Monday, December 08, 2014

The Christian Lady and Preachers Wives Part 1

 Today I am starting a series about preacher's wives, based on the many letters I have received over the years from preacher's wives. 

 The words "preacher's wife" are not mentioned in the Bible, but we know that many of the apostles, evangelists and disciples of Jesus had wives. Today the term is used often to identify the lady who is the help-meet of the preacher in the congregation of the church where you attend.
Some people may see her only as a church servant, and never know what goes on behind the scenes in her private life at home. I say "private," but life as a preacher's wife is not as private as the average church member. People who seek her companionship and encouragement often call her for counsel, and others are just curious to see how she lives. She may think she has to open her door to everyone because her husband's job is at stake.  

Most people do not realize that some preacher's wives never have a house of their own and never have financial security while their husbands are in the ministry, and even when they retire. (Unless there has been a special arrangement, churches do not provide a retirement fund or bonuses or severance pay.) They give up a lot to serve the Lord and the church, yet they rarely reveal this.  Ask a preacher's wife about the things she patiently endures (if you can get her to talk about it). You will have to admire the fact that many of the elderly preacher's wives we have known have lived with the awareness of scrutiny on their lives.

 Despite these obstacles, there are some preacher's wives that help their husbands win souls and minister in other ways. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that the church members as a whole will never hear about and never see. They do not see the strangers that come to her door wanting counsel or financial help. They do not see the number of times she visits people outside of the church who are not members. They do not see the people she takes under her tutelage, trying to help them develop the character qualities that will lead to a happier life.

One matter which may never be observed is that a preacher's wife more often than not lives a long way away from her parents and her siblings, and friends. While other ladies in the church find fellowship with their own parents and brothers and sisters, the preacher's wife often lives far away from her own family, having followed her husband in his ministry. Preacher's wives may also live apart from their own children, as their children find their own work elsewhere.  

 No one sees the sacrifices her own children make when their mother shows hospitality, over and over, to members of the church and outsiders. It is not always known how the preacher's wife will prepare a meal for someone that her husband is teaching. Her hospitality often aids in their conversion, and yet there may be no church members who even know about her contribution.

 No one knows the time she devoted to teaching other women how to sew, cook, keep house or raise children. No one knows about the time she spends preparing Bible lessons for children or helping with church social activities such as coordinating church dinners. They never see the things she does in private, on her own,(especially in a small congregation) such as cleaning the church building, and they are hardly aware of the financial contribution she makes when she contributes kitchen supplies or cleaning supplies.

People may think her house is a little disorganized and maybe she has trouble getting a meal together on Sunday, but what they do not see is that she may have spent all day helping with the church bulletin or preparing her Bible class materials for a children's class. They don't realize she attends church 4 times a week and maybe more. While others in the congregation opt out of the mid-week Bible studies and ladies Bible studies, the preacher's wife attends them. This takes hours away from her home life, and sometimes she is unable to keep up to the standards she so badly wants to achieve.
 The role of the preacher's wife is not mentioned at all in the Bible. The one role it does mention is that of wife, mother and keeper of the home. She should be nothing less than a Christian wife and helpmeet to her husband.  She is the support structure to her husband. She looks after his clothes, knows where he put his keys (like most wives), accompanies him on his visits, and reminds him of appointments and helps him with extra church responsibilities.  If the preacher's home is next to the meeting house, some preacher's wives even get up earlier than most church members to unlock the church building, and turn on heat and lights.
 In some ways the life of the preacher's wife is very social. She has an entire congregation to be her family. In spite of this, she may not have one good friend that she feels she can trust.  As in most people's lives, there can be friendly people who are up to no good and will use a friendship for their own gain. A preacher's wife wrote: "The incidents of betrayal in a preacher's wife's life are almost never talked about. Even casual conversation will be twisted and told around in a completely different way in order to discredit her."  These brave ladies take it all in stride, understanding that it all comes with the territory and the role they are living. In a book about preaching, an author writes, "There are too many people that require too much of the preacher's wife, and yet she is not employed by them, nor paid any salary."  Everything a preacher's wife does for the church comes out of her personal dedication to her husband and to The Lord. She loves the brethren with a sincere heart.
Some preacher's wives look at their husband's ministry as an opportunity to be an influence, only to find that there are critics in the congregation. Another preacher's wife said:"If she dresses conservatively, they say she is too old-fashioned, and if she wears trendy clothing she will be accused of squandering the salary the church gives them.  If she is a homemaker, the whisperers will insist she should be out working for a paycheck, and if she takes part in activities and interests  other than her local congregation,  the members say she is not involved enough with the congregation. If she is a good greeter and is friendly, one may say she is pushy, and if she is quiet and polite, another may say she is not out-going enough."

