The Gospel Coalition

Editors' Note: This is part three in a series on pastor's wives. Previously:

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An article in our local newspaper announced an airline's new policy---"your fourth wife flies free"---in honor of a ruler who had just taken his fourth wife.

When my husband traveled to India for ministry he brought back an interesting anecdote. He said, "Every pastor I met introduced himself to me like this: 'My name is So-and-so; I have one wife and however-many kids.'" One of our church members from India explained that the rules of English grammar might be the reason the Indian pastors said that they have "one" wife instead of "a" wife.

Even so, in this area of the world, monogamous marriages are not assumed. I suppose it couldn't hurt for married pastors to affirm that they are married to only one wife!

Besides the "only one wife if you're married" clause, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list nearly 20 requirements for a potential under-shepherd of the Lord's sheep.

But where is the list of qualifications to be an elder's wife? Scripture-based ecclesiology offers no explicit job description for the office of pastor's wife, because there is no such office.

Empty Nesters to Nursing Moms


There is no office for the elder/pastor's wife, yet many wives feel pressure (or even a desire) to function as an honorary elder or unpaid staff member of the church. Direction in ministry for a pastor's wife can take on many forms, but one specific ministry ought to be valued over every other service opportunity she may be gifted to do or feel passionately about---that is, a wife's ministry to her husband and family.

To state it negatively, a pastor's wife's ministry to her husband and family should not be regarded as nominal and diminishing in comparison to other opportunities to serve in the church.

Pastors' wives love Jesus, love their husbands, love their churches, and want to serve the Lord. Of course a pastor's wife wants to be "sold out for the kingdom." But she would be selling the wrong domain if she punted her God-given responsibility of faithfully serving her husband and family. None of us really wants to neglect or disown this main ministry that God has hand-picked for us. Pastors' wives, just like every other church member, need discipleship, intentional care for their soul, and direction in ministry.

The subject of "seasonal ministry" was brought up around the lunch table where I sat with the other elders' wives in our church. Some are empty nesters or nearly empty nesters. Others have nursing babies at home. The nature of our husbands' work varies. Our husbands also have various issues with physical health that limit or redirect their efforts in service.

Between the pasta and Panini, we marveled at how exceedingly difficult it would be for all of us to be called to the same area of formal service in our church. Our gifting and passions differ greatly. But we share one ministry in common, which is ministry to our husbands---to be his one wife with all the power of Christ who so mightily works in us.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the Pastor's Wife


As our pastor-husbands "equip the saints for the work of ministry," we must come alongside and support them in this calling. One place to start looking for specific ways to minister to our husbands is the list of elder/pastor qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We can assume there is reproof and instruction from these passages to apply for ourselves.

One example is immediately apparent but perhaps seldom taught. An elder "must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive" (1 Timothy 3:4). The harrowing task of managing his household is given to Christian men. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden a man's efforts to lead his family have been met with opposition from within and without. We're sinners who marry sinners and give birth to more sinners. A man who aspires to the office of elder aspires to a noble thing. But first he must die to himself and lead his family likewise. Surely an elder could do this task of managing his household with greater dignity and confidence when his wife is walking with the Lord and supporting her husband, his leadership in their family, and his leadership in the church.

Many women's Bible studies discuss how to become a "Proverbs 31 woman." An excellent wife, who can find! These studies would also do well to caution women against becoming a "Proverbs 21 woman." "It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman" (Proverbs 21:9, 19). I like to joke with my husband that when I am "a quarrelsome and fretful woman" then he is in double trouble. Our roof is less than habitable, and we live in a desert!

Are you a quarrelsome and fretful wife? Are you the common denominator of dissension and strife in your home? Or are you a supportive and helpful wife? Are you building your home by God's grace in order to bring it under the headship of your husband to the glory of Jesus? Or do you foolishly tear down your home with your own hands (Proverbs 14:1)?

There are other general qualities in these passages that every Christian man ought to aspire to. An elder must be "hospitable." How can you support your husband as he invites both strangers and also loved ones into fellowship? An elder must be "above reproach." How can you graciously support your husband's commitment to living a life of integrity? Every wife ought to cheerfully support her husband's grace-driven and grace-sustained efforts in being sober-minded, self-controlled, gentle, and holy.

One character trait unique to men who aspire to leadership in the church is their ability to teach God's Word. An elder must be "able to teach." It might seem wives cannot help their husbands in this regard. Not so! I'm so thankful the Lord started pointing out to me ways that I could support my husband in his ability to teach in our first semester in seminary. Ten years later I still have to ask myself these heart-quesstions as I aim to support him: Do I respect my husband's hard work in study? Or do I resent the time he spends preparing to minister the Word? What are some creative and sacrificial ways I can budget time, money, and resources to help my husband as he seeks to be "able to teach"?

