Editorial

Year of the pastor's wife, too

Why it is it is important not to overlook the other half of the ministerial team.

Sharon Cress is the General Conference Coordinator for Shepherdess International.

The year 1993 has been designated as "Year of the Pastor." During this time our church has chosen to honor and reaffirm the value of pastors. I'm gratified that our organization has placed this emphasis on pastoral ministry, and I believe we should uphold and support our pastors at every opportunity.

However, in this long-overdue affirmation, it is important not to over look the other half of the ministerial team--the pastor's spouse. I doubt that anytime soon there will be a year named to honor her (I use "her" even though I realize there are some male pastors' spouses). Sometimes we take for granted the valuable contribution that the pastor's wife makes to the church family where she also serves (usually unpaid) with her husband.

With that in mind, as we celebrate this special year for pastors, let's also honor the pastor's spouse. And begin at home! Pastors, how about being a "help meet" to your wife? You can do this by being a help and by meeting her needs, too. I know from experience that "what goes around comes around. "If you will expend the extra effort and energy to make her life happier, easier, and more affirmed, you will find the benefits boomerang back to you and you will reap the blessings! Think of it this way--you can affirm yourself by affirming your partner in ministry.

If you want some ideas to implement, almost any pastor's wife could give you a detailed list of her personal needs. However, here are general areas that my friend Lori (also a pastor's wife) and I came up with that can help make this a better year for us--the pastors' wives!

Realize the complexity of living in another person's shadow

Living with the resident "holy man" isn't the easiest position in the world. Pastors usually get ongoing accolades from parishioners for thought-provoking sermons, mission goals reached, budgets not exceeded, or well-presented classes and seminars. Their wives need such affirmation too. So verbally affirm your wife to your church family when ever you have the opportunity. Publicly value her. Hearing that my potluck roast was really delicious doesn't go nearly as far toward building my self-esteem as hearing my husband express to the congregation credit for an idea I came up with for his sermon illustration. This builds up my confidence and makes the shadow a little warmer.

Affirmation and support work both ways. When your wife hears stinging criticism about you from members too cowardly to approach you directly, she will defend you like a mother tiger. Do the same for her. If members find her less than their expectations, uphold her. De fend her. If you disagree with something she did, settle it in private.

I'll never forget the fateful Sabbath morning when Mission Spotlight was being projected in the sanctuary be tween Sabbath school and worship. Every few seconds the doors of the sanctuary were swinging open and the noise from fellowshipping members and exuberant children was making it impossible for the people seated in the back of the church to hear the presentation.

I enlisted the brawn of two deacons and made it my responsibility to "guard" the doors and keep the excess noise confined to the lobby. Suddenly as people started backing up and more than 100 waiting worshipers filled the foyer to capacity, Jim's voice boomed above the commotion, "What's going on? Whose idea is this mess?" Not backing down, I stated my case that we were confining the confusion to the lobby to avoid disturbing those in the sanctuary who were trying to hear. In response to his protests, I insisted that we keep the doors closed until the presentation was finished. At that moment a hush fell over the crowd as they discovered it was much more interesting to watch as Jim and I "discussed" the pros and cons of my decision. And while it was clear he would have done it differently, he did support my initiative. Later I heard that our working relationship was as thoroughly chewed over as Sabbath lunch in many homes of our members.

Put her first once in a while

Of course, emergencies come up, and pastors are overextended, over booked, and overly responsive to the crisis situations of other people. How ever, any pastor's wife will tell you that the following are not emergencies: a hastily called deacons' meeting because Brother Bell can't come any other time to discuss a new trash-removal service, or spending the evening on the telephone calming Sister Straight because she didn't like the country flavor of last week's guest musician, Bubba-Joe. When scheduling conflicts occur, it seems that the needs and plans of pas tors' families are the first and easiest thing to cancel. Most of the time we try to be understanding even though the hurt may cut to our hearts. Think of the message you communicate to your family when they are always the ones crossed off your "must do" list when something "more important" comes up. Is your family really the most dispensable, unimportant entity to you? We tend to give up the things that we consider less important in favor of those we believe to be of higher significance.

Is this really the message you want your spouse and children to hear? Once in a while, try it the other way. Show us that we are, next to God, the most important element in your life. Cancel some one else for a change--at least someone who is not experiencing a real emergency. Let your wife know that your time with her and your family is a priority to you. And by your example, let your church family know that nurturing their families should take priority in their busy schedules.

Your most overused volunteer

Protect your wife's time and energies from being asked to fill every position no one else will accept. While the pastor' s wife should set an example of an active Christian life, remember that she can bum out also. The realities of balancing small children, and too often a full-time career as well as myriad other responsibilities, eat up her time. She has only the same 24-hour days that anyone else is given. Make it clear to your church family that you do not expect her to show up at every "cat hanging."

And while you work toward getting the congregation under control in this matter, it wouldn't hurt to reassess your own expectations. Don't automatically ask her to do all your secretarial work, produce bulletins, and run church er rands because you are too busy, forget ting that she also serves as your personal message-taking service. If your wife is home most of the day, have a second ring-in telephone line added to your regular number. The small extra cost will be minimal expense for the peace she may experience. Encourage the members to call at specific hours or at the church office for routine matters.

Keep her informed

I despise being the last to know that Sister Jones had her new baby, that the board voted to redecorate the kindergarten room, that Brother Smith is seriously ill in the hospital, or even that Brother Bob had hair transplants. It is disconcerting for your wife to come to church on Sabbath morning to find everyone else talking about the latest news and know nothing about what is already an "old story." While the last thing you may want to do at the end of a long day is recite the various events you encountered, remember that women love hearing news about the people they love. Perhaps you could jot down several important and interesting or humorous events to share. What may seem trivial to you could be of great interest to your wife. Share the "good stuff with her, not just the fact that the head deacon chewed you out again because someone left the back door of the church unlocked.

Show her tangibly how much you love her

Every woman will be different in how this should be specifically applied, but aim for a once-a-week surprise. If it has been a while since you have been this attentive, prepare for some initial skepticism. At first, she may suspect you accidentally put her favorite sweater in the Community Services box, or wiped up oil off the garage floor with her best towels, or spent the holiday money on a splurge at the Christian bookstore. How ever, once the initial shock of increased attention wears off, she will love you for the thought. And remember, it may be the thought that counts, but it will be your actions she remembers!

Try some of these "surprises"

  • Offer to keep the children while she goes out alone for the afternoon or evening. Feed and bathe the kids while she is gone. And don't wait until she is completely exhausted and feeling hope less about child-rearing before you step in to give some relief.
  • Complete a chore for her that she particularly dislikes. Say something like "I know you like the windows bright and clean but don't like climbing the ladder. I'll do them for you as my gift to you." (Have some smelling salts ready to re vive her if you try this one!)
  • Plan a date that she will enjoy. Plan one like the kind you enjoyed before you were married when you were still trying to convince her that she really did want to be a pastor' s wife. Book a baby-sitter.
  • Take her out and assume complete responsibility for the evening. Better yet, set regular dates for these special times that only real emergencies will be allowed to postpone (not cancel).
  • Wash and detail-clean her car. (This is a hint to my husband, Jim!) You could even make sure your car is clean if you expect her to enjoy riding in it.
  • Whatever you do, somehow find a way to give her the gift of you! Your energy, your time, yourself!

If you want 1993 to really be the Year of the Pastor, try implementing these five general areas of emphasis, and, like the bread cast upon the waters, the rewards will return to affirm you a hundredfold!


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Sharon Cress is the General Conference Coordinator for Shepherdess International.

May 1993

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