Joy for Joyless Pastors’ Wives

Article
12.10.2019

A young pastor’s wife sat across from me in tears, wondering how she would partner with her husband in ministry with three little ones in tow. She had a head for theology and a heart for women, but two babies had slowed her down in the last few years and now she was pregnant with her third.

I can remember the days of wanting to partner with my husband while running after little ones. When I was a young assistant pastor’s wife, I asked an older, wiser woman how to have spiritually encouraging conversations after church with tired and hungry kids clinging to me. Her answer wasn’t filled with the practical advice I expected. “Sometimes you just have to go home,” she said.

Often pastors’ wives feel like what we do is trivial compared to our husbands’ eternally significant work. It’s not just young kids that slow ministry wives down. Chronic pain, rebellious teens, or sick parents can drain time and energy. Or we may just be introverts who need time alone with our thoughts. Our husbands are at it full-time—studying the Bible and theology, preaching, discipling, sharing the gospel, and more. And what are we doing? There may not be much on our to-do list that feels very important.

Several years ago, my family spent a week in the Scottish Highlands. We took a long drive through rolling hills on our way to the west coast. The scenery would have been breathtaking but we couldn’t see through the mist. With three restless children getting hungry in the back of the car, we thought the drive would never end. How many times can one listen to Owl City’s Fireflies amid grumbles and quarrels? Then suddenly, as we crested a hill, the mist cleared and we saw two large emerald mountains framing a deep blue loch. Lush cliffs were decorated with varying hues of green highlighted by brilliant purple heather and thistle. We stopped the car and gaped at the scene, shooing away the biting midges, then drove off enjoying the artistry of God’s creation. We only had to get to the point where we could see.

Life for the pastor’s wife can be like that. We get tunnel vision. We can’t see how the Lord is using our day-to-day efforts. Our ministry is less “up-front,” often unnoticed, sometimes unappreciated. We must wade through the mist and get to a height where we can see the big picture. Far from being trivial, we partner daily with our husbands to do the glorious work of the ministry.

The Bible describes marriage as a joint partnership. From the beginning, God created man and woman to spread his image over the earth, caring for his creation together (Genesis 1:27–28). Closer than any business arrangement, husband and wife are “no longer two but one flesh” (Matthew 19:6).

Of course, pastors have unique responsibilities that their wives can’t fulfill. Pastors are called to watch over the flock of God and to preach and teach the Bible to the sheep under their care. But if your husband is called to be a pastor, you are called to be a pastor’s wife. While there’s no biblical description of the role of a pastor’s wife, you are called to be a “helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). When you feed him and take care of the home and children, you are helping him carry out the work of the ministry. Paul taught, “[I]n the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11). Your husband doesn’t preach and teach independently of you. And as he raises up leaders, as he shares the gospel with unbelievers, as he tends the sheep, you are his full partner in all he does.

So if you’re bogged down and unable to see the importance of your ministry, get up to the crest of the hill and survey your husband’s work. The fruit he bears is the fruit of your ministry too.

THE PREACHING OF GOD’S WORD

Tomorrow I’ll sit under my husband’s preaching, being strengthened in worship, rejoicing in God’s Word being proclaimed. As the gospel goes out, it sustains not only me, but all the saints. What can be more exciting than God’s Word fortifying the church, “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)?

I’ve partnered with my husband in this glorious work. I made him breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I drove my son back and forth to school and did the grocery shopping in between. I ran interference as people came to the door and dealt with questions that he didn’t have time to answer. I even washed, folded, and ironed his clothes. All mundane details of life, but someone had to do them. All the while, he prepared his sermon.

Preaching is the most important work of a pastor. Listen to Paul’s instruction to Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

Notice the urgency in Paul’s charge. He invokes the presence of God and Christ, the coming judge. It is Christ’s kingdom that preachers are working to advance while awaiting his return. Preaching is first on Paul’s list while being ready, reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and patiently teaching are necessary components of Timothy’s primary task. What an incomparable task!

So, sister, rejoice in your husband’s preaching. Pray for him! (See Erin Wheeler’s article on prayer.) Happily take care of the kids, run interference, give him time, and equip him bodily for the work of “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

And above all, encourage him! Tell him how you rejoiced as he shined a light on the gospel. Let him know with specificity how you benefitted from that application he made. Encouraging our husbands spurs them on to continue in the difficult work of ministry. We can be like that person standing by the road as the marathon runner passes, handing him a cool cup of water and urging him on.

RAISING UP LEADERS

Susanna Spurgeon was a pastor’s wife who rejoiced in her husband’s preaching. She also rejoiced as he raised up leaders. C.H Spurgeon had influenced countless pastors and theological students. He founded a pastors’ college and supervised the training of hundreds of students, giving Friday afternoon addresses that became the book, Lectures to My Students. Susanna was so excited about her husband’s ministry training that she saved money from her household budget to purchase Lectures for poor pastors who couldn’t afford books. Her “Book Fund” eventually expanded to raise thousands of pounds to send theologically sound books and periodicals all over England and beyond. Through Susanna’s work, pastors were better equipped to preach God’s Word. It all started with rejoicing in her husband’s training of men for ministry, and it ended with leaving a long legacy of biblical teaching and sound theology in the church.

