Tears and Triumphs of A Ministry Marriage

by Mary Somerville

 Editor's note: Pulpit Helps proudly begins a column offering encouragement and guidance to pastors' wives, authored by Mary Somerville. Mrs. Somerville, a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has 35 years of experience as a pastor's wife. She has been her husband Bob's chief encourager as he has pastored two Evangelical Free Churches—one in New Jersey and one in California where they now reside. Initially, and for some time to come, "A Ministry Marriage" will feature excerpts from Mary's book, One with a Shepherd: the Tears and Triumphs of a Ministry Marriage. A selection from the book's Introduction will also introduce her column:

Whether or not you see yourself as especially gifted or prepared for your role, God put you together with your husband intentionally and purposefully so you could partner with him, as your husband's helper "suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18). God gave you to your husband just as certainly as He gave Eve to Adam. You were given to him so as to uniquely help him perform the ministry to which God has called him.

After conversations with many ministry wives, I know that sometimes it is hard to see our supporting role as significant. So much of what we do is done behind the scenes, so no one sees or hears about our service. And a big part of our service is supporting our husbands, which again, often goes unnoticed by others. But the Bible holds up our role as extremely vital to the Kingdom of God and my hope is to encourage you and affirm your valuable contribution to the Lord's work. 

God has chosen to place the care of His precious flock into the hands of pastors and elders who are His under-shepherds (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Those men who are married cannot fully carry out their mission without the support of their wives. But with the partnership of their wives, they can fulfill their role to protect and nourish the flock so that "when the Chief Shepherd appears, they will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." That means you have a part in the rewards your husband will receive for his service.

What an honor and privilege to be in union for life with a man devoted to serving Christ for the highest of all possible purposes—building His church! For me, that blessing has spanned over three decades and I wouldn't change my life for any other. There have been days, however.

The truth is, you may need some encouragement—a booster shot. You may be weary from being on the front lines. You may just be starting out—like my daughter, who is a young missionary wife—and need someone who has been down the road to point out the obstacles and shed some light on the journey ahead. As one missionary wife from the past wrote a friend, "I love to converse, write, and reflect. It is a duty incumbent on the children of God, to reprove, encourage, and animate each other on their journey to the upper world. Every Christian has difficulties to overcome, temptations to encounter, and a warfare to accomplish, which the world are strangers to. If pilgrims in the same country can in the least console each other, and sweeten the thorny journey, by familiar intercourse, they ought not to neglect it" (Harriet Newell, Memoirs of Her Life, 1830).

My primary source of encouragement will be God's all-sufficient Word for its timeless encouragement, direction, and counsel. Scripture must be our compass in a world of changing social and cultural climates and ethical and technological challenges. And I will also share insights and inspiration from the lives of wives out of church history, who have made a lasting contribution. I will share experiences and lessons that I have learned along the way in my life as a pastor's wife.

One such wife is Maria Taylor. Every quality looked for in a missionary wife Hudson Taylor found in Maria. She loved Christ so much that she said that despite her great love for Taylor, she would not be willing to marry him if he loved her more then Jesus, or if he were to leave the Lord's work for the world's honor.

She was a help to him in numerous ways. She spoke fluent Chinese and ran a little school, which provided the trifling income for Hudson to establish their first church. They received no fixed income as missionaries. They pioneered the great work in China, which set the course for all faith missions. Hudson and Maria were a team. "Undoubtedly, the overriding factor in their marriage was an equal uninhibited loyalty to their vocation. Without Maria, Taylor never could have embarked on his life's work" (John Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria, 1996).

You too, dear sister, have a significant part to play in your husband's life and ministry. You, too, can see God do great things through your faithfulness and loving support. Because I've been in your shoes I know it isn't easy. It is a demanding role. But we are all in this together. We have a kind of sisterhood because of what we share. Our challenges are very much the same, no matter what the type, location, or size of our ministry. 

We have many hard things to bear along with our joys and rewards. In this fulfilling yet demanding role, we need each other to share both burdens and successes. It is a vision worth our lives. We can live to our utmost potential for the Kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The title of my book, One with a Shepherd, sums up what I believe is the key to a fulfilled life as a ministry wife. It expresses your relationship to your husband and to Christ. Unity with each is the key. As Christians, we are one with the Good Shepherd who purchased His flock by His death on the cross. Apart from Him we can do nothing. If we abide in Him we can do all things.  Likewise, the more unity that exists in our marriages to under-shepherds of Christ's flock, the more effective we will be in our particular calling. 

What strength there is in unity with each other and with our God! "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart" (Eccles. 4:12). The more unity that exists in our marriages, the more joy we will find, the more effective our husbands will be, and the stronger Christ's church will be. I do not have all the answers. I am on this journey with you, seeking to be faithful, looking to God and His Word for guidance—all for God's glory, gloriously one with a shepherd!

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