—Gospel Workers, p. 202.

Oliveira: Do you feel it is necessary to have Shepherdess organizations in every conference and/or mission?

Ellen: Yes, these organizations are very important. Women all over the world need to feel a bond of friendship and support as they interact with one another at meetings in their respective fields, sharing ideas and materials through newsletters.

Oliveira: How do you plan to help the local Shepherdess organizations?

Ellen: Even though local organizations are doing a good work, we feel there are additional benefits to .be derived from having a central place to coordinate all efforts, share ideas, stimulate thinking, and develop materials to enhance the personal and public life of our workers' wives.

Oliveira: In what ways can this pilot program serve the world field?

Marie: As I held seminars for ladies in my recent trip with my husband to the Far Eastern Division, I was thrilled to learn that a number of active chapters of Shepherdess International have been organized for quite some time. I have since learned of chapters in the South American Division, as well. We feel that the needs, although shaped by different cultures, are basically the same for all workers' wives anywhere in the world. We wish to encourage the organization of new chapters and the selection of officers, including editors for newsletters that can be sent out periodically. We hope to receive these local newsletters and from them glean the very best material and provide an exchange for all the chapters in the world.

Oliveira: Are the services you offer just for ministers' wives?

Ellen: Our main target is the minister's wife; however, many workers' wives whose husbands are administrators, lit erature evangelists, teachers, doctors, et cetera, are members of the local chap ters, and our services reach out to them, as well.

Oliveira: Why is this help for ministers' wives more urgently needed now than in the past?

Ellen: We are living in a world of more educated and sophisticated people than ever before in the history of our church. Parishioners want not only spiritual leadership but educated spiritual leader ship. As mentioned before, many wive's feel inadequate. In today's world many find themselves being approached for family and nonfamily counseling. If they have not been exposed to at least a few good counseling concepts or do not know to whom to refer these troubled people, they could contribute more problems than answers.

For years we have been holding training workshops for pastors, teachers, church elders, Sabbath school teachers, deacons, et cetera, while we have expected the pastor's wife to stay in the background but at the same time be an expert in religious matters and perform several religious functions. One expressed her frustration by comment ing, "Our husbands come into the ministry well trained, but we are given no training, and yet we are expected to function on the same level with them. Could we please have some help?"

Oliveira: What were you doing before you became involved in this pilot project for ministers' wives?

Marie: My husband and I entered the ministry forty-one years ago, right after we graduated from college, where I majored in English and secretarial science. We enjoyed a team ministry in the pastorate and in evangelism until he was called to the Far Eastern Division as Ministerial Association secretary. During the eight years we were there I taught in the Far Eastern Academy and did secretarial work in the division office. When my husband was called to our world headquarters I was asked to teach elementary school. After helping with the development of our church's elemen tary school science textbooks and being employed as an executive secretary in the General Conference, I attended the University of Maryland, where I obtained a Master's degree in early childhood education. While teaching I also worked with the Shepherdess sec tion of MINISTRY. Last year I left my teaching position in order to devote more time to helping the wives of workers.

Ellen: I am married to Floyd Bresee, associate secretary in the Ministerial/Stewardship Association, and for 35 years we have been actively involved in team ministry both in pastoring and in evangelism. I met Floyd at college, where I received elementary-teaching certification. Later I took work in family counseling at the University of Nebraska. Most recently I worked as family life coordinator with my husband for the Southwestern Union and served on our college church staff in Keene, Texas, as marriage counselor and pro moter of family life activities. Since coming with my husband to our world headquarters I have been traveling with him, speaking to ministers' wives, and counseling them, as well.

Oliveira: What have you been able to accomplish in these beginning stages of the pilot program?

Marie: The committee has voted for work to begin on several continuing education courses, some of which have already begun. Plans are in progress for meetings to be held for delegates' wives at the 1984 Annual Council, as well as women's meetings at the forthcoming 1985 General Conference session in the New Orleans Superdome. We are also working on seminars for women during the World Conference for Ministers at the presession. We are currently working on a model constitution, as well as getting resource materials together for newsletters.

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September 1984

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