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The role of the minister's wife

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Archives / 1992 / May



The role of the minister's wife

Ellen Bresee

Ellen Bresee is the director of Shepherdess International.


Attaching a specific role to a minister's wife these days is like tying a tin can to a dog's tail. It causes considerable dis comfort, frustration, and howling on the part of the recipient.

A member asked a new pastor's wife, "Are you an elementary school teacher?" The wife said, "No." "Well, do you play the piano?" Again: "I'm sorry, no." The member turned on her heel and stomped off. After that she seldom spoke to the pastor's wife. Evidently the previous pastor's wife had done both these things, and this dear lady just couldn't accept anyone different.

Three ways wives cope

How should a minister's wife respond to role expectations in her church? We may look at three possible models: the everything wife, the nothing wife, and the something wife.

The everything wife tries to meet every congregational expectation. She shares equally with her husband his zeal and mission. She may say she feels "called" to be a minister's wife. One pastor's wife said she felt sorry for the next pastor's wife, because she had la bored tirelessly for the church.

The everything wife can actually get into trouble by being too involved. One minister's wife was asked to serve as elder. At first she declined. However, the nominating committee kept insisting, so she finally said yes, and it split the church.

The second category, the nothing wife, is fortunately in the minority. She is neither interested in church involvement nor supportive of her husband's profession. She claims she married her husband because she fell in love with a man who happened to be a minister. She may have become bitter against the church or the ministry. This wife can prove to be an obstacle to the gospel, especially if she is not religiously inclined. Typically, her attitude eventually pulls the minister out of his work or breaks up the home. Studies show that pastors rely heavily on their wives for support in ministry. When that support is lacking, they usually leave the ministry.

The third category, the something wife, may be just as supportive of her husband's work but not inclined to take as active a part as the everything wife. She doesn't buy into the concept of "two fer"—two ministers for the price of one. She may be career oriented and have little time or energy left for an active role in the church. Or she may have small children that she feels need most of her time.

The something wife loves her Lord and His church, but she insists on her right to choose prayerfully where and how much her involvement should be. She does not feel obligated to assume automatically whatever position others force upon her just because she is the minister's wife. Even so, she wholeheartedly sup ports her husband in his work.

Whichever role she feels she should fit into, everything or something, the pastor's wife has the right to choose for herself. She needs the courage and strength to be herself. She ought to accept gracefully the church work for which she is gifted and comfortably say no to positions she isn't suited for.

Most wives are extremely loyal to their husband and the church. Though recent years have brought many changes in the role of pastors' wives, most say they are happy in the parsonage and would again marry a man of the cloth. Many have gifts uniquely suited to church ministry. They testify that service-oriented work gives self-fulfillment that nothing else in life can give.

Two ways husbands can help

Sometimes the nothing wife started out supportive but became discouraged because of her husband's over-involvement with the church. She came to feel rejected for another lover the church. She gave up competing but can't yet forgive her competitor.

Pastors should work hard, but they need to check their motivation if they've become workaholics, neglecting their families. Are the long hours necessary, or is the ministry a way of gaining affirmation by basking on a pedestal? At church the pastor may be a man of God; at home he is only human.

Second, the minister's wife usually feels her main role is to be supportive. That is fine, but to keep her husband happy, she must be happy herself. Pastor, make your wife happy by being up-front with your congregation from the beginning. Introduce your wife the first Sabbath in a new congregation something like this. "My wife is my best friend and closest supporter. She is very gifted and loves working for the church. On the other hand, she does not feel she has the gift of teaching, and she's not musical. Her talents are in the area of hospitality, and she would love to be involved in that aspect of church life." People are more accepting when they know where you stand from the beginning.

We can help our ministers' wives be happy. Let's allow them to use their own gifts and choose their own role. Then let's support them in their choice.

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