From An Older Hopefully Wiser Pastor, Living In the Ministry Fishbowl

How to Create a Support System for the Pastor’s Wife

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Many pastors are lonely, and so are their wives and their children can become isolated.  This account is not every minister’s history, but it is the tale of significantly more than you recognize.  In this article, I will turn to the pastor‘s wife for the later two weeks before we finish this with the youngsters.  While I alluded to the pastorswife, in particular, this is not restricted to just pastors it pertains to any church worker‘s spouse.

I think Christina captures in these short quotes the fishbowl so many pastor’s wives live under. And how lonely this role is for those who have the role of pastor’s wife.

1) “I wish people knew that we struggle to have family time.”

2) “Almost every day I’m afraid of screwing it all up.”

3) “Being a pastor’s wife is THE loneliest thing I’ve ever done and for so many reasons.”

4) “It is okay and welcomed to have conversations with me about things that do not pertain to church, or even Jesus. There I said it!”

5) “Sundays are sometimes my least favorite day. Wait–am I allowed to say that?”

6) “It’s hard to not harbor resentment or to allow your flesh to lash out at members who openly criticize his ministry.”

7) “Please don’t look down on me or assume I don’t support my husband just because you don’t see me every time the church’s doors are open.”

8) “I wish people knew that we taught our children to make good choices, but sometimes, they don’t.”

9) “What I can tell you is I have been blessed beyond measure, I have been given gifts, money, love and prayer, so much prayer… by so many.” – Christina Stolaas

In the past few weeks, I have tried to open to church members the stresses that pastors and their families go through for the sake of the Gospel.  I am writing this, so church members have a greater awareness of the best ways to care for their shepherd and his family.  In this post, I want to discuss the pastor’s wife.

Often the pastor’s wife is taken for granted.  It is just assumed she has it all together.  People rarely stop and think about the pressure and unrealistic expectations she lives under.  She is expected to be a model wife and mother, with perfectly behaved children who never make a sound in church.  She is supposed to be a master chief, church master organist, and organizer.  Members want her to teach Sunday school while running the sewing circle.  All the while providing for all the needs of the pastor.  It is the loneliest position.  You cannot let people get too close for fear that any struggle you share with people will be used against your husband.  So, any vulnerability is unacceptable.  Any crack in the perfect window’s purity could cost your livelihood.  Stop and imagine what life would be like if you lived under that kind of constant scrutiny.  Imagine the mental gymnastics you and your family would daily have to undergo.  Successful ministry often comes at a high cost, family.

How to Support Your Pastor’s wife.

1)    Don’t expect her to be perfect, every woman is unique.  There is not a job description for this role.

God has created each woman married to a pastor as a one of a kind, unique individual.  They do not all come with the same gifts, nor temperament.   Each pastor’s wife needs to be given the freedom to find their specific ministry place in the church.  One thing that most pastors’ wives have in common is that they have a significant and challenging God-given opportunity to have influenced their family.  The family is their top priority!

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” (Psalm 127:3-4, NIV)

2)    She is a vital companion and champion to her husband.

When all the world may be against the pastor, the pastor’s wife often stands in the background holding up the prophet’s hands.  She hears all the complaints being bandied about him, yet often quietly and respectfully listens even though criticism is killing her spirit.

Respect her by not complaining to her about her husband.  Instead, speak well of him to her.

“An excellent wife who can find?

    She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,

    and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm,

    all the days of her life.” Proverbs 31:10-12

3)    Be a mentor for her.  Pray and encourage her.

If you have been blessed with a young pastor’s family and wife, what an excellent opportunity for the older women of the congregation to share their wisdom and be a spiritual sister to the pastor’s wife.  You have a unique opportunity to bless the pastor and his family in this way.

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5)

Above are just a few suggestions, and I am confident that if you take the time to pray about this, you will come up with much more.  I would invite you to share what you find in the comment section of this post so that we can find new and creative ways to support the pastor and his wife.  I encourage you also to share what you have done in the past to be a blessing to the pastor’s wife.  It will serve as a source of encouragement to others.

In our district, we are looking at starting a pastor’s wives group.  One that will be a safe place for women to talk, to share, to pray for and support each other.  I pray it will not be the only such group.  It is only a small step but it is a step.

