As I was interviewing with the church I serve now, a Godly man made a statement that recieved quite the reaction from me. He said that in hiring me, the church was really getting a 2 for 1, referring to my wife. I put my pen down and kindly said that they were getting a 1 for 1 and my wife would be involved in the life of the church in a way she feels God leading her. The man respectfully understood what I was saying.
Watching my mom play the role of pastor’s wife and observing some of the expectations placed upon my own wife and other spouses (male and female) in the church, I have been prompted me to write this post. Like any “issue”, there seems to be a ditch on either side of the debate and I am in search for the middle.
In one ditch, churches can have some unreal expectations on the spouses of ministry leaders. A dear pastor friend of mine told me a story about the time the ladies of the church planned a retreat and demanded that his wife play the hymns on the piano. Well the rub was she had never played any instrument in her life and the women were floored. In youth ministry it is a classic assumption that the spouse will volunteer to head up the guys or girls youth ministry, depending on the gender of their spouse. Again, this is not a fair assumption.
In the other ditch, spouses can occasionally hide and have minimal presence in the life of the church. While all stories are different, I can remember seeing youth pastors and ministers whose spouses rarely showed up. As a kid it made me think that they really didn’t want to be part of the family that their spouse told me each week I should be actively involved in. Something didn’t line up for me. Today I would say there are some high costs when a youth pastor is trying to live out their call and the spouse is just not on the same page. While some of you may argue with me, becoming a pastor is a unique call. I completely champion the fact that selling insurance can be ministry in God’s economy, yet the insurance business requires different support from the spouse than the church does. The fact that the church is the place of employment and worship for a pastor’s family can make things tricky. When I first started in ministry, I had no idea how my call would one day impact my wife and kids, both fruitful and challenging.
For me, both of these ditches reflect a lopsided ecclesiology. So what is the church anyway? Following Jesus is a communal event. As I read scripture, I see that all followers play an integral role in the life of this holy community. As I see it, the spouse should play the same role as any other worshipper in the community. They should feed and be fed. They should be given room to struggle and space to rejoice. They should be welcomed and welcome, just like anyone else. If a spouse is too far removed from the community, then loneliness and bitterness can seep in. If a spouse is the crazy volunteer person, then others may feel permission to not engage or be threatened. Furthermore, marriages in ministry can often suffer when both the husband and the wife are working their tales off at the church.
When I met my wife, she was volunteering in Young Life, the church youth ministry and teaching 2nd graders at a local school. We both loved ministry, Jesus and young people. As we began to have kids of our own, some things changed. I think I pushed Kim too much at one point to disciple some teenage girls that would have eaten most grown men for lunch. One day she told me that her heart and abilities really led her to love younger kids. I had to swallow a pill, knowing I was losing a volunteer, yet the church was gaining from Kim’s decision to live into her calling to young children. So today I am still on staff attempting to serve College aged folks and teenagers while my wife serves elementary aged kids. We both love our church in different ways and ways in which God has knit us.
One thing I have learned in this transition is that I need to over communicate with my wife. It is super beneficial when I remember to tell her stories about the students I work with. She still deeply cares about teenagers, but from a different seat in the stands.
(Would love for you to share your thoughts with me and share this post with others. I am in process and love the dialogue involved in blogging)