What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

A Word of Personal Testimony

How I thank God for godly men who surround me in the church I shepherd and are appropriately vigilant in their protection of my wife. This is nothing other than the grace of God. They concern themselves to protect her against unwarranted expectations and consistently encourage her in the use of her gifts—which only heightens her enthusiasm for ministry. I marvel at the energies she expends in the cause of Christ. But I also smile as I see her doing what she loves to do, and to see a church leadership that encourages her at every turn.

Beth was only twenty-five years old when I accepted the call to pastor the church we serve to this day. She was a godly woman, mature beyond her years. But Beth was the polar opposite of the previous pastor’s wife. Upon assuming leadership of the church, I had a difficult choice to make. I could encourage Beth to assume the various functions of the previous pastor’s wife, or I could loose Beth to use her unique abilities to the glory of God—most of which are behind-the-scenes type of gifts. Convinced the latter approach had the smile of God, I purposefully resisted asking anyone what the previous pastor’s wife did and steered Beth to “do her thing.” Not everyone appreciated my approach.

Soon after commencing our ministry, I was visited in my office by a concerned couple. They came with a long list in hand to object, in part, to Beth’s ministry to our assembly. I listened to their concerns, noting that not one word of objection regarding Beth addressed any moral deficiency or even immaturity on her part. I pointed out to this couple that the list of expectations they had read to me were an apt description of the ministry of the previous pastor’s wife. She was a remarkable woman and I continue to rejoice with the ways God used her gifts to His glory. But there is a reason my wife was not leading the women’s Bible study, not teaching Sunday School, and not performing functions of highly visible leadership in the church: she has not been gifted by God to do so. She has no sense of divine calling to function in such capacities.

After detailing a long list of vital ministries Beth was actively performing behind the scenes, the surprised couple before me queried why I did not broadcast all of this to the assembly in order to make Beth’s service more visible. They posed a valid concern, but I reminded them that she was not serving to be seen. She was serving precisely as her husband and pastor desired, in accordance with her God-given gifts.

That was a defining moment in our ministry. This couple was not to be blamed. We shared an honest, frank discussion that ended amicably enough. But I remember to this day the temptation to yield to the pressure and to make substantial adjustments, bending Beth into the mold of popular expectations. And the truth is, she would have cooperated fully—to her detriment, to the church’s detriment, and to mine. But by God’s grace I held my course against that stiff gale. I chose to shield my wife from unfounded expectations and to give her wings to fly with her God-given gifts. And she has soared!

Only on rare occasion has Beth led a woman’s Bible study, but she is my most trusted counselor of women, displaying time and again a firm grasp of the proper application of biblical truth to daily life. She has never spoken at a ladies retreat (not yet!), but now that she is middle-aged, she is enjoying a fruitful one-on-one ministry to younger women in our church. She has never served as a Sunday School teacher, but she has rendered care to many children in our home and has profoundly influenced many of them in the ways of God. Why she has no interest in standing before others and speaking when she has so much to say, I will never understand. Why the woman who delivers so many “home runs” during informal counsel has so little capacity to address an assembled audience, I will never comprehend. But God does, and that’s all that matters.

Beth has never personally organized an all-church meal, although she is always found helping at such meals and has won many hearts with her cooking (some of our “Men’s Breakfast” faithfuls have to be restrained from canonizing her!). While she has never provided visionary leadership to any particular ministry, countless are the people she has built up and helped through various spiritual and physical trials. She is one of the hardest working women I have ever known and she is a strong force for God in our church.

But above all else, I can say with full conviction that any success I have known as a pastor has more to do with the kind of woman Beth is in our home than with any skill I may possess or any effort I may have made in ministry. At every turn, in countless ways, she makes me a better pastor and a better man. I could never use my capacities in the way I use them if she was not the wife and the mother that she is every day of her life.

And she is happy in all of this. And in all of this we feel the smile of our Creator. He it is who designed for Adam a suitable helper. He it is who described the noble wife as one who orients her life to her husband and brings him good, not calamity, all the days of his life. He it is who gave us the vision that a husband can be respected in the city gates because of what his wife accomplishes from home-base (cf. Proverbs 31). How happy are they whose God is the Lord!

I do not broadcast the joys of candy because everyone understands that joy without hearing from me. I broadcast the joys of my relationship to Beth in the context of ministry because it pains me that so many do not seem to experience our joy.

I remember speaking some years ago to a twenty-three-year-old pastor’s wife. She was ecstatic with the opportunity she and her new husband had to serve God’s people. The prospect of life together in the service of God is a hope difficult to match and her exuberance indicated as much. But not long after that conversation, Beth and I spoke again to this same woman. Her enthusiasm for ministry had vanished. She relayed to us the horrors of ministry in a church which was placing expectations upon her no young woman could possibly meet to anyone’s satisfaction. Blinded by tradition and blinded to his responsibility as her protector, her husband offered his wife no help. She was on her own and suffering. And today he is on his own—suffering the consequences of a bitter divorce.

By no means do I intend to suggest the church this man served was responsible for this couple’s divorce. Nor do I intend to suggest this pastor’s failure to steer his wife’s ministry in the assembly was the root cause of their marital demise. I do believe, however, that traditional expectations concerning the supposed job description of a pastor’s wife contributed to this couple’s divorce and resulted in no small loss to their church’s health and no small assault on the glory of God in the community they were seeking to reach for Christ.

I am convinced that confusion regarding the role of the pastor’s wife is systematically hindering the cause of Christ in far too many churches. We must get the job description of the pastor’s wife right. There is too much at stake to ignore this matter—not the least of which is the honor of Christ whose body we serve and whose wisdom we ride to glory.

Her job? She is the pastor’s wife, nothing more. She is the pastor’s wife, nothing less. As she faithfully fulfills this high and noble calling, as she runs her race in order to enhance her husband’s effectiveness in ministry, she will receive no accolades from her culture and few if any from those believers whose traditional expectations she disappoints. But as she honors her Maker’s design and faithfully pours out her skills in the advancement of the Church for which Jesus died, she will feel the pleasure of God. And that is all that really matters here, and all that will matter for eternity.

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.

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