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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Is There an Office for Pastors' Wives?

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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

  1. minister the Word to her;
  2. encourage her love for the church by speaking carefully about the church and praying for the church with her;
  3. seek to cultivate in her a heart for discipleship, hospitality, and evangelism;
  4. pay special attention to her particular needs and gifts, giving ample allowance for both;
  5. not exasperate or overburden her;
  6. affirm her acts of service and love in the home and church often;
  7. 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;
  8. 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

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Jonathan, I can't thank you enough for opening the door to this policy. It's something that needs to be carefully thought out on a number of levels. My wife (and church) are currently dealing with issues related to some of these things even as we speak. I have been seeking to encourage my wife to "be the Pastor's WIFE" and to empty that idea of any other expectations - first in her own mind, then we'll start working on the minds of others!

Great, great article. As a pastor's wife who is also a part time physician, I appreciate your encouragement and exhortation to pastors and churches to encourage ministry wives to serve the Lord as their gifting and time allows. My husband is currently an interim searching for full time employment and I worry that my untraditional career choices will negatively impact his search. But I am thankful that my husband has always been very upfront that churches should not have expectations about what I will or will not do. There are lots of ministries that I am passionate about and hope to participate in - mercy ministry, medical missions, crisis pregnancies - but many others I do not have interest in - leading VBS, playing piano, etc.

I defnitely agree with the idea that my primary goal is to be a good wife to my husband, and support him in the best way I can.

Good article. Our church wanted to recognize the important role of the Pastor's wife and created a part time staff position for her. What a disaster!

She became an untouchable person on the staff. She picked whatever portfolio she wanted to do and no one could have any input. It became a significant source of conflict for the Board and the other staff members.

Great article! I would only add one thing which was implied but really should be addressed explicitly. A pastor's/elder's wife must be above reproach with regard to gossip. This is especially critical if she is privy to private matters of the church and/or church members. Of course, this assumes that she should know these things in the first place.

According to your article, women are always the "help mate" while men are the pastors and elders. Is this what you believe scripture says about gender roles in the church?

I'll answer for them. Yes. Yes it is. If you'd like to read more about it, please see Alexander Strauch's book Biblical Eldership. 9Marks is unabashedly complementarian in view of leadership in the church and home.

I have read Biblical Eldership (and am very familiar with 9Marks stances on men, women, etc.). I would perhaps like to offer a clarification that I believe would be supported by 9Marks.... correct if I am wrong. I believe 9Marks would make two statements : #1. The roles of pastor and elder are to be held by men. AND #2. 9Marks is complementarian in approach to leadership in the church and home.

The reason that I point out these two separate statements is that there is a growing belief that these are identical statements. Instead, each statement does have a different scope and implication, and when combined have a rather robust implication.

I'm a pastor's wife. One time we had an interesting meeting with a pulpit committee and their spouses. The floor was opened up for questions from the committee. The very first question was posed to me - the pastor's wife - "What would be the first thing that you would do if you come to our church?" Stunned, I blurted out something about, I'd have to see where I fit in at the church. Thanks for bringing up the subject. Many churches seem quite confused as to who they are hiring.

While I am in agreement with you about the spouses do not have an "office" in the church. There are major influences they would bring to their husbands' offices. 1Tim3:11 said "In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." (And that was addressing just the Deacons, not the Elders). Therefore, the wives should have no bearing upon the pastors' hiring - but they could contribute to their firing.

It's interesting that the bible would have more strict requirements for a deacon's wife than for an elder's wife... unless it wasn't referring to a deacon's wife.

The Greek word gunE can mean wife or woman. I think it is likely that this passage was referring to female deacons, because it would be weird that Paul would require a certain stature from a deacon's wife and not from an elder's wife, don't you think? Of course the other option is that Paul WAS requiring more of a deacon's wife than an elder's wife, and then we have to ask the question: Why?

I don't think Paul was distinguishing between an Elder's wife and a Deacon's wife. Rather, I think that by reading 1 Timothy and other Scriptures, he was emphasizing that Deacons and Elders BOTH have to be 'above reproach', and to be able to manage their households well- that includes being able to love, care, and instruct his wife.

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I didn't really address your final point. My apologies!

You said that they (the wives) could certainly have bearing on a pastor's firing. I totally and whole-heartedly agree with you.

But I would argue it from the fact that the elder must lead his family well, and if his wife is gossiping, sleeping around, being argumentative, etc, and these are on-going issues(well, except for the adultery), then it shows he is currently not leading his family well.

Thank you for a good point.

You know me, I'm turning up the volume! Thanks for the great article.

Yes, thanks for the article. The role of the minister's wife, is one that is often overlooked or misinterpreted. I believe that the scriptures teach us that primarily, the wife of an elder or deacon should be supportive to her husband during his time as minister, and also live in a manner worthy of the Gospel, so as to give the adversary no occasion for slander. The Church should understand that the minister's wife may not necessarily have the same gifts or calling as her husband, and that she also is responsible first, to her own husband and children. No undue burdens should be placed on her shoulders, so that she can be free to carry out her duties, and serve God with a cheerful heart.

Great article! My lovely wife has often objected to the very real notion in many churches that because i'm a pastor she must also have some sort of equivalent public ministry/gifting. She asked someone once, "Does every doctor marry a nurse?"

Reading these comments is like stepping into some sort of surreal evangelical version of Mad Men.

