Megan and her father willingly start difficult dialogs in the interest of bringing truth to light, even when some of the response is negative. I admire that quality in them. This archived posting from July highlights a deep need that most people avoid because it could get messy.
I know more than one pastor’s wife who secretly receives weekly professional counseling.
The stress of ministry life, compounded over the years by a near-monastic silence about problems, has created a situation where these women need help to speak freely and regain a realistic, God-glorifying perspective.
These pastors’ wives are struggling. And their story is not as unusual as the average layman might think.
I can name dear sisters in ministry who have climbed some very steep mountains. They have been diagnosed with mental illness and have been afraid to tell anyone. They have been so poor the jokes beginning with that line are no longer funny. They have quietly supported their husbands through severe depression. They have even lost their husbands to moral failure. And, mostly, they have climbed alone, revealing their vulnerability only on the other side. . .if at all.
Recently, I read an article by a seminary director of alumni. In his post, entitled “Getting Ready for Someone’s Last General Assembly,” Joel Hathaway bemoans the lack of peer support for pastors who are faltering.
His concern is that pastors are so busy with the work that they forget the fellowship. They can tend to buzz past one another, focused on the to-do-list of ministry, and fail to help a brother in need. Men who are all but defeated by discouragement, sin, and spiritual apathy get scant attention from their fellow workers whose souls are (momentarily at least) healthier.
In my mind, each of the unnamed men he mentions is paired with an even more anonymous wife. And if the pastor’s concerns are neglected, surely his wife’s are, too.
Silence is the pastor’s wife’s default.
Why do we do this? I think that saying “the expectations are too high,” does us a disservice. The pastors’ wives I know, down to the last woman, are concerned for God’s glory and for the good of His bride, the church. They would give anything (some of them have given everything) for the kingdom.
We don’t put on a good face because of a prideful conviction that we must have perfect hair or people will tsk-tsk behind our backs.
Instead, I believe most of us minimize our own problems because we think revealing them would be harmful to the kingdom. We keep quiet to protect our husbands, to spare the church additional burdens, and sometimes just because nobody thinks to ask.
And, in many cases, silence and prayer—becoming nothing that Christ might be exalted—is the God-honoring path.
But when pastors’ wives are seriously discouraged, or their marriages are struggling, or their financial needs are acute, I think other Christians need to be intentional about helping them.
This is good for pastors’ wives, but it’s also good for the church.
I jokingly say that my job description as a pastor’s wife is two-task simple: be a good church member, and keep the pastor alive.
But if I’m spiritually depressed, if I’m crippled by sin, if I’m anxious or sexually tempted or angry, I can’t do my job. And when one portion of the Body gives up, all parts are affected.
A hurting pastor’s wife is a hurting church member. She needs the Body to minister to her, just like any other Christian woman. And, because her situation is slightly different, she may also need a different kind of help.
Here, I propose five suggestions to help the forgotten pastor’s wife. Some of them, we wives can do for one another. Some, the church will have to do for us.
1. Prioritize fellowship among wives. Learn to see ministry to other wives as valuable ministry. By making friends with a pastor’s wife, you will have opportunity to help the kingdom.
2. Designate an elder in the local church to “pastor” each wife. That elder should regularly make contact. Only by building a relationship over time will a pastor’s wife feel comfortable enough to seek help in time of need.
3. Destigmatize getting help. My friends who slink off secretly to professional counseling, should be able to do so openly. We should assist pastors’ wives to find and use godly counsel wherever it is available, whether professional or informal.
4. On a presbytery level, make the shepherding committee a household name. When the pastor struggles, his wife does, too. And the local church isn’t always the best place for help. Wives whose husbands are faltering need to know which of their husband’s peers they can call.
5. Don’t let go. In some cases, these struggling women will find themselves no longer pastors’ wives. Through death, divorce, or lack of call, their lives will change radically, and they will need these supports more than ever. We must not forget them.
This is just a beginning. There are years of un-held conversations about encouraging Christ’s struggling workers and their wives. Let’s talk.