Once upon a time, I walked in the teacher’s lounge of the school where I worked. The teachers on their break were deep in conversation—obviously about a scandalous occurrence in someone’s life. As I opened the creaky door, one of the women looked up and saw me.
“Shhh,” she warned, “the preacher’s wife is coming. Don’t shock her innocent ears!”
It was a joke, but I think my coworker truly believed she could say something about sin that would be new to me. This perspective is not uncommon. In my more than thirty years in a pastor’s family---first as a pastor’s daughter and now as a pastor’s wife—I have discovered that many, many people believe pastors and their families live in a bubble of naiveté, untouched by the complexities of life on Planet Earth.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Pastors and their families live in the very trenches of spiritual warfare, standing alongside the Body of Christ as she faces down Satan and sin. Ministry life is incredibly complex, requiring knowledge of the Scriptures and wisdom from the Holy Spirit to navigate not only life in a fallen world but also life in the assembly of God’s people.
And our cars occasionally break down, too.
My coworker probably couldn’t appreciate my joys either. Witnessing a single, precious soul fleeing to Christ. Someone’s quiet victory over long-besetting sin. A quarrel resolved. A covenant child making profession of faith. Saints around a table.
Given the range of joys and challenges in the life of a pastor’s wife, I was delighted to discover a new book, edited by Catherine J. Stewart, Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins. Its eighteen chapters each cover a different aspect of ministry life—from personal holiness to besetting sin in the life of a pastor—and each chapter is written by a different pastor’s wife (or, in the case of Sarah Ascol, a pastor's daughter).
You will recognize the names of some of the godly women who contributed. Others are ordinary pastors’ wives, unknown in the eyes of the world. I am privileged to know a few of them personally. But when you have turned the last page, you will feel—as I did—that all of them are now dear friends, a cloud of witnesses, pointing you to Christ in the midst of ministry life.
The book is written with a new pastor’s wife in mind, though there is wisdom here for even the woman who has been a helpmeet in the pew for years. Each chapter concludes with questions for thought or discussion and includes suggestions for further reading. It would make an excellent tool for mentoring or a group of ministry wives.
The first few chapters deal with the foundational issues of piety, humility, and self-control. Catherine Stewart writes, “Whether we see it or not, our lives are already prioritized. The daily habits we establish, the manner in which we speak, the people with whom we spend time, and the places we go all indicate where we have placed the focus of our hearts. The habitual bend of our soul reveals where we look for satisfaction, security, and significance. Do we look to God for these things, or do we scatter our hopes elsewhere?”
Or, as Margy Tripp writes in another chapter: “There will always be more things to do than are doable.”
The authors of the early chapters urge an intentional use of time and energy to cultivate spiritual disciplines. I appreciate their emphasis on a pastor’s wife’s personal, spiritual condition. Often it is easy to fall into the pattern of Martha (Luke 10:38-42) who was doing many good things—serving Jesus and his disciples!—and yet had neglected her own soul.
The later chapters of the book are focused on challenges that pastors’ wives encounter in a unique way. I appreciate the careful editing done by Stewart in choosing her topics. The authors are well-suited to their subjects, and their themes are ones I have not previously seen approached from the perspective of ministry life. A pastor’s wife with this book will undoubtedly find it a useful toolbox, filled with wise and compassionate counsel.
Did your husband have to cancel your anniversary dinner-date because of a church emergency? Joan Hamilton has doubtless been there (she reports that her husband officiated at “over seven hundred funerals in . . .twenty years”) and her wisdom is Christ-centered: “What the Spirit first produced in Christ, he comes to reproduce in us. We are called to follow the Savior’s example, to be unselfish with what he has given us, and to be generous-hearted in our sharing of what he has given. We must serve him humbly wherever, whenever, and however we are able by his grace.”
Are your Sundays a chaotic time of last-minute sermon preparation by your husband and harried hospitality by you? “Sissy” Floyd Pipa’s letter is bursting with practical helps, set in the context of a biblical understanding of the Lord’s Day. She tells readers about her Sunday dress-up box that her own children and their friends used to present Bible-story plays for lunch guests. She encourages pastors’ wives to multiply the quantity of recipes and freeze portions for Sundays. She reminds mothers that their primary responsibility on the Lord’s Day is to care for the souls of her children and husband—and of her own soul, too.
Is your church critical of your husband and his ministry? Mary Beeke (in my opinion, her chapter is the best letter in the book) gives several very practical and biblical ways to approach criticism, “Remember, every experience of criticism or persecution is useful.” Then she reminds her readers: “You knew you weren’t entering a glamorous occupation. You are, however in the most blessed of occupations.”
In my own life, I have seen the goodness of this occupation again and again.
But it is the format of the book which is its greatest asset. The variety of contributors offers both a singularity of vision (the enduring privilege of serving Christ and his kingdom) and a diversity of personalities and gifts. As Margy Tripp writes: “there is not a one-size-fits-all pastor’s-wife job description.”
Each woman who marries a pastor will encounter a range of experiences, many that the rest of the world never suspects. But she will also find that Christ himself is sufficient for all that we face. As I finished this book, I was reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:24-25: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us.”
Stewart, Catherine J., ed. Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins. Phillipsburg, NJ: P& R Publishing. 2013. ISBN 978-1-59638-700-3.