"Help mate"? Really?

A pastor's wife must check her own heart very regularly, as must everyone. Her first priority must be her relationship with God, then her relationship and responsiblibities to her husband, then her relationship and responsiblibities to her children if she has any, then her aging parents if they need her, then her church, then her community at large.

This is true of any woman. However, the pastor must give great care to his congregation, and as the couple are one flesh, they must do it with one heart, though they will not often be doing the same things. Some pastor's wives have the gifting and time to teach and lead music and organise big projects. Some do not. But, even those who do not do such things need to be very visible so that the congregation has no doubt that she cares. The reason for this is that if people fear that she does not care about them, then they will soon fear that the pastor also does not care about them. Then the ministry to that flock is over.

So, how to be visible and assure the congregation that the pastor's wife cares? Lots of examples, but here are a few.

1. Be friendly and chat with people. Shy women will find this hard, but if we keep our heart focused on God, not on ourself, it is less hard. Women who have been hurt will also find this hard, but again, keeping the heart focused on God, not on self, will make this less hard.

2. Be active in at least one ministry of the church, even if you do not lead it. This should be a guideline for everyone in the congregation.

3. If time and gifting permit, lead at least one thing. This need not be something where speaking is involved as is the case in teaching. It may mean coordinating something, such as the nursery schedule.

4. Be hospitable! It is a command in scripture for all Christians. Do not lead the way in disobeying this command. Rather, lead by example in obeying this command. Hospitality in Western society is being ignored by everyone, so it can be hard for many pastors and wives to be hospitable as they have not ever experienced it. But, it is still a command.
What good does it do? Your congregation gets to know you and each other. Then all are better able to care for each other.
How to start if unused to having people in your house? Perhaps a pot-luck meal. Perhaps Sunday afternoon coffee and dessert. Invite small groups, going through the church directory, 5-6 households at a time.
Invite the youth to your home even if someone else leads them. They need to know their pastor well, and, they need to know that the pastor wants to know them.

Being in ministry is a privilege and can also be a joy, if we decide to look at it that way. The best advice we have been given was from a newly retired pastor who said, "Do it together and have fun!" He was right!

Is there an office for Pastor's Wives is the wrong question, but it is a good discussion.

God bless,
Karen

Much of your advice is well-grounded, however at the end you were a bit harsh...as there is no such thing as a "wrong question." It's his article and the author answered a question that is relative to many in the Church.

One commenter stated that his wife's response when questioned by a church about what she would bring to the table was: "Does every doctor marry a nurse?"

I understand her intent, but would have to say that a better analogy would be to say "Do all doctors marry doctors?".

The role of a doctors nurse is to: support the doctor, not the patients. She of course will interact with them as the doctor directs, but this is done in support of the doctor.

I think that is a fair assessment of the role of pastor's wife: she will interact with the congregation on a number of levels in support of her husband and his work as the pastor.

BTW: Will the admin of this page please remove the spamming/trolling posts please?

I am surprised at the overall good comments regarding this post. It actually is NOT very good.

First, there is no "office" of the pastor in the Bible. This is the first bad assumption and is the primarily reason for the absurd expectations put upon the wives of those who think they actually have an office. The pastor, in today's world, has very little to do with the pastoral passages in the scripture. But because so many pastors are controlling and arrogant, the expectations of the sheep get out of control.

Second, there are very clear definitions and job descriptions of elder's wives in the Bible. To say there is not is completely wrong. 1 Timothy 2:9-15 explains how women should dress and act. 1 Timothy 3:11 explains how Deacons wives or women Deacons should act. Titus 2:3-5 explains the role of "older women" in the church. I think a good assumption here is that modern pastors, deacons and elder's wives should be considered "older women" in this case. 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 discuss how women should operate in the church meetings.

The expectations between a husband and a wife do not change because of eldership, deaconship, or modern-pastorship. Women are to submit to their husbands. Husbands are to love their wives. (Ephesians 6) Those doing the work of the ministry may need to be ministered to more for various reasons but the fundamental teachings are no different.

The flaw in all this, to me, is our modern day reliance on the fictional office of "the pastor". This doesn't exist. It's not Bibilcal in the context of how it is most often used and it ends up causing more problems than it has benefits. Since there is no office for the pastor, there is no office for his wife. Simple logic really.

Because the self-designed role of the modern-pastor creates a huge stress point on whoever is filling that role, it naturally will cause stress on (usually) his wife. But now we are talking about trying to manage the stress of a situation that doesn't need to exist and is actually detrimental to the Church. It's like trying to manage the stress of buying a new car you can't afford and then complaining about the payments. Just get rid of the car and buy one you can afford! Change your situation and stop whining about some you can change.

I think this is a great article. The Pastor's wife is simply the pastor's wife.

Thank you for your article. My fellow laborer in the Lord has been encouraging me to check nine marks out. We are in the beginnings of a church plant. This topic is very important to us at this point and time we want to get things started off in biblical order. One thing that has always seemed to irritate me is the use of the word "lay ministers". When we bring words into a biblical conversation such as the one we are speaking of now that is very important to the health of the church.I guess to make my conversation not as lengthy maybe you could respond back to me the difference between a elder that is lay or pastor that is a lay pastor. Then we talk of others in the ministry that are full time. Explain to me in your response to my question what the difference is between the two.

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