Issues Confronting the Pastor’s Wife

Today, pastor’s wives are discovering that their roles are changing while recognizing more opportunities than ever.  Years ago, the pastors role was to somewhat sacrifice her life for the members of the congregation. She would play the organ or piano, was in charge of decorations and the women’s ministry. At a Church I know, it is the norm in the near 200-year-old institution that the president of the women’s group must be the pastor’s wife for as long as she is in that capacity. Today, pastor’s wives are partnering with their husbands in key areas of ministry. They are using their gifts, education and skills that they might have used in the market place.

Being a pastor’s son of an established denomination in Jamaica, I have heard the cries of many spouses time and time again. Some have had to seek Counselling with the issues they grapple with. My late mother Dr Clover Pearl Marshall-Jarrett, PhD, has had to counsel many wives from different denominations on how to cope with church related activities, caring for husband, children along with the demands as a professional and the role of “First Lady” in the congregation.

Below are some of the areas that I wish to highlight at this time.

I believe that a pastor’s wife must be encouraged to use her best gifts, most often, and find her place not only in the church, but within the community so that she has real fulfillment. She needs to know who she is, she is God’s chosen woman and to use the gifts that God has given each of them. Many pastors, while out there on mission and evangelism, totally forget about the emotional and romantic needs of their wives. I remember one pastor’s wife saying that her husband is at home so often but their love life is at its lowest ebb. Yet he is the perfect presenter on topics concerning boosting marriages. What an irony!!

A pastor’s wife is certainly a helpmate for her husband. Therefore the pastor’s wife needs to develop her own strengths and talents that will help her in assisting her husband within the ministry and beyond. Pastors and their wives should sit down and talk about their roles and expectations and decide how the wife can complement her husband the most. The communication between the husband and wife makes the role clear. Sometimes the role changes in a minute so it is best for communication to be effective and efficient.

As a pastor’s son, I have often heard my late Mom say while I am the pastor’s wife, I have my own identity. She would say “I am Clover Pearl, that’s who I am”. However, she always ends by saying that “true identity is found in Christ and Christ has called me to be a helpmate to this husband of mine, who happens to be a pastor”.  I found her statement profound – while her identity was important, God has called her to help her husband in Ministry. It is a call not only for the pastor but also his wife.

In my many years as a “son of the manse”, I have never known my Mom to have best friends from the Church my father pastored. If you do, these are sometimes the first ones to bring you down, whether gossiping, at a Church meeting or with your domestic worker. Pastor’s wives are to find friends outside of the Church which are healthier. Set up a playground with other mothers, join a book club, volunteer at your children’s schools or join a national choir if you are able to sing. Find people outside of the church that you can confide in. Consider interacting with a leadership coach. My mother was involved in the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Public Health Nurses’ Association, Guidance Counsellors Association and at the Church level, The denomination’s Women’s Association of Jamaica and in the Caribbean, Organist Association of Jamaica and the list goes on. She never missed a beat. Exercise extreme caution with whom you trust to hold in confidence, that is really important.

Moving is hard. Starting over is hard on your family but I believe each opportunity gives you a new start to use what you have learnt from your last Ministry and develop not only yourself but the new congregation that you are apart of. My mother moved into five different circuits in five different parishes that my father pastored during his 35 years in Ministry and had to learn from each congregation. Each congregation comes with its new challenges and my mother learnt the art to quickly adapt. In our denomination, one circuit had up to five Churches with each Church having its own peculiarities.

In an effort to be together outside of the home and church, it might be best to get involved together in the community, parish or country. Both my parents were involved in parish Red Cross along with on boards of various organizations including Family Life Ministries. This can boost togetherness which can be driving in one car, sitting in a meeting beside each other, sharing your views on a topic together etc, all this done to enhance the marriage.

Your husband will live a busy schedule. Don’t be ashamed to ask him to set aside time just for you and you alone. Make it a priority for both and don’t budge on it unless there’s an emergency. It’s difficult to put the ministry work aside, but both your marriage and relationship will benefit. Time for the family is equally important. Remember the family that prays, plans and plays together, stays together.

When a person comes to you with complaints regarding your husband, redirect them and ask them to talk with one of the elders/deacons. Do not entertain them. Most times, you are setting up yourself for big trouble.

People are mean and they expect you and your family to be perfect, despite the fact that they certainly are not. They will hold you and your family to a different standard and will leave you out of their social circles. I saw my Mom just being kind to them which often takes the steam out of their hatefulness. Realize which expectations are realistic and which are not. Be kind and realize that people like to be mean at times. Rise above these unrealistic expectations.