There are things in the life of a preacher's wife that people never consider.  Few people think about the lack of security she has when she lives in the preacher's home provided by the church. "If she has her own home, one false accusation against her can cause her husband to lose any income provided by his supporters, and he can go into bankruptcy and even homelessness.  The preacher's wife has got to be a very unmaterialistic and selfless person to agree to enter into a marriage that involves the ministry."

"People do not know that before her husband entered the ministry, the preacher's wife had other interests in life, which she probably put aside in order to serve the congregation. She may have loved sewing, quilting, art, music, antiques, travel, and a host of other things. Some church members believe that a preacher's wife can only do things that are of a spiritual nature; that it is too materialistic to be interested in life around her,  and others believe she should participate in more worldly things in order to "fit in" with other people."

Some preacher's wives feel very self-conscious because of the scrutiny of others. Every word this lady speaks is recorded and the hearers have memories like elephants. They treat her with more strictness than they would demand of their own children.  

A preacher's wife wrote this to me: "Years ago, when I had my first child, I discovered I needed to go to the church nursery and change a diaper. As I entered the hallway, an elderly woman greeted me and I answered, "Hello. How are you today?"  A little later, this woman complained to the elders that I had said,"Get out of my way."  The elders called my husband about it and he asked me if it was true. I told him what really happened, and he transferred the information to the elders. We even went to see the woman to see what we could do to straighten things out, but she insisted that was what she heard, and we could never convince her otherwise."

The preacher's wife went on to say:

 "The tale was told all around the church, and no matter how much I denied it, there were some people who naively believed  the falsehood, because the woman had been in the church a long time and they could not believe otherwise. Instead of over-looking the incident, just a few people kept it in their memory and tallied up a score against me. Eventually they had about ten things they could take to the elders meeting and complain about. They were all false accusations delivered by only two people, but caused much grief.  No one ever considered the possibility that the lady had turned down her hearing aid and had picked up words that rhymed with "How are you today?"  They all had been guilty of colossal mistakes and embarrassing errors in their own lives but could excuse it in themselves. I was just happy that God knew the truth."

The preacher's wife then wrote:

"Although this unfortunate incident occurred when I was only 20 years old and had not raised my children, through references that my husband sought when he wanted to apply for any future preacher's job, this incident was always recorded. No matter how much I had matured over the next 50 years, this tidbit was used against me and caused a lot of problems for my husband.  No matter how many good things I had done over the years; no matter how kind and loving I had been toward others (even allowing some people to live in my home while they recovered from problems in their lives), this little incident was used against me."

What the preacher's wife wrote is a common problem even in places that are not churches. Tale-bearers are more willing to believe the lie than the truth. Often they can so prejudice people against a good woman that these people will refuse to even investigate the other side of the story. In any group, whether it be a family or a business, this sort of thing goes on unless there are principled people who refuse to judge unrighteously.  No matter how much sacrificial hospitality she has shown, at her own personal expense, some people keep score of perceived wrongs instead of good things.

The church and the public often do not realize how much a preacher's wife's morale is attacked and how it can affect the way she nurtures her family. Her children need her loving care and sympathy, but one disgruntled person  can cause her to lose her concentration at home and she will not be herself. She will be unable to emotionally "be there" for her children and her husband. Most preacher's wives want a clear conscience before God, and cannot function well if they know someone has something against them. However, in this day and age, some people do not want to make things right. They want to continue their resentments and never solve them, because they know it keeps things stirred up so that the minister and his wife find it hard to minister effectively

In former days, the preacher's wife was highly valued for her adherence to God's word, for her pure conduct, for her ability to teach, and her refinement. Girls wanted to grow up to be like her, and boys wanted to be like the preacher.

