July 4, 2011

You Can't Fill Another Woman's Shoes

On Friday, I went shoe shopping in a store with over 100,000 pairs of shoes. I need this store because I wear a size 12, which is not widely available. This foot frustration made me think about filling the shoes of the women who preceded me in ministry.

I’ve followed two very different women. It was easier to follow the first one because she was not a regular church attendee (I was.), and I had a two-month-old child (I was needed at home.). I had much less life experience than the predecessor in our second church. This Senior Citizen grew up in a pastor’s family, attended seminary, relished theological debates and counted Francis Schaeffer as a close friend. She was gracious to me. See You Can Follow in Another Woman's Footsteps.

What have I learned? You can’t fill another woman’s shoes. You shouldn’t try. There are some things you can do, though.

You should be as honestly transparent as possible when applying (or, your husband is applying) for your next church or ministry assignment. Churches can be very different in their expectations. According to a song I heard about ministry marriages, some churches think they are getting “two people for the price of one.” Other churches do not want to hear from the wife because the call is for the husband only. In my opinion, both of these are unbalanced approaches. You need to tell the church as much as possible about yourself so that they won’t expect a clone of your predecessor.

When you get to a new place, realize that you are equipped for the ministry God gives you. He uses experiences from your past as well as what you are learning from Him today. In fact, as His children, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” These are the ultimate resources for doing what He calls us to do in our lives and ministry.

We can’t work outside the biblical framework God gives, but we can use our minds to evaluate how to minister in His name. Think about the church’s needs and how to match that with the spiritual gifts and graces God has given you. It is quite possible that you have exactly what the church needs at this time. This might be a unique quality that was lacking in the predecessor.

I have come to terms with my big feet. It is wishful thinking that I could squeeze into a size 10. I don’t even try. In the same way, I am usually content with the way God made me and with the gifts He has given me. I don’t even try to be the woman who went before me. Her shoes wouldn’t fit me anyway.


  1. You reminded me of an L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) story in which the little girl hears and imagines so many amazing things about her far-away cousin that she becomes sick with worry that she'll never measure up to her angelic relative. When the girls finally meet, they both discover that the reports of each other's perfection were greatly exaggerated.

    I wonder how often we are trying to measure up to our own, inflated, ideas about what the last girl must have been like, rather than acknowledging the reality that she was a sinner in need of grace, too.

  2. I am so grateful the Lord allowed me to find your website. You both are such a blessing and encouragement to me. We planted our church and so there was not a girl who came before me...but I have discovered that expectations, past hurts, etc. from previous preachers and their wives are baggage that people bring with them when they come to a new church too. May the Lord bless you both as you minister for Him and His people.

  3. Anonymous, thanks for the encouragement. You bring up a good point that church planting gives us unique challenges. Ahhh, I think that is a good Sunday Women topic.

  4. Good advice, especially for candidating. When we were invited to candidate at our current church I was an exhausted, sleep-deprived homeschooling mom of 3 - the youngest was 4 months old. I told them frankly that I considered my biggest ministry to the church to be providing a peaceful home for my family, especially my husband. I warned them that I am not musically talented (I don't play any instruments), and I was not in a position to lead any women's Bible studies or teach Sunday School and I didn't expect to be for a long time, maybe years. I considered it a priority to work out all my home responsibilities first and then add on church responsibilities as I felt I could, but they could not expect me to be some sort of super-woman pastor's wife, especially not right off the bat in that stage of life. They extended a call to my husband anyway. And it made a big difference in how they have treated me and what they have expected from me. I have often WISHED I could play piano... ok maybe I'm a little glad I can't. ;-D But I have been given opportunities to serve the church in ways that suit my abilities and talents, some ways that aren't necessarily on a stereotypical "good-pastor's-wife" checklist. For that, I am very grateful to God.

    PS: I have uncommonly big feet too, I loathe shoe shopping.

  5. Anonymous, thanks for sharing your experience with candidating. Everyone has expectations. Churches. Candidates. Hopefully, by loving communication, we can help each other see what is biblically and humanly realistic and what is not.

  6. Thanks for this post! I have had to alter my own expectations of what I should be able to do in "ministry" several times. After many discussions with my husband and finally understanding what ministry in my family is for me, I am getting better at this, but this is tough for me!

  7. CristyLynn, It is a very important ministry to care for a family. I am glad you and your husband are communicating about this. Priorities change over time, and God will see you through. Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses.


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