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Living In the Ministry Fishbowl

The Loneliest Job In America: Being the Pastor’s Wife

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I am composing this post with immense trepidation because people tend to suspect your motivations. Am I writing this to gain popularity? NO!  Do I write to advance my career? NO! I write because I love it and it is impacting people’s lives in some amazing ways and it is changing the way people think about ministry.  I write to encourage.  Sadly, at this moment in my life, the fishbowl gets even smaller, all I do or say comes under scrutiny. In spite of all that, I am putting caution to the wind because the issues are real.  The hurt is widespread; the problem has gone unresolved.  This series on church workers comes from my heart and my personal ministry pain.

Some of my congregations in the past had a long history of clergy abuses and moral failures which led to a lack of trust in the pastoral office.  It made the life of any pastor or his family who followed cold and lonely.  There was not a culture of love and support, there was instead distrust and distance.   Church work is hard enough without attaching the cloud of generations of past sins and brokenness.

Just recently my previous post on supporting the pastor went viral.  It was written to help the church begin to see the role of the pastor and wife differently and honestly all church workers families. What hit me as I watched the numbers tick up at an alarming rate is that there is a deep hurt that the church is probably completely unaware that exists.  With that in mind, this is the follow-up.  It begins with an open letter to the church.

Dear Saints,

Let me introduce myself.  You may believe you know me because I am in your midst often, but I don’t think you actually know me.  I am an individual person.  I have a name and an identity apart from my husband, your pastor.  It is so easy for me to get lost in his shadow.  I have been put into a position, into a role, that I am not gifted at nor have a desire to fulfill.  Expectations are placed on me that have grown and been developed by the ghosts of former pastor’s wives.  Some who were incredible servants and gifted.  These expectations are often a combination of all the things you like about every other woman who has been here before me.  To be honest, I feel at times set up to fail.  If I tried to be all things to all people, I would only succeed in losing my identity and my sanity.  And worst yet, if I pull that off I am only setting up the poor woman who follows me for complete and total failure.  It is a no-win situation.  Who am I? I am the woman who married the pastor, not the pastor’s wife.   I pray that this letter will help you see me as the woman I am, not the woman you think I should be.

Signed

A woman married to the pastor.

 

I wonder how many women struggle with the role of the pastor’s wife.  It is an excellent opportunity to serve God and His church, but like the role of the pastor, it also comes at a great personal cost.  Pastor’s wives often face unreal expectations.  Here is a list of just a few off the top of my head.

Profile of the Perfect Pastor’s wife:

  • She is an excellent cook
  • Is the Sunday School leader who has single-handedly grown the numbers to record highs.
  • She plays the organ while also leading the voice and bell choirs.
  • She is a super volunteer who not only is at every event but recruits leaders like Nick Saban recruits world class football players.
  • She is a great mother in that her children are well behaved and never do anything wrong.
  • Her house is always spotless, and she is impeccably dressed because on a pastor’s budget she has time to sew her clothes.
  • She accomplishes all this while her husband is an absentee father and husband because he is trying to live up to similar unrealistic expectations on the other side of the spectrum.

Who is the Pastor’s wife really?  Like you, she struggles to balance life while being a good wife, mother and live her calling as a child of God.  She gets overwhelmed by the crazy pace of life, its stresses, and heartbreaks. Her house, like yours, gets messed and her children are far from perfect.  That imperfection is not a direct reflection of her parenting skills it is a reflection of that fact that we live in a sinful and broken world.  She wants the church to see her as a person who needs encouragement, acceptance for who she is, not what you want her to be and at times help.  She is not a superwoman, just a woman who is married to the called man of God in that place.  I pray this will help you see the woman married to the pastor differently and all church workers and their families more compassionately.

Discussion questions to ponder with your leadership.

  1. Discuss ways to support the pastor and his wife.
  2. Think of ways to create a supportive culture for her and other women.
  3. Discuss expectations.  Are your expectations realistic?

 

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/01/30/how-to-avoid-clergy-burnout/

https://revheadpin.org/2018/01/23/how-to-shepherd-the-shepherd/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/30/three-ways-to-support-church-workers/

 

 

Living In the Ministry Fishbowl

Three Ways to Support Church Workers

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Here are just some struggles Church Staff members have voiced as identified by Chuck Lawless in an article entitled “12 Frequent Burdens of Church Staff.”

1. Lacking time with senior leadership.
2. Lacking clearly defined roles and expectations.
3. Longing for a God-sized vision.
4. Having few friends, especially among other staff.
5. Living in a ministry silo.
6. Ministering with few funds.
7. Perceiving they have no voice.
8. Having no “safe” place to be honest.
9. Receiving poor salary and/or benefits.
10. Longing for affirmation.
11. Competing for volunteers.
12. Seeing and hearing too much.