 A preacher's wife tried to set an example to everyone and lift the standards of those around her by her influence and her inspiration.  The fact that she does not indulge in worldly vices and tries to live a good clean life is often never admired and seldom given credit in this day and age.

Although the preacher's wives of the past were highly valued and loved, things have changed in the mind of the public, and today.  Preachers wives who have written to me say, "people think nothing of shouting at her, falsely accusing her, and threatening her and her husband. These tactics, which formerly were well-known in the corporate world and in politics, have now entered the church."

Despite some of the sad things that go on, there are a host of good things in the life of a preacher's wife. There are often more mature people that welcome her and appreciate her and seem to understand the things she does behind the scenes. There are other families that encourage her, send a kind word in a card in the mail, bring an offering of home baked goods, and are otherwise very helpful and generous. It would take volumes to write of the extraordinary blessings and generosity and love of people around her.

  Those who cause trouble in churches are usually in the minority. It has been said that there is one "wolf" in every flock but the damage they do can loom much larger in one's mind.  A wolf lurking about can make the sheep nervous and directionless. They may not even trust their shepherds. It always helps to remember the love and care and friendly smiles and the good things that a host of other people in the church have directed toward the preacher's wife. I have the benefit of reading Grandmother's diaries, (she was a preacher's wife) which record a lot of the good that was done to her.

One matter of helpfulness to preacher's wives is the monthly social fellowship that churches in their area host just for preachers and their families. Preachers wives can enjoy the company of other preachers wives and listen to the monthly pep-talk provided by one of the preachers in the group. It always encourages them to remember that their mission is far beyond the petty things.  It points them to a high code of living that has eternal value. In some places there are annual meetings of preachers wives where they learn how to handle the "wolf in sheep's clothing" the Bible warns about and how to protect themselves and their husbands from any vicious critical remarks, and how to keep their mood happy.

Part 2 will address more about the preacher's wife and include interesting letters from other preacher's wives.

Seasoned, mature,  and veteran preacher's wives and their husbands may find this article  by Ken Crockett, helpful in their ministries.  I welcome your comments on it. 

CLICK HERE to read more about preachers and their wives.

Please be sure and comment, and if there is anything you want me to include in the preacher's wife series of posts, please let me know either in the comments or via email.

Please be sure to click on the picture below!  It is an old song that I used to hear in some of the earlier church songbooks. The title sort of "goes" with the story of preacher's wives and what they do that is never told.  However the song is based upon the remark the Queen of Sheba made to Solomon upon her visit to his kingdom. She was so impressed with his wisdom and with the happiness of his people that she said,  "The half has not been told." Most of all, it is about the love of Jesus.


amulbunny's random thoughts said...

Our pastor's wife has a Masters Degree in Counseling and is an assistant principal at a large middle school in the area. She and her husband have a daughter who also has a Masters in Education and Science and teaches science at a middle school for the same district.

She is always approachable and even when she was in school she always came to the Christmas and Mother's Days ladies teas that the women of the church sponsored.

She is a year younger than I am, at 60, and she's had a health scare this year, blood clots developed in her lungs after her foot surgery so she's had to learn to eat differently.

She is a blessing to all in our congregation. You can see the love of Christ in all she does and she doesn't hide the fact that she is a Christian. God has given her some awesome gifts and she is using them.

Merry Christmas!

Mrs. V. said...

Every word you said is truth. My father was a preacher so I understand these things well. Members of the congregation would scrutinize how my mother and I dressed because, "we pay his salary." So if they thought we had too many new dresses over a period of time, their noses would turn up and they would gossip. Never mind that in almost 20 years he never had one raise. That was ok with them. They were also possessive over our home because it "belonged" to them. Once we left for a trip that everyone knew we were taking. After leaving a mile or so down the road we realized we forgot something and went back to get it. As my mother went in the house, she saw one of the church ladies quickly leaving out the back door. She didn't count on being caught. Everybody and their brother had a key and felt they could come in and snoop when we weren't there. Somehow they felt justified. It's maddening.

Lydia said...

