A Word to Pastors
Pastors are very special to my husband and me. He spent almost three decades in pastoral ministries in the local church, and for more than four decades we have been training ministry families. These words come from my heart to the young men preparing for ministry.
A preacher can make his wife shine and glow in the awesome task she has assumed upon becoming his helper. He needs to remember who held the ladder while he climbed to success!
The preacher should be proud of his wife, and that should be evident in what he says and does. He should give her credit for her wise counsel and good ideas. When praise comes to him for their joint ministry, he ought to share it generously with her. She needs constant assurances of her husband’s love and appreciation. The preacher’s complete devotion can be appropriated through common courtesies, romantic affection, worthy recognition, and gracious praise. A preacher dare not let his physical weariness keep him from pouring out tender affection upon his wife and showering her with acts of kindness.
Dr. Stephen Olford, while serving as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, instituted the weekly practice of celebrating “Heather’s Day” (named in honor of his wife). This day was to be an uninterrupted time for him and his wife to enjoy one another. His church knew about the day and respected his choice to “cheer up his wife” on a regular basis (Deut. 24:5). The preacher and his wife need to retreat away from the routines of life for time to give attention to one another.
The preacher needs to guard his wife’s health. Not only should she have regular physical exams, but he should watch for any danger signals lest she have a medical problem in the making. He should also encourage and make possible regular sleep patterns for her as well as retreats away for physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. He should be sure that their recreation includes what she enjoys.
Second, she ought to be her husband’s chief confidante, dearest friend, and closest colleague. The preacher’s wife yearns to be included in her husband’s ministry:
- by the discussion of dreams and goals for family and church,
- in visiting and counseling where her feminine insights and sensitivities might be helpful and might perhaps protect her husband from an unseemly situation,
- in sermon preparation by enlisting her help to locate scintillating illustrative material,
- by encouraging her constructive evaluation of his pulpit ministry,
- through asking his wife to accompany him to conventions, conferences, and revivals so that she might also enjoy fellowship, inspiration, and edification.
The pastor needs to share the load in parenting. By assuming his responsibility as leader of the household, he is available to make the tough decisions. Taking the initiative in family worship means assuming genuine spiritual leadership, not in title only. He can encourage by word and deed the respect his children should accord the First Lady of his household. Spending time with each child personally and with them collectively provides for him an accurate pulse on what is going on with the children. The pastor’s wife ought to have some time for herself regularly—time for spiritual nurture, for planning, and even for relaxation and renewal. However, the pastor’s involvement in the household does not mean doing housework and babysitting to compensate for his wife’s employment.
If a minister is receiving full-time compensation from his church, he cannot with integrity adjust his hours in order to cover for his wife while she is working elsewhere. Because a minister does not punch time clocks and works according to his own schedule—often without a specific job description, he may be tempted to become the flexible one in the home. The decision as to whether or not a wife is employed is one the ministry couple must make themselves, but the pastor dare not shirk his responsibilities in order to become the keeper of the home and nurturer of the children while his wife climbs the professional ladder in her own pursuits.
Congregations should be attentive to the needs of their pastoral families. Being a First Lady in the church is a time-consuming task added to the responsibilities of wife and mother. A pastor will find it difficult to be as effective as he could be if his wife is not available to manage the household and help him in ministry.
As the preacher “dwell[s] with [his wife] according to knowledge” (1 Pet. 3:7), he can encourage his wife’s educational preparations for providing open doors for her continuing edification through attendance at seminars and conferences. Perhaps a portion of the book budget could be allotted for purchasing volumes that would be helpful in equipping her.
Time must be spent to identify her gifts and to help open doors for her to use those gifts. My husband commits for me to write and speak much more often than I would ever have the courage to do on my own, and he lives with the inevitable inconvenience by deadlines imposing hardships on the family, and especially on him.
The minister’s wife may need protection from a host of well-meaning people and even herself. Over-commitment is always a danger for the capable and willing worker. A pastor is the key to protecting his wife. Sometimes he must do this in a public way—from the pulpit or in his weekly news column—in order to keep her from being overloaded, to give her time to recover from illness, or to allow her to pour extra energies into some important family project. A husband can be most effective in channeling his wife’s energies so that she does not exhaust herself in doing things that are not in line with her primary gifts. Sometimes a person or group in the church will not take “no” for an answer from the preacher’s wife; but when the preacher as a protector, graciously but firmly intervenes, the matter is solved.
Every minister’s wife will not be a shining star to guide wise men or women, but each has the capacity to concentrate her energies as an angel of the home, singing peace and good will and bringing heaven to earth.
As she seeks to make her preacher happy and contented and as free as possible to do the work to which he has been called, she needs the prayers of her husband, his loving counsel and concern, his unfailing respect, and his willingness to share her burdens even as she shares his. Every preacher should start by treating his wife at least as courteously as he would treat other women in the church!
“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31).
Dorothy Kelley Patterson
First Lady, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Excerpt adapted from A Handbook for Minister’s Wives (Nasvhille: Broamdan &Holman, 2002), 232-235.