As our look at the church’s future continues, there is trouble brewing, and it usually lies beneath the surface unseen and ignored by many in our congregations. At the heart of the concern I see is; who is tending to the Shepherd, his family and other church workers and their families.  Most churches dearly love their pastor and value the work of their church staffs yet, I believe most congregations have no idea just what a strain the ministry places on church workers and their families. In this article, I will give you some ideas of how to tend to the church workers in your midst.

Identify a ministry support person or Two.

Carefully select a Godly person from your congregation who will be tasked with overseeing the welfare of your pastor and other professional church worker’s families. But here is the caution. These people need to be of high moral character and spirituality. You do not want people on this individual or two who will gain the worker’s and his families trust and then use that information to undermine their ministry. These people are there to be an advocate for the workers. Church workers live their lives in a fishbowl, so it is hard to feel comfortable asking the congregation for the critical even basic needs they have. Asking for support often seems wrong and even goes so far as to be considered being unfaithfulness to the call.  Church works may wrongly believe that asking to have their needs taken care of is showing a lack of spiritual maturity. We are taught to trust God. If we are in want God will provide, so often our families go without needs being met. This team would regularly monitor the worker’s and their families physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Be patient team it will take some time to establish trust.  But once trust has been established your mission will be to offer suggestions to congregational leaders that would improve the workers living conditions; represent the servant’s interests in any discussions that involve the workers or their families.

This team would regularly monitor the worker’s and their families physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Be patient team it will take some time to establish trust.   Once trust has been established your mission will be to offer suggestions to congregational leaders that would improve the workers living conditions; represent the servant’s interests in any discussions that involve the workers or their families.

Provide fair and adequate salary compensation and retirement benefits.

The Bible makes it clear that “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). I know that times are hard and congregations are struggling financially as well, but what I see happening in the church is that churches are balancing their shortfall on the backs of the pastors and other professional church workers. These tireless servants of God should be compensated on par with the people being served and other ministries in the same community. Leadership in every church should be more concerned about the physical and fiscal well-being of their workers. These financial needs must be a priority at the budget time, not an after-thought. The way you care for the people who have been called to serve you is a reflection upon you as a congregation and a witness to your community of Christ’s love in action. Consider the personal sacrifice church workers had to make and continue to make to serve the people of God and that community. Many have expenses related to the professional training they received, education loans to repay, the cost you know full way of raising a family and those increasing needs. The expenses associated with remaining current and improving as a professional, continuing education and conferences. And at some point, church workers will need to retire, is the congregation paying into their retirement and providing adequate heath care benefits? Review these things annually and adjust it as needed. Give your church workers the freedom to give you their very best instead of worry about their needs.

Let Your Leader Lead.

One of the most frustrating times in my ministry was not being allowed to lead. My congregation called me to lead them, expected the results of effective leadership but refused to turn over the reins and allow me to shepherd them. To actually lead a flock of people in the future, that group needs to be open to new ideas and new approaches to ministry. You have called trained professionals to work alongside you for the good of God and his kingdom. You have access to resources, and you have workers with new concepts from the world’s greatest religious minds, but congregations tend to keep trying the ideas that were fresh and new in 1954. To coin a phrase, “1954 called they want their ideas back.” There are people on the property that as you conducted your ministry search, you called because you saw a need for change, so what happened? People of God you need to give your church workers a chance and permission to try out these new ideas. To dreams big dreams for your congregation. These plans for the church’s future that may seem grandiose or unrealistic, but aren’t all God-sized dreams grandiose and unrealistic? That’s what makes them God-sized. Be open. Dreams are fragile, and so is the psyche of your church workers. Help your staff to keep their dreams alive. Don’t be afraid to let him/her fail occasionally. In fact, when they fail, rejoice with them for having the courage to try.  Follow and encourage his/her leadership instead of digging potholes for them to fall into. Allow and expect him/her to speak out honestly against sin and injustice. Let the Holy Spirit work.  What the church needs now more than ever is courageous leadership, to confront challenging times in this post-Christian culture.

As with any ideas about the future God needs to direct and lead His people into the future, not any.

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/23/we-are-taking-on-friendly-fire-2/

Other posts on ways to support church workers:

https://revheadpin.org/2016/11/29/how-to-support-your-pastor/

https://revheadpin.org/2016/11/16/why-you-need-a-day-of-rest/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/03/07/can-you-see-the-real-me/

https://revheadpin.org/2016/12/15/holding-up-the-pastors-wife/