by Mary Somerville
"Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all" (Prov. 31:29).
She is a precious treasure, one of sterling worth and possessed with an untiring zeal for the good of this poor people" (Hudson Taylor about his wife, Maria).
"Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master" (Matt. 25:21).
As wives of pastors or men in church ministry, these are the accolades that we would all love to hear. But sometimes we are so busy trying to meet the expectations of everyone besides the Good Shepherd that we are overwhelmed with an insurmountable task.
"Wanted: women to work full-time for no pay at their husband's office. Long hours. Frequent relocation required. Must be polite and understanding at all times." Thousands of women, driven by love and devotion to God and their families, work at this job—that of a minister's wife. But the strain of loneliness, financial struggles, and heavy church demands, can sap the joy from their marriages." So stated an Associated Press release entitled "Ministers' Wives Face Challenge."
Does this describe you? Do you feel the constant strain of ministry? Are you overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of your role? Thousands of other ministry wives feel that way, too.
Are you confused about where you fit in? Or how you are to meet all the needs that exist within your husband's sphere of ministry? With each job come requirements and expectations. There are usually clear performance guidelines for the senior pastor and youth pastor, as well as for those over music, Christian education, missions, worship, and family ministry. The same goes for missionaries, para-church ministers, church executives, and others who work outside the local church setting. But very rarely is there a job description for their wives. That's not to say there are no expectations, though.
"The pastor's wife (youth pastor's wife, missionary's wife) must _________." How do you fill in the blank? Maybe the former pastor's wife did it all. As a result of the precedent she established, the church might have high expectations of what their next pastor's wife should—and should not—do.
All this is compounded by the fact that as a pastor's family, you live in a fishbowl. You are expected to be an example in everything you do. You are scrutinized and criticized.
Then there are the expectations that you put on yourself. Maybe you've found yourself saying to others, "I know the parents of our youth expect me to be more involved, but I just can't, with two preschoolers. It makes me feel bad most of the time that I can't help my husband more with the youth work. I often feel left out of his life because I can't participate more." I've been there, too, and I remember how it feels to experience that.
A minister's wife shared, "I feel torn. I don't know how to balance my involvement in church, care for the needs of my husband, home-school my three children, and spend time with my mom, who is alone since Dad passed away. I know the church expects more of me but I just don't have it to give." Sound familiar? I have felt this way myself, especially when we cared for my invalid father in our home. There is pressure from every side.
How can the wife of a man in ministry know when she has carried out her task and done a good job? How does she deal with everyone's expectations—including the expectations she puts on herself?
If you want to be free from the burden of false guilt, you should first determine if you have yielded to non-biblical expectations. Make it your aim to discover and fulfill your God-given calling, knowing that He will not give you more than you can bear. Realize, too, that we do not answer to everyone else; we answer to God alone for our actions. Paul said that what people thought of him was unimportant and that even his own opinion of himself was inconsequential. He realized that God was the only one to please (1 Cor. 4:1-5, 1 Cor. 3:13, 2 Cor. 5:10).
"So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12). This means turning a deaf ear to the complaints and criticisms that are ungrounded. And when we decide upon a course of action before God, we need to know that everyone will not agree with our plans. Sisters, we need not be "man-pleasers" but God-fearers. "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col. 3:23).
Now, sometimes people will have valid criticisms that will point us back to God's expectations for us. In these cases, we should not be intimidated by confrontation, but thankful for the help. Let's admit it, we aren't perfect! We need not try to make everyone think that we are. We can step out and be the women that God has created us to be without fear or intimidation of what others think. We live in the mercy and grace of God. As we fail, we admit it and obtain forgiveness from God and those whom we may have offended. There's radical freedom in the grace of God! "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). So let's clarify our role as ministry wives and then step out with confidence and be the women that God has created us to be.