Today, pastors wives are discovering that their roles are changing while recognizing more opportunities than ever. Years ago, the pastor’s wife’s 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 nearly 200-year-old institution that the president of the women’s group must be the pastor’s wife for as long as she remains in that capacity. Today, the 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 on the issues with which they are faced. 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, how to care for their husbands and children as well as how to treat with certain demands in a professional manner and what it means to be a “First Lady” in the congregation.
Below are some of the areas that I wish to highlight at this time.
LONELINESS AND ISOLATION
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 experiences real fulfilment. She needs to know who she is; that she is God’s chosen woman and how to utilize the gifts that God has given to her. Many pastors, while out there on missions, 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!!
HELPMATE TO HER HUSBAND
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 their wives can complement their roles. Sometimes roles can change in a matter of minutes, so it is best for communication to be effective and efficient between the two.
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 for his wife.
HAVING FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF THE CHURCH YOU ATTEND
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 persons to bring you down, whether by gossiping, in church meetings or with a domestic worker. Pastor’s wives are to find friends outside of the Church which is healthier. They can also set up a playground with other mothers, join a book club, volunteer at their children’s schools or join a national choir if they are able to sing. They must find people outside of the church in whom they can confide. They may also 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. Pastor’s wives must exercise extreme caution with whom they trust to hold in confidence. This is very important.
MOVING TO NEW CONGREGATIONS
Moving is hard. Starting over is hard on any family but I believe each opportunity gives you a new start to use what you have learnt from your last ministry to further develop yourself and the new congregation of which you are a part. My mother moved into five different circuits in five different parishes that my father pastored during his 35 years in Ministry and she had to learn from each congregation. Each congregation comes with its new challenges and my mother learnt the art of adapting quickly. In our denomination, one circuit had up to five churches with each church having its own peculiarities.
GETTING INVOLVED TOGETHER
In an effort to be together outside of the home and church, it might be best to get involved in activities at the community, parish or country level. Both my parents were involved in parish Red Cross in addition to various other organizations including Family Life Ministries. This can boost togetherness by driving in one car; sitting in a meeting together; sharing their views on a topic together and so on.
SPENDING TIME TOGETHER
Your husband’s schedule will be busy. Don’t be ashamed to ask him to set aside time just for you. Make it a priority, 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.
BEING A CONDUIT FOR COMPLAINTS ABOUT HER HUSBAND
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, otherwise you will set yourself up for big trouble.
SOME UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FROM MEMBERS
People are mean and will expect that you and your family are perfect, even though they themselves 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 hatred. Realize which expectations are realistic and which are not. Be kind and realize that people will be mean at times. Rise above these unrealistic expectations.
EXPRESSING LOVE FOR YOUR HUSBAND
The members of the Church expect that pastors and their wives will express love and romance; hugging and kissing on the mouth every now and then. I would hear young people and seniors say “Mih jus love when dem love each other” referring to my parents and many other couples. Members expect their pastor and first lady to show affection.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN
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 each other to understand that we would be judged differently. My parents agreed that they would love their children strongly and care for them deeply – being sensitive to the pressures that can be experienced in ministry.
EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL WOES
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 whose husbands are in pastoral ministry.
PURCHASING YOUR FAMILY HOME
Many Churches provide a manse and as such, the family doesn’t have to rush to purchase a personal home. However, time can fly so quickly, that after 40 years in Ministry, you have no home of your own. Thankfully my mom ensured things were put in place causing my family to move into our personal home years before her retirement. I have observed that many pastors prioritize the ministry while their wives view both ministry and family as priority. The personal home is therefore usually a priority for wives.
ATTIRE OF THE WIFE AND CHILDREN
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 inappropriately 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 to 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 boys and girls. I came under a lot of attacks 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 or leisure activities. 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 was “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 that not only must the pastor have a wife who is teachable but he 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 give faithful counsel to her own husband. If a pastor’s wife is given to grumbling and complaining, or if she struggles to understand grace and forgiveness, these may lead pastors into temptation.
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 unable 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 a tangible or monetary form. To be clear, Paul urges churches to generously support their pastors (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 privileges. She simply cannot afford to place too much value on the riches of this world.
GENUINE LOVE FOR CHURCH
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. In some congregations, 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 wife, finds a hidden treasure they were probably not even seeking. Too often pastors’ wives indirectly help to break their 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 he 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 choose a wife while in ministry than for a pastor’s wife to be groomed while in ministry. The truth is, teaching a student a CSEC subject from start is most times easier than filling in gaps of a student who says he knows the content when what he knows is very little or nothing at all.
Let the discussion continue.