Read Part 1
Proposition #2: Her ministry responsibilities within the assembly are of the same nature as those of every other woman in the church.
I believe sufficient light shines from at least two passages of Scripture to confirm this proposition.
Older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Tit. 2:3-5).
Paul’s admonition indicates that the task of the pastor’s wife, even when viewed from the context of the local church, is to grow in godly character and to cultivate a proper relationship with her husband and children. As regards teaching in the assembly, she is to be encouraged to instruct the younger women. But interestingly enough, this particular admonition from Paul indicates that the young pastor should perceive his wife as a student of the older women in the church before she qualifies as a teacher of adult women.
Yet, sadly, it is not unprecedented for a twenty-five-year-old woman to be immediately collared with the responsibility to serve as primary teacher of, and counselor to, the women of her church or even for her husband to resent the fact that a much older woman in the assembly does not willingly yield this position to the pastor’s wife. Although no one would even think to entrust such a responsibility to any other woman of similar age, this great expectation is placed upon her by mere virtue of the fact that she is married to the pastor. We should recognize, vis-a-vis the common practice, that it is not at all wrong for the younger pastor’s wife to enter the church as a learner. In fact, Paul’s instructions to Titus seem to assume this for the case of a young pastor’s wife. The women of the church should seek her counsel and encourage her instruction because they have come over time to discern that she is a wise woman, not merely because she is married to the pastor.
The third chapter of 1 Timothy is also helpful. While each of the requirements for an overseer touches the man’s relationship to his wife in some respect, notice particularly verses 4-5:
[An overseer] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Tim. 3:1-7).
Even a modest season of reflection on verses 2-7 reveals the vital role the pastor’s wife must fulfill. The stability of the pastor’s home is a necessary requirement for his ongoing ministry and she is obviously a major contributor to that stability. We should carefully consider the profound implications of the fact that her efforts in the home directly influence his capacities to lead the flock of God. In her role as wife, her daily labors serve to maintain her husband’s qualification to shepherd God’s flock by helping him remain faithful as the shepherd of his home.
Every pastoral couple wants to hear the accolade: “she is a really good pastor’s wife.” But there are ample false criteria upon which such a judgment is popularly based. Too often such status is conferred on the mere determination that she is a good listener, or a faithful friend to other women, an effective speaker, or a skilled musician, a stunning administrative organizer, or simply a woman who is “really, really busy serving God.”
On the authority of God’s Word, I propose that she is a good pastor’s wife only insofar as she is a faithful helper to her husband, a diligent keeper of her home, a godly mother to her children, and a solid force in keeping her husband qualified for ministry by edifying his home. Though she teach with the tongues of men and of angels, though she prove earth’s very best friend, though she win scores of souls to Christ, though she organize one mean potluck dinner, if she is not a success as the God-given helper to her husband and mother to her children, she is not a good pastor’s wife.
One ancillary word of advice to unmarried men headed for vocational ministry: do not be overly exercised with finding a woman who can wax eloquent on theology or who boasts some profound ministry skill. Find a woman who genuinely loves God, who longs to serve Him, and who glories in her God-given mission as her husband’s helper. If she is willing to follow you anywhere God leads you and if she is willing to enthusiastically orient her life to yours as God-ordained helper, she is a theologian of rare quality and will minister to others with uncommon skill. Said another way, draw your sense of virtue from the unsullied fount of Proverbs 31, not from the broken cistern of corporate America’s model woman.
Married pastors, permit a further word of exhortation at this point. It is your responsibility to steer your wife’s ministry and to help her to see the stellar importance of her function as a wife and mother. Many will quickly place untold expectations upon your wife if they are permitted to do so—expectations which if fulfilled will render it virtually impossible for her to succeed as a noble wife and mother. Under the pressure of such expectations, the ministry of a pastor’s wife can directly harm the ministry of her husband, often subtly turning him into her helper.