Pastor’s wives need a long-term view of the church. The end-goal of every pastor should be to leave a healthy church with capable leaders who will choose a biblically qualified pastor to replace him. Churches can’t flourish spiritually without elders who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). Faithful elders help our husbands guard the gospel, not just for our generation but also for the next.

But raising up qualified elders takes time—coffees, lunches, recreational time out at night. A pastor must do all of this—along with other meetings, visits, and counseling. That means time away from you. You can resent your husband’s busy schedule, or you can get on board and begin to support it, like Susannah did.

When our church recognizes new elders, I often have tears in my eyes. I remember when the man began taking an interest in theology and resonating with the preaching of God’s Word. I recall when my husband started meeting up, reading books with him, and I saw the man’s ministry grow in maturity and breadth. What a joy it is to see the church recognize God’s gifting in new elders! And to think I had some small role in supporting my husband toward that.

We may not be married to Spurgeons. But like Susannah, we can rejoice in the leaders our husbands raise up. We can show them hospitality; we can pray for their families and encourage their wives, watching the kingdom expand as they do the work of ministry.

We can also use the time our husbands are away. I know one pastor’s wife who took advantage of the time her husband was away for elders’ meetings. Instead of grudgingly accepting yet another night apart, she would put her children to bed and have a young single woman over for discipling.

Raising up leaders doesn’t happen overnight. Our husbands may be pastoring small or immature churches. It can take years for potential elders to develop. Praise God for the patient work your husband is doing, pouring into the lives of men. Remember growth in the kingdom is like a mustard seed. It starts small but eventually it becomes a big tree. Be patient and partner with your husband, looking for evidences of grace until you can enjoy the shade.

EVANGELISM

One of the happiest jobs of a pastor is evangelism. Paul exhorts Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” If your husband is like mine, you’ve probably learned a lot from him about evangelism. It can be done anywhere—a taxicab, a sandwich shop, outside a neighbor’s door—and everyone needs to hear the good news—the street sweeper, the CEO, and (for us) the Muslim who walks into the church-building looking for information.

I’ve been in stages of life when I wasn’t getting much contact with the outside world. There have been months, maybe even years, when I didn’t feel like I’d had a rousing conversation with an unbeliever about the Lord. But the apostle Paul rejoiced in the gospel being proclaimed even from rivalry and pretense rather than truth (Philippians 1:17–18). How much more can I rejoice when my own husband proclaims the good news of Christ out of good will and love?

Preaching, raising up leaders, and evangelism are just some of our husbands’ responsibilities. There are more as they “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). In all of their work, we’re behind the scenes, helping them and enabling ministry to occur.

A VARIETY OF OPPORTUNITIES

Years ago we had a lunch for new members of our church. After everyone left, John was energized and excitedly asked me whether I enjoyed myself. “Did you meet the couple from India? Did you have any good conversations?”

I looked at my kitchen piled high with dishes and sighed. “I had a quick conversation with the woman from India—what was her name?—but then I had to refill the rice.”

I’d spent most of my time feeding and entertaining the kids and running back and forth to the kitchen to make sure everyone had enough to eat. Occasionally I would glimpse John in deep conversation or leading a discussion on the sermon he had preached that morning. I was wiping up juice while all the introductions were made, so I would have to wait for the next member’s meeting to find out exactly who had been at our house.

Fast forward 15 years. We had a group of 40 university students over recently for lunch. My kids are now mostly grown—my youngest was old enough to attend as one of the students. I missed the introductions (we needed another batch of rice) but this time I was able to sit and listen to the discussion and even contribute.

As I look back over the years, I remember little bits of ministry I was able to do even during busy family times: studying the Gospel of Mark with unbelievers, writing and leading Bible studies, counseling newlyweds. There’s actually so much we can do that our husbands can’t: bearing other women’s burdens, teaching women what is good. I know one pastor’s wife who wrote an entire children’s ministry over the years she was homeschooling her children. Another pastor’s wife, a mom of four, disciples women in her kitchen as she cooks meals. Persisting in little bits of ministry can add up to hugely encouraging our husbands and our churches over time.

Life situations change. Ministry changes. We partner more with our husbands during some seasons than others. But whether we’re busy changing diapers or discipling, evangelizing, teaching, and more, we can rejoice in our husband’s work.

After all, it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God [is] made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). We’re with our husbands on the front lines of making God’s glory known. And in the end, we are their “coheirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). That means we have the same heavenly destiny, an inheritance in God’s kingdom that will never fade.

By:
Keri Folmar

Keri Folmar is the wife of John Folmar, pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai, an evangelical church in the Middle East, and the mother of three children. She has written a number of women’s Bible studies and is the series editor of The Good Portion, a series in systematic theology for women from Christian focus, which includes her own book Scripture: The Doctrine of Scripture for Every Woman. Keri is a lawyer and previously served as the chief counsel for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution where she was the staff writer of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.