The Pastor's Wife: A Position or Juxtaposition?
"What will your wife do if you become our pastor?" That was the question one church member asked my husband at a question-and-answer session at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC). He was candidating for the position of pastor.
How did Mark answer? Did he reply, "She'll take charge of women's ministry. She'll work with the children. She'll accompany me on visitations"? No, he didn't.
"She will seek to love the Lord," was his straightforward reply. "She will be my wife, the mother of our children, and a faithful member of this church." Then he added, "Remember, you will be hiring me; not my wife. The best way she can serve you is by letting her be who God has made her to be, and by letting her support me."
In other words, he did not want the church to view me as an assumed, unpaid member of the church staff. He did not want me in a position. Rather, he wanted me in juxtaposition. That is, he wanted me to be closely connected to my God, my husband, my family, and the other members of the church in a way that fulfills the biblical roles for all wives, mothers, and church members, and yet which also makes the most of the special opportunities that I have to complement my husband's ministry. That's what my husband taught his congregation-to-be that evening. It's what he set out for me as the best path. And not only has this path been freeing for me over the last fourteen years, it has proved fruitful for the church.
One way I have been able to minister simply by living in juxtaposition with my husband over this time has arisen through CHBC's commitment to training up young men for the pastoral ministry. These men come from our own membership as well as the church's pastoral internship program. With many of these men come their wives, who also hope to be mentored in how to best support their husbands as pastors. In response, several women and I formed a CHBC pastors' wives small group several years ago. And it has evolved from the day we started it.
After a number of years of making up our lessons as we went, we adopted Mary Somerville's book One with a Shepherd for most of our small group's readings. We chose this book because it is full of both thorough biblical reflections as well as practical ideas which will benefit both prospective and seasoned pastor's wives.
However, we do use this book with some qualifications. At times Somerville makes statements that clash with her main, well-balanced, biblical message. These statements convey, perhaps unintentionally, an unhealthily high expectation that a pastor's wife will always serve alongside her husband, doing pastoral work with him, rather than primarily supporting him as wife, mother, friend, and committed church member. In a few instances we found ourselves completely disagreeing with what Somerville suggests.
We also found that, while the readings from One with a Shepherd provided mostly excellent introductions to many topics commonly faced in pastoral ministry, the wives in our group were most hungry to hear from their own pastors' wives. They wanted to hear how we had seen these concepts applied to different ministry situations and seasons of life. They wanted to hear about the heart matters that lurked behind the surface issues and how those heart matters could be addressed by biblical truths. They wanted to hear a few edifying "war stories" and any words of wisdom we could offer. And they wanted to know how to talk to their husbands about these things, to become more closely connected with them for the sake of the gospel and the good of their families.
Given these concerns and other voiced needs, we wrestled with whether Somerville's book was the right book for us to use or not. We decided that it was. Rather than choosing to discard Somerville's good book, full of so much helpful teaching and advice, we chose to write a study guide to accompany it—something that would guide our discussion through the important applications that our women wanted, that would highlight the good things Somerville has to say, and that would clarify some of the troublesome statements.
The Lord has chosen to richly bless this study in our small group here at CHBC. It is our hope that this study guide might also be a useful resource to help other pastors' wives and their husbands to glorify God by being more closely connected to him, to each other, to their families, and to the brothers and sisters in their churches—all to the end of bearing much fruit for his Kingdom.
Thanks, Mark, for your wise headship! Soli Deo Gloria!