Book Review: Help! I’m Married to My Pastor, by Jani Ortlund
Jani Ortlund, Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those who Love Them. Crossway, 2021. 128 pages.
Imagine a job description that read like this:
Wanted—full-time position available. Must be a source of support, wisdom, and theological precision, not prone to discouragement or neediness. Must be able to host groups large and small in a well-organized, well-decorated, and clean home. Ability to bake is required. Applicant must be able to apply Scripture in a variety of situations in a moment’s notice. Must have well-behaved children, always appropriately courteous and never loud, disruptive, or child-like. Must have a committed marriage but also be willing for your husband to be interrupted during family dinner, on date nights, and occasionally while on vacation. Special consideration given to those who are able to speak to large groups, teach children’s classes, play the piano, sing in the choir, disciple multiple women, and lead women’s Bible studies. There is no compensation for this position and gratitude for your service may wax and wane with little warning.
Not many people would be interested in such a position. But that “job description” does describe the experience of many pastor’s wives. Let’s be clear, “pastor’s wife” is not an actual office in the Bible. Yet different churches have different expectations for the spouses of their pastors. Most pastor’s wives would say they at least occasionally feel the burden of the expectations of others and the uncomfortable constraints of a life of ministry.
No wonder Jani Ortlund has something to say to those who find themselves calling out “Help! I’m married to my pastor!” With fifty years of ministry experience, Ortlund’s words to ministry wives are full of life-giving truth and encouragement. Reading Ortlund’s book is akin to sitting at the feet of an older woman who offers both practical advice and spiritual encouragement. She writes from the position of having experienced the unique challenges and joys of being a pastor’s wife, and she covers both vulnerably and honestly. She also helpfully assumes a great deal of respect for the pastor’s wife as one who maturely desires good for her husband and for the church.
The book has twelve chapters that address issues ranging from the seemingly small-scale problems of getting small children ready for church on Sunday to dealing with more serious problems, such as your husband facing depression or being the object of painful slander in the body. Ortlund doesn’t merely empathize with the hurried or hurt pastor’s wife. She grounds her counsel beautifully in thoughtful reminders of the privilege we have of serving the Lord as we serve our husbands and families.
In fact much of the counsel provided throughout the book flows out of the foundational first chapter, “Help! I Didn’t Bargain for This.” In it, she reminds the reader of God’s sovereign plans since the beginning of time for both spouses. From passages such as Ephesians 1:4–5 and Psalm 139:16, she points out God’s election and sovereign love for his beloved. From Hebrews 12 and Ephesians 2:10, she shows that God has a specific plan full of good works ordained for each of our lives. That plan includes our marriages to men whom he chose to lead local churches. She writes,
Our calling as women deeply involved in ministry is a vital part of God’s eternal plan. He knows, he sees, he cares. Your life as a ministry wife may feel like so much more than you bargained for. But God is in it, intimately involved and committed to helping you fulfill his call on your life (1 Thess. 5:24). Look to him. Lean on him. It will be worth it. (22)
From the premise that God has chosen for us the good work of being married to a pastor, she writes specifically of the joys and the hardships that ensue. The chapters include:
Help! I Didn’t Bargain for This.
Help! It’s Sunday Morning
Help! I Want to Fix Him
Help! My Husband Seems Depressed
Help! I Can’t Remember Their Names
Help! My Children Aren’t Perfect
Help! My Pastor Doesn’t Understand Me
Help! I Haven’t Seen Them for a While
Help! I Need More of God
Help! Our Romance Is Regressing
Help! They’re Talking Again
Help! Remind Me Why We Do This
Ortlund doesn’t simply dispense advice for common problems. She reorients the pastors’ wife to communicate with her husband about each of these topics. At the end of each chapter is a short letter written to the husband-pastor with questions he can ask his wife. For example, at the end of chapter one she writes to husbands,
Why not ask your wife what expectations she feels from you and others? Decide together which ones to embrace as from the Lord and which ones can be safely disregarded (2 Cor. 10:18). And then take her in your arms and pray for her and your ministry marriage. You’ll be glad you did—and so will your flock!
At the end of chapter three, she writes,
Dear Pastor, Describe to your wife some of the current pressures you are under. She wants to be the most fun, loving, and supportive person in your life. But she may need some coaching. Use words like, “I feel supported when you . . .” or “I feel accepted by you when . . .” (37).
These letters are intended to build a bridge of communication between the husband and wife. These letters will be especially meaningful for the wife who, in her desire not to burden her husband, may not have shared her own struggles with him. These letters prod the husband to ask good and thoughtful questions to his spouse with the end-goal of a healthy, thriving marriage.
In Ortlund’s own words, “What every ministry wife needs is a friend—not another list of things to do to keep everyone happy, but another woman calling back to her from farther down the road, telling her that this life of sacrifices is worth it because Jesus is worth it” (16). She does a remarkable job of calling back down the road with great encouragement to those who are on the journey of serving the Lord by loving well their husbands, families, and the flocks entrusted to their husbands.
In our day when many churches have been prepared to treat and think of their pastor’s wife as the first lady of the church—always ready, seemingly always put together—Jani Ortlund frees us from such worldly thinking and reorients us to our much greater identity and calling in Christ. Even as she understands the unique challenges of being married to a pastor, she calls us to simply and faithfully love our husbands and children well. Reading this book reminded me that the sacrifices of ministry are small in comparison to the great privilege it is to have a front row seat to the work the Lord is doing in the lives of many of his people. I recommend Help! I’m Married to My Pastor for all pastor’s wives and the husbands who love them.