Transition and the Pastor’s Wife

Article
01.29.2016

I couldn’t believe we were here. We’d flown in and out of Washington DC’s Reagan Airport more times than I could count, but never with Arkansas as the destination. In the past, God had called us to take what I had considered big leaps of faith by asking us to go places and do things I never felt comfortable with. But this was different. This was radical. I kept asking myself, “How do two people from coastal northern California and the nation’s capitol end up in Arkansas?” The answer: God does it. That’s how.

As my husband Brad wrestled with the Lord through the decision to uproot our lives from the church and the ministry life that began there 15 years earlier, I waited. I said very little, as I knew this decision was huge.

This was unusual for me as I’m prone to speak my opinion rather freely. Brad encourages it, in fact. But this time was different. He needed to wrestle without me. I needed to let God work without my words butting in.

Then it happened. Brad knew God was taking us to the “Hog Nation”! He made the decision and we began frantically packing up our home and lives, saying some very painful “see you laters,” and preparing to transplant ourselves in four weeks.

Now we’re here. It’s been four months. It’s still early. The emotions of a move remain raw. You don’t replace friendships overnight. But God is good. With the passing of the fall and the coming of winter, we are reminded again of the passing of time and of seasons. I’m in another changing season. I’m now a senior pastor’s wife in Arkansas.

I have been a ministry wife for years, but as many of my pastor’s wife friends like to tell me, “This is different. You can’t prepare for this one. You just have to experience it.”

Okay, that’s ominous. Should I be encouraged by those words, or should I run for the hills?

I’m only a few months in, but here’s one thing of which I am completely certain: God’s plans are better than mine. I need the grace to trust that and obey him. It’s such a simple truth: trust and obey. Practically speaking, what does that look like for a pastor and a pastor’s wife when they are in a season of transition? Well, here are a few reflections from this “newbie.”

TO HUBANDS

1. Your unwavering trust in the Lord preaches God’s character to those watching.

There are eyes on you. Your life is on stage. So you’d better “watch your life and doctrine closely”! Lest that statement freak you out, remember who put you there and remember who will equip you there. The God of the universe sovereignly chose you to be a representative to these sheep, with the wide eyes, staring at you. So use this opportunity to reveal where your true hope and security lies. Trust God’s goodness and power. I’m reminded of what I heard Ligon Duncan once say: “It doesn’t matter how long you have been telling others that God is God and God is good. You are still vulnerable to not believing that yourself.” Pray that God give you the kind of unwavering trust to move forward with the confidence that he has placed you in this pulpit for these people. That will speak volumes to your congregation and especially to your family.

2. Your wife is (or should be!) your biggest ally.

What may not always be readily apparent as you’re in transition is that your wife is your biggest support—at least she should be. Nobody knows and loves you like she does. She desires your success, for the sake of God’s glory, and your holiness above all else. She carries your burdens and sorrows, and prays for you in ways others cannot. She sees things in your character and heart that you miss. She’s a means of grace that God has given for you to use for your growth and development. Don’t miss the opportunity for God to bless you through her. Stop frequently in those early days of transition and ask her what she is seeing in you during this unique time. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Pastors, let your wives sharpen you, for an excellent wife is a crown to her husband (Proverbs 12:4).

3. Your wife and children are lonely too. Don’t neglect them.

This may seem like a “no duh” statement, but it’s harder than it sounds. Ask my husband! No matter what the circumstances are for your transition into your new role, you’ll be tempted to pour all your love, time, and energy into your job and possibly hide behind the thought that it’s okay because it’s “kingdom work.” Do not forget that caring for you wife and children is kingdom work too. These lonely people that belong to you are at home all day without the comforts of friends and routines while you are at work ministering to people and starting new friendships. Care for them. Pray for them. Encourage them with the truth of Scripture. These are going to be hard days, but they will pass. May you be used by God to let them pass with comfort and hope.

TO WIVES

1. Don’t make your husband play God.

It’s often a wife’s temptation to look for too much from her husband, especially when things are difficult. As pastors’ wives, we may be further tempted to put an even heavier weight on our husbands given that they are “pastors.” We may want them to play God and “fix” everything for us during this lonely transition. Don’t forget that the God of the universe is the one who placed you where you are, not your husband. You may have made the transition against your own personal desires and followed your husband, but the Lord was the one who called you! Don’t forget that your husband is also transitioning. He’s lonely, too. Pray that God gives you realistic expectations for your husband. Cheer him on, don’t bleed him dry with your needs. You might find yourself wondering whether or not your expectations are reasonable; that’s when you call an old friend who knows you both well. Lay it out there and have ears to hear.

2. Remember God’s faithfulness.

Sure, the calling as a pastor’s wife is a calling of sacrifice, but it’s also a calling of blessing. We get a front row seat to God’s work in the lives of others. Don’t forget how God has answered prayer after prayer right before your eyes. He won’t forget your labors and the sacrifices you’ve made. As my friend and fellow pastor’s wife Carrie Kell always says, “He’s been faithful, and he’ll be faithful again!” Recall His faithfulness often and remember the promise to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding its the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor.15:58).

3. Let the loneliness endear your heart to Christ.

Transition is a time of loneliness and longing. It’s a time when our souls ache for someone to understand who we are and how we think. Harness the gift this season holds, the gift to be alone with your first love—Christ. Jesus often sought periods of solitude with his Father. When your heart longs for conversation with someone who “knows” you, turn to the one who made you, knows you intimately, and has called you into this season by his good hand. He has brought you to his banqueting table and his banner over you is love (SoS 2:4).

“LORD, SAVE ME!”

So, here we are. We are now “Arkansans.” God’s plans are different, but they sure are better than our own. He is growing our trust and obedience every day. And like Peter, who God called out upon the water, he protects us, even when our faith fails: “But when (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him…” (Mt 14:30-31a).

I’ve felt a lot of fear and isolation these past few months. Like Peter, I’ve cried out, “Lord, save me!” and he has rebuked me, as he did Peter, with those words, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31b) Fellow ministers of the gospel, don’t doubt him. Entrust your soul to him as you wait patiently in this season of transition for him to rescue you from your fear and lack of faith.

By:
Erin Wheeler

Erin Wheeler lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with her husband Brad and their four children. She attends University Baptist Church, where Brad serves as Senior Pastor.