My heart of innocence knew nothing of the mountains and valleys that lay before us.
I was adorned in the most beautiful bridal gown I had ever seen. As I looked towards the front of the church, I saw that my beloved’s eyes were brimming with tears of joy. I was excited, and a little apprehensive about the future, as any bride would be. And yet my future would not exactly be like most newlywed couples. The moment I said “I do” to becoming this man’s wife, I would also say “I do” to becoming a pastor’s wife.
My groom had shepherded his flock without me for one year — now I was joining him. My mind filled with anticipation, but with no idea of what lay ahead. My rose-colored glasses were still on.
Today I can look back on 45 years of full-time Christian ministry. We have scaled amazing heights we never dared to dream about. We have also plunged to depths of sorrow, betrayal, and loss that we didn’t know were possible. We have had dreams realized and dreams shattered. We have pastored large churches and small ones. We have often cried out to God, “Why me?” when the blessings were flowing and we have also cried out to our God, “Why me, why now?” when we felt He had abandoned us and was silent to our prayers.
My story is one of God’s presence in our joys and in our pains. Let me share with you some of the things I have learned in my journey as a pastor’s wife.
The joys of ministry
- Being co-laborers. The theme for our wedding was “United to Serve.” One of my greatest joys in life has been to labor side by side in ministry with my husband and to know that we’re on the same team. It has been my heart’s desire to help and support him, firstly through my lifestyle as his wife. I have tried to be the best wife I could be by supporting him through prayer, encouragement, confrontation, respect, and unconditional love.
- The opportunity to model. I believe people see more than they hear. They have greater needs of models than of teachers. To be at the front of the pack and be able to say, “Follow me as I follow the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:1), forces me to grow and keeps my own heart fresh with God.
- Singleness of purpose. In Philippians 3:13 Paul said, “This one thing I do…” He knew what was important in life. He was able to put the past behind him and make his life’s goal to know and to serve Christ. I’ve experienced the joy of knowing why I am here and what I am to do. I have had a settled sense that I am being obedient to the call of God for my life.
- Seeing long-term fruit. One of the greatest joys of my life has been to see spiritual fruit — to be a part of people’s growth in love and service to our Lord. Knowing that our labor has made a difference in this earthly life, and will throughout all eternity, has made the trials worth it.
- Raising pastor’s kids. I have no greater joy than to see all four of our children, together with their spouses, loving and serving the Lord. I think our kids are richer and wiser because of their exposure to the ministry. I also take joy in our “spiritual children,” — the people in the congregations we served — as we see them walking in faith and growing in their commitment to Christ.
The struggles of ministry
- Fruitlessness. I have often given so much to a person or a group of people only to see little or no response. My husband and I continually cling to the truths in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that it is up to us to be faithful and up to God to bring forth the fruit.
- Unrealistic expectations. Every church is different and every person in the church has diverse expectations of the pastor, his wife, and family. We knew that no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t meet everyone’s expectations. We could only be true to the call that God had placed on our lives. We constantly have to remind ourselves to play to an audience of one — namely God himself.
- Loneliness. Leadership spells loneliness. Statistics show that loneliness is often the greatest ache in the heart of a pastor’s wife.
- Betrayal. Seeing the man I love and respect being falsely accused and betrayed has been profoundly painful. This betrayal often comes from the most unexpected sources over the most unexpected issues. The inability to reconcile has left lifelong scars. Many leaders have been betrayed. In Scripture, David had his Absalom, Paul had his Demas, and Jesus was betrayed by Judas. I have always said I want to follow Jesus all the way, but I did not have betrayal and false accusations in mind. I have claimed Philippians 3:10 as a life verse: “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering.” I have clung to the fact that God is still sovereign and faithful.
Being a pastor’s wife is a high calling but it is also a great responsibility and a great blessing. It is a gift from God. There are many demands, but the joys far outweigh the pressures. If you are a pastor’s wife, it is of utmost importance that you know who you are in Christ and be focused on pleasing him first and foremost. Herbert Bayard Swope, the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1917, has been quoted as saying, “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” When dealing with congregations, keep this in the front of your mind.
My rose-colored glasses are now off. I know more of what it means to walk by faith today than I had known — or ever expected to know — that day I strolled down the aisle to take my vows with my pastor-husband. Over our years in ministry together, God has taken our pain and loss, and turned these ashes into something beautiful. He has remained faithful to his character and his Word. Above all else, I now know that, apart from God, I can do nothing John 15:5, and I wouldn’t trade my calling as a pastor’s wife for anything else.