The members of the Church expect that pastor’s and their wives will express love and romance, hugging and a kiss on the mouth every now and then. I would hear young people and seniors say “Mih jus love when dem love each other” and demonstrating it referring to my parents and many other couples. Members expect their pastor and wife to show affection.

Church members and others expect your children to be perfect. Four children for my parents while being a pastor’s wife, were hard on my Mom, who was a public health nurse and guidance counsellor.  Two girls followed by two boys came with lots of work.   In ministry, you live in a “glass house” and as a family, we talked about this many times, trying to help the children to understand that they would be judged differently. There are no easy answers other than loving them strongly and caring deeply for them – being sensitive to the pressures they are also experiencing being in ministry.

Financial issues are tough, because there is no easy way to talk about them. Often churches do not provide well enough for pastors, which may put them in a position where the wife has to work or the pastor has to take on a second job.  Even with another job comes more challenges and greater emphasis on time management. These issues have seriously affected women where their husbands are in pastoral ministry.

Many Churches provide a manse and as such, the family doesn’t have to rush to purchase a personal home. Time flies off so quickly that after the church service for your 40 years in Ministry, you have no home to move into. Thank God my Mom ensured things were put in place that they moved into their personal home years before retirement. I have observed that many pastors tend to have ministry as priority while the wives have both Ministry and family as priority. So the personal home is usually priority for the wife.

Many church members expect the pastor’s wife to dress like a Nun, covered from head to toe. My father would have none of that. I remember, although my Mother was very conservative, she was always well dressed especially on Women’s Federation business. None could ever say that my mother was never appropriately dressed for any occasion, she stood out by far.  A caution to wives is to never outdo, but complement your husband and his ministry. Listen to him if he says wear something else, he knows his congregation more than you do.

Children are always at the firing line with the appropriateness of their attire, both boy and girl. I came under a lot of attack by church members but my siblings and I ensured that our attire complemented both parents and they approved of it before we left home for church, fun or otherwise. I remember my sisters were never fans of church hats and at times church ladies would ask them about it especially on “parson Sunday”. I remember one of my “feisty” sisters response “since I don’t earn a salary, I would suggest that you discuss it with my Mother please, she is a counsellor, she will make time for you, thanks”. Word got around about the response from my sister and that question was never asked of my sister again.

Author Shane Koehler from his book Key Qualities of a Pastor’s Wife states “Not only must the pastor have a wife who is teachable but you must have one who teaches. That is not to say that she must lead the women’s ministry or be a dynamic public speaker, but as a virtuous woman, she needs to “open her mouth with wisdom (Proverbs 31:26). She needs to speak with good counsel to others within the church, but just as importantly, she needs to speak faithful counsel to her husband. If your wife is given to grumbling and complaining, or if she struggles to understand grace and forgiveness, these will become temptations to you as you share burdens with her”.

A pastor’s wife must focus on developing an attitude of contentment. She will have to watch other people in the Church do things with their kids that she is not able to do. She will have to watch church members decorate their homes in ways she cannot decorate, especially around the Yuletide Season, she will have to watch them purchase things that she and her family are not able to afford. But the pastor’s wife must understand that the rewards of ministry do not always come in tangible or monetary form. To be clear, Paul urges churches to generously support their pastor’s (1 Timothy 5:17) but many churches will struggle to do that out of lack of resources or a lack of maturity. And unless or until they grow in both of these areas, a pastor’s wife must guard herself against a materialistic outlook that fails to see the riches of joyful marriage and the privilege of serving others and instead placing too much value on the riches of the world.

A pastor’s wife needs to have a genuine love for the Church, which means a genuine love and burden for the people entrusted to the care of her husband and the elders. There are some congregations I know that the pastor’s wife hardly attends church, not even on Sundays.  “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22) and a church that finds a pastor with a well-prepared pastor’s wife finds a hidden treasure they were probably not even seeking. Too often it is not so much the pastor as it is his wife who indirectly makes or breaks his ministry. Ask any fruitful pastor about the keys to the strength of his ministry, and like my late father Rev Dr Harry Sylvester Jarrett, PhD would say “The Lord has granted me abundant grace by giving me a wife who is named “Cloves” who has faithfully loved me and the church because she has supremely loved the Lord above all else”.

The call therefore of a pastor’s wife must be taken seriously. The pastor’s wife can make or break her husband’s ministry. It may be easier for a pastor to chose a wife while in ministry than the pastor’s wife being groomed while in Ministry. The truth be told, teaching a student a CSEC subject from start is most times easier than filling in gaps to a student who says he knows the content and knew nothing or little.

Let the discussion continue.

Walk good pastor’s wives.

Contributed by HE Prof Colin O Jarrett
Senior News Editor
November 2019

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