What ministers' wives want

A worldwide survey reveals the felt needs of pastors' wives.

Ellen Bresee is the coordinator for Shepherdess International.

At the 1986 Annual Council the division secretaries asked Shepherdess Inter national to conduct a survey on the needs of Seventh-day Adventist ministers' wives around the world. They felt that in order to lend support to this vital group of workers, they needed accurate information on what the most significant needs were and whether those needs varied in different countries.

Shepherdess undertook the project, developing an extensive survey in cooperation with Andrews University's Institute of Church Ministries. * Responses to the survey represent all divisions of the worldwide church and most nationalities. Based on these responses, the over whelming impression is that the basic needs and attitudes of Adventist ministers' wives are remarkably similar in spite of widely differing cultures. The following is a brief summary of the pleasures and frustrations of being a minister's wife.

Fulfillment

Eighty percent of the respondents said they find it fulfilling to be a minister's wife. One of the greatest satisfactions is the opportunity to be involved in their husbands' work—to be partners with them in a team ministry.

Reflecting on the results of the survey, one division secretary said, "I had assumed that in most developed countries, ministerial wives would prefer to pursue their own careers. The survey proves that this simply isn't so. Most ministers' wives surveyed said they would prefer working with their husbands in a team ministry. Many feel just as called to be ministers' wives as their husbands are to their ministries. I now have a different under standing of the needs and interests of the ministers' wives in our division."

Involvement

Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said they find joy and satisfaction from being involved in church activities, especially evangelism. Many ministers' wives feel they have specific spiritual gifts in the areas of service and spiritual nurture. They emphasized the thrill of having a part in leading someone to Christ and seeing that person baptized.

Filling needs

One of the secrets to happiness is feeling needed, and few people have more reason to feel needed than ministers' wives. Respondents felt their input was most essential in activities such as hospitality in their homes, evangelistic meetings, church school activities, prayer groups, and Ingathering.

Since a major purpose of the survey was to pinpoint areas where the church could serve the needs of ministers' wives, it was gratifying to see those needs spelled out in detail by the respondents. The survey indicated that there are significant frustrations attendant to being a minister's wife.

Expectations

These days many new ministers are re cent converts who married before they felt called to the ministry. A woman who chose to be a businessman's wife may suddenly find herself thrust into the demanding role of minister's wife instead. This phenomenon is a factor in the 35 percent of respondents who said they feel confused about what is expected of them. Many have not grown up in the church or had a significant role model, so they have little way of knowing what they ought to be or do.

Forty-five percent of those surveyed feel their congregations expect too much of them. A minister's wife may relish or despise the role thrust upon her, but we must respect her right to exercise that role in a manner fitting her unique personality and gifts. Pastors and administrators must help church members see each pastor's wife as an individual and not expect an identical adherence to the ideal.

Education

Twenty-four percent of respondents have never attended an Adventist school; 22 percent have had four or fewer years of Adventist education. Seventy-eight percent of respondents say they would like to take continuing education courses, but even self-study courses such as those produced by Shepherdess are of ten too expensive for overseas workers. This raises the disturbing question of how well grounded our ministers' wives are in Adventist doctrine. No wonder more than 50 percent said they felt inadequately prepared to be a minister's wife when they began in the ministry, and 20 percent feel inadequate at present.

How can we train these women once they have entered the ministry with their husbands? Eighty-six percent felt that belonging to an organization such as Shepherdess would contribute to their personal and spiritual growth, yet 44 per cent said there is no Shepherdess chapter in their conference or mission.

Isolation

The minister's wife is expected to leave her parents and relatives, live wherever the conference chooses, and be very cautious about making close friends in her congregation. Every two or three years—about the time it takes to feel re ally at home—she is whisked off to a new assignment and warned against keeping contact with her old church. Wise administrators are trying to understand that most women need more continuity, security, and roots than this lifestyle affords.

A Shepherdess chapter within the conference helps. Although the wife may have to change congregations often, she can keep the same group of friends among the other ministers' wives as long as she stays in the same conference. She can make close friends among this group without risking the complications that friendships within the local church may cause. There is little pressure in this group to pretend always to be a perfect model of Christian virtue. The beginning minister's wife can get counsel and support from the more experienced women, and a simple newsletter can keep her in touch with this support group between meetings.

Conferences sometimes concentrate on keeping up the minister's morale, yet overlook the fact that his morale is very closely tied to his wife's. Workers' meetings are planned mainly for the minister; the wife is seldom invited to attend. She stays at home while the conference "rejuvenates" her husband. This can generate hostility rather than support.

On the other hand, there's no use bringing wives in for workers' meetings just so they can go off shopping. Shepherdess could work with the conferences to plan some workers' meetings that ad dress the needs of wives, too. At such meetings wives could meet with the ministers or attend meetings designed especially to train them as ministerial paraprofessionals.

Family time

The majority of respondents said they rely on their husbands to help with family problems or give general encouragement. However, ministers tend to be workaholics and are often too busy to spend much quality time with their families. The problem is exacerbated when several scattered churches demand lengthy absences of ministers and heavy responsibilities of their wives.

Counseling

In general, church administrators feel they are very open and available to ministers and their wives; certainly most in tend to be. However, 40 percent of wives said they and their husbands did not feel free to discuss personal or work problems with them. Consequently, too many couples wait too long to get needed help. Conferences and ministerial secretaries should make certain that support is readily available to these couples through an administrator, a fellow pastor or pastor's wife, or a professional counselor.

In summary, this worldwide survey of Adventist ministers' wives reflects their willingness to steadfastly support their husbands and the church. We are pleased for the 82 percent who are basically happy, fulfilled women, but are concerned for the 18 percent who show considerable frustration with their role. Most ministers' wives yearn for more appreciation and support from the church and its administrators. These needs can and should be met through Shepherdess chapters, workers' meetings, seminars, and continuing education courses.

Administrators are already voicing their appreciation for the insights gained through the survey. They now know the areas of greatest need and can take positive steps to provide stronger support for one of the most essential workers in the church—the minister's wife.

* Shepherdess International prepared a pre
liminary draft that was sent to administrators and
workers in every division for suggestions and
evaluation. Questions were then added or
deleted, and another draft was sent to the Andrews
University Institute of Church Ministries, where
Roger Dudley's staff made further revisions and
produced the final draft.

Each division was asked to administer the
survey throughout its unions. A total of 1, 695
usable surveys were returned and tabulated. Of
the respondents, 43 percent were age 20-35; 37
percent were age 36-50. Unions and divisions
were asked to do their own tabulations so they
would have information about their specific
fields. Results were then sent to the General
Conference.


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Ellen Bresee is the coordinator for Shepherdess International.

August 1988

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