It is nice that everything is working out for your ministers wife in the church and that she has never had any of the troubles that other preachers wife's have written to me about.

Lydia said...

Mrs. V.,

On the whole I have received enormous benefits in my life as a preacher's wife but every church (maybe like families and businesses) seems to come with one embedded wolf who spoils the experience for everyone. I even heard a rumour that one preachers wife had ruined the preacher hers home, but she had not. Still the rumor persisted and she was obliged to prove it was not true. An ordinary woman would never have to put up with it and I suppose it is one reason preachers opt to buy their own homes.

living from glory to glory said...

Dear Lydia, I am so glad to have been able to read this post! I feel this is a much needed topic for the Church today.
I am so sorry that so many Pastor Wives over decades have suffered from those that are tale bearers and have a root of bitterness. I will now always remember to prayer a special prayer for the Pastor's wife! Thank you for opening my eyes to this injustice and also the kindness that the wives feel when they are appreciated and honored!
Blessings, Roxy

Lydia said...

When we only see the preachers wife in church functions we do not think they may have suffered insults and gossip in private and never complain. These women probably would never ever dream of behaving so unkindly to people. Also, when anyone leaves a congregation, sometimes a preacher and his wife are blamed for it, even though it has nothing to do with him.

Andrea R said...


I cannot imagine the burden that a Preacher's wife must endure. I know what it is like to simply be a woman who is fairly different than much of the congregation..I can then try to understand a tiny fraction of what it would be to endure the criticism, scrutiny and judgement of a preacher's wife, all while fulfilling such a large collection of responsibilities with church.

You know how much I admire and respect you, and often wish we lived close so that I could lend assistance in a practical and helpful way, to someone who has done so much to mentor me. Instead, I pray, which I know is the proper prescription.

I'm always praying for you, and may God richly bless you for your selfless service, and that of your husband.

Lillibeth said...

I imagine that Elder's wives also fall under this description. I think of all the problems that people bring to them for counceling, esp. younger women to the elder's wives. Elder's wives don't often complain about the burdens they bear, they probably can't talk about them at all, yet they and their husbands are taking some of the most heavyweight problems of the church.

Mrs. U said...

Excellent!!!! And oh how I can relate to all of this!!!

I'd love your take on pastor's wives having best friends in the church. I always tried to keep everyone the same so no one could complain about impartiality. I recently met another pastor's wife who has developed a best friend in their church and now it is causing trouble!!!! They stay to themselves all the time and it's hurting feelings in their church. Is there a way you suggest or have done yourself?

Polly said...

This is so true. I have always said that the second hardest job in the world must be to be a pastor, and the first hardest job must be to be a pastor's wife!

I echo what Lillibeth said about elder's wives too. Although I do not think it is the same level of scrutiny, difficulty and alienation that the pastor's wife sometimes endures, being privy to the many issues the elders have to handle as well as trying to act as a support system for various church endeavors can be exhausting, but it's important work.

I dearly love our pastor's wife, who babysat me when I was in elementary school--and her husband still pastors our church these 25 years later. She's such a sweet soul.

Lydia said...

When you have an evangelist who stays with the congregation a long time, you have stability and the church learns to bear one another's burdens as they see both the preachers family and their families grow and change in various stages of their lives.

Lydia said...

Ladies, your comments remind me of the ladies of a previous generation who made it part of their lives to keep the preacher's wife encouraged. My own contemporaries did not carry on the tradition. Today everyone communicates on Facebook, and if you aren't on there, you are left out of a lot of social information. The previous generation was a real hands-on group of ladies who included in their schedules a communication of some kind to the preacher's wife. However as I said, her only Biblical role is that of wife, mother and homemaker and she should be encouraged in that, as well as her role of standing by her husband.

Lydia said...

To answer the question about a best friend: if it truly is a best friend, they can associate with each other as much as they like outside of church. I see no reason to appear as favoring each other over other members in church if they have access to each other's phone numbers or other ways of communicating at all other times. They do not need to monopolize each other while in church.

Unknown said...

Hello, I have recently joined a re enactment group and will be portraying an 1870s American Pioneer preachers wife. Any information or direction as to where to research would be gratefully received. Many thanks, Giselle.