When Kathy and I married, I had already been pastoring my first multichurch district for two years. Marriage brings with it many adjustments—indeed, those of you who are married understand what I am saying. But for my wife, it was particularly challenging: a young bride living apart from her family for the first time, not having any pastoral spouses in her immediate family to serve as role models, becoming a part of church families that knew me but didn’t know her.
A life of adjustments
The adjustments are greater, I believe, for pastoral spouses—one reason being that there are no formal, written rules for them. I observed my wife deal with the transition during those early years of marriage and ministry; and later I spent many years in a university setting watching wives of men who, later in their lives, heard the voice of God calling them to prepare for the gospel ministry. The men heard the voice of God, but not necessarily their wives. The men engaged in years of academic preparation for entering the gospel ministry. But how did those spouses prepare for the proverbial fishbowl into which they were about to enter? What about their children, some of them teenagers, who already often found life difficult enough to face without the added pressure of being called a preacher’s kid?
During my time as a professor of pastoral ministry, I made sure that we continued our departmental practice of bringing in an experienced pastoral spouse to address the theology majors (mostly males), encouraging them to not place unrealistic expectations upon their spouses. This chosen pastoral spouse also conducted regular sessions for the spouses of these theology majors (the spouses who attended were female), preparing them for what they would soon face and equipping them to deal with life as a pastor’s spouse. I wish my wife had been exposed to such classes before we married—it would have saved her much heartache while she was adjusting to the real and imagined expectations and rules of church members.
The adjustments are even greater for the spouse (especially if the spouse is female) who is married to someone who pastors several churches at once. If one church demands more of her time and talents than the others or if one church isn’t as warm and accommodating as the others, there is always the potential for resentment to build. Conversely, if one church is more accepting, it can be tempting for the spouse to gravitate toward that church.
These issues are magnified when children are involved. Some church buildings are more children friendly than others (I think of mothers with small children). The length of the church services in one church may be more conducive to managing restless children than in another church. As children grow older, they may find that they like one church over another, and prefer to attend that church.
And what should the spouse to do? Sometimes the female spouse finds herself balancing the wishes of her husband-pastor, the needs of her children, and the expectations of several church families. Where is the rule book that guides the spouse, telling her what and what not to do?
Maintaining a balanced perspective in ministry
This year marks the third consecutive one that the editors of Ministry have devoted the August issue to life in a multichurch district. Every issue of this journal that we produce excites me; but August excites me even more because we pause to focus on what has been my deepest passion in my 23 years of gospel ministry: pastoral ministry in multichurch district settings.
The authors we are publishing this month are all pastors of multichurch districts—with the exception of Ellie Gil, whose husband pastors two churches.We, as editors, are excited to publish a lead article that addresses pastoral life from the spouse’s perspective, just as we were pleased to publish the August 2007 lead article that addressed pastoral life from the children’s perspective (see Richard Daly, “Multichurch District Life and Children”).
The counsel that Ellie Gil shares, reminds me of some of the wisest counsel I ever heard shared with pastoral ministry students. The counsel was given by a pastor’s wife whom I invited to speak to my pastoral ministry students. She told the pastors in training that pastors’ wives face expectations that are not placed upon wives of other professionals, but ultimately the only expectations that those wives must meet are those that God places upon them. And when the spouses of pastors (and pastors also, for that matter) keep that counsel in mind, then it becomes easier for spouses and pastors to maintain a balanced perspective in ministry—ministry in the home and in the church. And let me add that it wouldn’t hurt if we as pastors reminded our congregations of the truth of the words of my guest lecturer.
We honor you
We, the editors of Ministry, take this moment to again thank our own wives, Ruth Satelmajer and Kathleen Hucks, for their years of support and wise counsel during our ministries. We also honor all the spouses of pastors throughout the world for their selfless, often unseen, support of the people that others call “Pastor”—the pastor they know best as their marriage partner for life. Nobody gave them a rule book to know what they were supposed to do as the spouse of a pastor; but they’ve done a wonderful job in fulfilling the only expectations that matter: God’s.