If her ministry responsibilities are permitted to overtax her ministry to her family, she may begin to tear down her home rather than to build it up. And she may even sense that this is happening. Such realizations will inevitably lead to deep discouragement and disillusionment, particularly when there seems to be nothing she can do about it. Ironically, the chief culprit in all this is often the man who shares her bed every night. He has permitted others to dictate her responsibilities and has thus fumbled his responsibility as her loving head.
Let us affirm that the primary duty of the pastor’s wife is not to fulfill the expectations of the church or to serve as shepherdess, but rather to pursue, as one Puritan pastor put it, “connubial felicity.” But understand, it is not her job alone to set her course in this direction. Ultimately, this charting must be initiated by her husband and promoted by discerning men of the assembly.
At this juncture, just suspicion may be rising in the minds of some. Perhaps you are thinking: “I wonder if he just wants to protect his wife and excuse her lack of involvement in the church? Maybe he is arguing this way in order to defend his ‘cozy little family’ ideal and to assure that his wife never gets her feathers ruffled. Maybe she just shows up at services like the Queen Bee and sits in the front row while others do all the work.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that if a pastor leads his wife faithfully, she will be a model of fruitful and energetic ministry in the church. This leads to a third proposition.
Proposition #3: Her ministry responsibilities within the assembly are to reflect the specific function for which God has uniquely gifted her.
Like every other woman in the assembly, the pastor’s wife is to diligently pour out her life in service to God as the Spirit has equipped her to serve in that particular body of believers.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good … But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 18-20).
Consider carefully the Spirit’s words: “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” God has a specific purpose for the unique ministry capacities with which He has sovereignly equipped each pastor’s wife. She should thus serve in accordance with God’s gifting as a member of the body in which He has placed her, not in accordance with human expectations of responsibilities inherent in her supposed position.
If she is a hand, she should serve as a hand, not as a knee, and not in any event as pastor to the women! If she is gifted in behind-the-scenes ministry, she should be released to pursue such endeavors without guilt. If she is not a teacher, not a leader, not a bold recruiter, it is a mistake to force her into such functions simply because she is the pastor’s wife. If she thrives on teaching and visionary leadership, she should be loosed to these endeavors and pointed to glory. However, if her capacities lie in such areas, a note of caution should be sounded. A pastor’s wife who excels in the spotlight may struggle mightily in her role as submissive helper to her husband. It may prove considerably tempting for a woman thus gifted to find her fulfillment in the praise and responsiveness of the women of the church (and other churches) while downplaying the significance she attaches to Proverbs 31-type praise from the lips of her husband and children who rejoice in the benefits of her private ministrations to them (vs. 28).
The crux of the issue is: what has God gifted her to do? She should be empowered and encouraged by her husband and the church to do that. What God has given her to do may not be what the previous pastor’s wife was gifted by God to do. And if not, resistance may be forthcoming from some in the assembly. But pastors, remember that God has providentially assigned your wife to minister to this particular body, and He may well have gifted her to minister differently than the previous pastor’s wife. She is not the previous pastor’s wife. She is not your home-church’s pastor’s wife. She is your wife. And she is who she is by the grace and ordination of God.
Permit me to address another potential misconception at this point. My burden is not that most pastor’s wives are overworked. As far as I am concerned, we should all work ourselves to death in some aspect of God’s cause. Anathema to the culture of ease and safety so many pastors and their wives are embracing these days. The pastorate should never be viewed as a profession we perform for a time in order to accumulate wealth and maintain optimal health for retirement.
My burden is, rather, that many good women are pressured to perform duties they are ill-equipped to handle and are loaded down with expectations they could not possibly fulfill. A sweet spirit and a servant’s heart enable many of these same pastor’s wives to shoulder tremendous pressures with stoic resolve. But when they suffer under unbiblical expectations, the inevitable result is a deep seated frustration and fatigue leading to diminished effectiveness in their function as wives and mothers. Such a condition, in turn, diminishes their husbands’ capacities to pastor, thus harming the very churches they are struggling so hard to serve. This all-too-common phenomenon is particularly troubling when they are performing functions (out of deference to traditional expectations) which other women in the assembly are better equipped to perform.
Dan has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.