Mailbag #6: Pastors’ Wives, Taking Oaths, Pastors & Administration Work
When considering bivoactional pastoral/elder roles, does Titus 2:5 disqualify any man whose wife is currently working as well? Is it biblically sound for a man to take a bivocational pastoral role if the man’s family needs income through the wife’s part time employment, especially, if she strives to “keep the home” as well? Should the family attempt have the wife be at home if at all possible?
Just wanting to submit to the whole counsel of God when considering a prospective bivocational elder role.
—Elliot, South Carolina
Our own elders recently had a very similar conversation recently. Here is my understanding of Scripture in response to your question.
- The office of elder belongs to the elder, not to his wife. As such, there are no extra requirements that fall on her that don’t fall on any other wife in the church, at least formally speaking.
- I don’t understand Titus 2:5 (“working at home” ESV; “homemakers” HCSB; “busy at home” NIV) to teach that a woman must work exclusively at home. If it did, it would seem that that paragon of womanly virtue in Proverbs 31 is not such a Proverbs 31 woman after all. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard (v. 16). She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes (v. 24). I suppose it’s possible she does her real estate speculation and market trading sitting in her front porch rocking chair with baby at breast. But that strikes me as both unlikely and arbitrary.
- I do believe that Titus 2:5, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 5:14, and such passages teach that a woman should have a general orientation toward the home and to household management. As the womb has been assigned to her, so has the household. Notice that the Proverbs 31 woman is buying fields and trading garments for the sake of her household. What this looks like, I assume, will differ from family to family.
- I believe it’s a luxury of modern economies and Christendom that we expect pastors to do anything other than bi-vocational ministry, and perhaps for their wives not to work. Do you think churches in Pakistan today or pre-Constantine Europe could afford to pay one or several pastors enough money that they could devote themselves to pastoring full-time, while their wives do or did nothing to help fill the pantry with food?
- I’ve never heard of people complaining about wives volunteering at church or in some sort of community event. It would seem strange to say she can participate in such volunteer activities so long as they don’t pay her.
If a (pastor’s) wife is working so that the couple can afford nicer cars while the kids are in daycare, I have a problem with that. If a husband is being neglected in some way because she has career ambitions independently of him, I have a problem with that. Every wife, pastoral or otherwise, should work to ensure that her husband and children are cared for with the quality of care that she alone has been gifted by God to give them, assuming there is freedom to do so. For many wives, this might mean working exclusively in the home. For others, it might mean working outside the home, assuming it does not compromise her primary duty but assists in it.
Does Jesus instructions about oaths forbid church covenants?
I have a family who is considering joining our church, but hesitates to agree to our covenant based on Jesus’ instructions in Matt 5:34-37 about not making oaths. I’ve never come across this before—can you help me think through a good response?
Four responses come to mind. First, Jesus is not forbidding everything we might call oath-like, such as a covenant, a vow, or a contract. (Yes, I understand there are subtle differences between these things.) Otherwise, you could no longer buy a car, get married, have a job, become a citizen of another country, testify in a law court (which Jesus himself did), or, well, establish a local church. Unless you want every relationship in your life, other than those grounded in biology, to be driven entirely by short-term considerations and the wisdom of the moment, you will need to get acquainted with the world of binding commitments (oaths, vows, contracts, covenants).
Second, Jesus was forbidding the Jewish practice of excusing oneself from one’s promises based on some technicality such as, “Well, I made my oath by appealing to heaven, and not to God himself, you see, therefore it is not binding.” Such casuistry, which was common in his time, amounts to lying.
Third, all of our interactions with God are grounded in covenants, some unilateral, some bilateral.
Fourth, stop being silly and join the church!
I’m four years into my pastorate. And I used my version of Mark Dever’s 4Ps (“Preach, Pray, Personal Relationships, Patience”) with the pastor search committee when I interviewed. And that’s what I’ve done. But now some key leaders in our church want me to become a more business-like leader. They want me to focus on administrative processes and strategies. I’m not gifted in this area, so while I hope to get better, I will only be able to do so much, especially since I feel like I’m already not spending enough time in study and prayer.
What do I do? Am I being narrow-minded to suggest that I can delegate many of the administrative details so that I can focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer? What is the role of the pastor when it comes to administrative leadership?
—Jim, North Carolina
I don’t feel like I have the whole picture. It would surprise me if these leaders wanted you to add “administrative oversight” to your job description purely out of principle. I have to assume that something else is not happening that they want to happen. And what they want might be legitimate and within your power (e.g. the administrative staff are not getting paid on time); it might be legitimate but not within your power (e.g. for the church to be growing in numbers); or it might be illegitimate (e.g. entertainment-driven programming).
If what they want belongs to the first category, then, yes, you should look for a solution, whether it’s you or someone else. Tom Schreiner has observed that Paul’s list of elder qualifications suggests that “overseers are not only teachers but are also leaders.” Schreiner then points to the requirements that elders must be able to “manage” their households, which is from the same verb that is translated as “rule” in 1 Timothy 5:17. The major test for whether a man manages his household well, the text tells us, is whether or not his children are submissive. But there is no reason to assume he meant to limit one’s competence in household management to the submissiveness of his children. In a first-century Near Eastern context, managing a household would have included “management of slaves, property, business interests, and even maintenance of important relationships with benefactors/patrons or clients” (Towner, NICNT, 254). Imagine a man who shepherds his children well, but whose household management leads to chaos in every other aspect. It’s difficult to think Paul intends for this man to serve as an elder. All that to say, the requirement to manage one’s household does not mean that a man needs to be able to run a Fortune 500 company, but presumably he needs at least a minimum competence in managerial decision-making.
If these leaders’ concerns fall into the second or third category, then all you can do is to continue to have forthright conversations and to teach them. Coincidentally, I met with a pastor this week who was pastoring with the four Ps, but the church wasn’t growing fast enough, and the elders encouraged him to leave. He and the elders remained in a stalemate for a couple of years. Several months ago he stepped down. He’s a friend, but I’ve never stepped inside his church or heard him preach. Maybe he could not have done anything differently and the problem was entirely with their unrealistic and possibly ungodly expectations. Or maybe his preaching is not very good, or he exercises authority with a heavy hand. Knowing him and his location, I assume the elders had wrong expectations. The point is, I cannot finally identify what happened in his situation no sooner than I can identify what the real story is with you.
What’s crucial is that you find people with good judgment whom you trust and who are willing to tell you tough truths. You might not have that right now, which brings us back to what you already know: one of a pastor’s primary responsibilities is to raise up other leaders whom he can trust in this fashion. In the meantime, continue to preach, pray, pour into those personal relationships, and be patient!