No Matter Your Age, Get Titus 2 Help


Many pastors' wives are young. Some of us are newlyweds. One woman wrote me an email a few weeks ago and said she was a "pastor's wife in training" as her fiancé just started seminary. Like me, she was struggling with fears and insecurities about the role she would assume once they were married and her husband started pastoring. Sometimes a pastor's wife with little experience in life, marriage, and ministry is thrust into leadership roles simply by association with her husband.

Instead of giving in to fear that we are incapable and insufficient, we should rely on the sufficiency of Christ and lean into the older women in our lives who can teach us how to love our husbands and children like Titus 2 describes. Surely a pastor's wife who models humility and teachability is leading other women faithfully in her example of biblical womanhood. A wife who draws on the strength and creative energy of God "who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17) will not lack anything she needs for service to her husband.

Pastors' wives need specific support and encouragement to be excellent wives to their pastor-husbands. After all, she's the only wife he's got!

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Pastors, it's not too late to register your wife for The Gospel Coalition women's conference! There is a special 9marks panel with guests Kristie Anyabwile, Keri Folmar, and Adrienne Lawrence, who will be discussing the particular struggles and privileges of being the wife of a pastor.


Comments:

Brent

November 30, 2012 at 01:43 PM

Can a pastor's wife be divorced before she marries him? And she would be his first and only wife.

Delecia Williams

November 18, 2012 at 09:22 PM

My husband was ordained as an assisting pastor of a local church and at the time of his ordination I stood alongside him and I was also anointed to support him in his calling. This also happened in the case of the senior pastor and his wife. The church decided to revisit the constitution and the doctrinal guide for the church in order the restructure the ministry because the taking a wrong direction since 2010. It’s going wrong direction due to the poor leadership and the attitude of the senior pastor. However, the senior pastor is demanding that his wife be part of the pastoral board and the church disagreed and is mounting a tension. Though my husband is young and has been in a ministry for eight years and the structure designed by my senior pastor: senior pastor-Senior pastor’s wife-asst. Pastor (my husband) and the church rejected his structure. I need help.

Gloria Furman

May 9, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Hi Hannah! What a great question! My husband and I went to seminary together also. I wanted to be further equipped to minister alongside him, and formal theological training has been very helpful to me.

Something that is implied in this article is that a pastor's wife does not require a seminary degree for the good work of supporting her husband. (Likewise, a pastor does not require a degree to be a godly husband.)

My advice to a young "pastor's wife to be" is to use all of her training in God's word and her thoughtful "studying" of her husband's needs to regularly evaluate day-to-day activities and commitments in light of her primary ministry of being a helpmate.

I think the nuances of ministering together as a married couple would be a topic for another post (or book!). Thanks again for your question!

Hannah

May 9, 2012 at 09:50 PM

Gloria, thank you for your reflections. What kind of advice would you give to a young "pastor's wife to be" who does desire to take part in public ministry, who is in seminary alongside her husband? Isn't the pastor to consider his family to be his "primary" ministry as much as the pastor's wife should, and how might that shape a life of ministry "together" with family?

Aimee Byrd

May 9, 2012 at 06:40 AM

This has been a good series, Gloria. It has really opened my eyes to the struggles and expectations put on a pastor's wife. One lesson I learned at a women's retreat was that you're never too old to learn from someone and you're never too young to teach someone. We are all teachers and learners in our own sphere's of influence. It really goes to show how we need to be purposeful in our inter-generational relationships. This can only help keep us from Prov. 21 syndrome :)

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Jonathan Sekhar

January 19, 2013 at 04:35 PM

Do you think that an elder who himself would meet the qualifications in 1 Tim/Titus could be disqualified from church leadership if his wife did not, i.e. due to her pre-marital moral failures?

ZZ

August 21, 2013 at 12:48 AM

Is it good for the pastor's wife has more control over the church than the pastor?

I ask because I am trying to find an answer to this.

If the pastor gives his wife all authority over the ministries and pretty much all things that are not to do with his preaching, is this right?

I ask because as the only other paid staff member at my church (besides him), I often attempt to bring up new ideas to try to reach out to the community, improve conditions within the church, and also try to bring to light the programs that have been failing in the church. The majority of my questions brought up result in the Pastor sending me to talk to his wife.

I might be a little resentful because so far about 100% of what I have brought up has been either ignored or shot down.

I have also noticed her desire to control every aspect of his life, their daughters, and even her mothers (who also attends the church).

This issue has become serious as she is trying to impose her will upon my growing ministry (4 kids to 20+ disciples in training so far). I am thinking of going to have a chat with him about this, but am fearful because he has a serious habit of ignoring fact and siding with her through all things.

I am married and understand love, but I also understand that a person's pride can get in the way when they think they know best. I don't think he should attack his wife for her actions, but I also do not think that he should stand idle by as her pride causes strife.

I am sorry this is long, but I have been in prayer about this for a while, and have been lead to doing some research on the topic.