5 questions pastor candidates must ask MQ2: What do you expect from my wife?
Background please. We had been married for six years when the issue of his call became real to us. As a young banker and then hospital financial administrator, we were enjoying the blessings of two small children, our second house construction, a country club membership and several other creature comforts. When Harriet initially balked about leaving our old life to attend seminary I sought the counsel of our pastor and what he told me was momentous. He said, "If God called you, he will call Harriet too. So, wait.". His prophetic advice was true and months later Harriet experienced what we can only know as his definitive call over her life. Our first church pastorate was while I was still a seminary student and Harriet worked a full-time job, took care of the children in her second life, typed all my papers in her third, was pianist and organist to the church, and stood by my side as pastor of a small, rural church. She was in over-drive most of the time.
When we were approached about our second pastorate I certainly didn't know what questions to ask and had never considered the MQ's. It was to a much larger suburban congregaiton and we were honored to be on their radar screen. After we moved, settled into the parsonage, and began pastoral duties I called a meeting of the church council. No WMU Director attended. That's when I learned that the church expected Harriet to be the WMU Director. It could have been a blip on the surface of our second pastorate. Of course, I wanted to be a good husband so I got a little huffy, maybe a little defensive about it. Rather than make a big deal out of it, Harriet agreed to serve, did a fine job leading the missionary groups in the church that year, and we began to re-shape the role she would play in our other congregations after that. She served that one year and trained someone who felt called to that service to assume the positon in the second year. Since then, however,she has found her own place in the ministry organization of the each church, positions that fit her calling, gifts, and strengths. She is a great Bible teacher and has trained dozens of women to teach God's Word in our subsequent ministry situations. And, that second pastorate was a thrilling and blesseds experiecnce.
But, over the years, we have consulted with many pastors, church staff members, and leaders from local congregations on the presumptions the church places on the pastors or staff ministers wives. It's another one of those mine-fields where assumptions or un-written traditions impose roles that are not typically discussed in the courtship that leads to pastoral decisions. For this reason, it is MQ2, a question that must be asked and explored. In case after case, especially in our smaller churhces, these uncharted waters can be the source of stress that reaches into the pastors or staff members home, and creates unnecessary talk, gossip, and discussion among the church family. In more cases than I can mention such matters can foster an unbearable discomfort that could divide the church and erupt into layers of church discord.
Several considerations have guided our discussion of these possibilities in each subsequent discussion with pastor search committees or church leadership.
1. God calls husbands and wives as a team to lead local churches. Harriet's primay ministry to the church has been as my wife, the mother of our children, with the unwritten position description of supporting me in the pastoral role.
2. This is not meant to be irreverent or sacrilegious in any way, but I have always viewed Harriet as the assistant Holy Spirit, God's direct line of communication to me when my stubborn mind needed a jolt of reality or a point of contrast to what I was experiencing at any given time. She needed to be free of internal pressure from affinity groups to fulfill this element of her own personal calling.
3. Spiritual gift and personal strength inventory measurement always began in our own home first so that Harriet could be free to answer God's call in her life and not mans. She was always involved in the life and mission of the church at her own pace and not mine, or theirs.
4. Their were times and occasions when her God given assignment as wife and mother trumped her service in the church. Therefore, there were seasons in our marriage when she would take a back seat in church involvements so she could fulfill what she experienced as God's primary call in her life at that moment, the one about the family.
5. After that one uneasy situation, these discussion were settled as part of the calling dialog that happened as we discussed congregational expections about her service and those of our family members as well.
This was freah and real in several instances during our thrity-five years of pastoral leadership. The most critical were when I was diagnosed with stage four transitional cell carcinoma in 2004. She worked full time as assistant to the Chaplain to the Corps of Cadets at The Citadel and became my primary care-giver after major surgery and several months of chemo-therapy. In those times she relinquished her church committee positions and her service as primary Bible teacher for our women's ministry. Thankfully, the church family at Northwood Baptist Church was all-in during those demanding times. They supported her decision to devote her energy and care to serving me and our family. We are forever indepted to them for such forward thinking.
Ministry is hard. It is all that much harder when a ministers family life is disrupted by undue and often unspecified expectations being placed on the ministers wife. These can be avoided when MQ2 is asked up front. Sadly, a leading cause of pastors leaving the ministry is the stress placed on pastor and staff families, often beginning with his wife.
It should be settled once and for all during the negotiation process that leads to the call of a new pastor or staff member. And, it can be finalized if MQ2 is asked.
Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources, wrote this to pastor's wives at www.thomrainer.com.
Thank you pastor’s wife. You may have one of the most thankless roles in the world. You receive no compensation, but there are many expectations of you. At times you are expected to be omnipresent; and other times you are expected to be invisible. Rarely at any of those times does anyone express gratitude to you.
I would add, and forgive us for not asking the right questions when we're talking to committees or church leadership.