What role should a pastor's wife or elder's wife play in the church? What are her responsibilities? How can she serve as a helpmate to her husband in the ministry?
THERE IS NO "PASTOR'S WIFE" OFFICE
The first thing to say on this topic is that the Bible does not establish an office for "elder/pastor wife." It doesn't offer her a job description. This in turn means an elder's wife should not feel forced into some mold or set of expectations. Rather, an elder's wife should feel free to simply be a happy, healthy, growing Christian who seeks to fulfill the "one another" commands in the context of her church just like every other member should.
Shouldn't the pastor/elder's wife seek to love and serve the church as occasion permits and as gifts allow? Yes, but only because she is a Christian, not because she is an elder's wife.
Some pastors' wives will want to play the piano, run VBS, and lead the women's retreat. Great! Others will find themselves more fully occupied in the home as well as in the work of private hospitality or neighborhood evangelism. Great!
An elder or pastor's wife, like every Christian, should engage in private ministry. But there is nothing in the Bible which says that she must engage in public ministry.
UNHELPFUL EXPECTATIONS FROM THE CHURCH
Now, churches will often place expectations on pastor/elder wives. They expect them to have a public ministry. But here is where elders/pastors should be willing to show courage and seek to protect their wives from unhelpful expectations.
When Mark Dever was asked by the pastoral search committee of CHBC what his wife would do if he came as pastor, he replied that she would be a member who sought to grow in grace and love for the church, but that they should not place any other expectations on her. They would be hiring him, not her.
HELPFUL EXPECTATIONS FROM HER HUSBAND
In general, a pastor should nurture his wife's affection for the church just like any other Christian husband should. He should
- minister the Word to her;
- encourage her love for the church by speaking carefully about the church and praying for the church with her;
- seek to cultivate in her a heart for discipleship, hospitality, and evangelism;
- pay special attention to her particular needs and gifts, giving ample allowance for both;
- not exasperate or overburden her;
- affirm her acts of service and love in the home and church often;
- help her to not compare herself to other women, but to seek to be faithful with the gifts and opportunities that God has given her;
- and demonstrate his unique and special love for her such that she doesn't feel the competition of his affections for the church.
Shouldn't every Christian husband do all this?
A UNIQUE ROLE
Now, having said all that, a pastor or elder's wife does have a unique role, just like the wife of every man has a unique role: she is married to him. Every wife including the elder's wife must learn how to be the helpmate to her husband in all his stations of life.
So my own precious and patient wife has walked with me through the positions of both staff pastor and lay elder. And unique challenges have confronted her in both capacities. When the temptations and opportunities of office faced me, they faced her, because we are one flesh. Since I am not presently serving in either capacity, she is not presently experiecing the peculiar burdens or joys.
When the time comes for me to consider resuming the work of an elder, we will have to think and pray about her readiness as well. That's not because she will have more to do--a job description that she will have to fulfill. Rather, that's because life and ministry will become more intense on every front. Pressures will increase to fight pride, forgive quickly, ignore criticism, love generously, sacrifice time together, and so forth. For her and for me both, the stakes of the Christian life will become higher, and so it will become that much more practically important that we are both abiding in the gospel.
You might say that being a pastor or elder's wife doesn't add any new knobs to the stereo, it just turns up the volume. But don't misunderstand: the music is good!
BTW: Check out the 9Marks Panel for Pastor's Wives at this year's The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference: "The Pastor's Wife: First Lady, Piano Play, Hostess, Mother Extraordinaire, and All-Around Wonderwoman?" with Kristie Anyabwile, Keri Folmar, and Adrienne Lawrence