But I'm me. Do I have to sublimate all my desires, push me underground, and become someone else because my husband is the pastor? Just who am I? The pastor's wife? Or Karen?
The truth is that I can be myself because I am the pastor's wife. My position as pastor's wife should be personalized. No one will ever fill this position the way I do. She shouldn't even try. I am not competing with anyone else but, with my own special uniqueness, filling the role God has given me. Trying to live up to my husband's, my mother's, or any other church member's expectations of what I should be is wrong.
My uniqueness is my contribution to the team. I am part of the pastoral team because I am married to the minister, but how I function on the team is my own choice. I can do as little or as much as I wish; I can add to or detract from the team.
Immediately my own talents, likes, and dislikes press forward. My talents may be large or small—it does not matter. God gave me the abilities necessary to fill the role He has for me. I need to nose around and find my ministry as part of the team.
A niche is a place where one fits comfortably. That is what each pastor's wife needs to find—a niche, her niche. Finding one involves soul-searching. What can I do as a team member? Marriage has given me a place on the team regardless of my personality traits. I want my husband's church members to work for Christ, and I am a church member. I need to be working too.
When the pastor's wife realizes she is a team member by marriage, what should she do?
If standing beside your husband at the church door and reminding him of names is your niche, fill it.
If being an almost invisible support, nurturing your husband, is your niche, then fill it.
If you are a career woman, analyze your profession, see what you can do to contribute to the team, and do it.
Niches I have known
I know one pastor's wife blessed with secretarial skills. She clips articles for her husband's resource file, makes phone calls for him, and generally organizes him. She also searches out young mothers in the church and helps with their children during the services or prayer meetings so the mothers can listen. This is her niche.
It is not mine. I am still wrestling with my own children—I'm not ready to handle anyone else's. I have secretarial skills, but were I to organize my husband, Walter's, time, he would be unhappy. And we react so divergently to the same things that I could never begin to clip articles for his file. I couldn't fill that niche. I'd drive my husband up the wall, and I'd be very frustrated.
Another pastor's wife I know is a physical fitness nut. I call getting up in the morning exercise. She jogs, swims . . . Just listening to her wears me out. However, her team contribution is great. A couple of mornings a week she leads the ladies of the church in swimming laps at the high school pool. She conducts aerobics classes in the church and stresses spiritual as well as physical fitness. She has a unique ministry that reaches out to like minds in the community as well as the church; her contacts open up avenues for her husband and the church at large. Her husband attends some of her aerobics classes and, once acquainted, follows a step-by-step process from Five-Day Plans through cooking schools to evangelism. The possibilities snowball.
Many pastors' wives work nonstop as Bible instructors, knocking on doors and hunting for people interested in studying the Bible. Some are able to train church members to lead out in the Bible studies they've arranged; others are happier conducting the studies themselves. Regardless, they thrive in their niches like flowers in the sun.
Music has traditionally been considered an integral part of the role of the pastor's partner. People often expected her to sing like Del Delker, play the organ like Norm Nelson, lead choirs and children's groups in music, et cetera. I know a pastor's wife who blossoms in this area. But music is a unique talent, not a gift given to every pastor's wife. It's a wonderful niche, but it is not mine.
I have sung when necessity ordered. I have played the piano, even though I don't read music. (I learned two hymns and the doxology by rote and played them every Sabbath until my husband baptized a lady who could play. What a relief!) All of us need to be adaptable and willing to attempt, but we can't all do the same thing.
On the other hand, all of us can do something.
But I work, you say. I've got half a dozen children (it only seems that many) in church school. I can't be part of the team. How can I have a unique ministry with my husband if I work full-time?
Let me let you in on a secret. All of our church members face the same priority problems. Your involvement will depend on your energy level, family obligations, and career expectations.
I work full-time too.
So, what is my niche? How do I contribute as a team member to my husband's ministry? This is my niche alone, but perhaps sharing it will spark some creative possibility thinking.
1. Sabbath sermons. Walter and I preach together. Walter prepares his sermon as he ordinarily does, typing it with extra space between his points so I can add what I wish to say under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We stand side by side, presenting the message together. Preparation and presentation draw us nearer to each other, and our congregations have enjoyed the change as well.
2. Interim welcoming. There is always dead time between Sabbath school and church. I use this time to circulate through the pews, greeting everyone— members and visitors. Later when I stand beside my husband after church I can introduce him to visitors and prospective members. No one has ever accused me of irreverence, and everyone seems to enjoy the special attention. (I leave the foyer to the official greeters: It's too easy to get wedged into a group and be unable to leave. In the pews my visits are of necessity brief, and since I am initiating them, I can make them as long or short as I wish.)
3. The children's story. I tell a children's story right before the preaching service every week or once a month— I'm flexible. I try to coordinate the stories with my husband's topics, but this is not always possible. I have also spread a continuous story over as long as a ten-week period, building toward a special occasion such as Christmas. The older folks as well as the youngsters enjoy the stories.
4. Sabbath school. In the past the Sabbath school departments occupied part of my niche, but although I still fill in occasionally, they no longer hold a major position. (Because I teach church school full-time—grades 1 to 3—I prefer not to teach those same children on Sabbath.) This is a niche just waiting for the Mrs. Pastor with artistic ability and a love for children.
You may have noticed that the roles I've mentioned so far seem to be centered on the Sabbath hours. Pastors' wives who work need to utilize the Sabbath hours fully to feel a real part of the ministerial team.