Email From a Pastor's Wife [7th April, 2001]
After 28 years as a minister's wife who has shared ministry with my husband
in the Uniting Church (first the Methodist church), for me it is a unique
role because of the expectations that you put upon yourself and also the
expectations that people in the congregations put on you. If you are not
strong to cope with the many moves, relationships with all types of people,
(who are sinners, some saved by God's grace) the hierachy of the
denomination (understanding the politics) and secure in your relationship to
Christ, you can CRASH! And often, the pastoral care is not there for you!
At the moment, after 35 years in christian ministry, I feel I need a break
(a Sabbatical). My body tells me to stop, look after the body that God gave
you, but I feel that I want someone to give me permission to have that
break! Anyway, here is part of a letter which I sent to a friend in
Townsville. Feel free to edit what is written and I don't really mind if
you put my name. I am now in a position to encourage younger women who
serve the Lord with their husbands in christian ministry, and I enjoy this.
STRESS IN CHRISTIAN MINISTRY - COMMONLY EXPERIENCED STRESSORS
The following stressors were sent to me from a friend (who counsels and
teaches seminars of missionaries) and personally, I have found them most
helpful. If you were to highlight/give any understanding of the following,
the pastor's wife would love you.
1. Never off duty - unstructured job (because there is no full-time
secretary in this congregation, I always answer the phone at the house if
Donald is not in his office. Even if it is 7am in the morning or 11pm at
night, I have to try to be pleasant. One girl said to me recently "I'd hate
your job Barbara! You always have to be nice!" It's always nice if someone
in the congregation, even Church Council, acknowledge and say thank-you for
what you do. So often, you are taken for granted.
2. Fish-bowl experience. You always have the feeling that you are watched by
everyone. Your kids are observed, your body language is observed, your tone
of voice, your tidy house or not so tidy house - where you sit in church -
who sits next to you - what you wear to church. One girl was chatting during
communion to her friend and she was heard to say when I walked forward to
take communion. "She always wear that outfit" . My daughter was sitting
behind her and told me. So next Sunday, I wore something different and when
she came out of the church, she said to me "You've got a new outfit on
today". With a beaming smile and hidden sarcasm, I said "Yes, do you like
it? I wore it especially for you!" She didn't know that I knew about her
conversation!!!! It is a blessing when someone comes to me and says
"Barbara, I'd like to make you an outfit for your birthday/Christmas and I
don't want you to pay me. You can choose the fabric, the zip etc."
3. Expectation/performance gap: In other words, even if I am tired, or feel
used up, there is that expectation that I should always remain fresh, with a
vital relationship with God, my husband and family, especially on a Sunday
morning. The expectation from Donald is that I attend church every Sunday
morning, even if I am tired and feel worn out. Husbands need to be aware of
how their wives are coping, and sometimes realise that they need to have
time out (even a few days away in a holiday cottage . As a person, I
probably have expectations of myself too and if I don't reach my
expectations, I feel a failure.e.g. yesterday, there were three new
families. There is an expectation from others and also from me to write a
welcome letter to each one (and there is no office secretary here) make sure
each family is visited this week - if a lay person doesn't have the time to
do it, or the minister hasn't delegated, then it may not happen invite these
folk home to a meal - should the minister and his wife always have to do it?
If one of those people came to church with a deep need, did anyone speak to
them about their personal needs - if not, they might say "No-one cared for
me when I went - I won't go anymore!"
4. Lack of tangible results: In a hospital setting, you see people get well
and leave hospital. In a church congregation, you sometimes can't measure
what God has done in people's lives. You sometimes what God is doing in
people's lives, especially if they sit on the pew week after week with no
great change! But God sees their hearts and that is what is important.
5. Lonliness of leadership/pedestal This is a very real situation. You may
have had an extremely busy week answering the phone and being called out to
situations beyond your depth e.g. a suicide marriage break-down where there
may be physical violence weird people who turn up for worship a person with
a psychiatric condition causing problems in a congregation, but your
knowledge is limited in knowing how to handle the person person in the
congregation who is found out for sexual molestation. One of the problems
is that sometimes a minister or his wife have no-one to talk to about these
situations. Often the Presbytery Chairman is not available or doesn't
realise that this couple need to de-brief or be encouraged so you can be
quite lonely. You may have serious problems with your children or marriage,
but who do you turn to?
John Mallison's book on "Mentoring" is a great book and at the end there are
some questions that can be answered in a small group where the minister and
his wife can share in a confidential manner. The Pedestal Effect means that
most people put you up on a pedestal in their minds, not realizing that you
are a human being, just like them, with real needs. I remember when I first
came here, I was feeling desperately lonely for the friends I had in
Townsville. I walked up to church on a winter's morning feeling freezing
(because I didn't have warm-enough clothes and there were a number of
mornings when it was below 0 degrees). No-one, not even the wives of the
Elders, talked to me. I felt very alone and there were tears in my eyes as I
walked home. I thought to myself "Well, I still have my family, so we will
try to help each other - God knows how we feel, and remember, all five were
going through the grief process". If people haven't moved to another area or
suffered a loss, they have no idea what you have to experience. I believe
that during that first year, there is a great need for lay people to welcome
and get to know the minister and his wife and family. Those who do will
probably remain friends for years.
Blessings: There are those who do take the time to invite you home, to get
to know you, and accept you as you are and they are very, very special
people. When they care for your children too, that is wonderful.
If you were to ask each woman about this whole subject of
loneliness/pedestal situation, you would get lots of feedback.
6. Perception that you have to be constantly available. If I put the
answering machine on, I always feel guilty, but this is necessary if you
want to spend time with your family, or time alone with God. It would appear
that some people feel you should always be there at any time of the day. It
is not always easy to put up a boundary line.
7 Generational issues. In a church congregation, there are three (usually)
generations, and it is very difficult to keep harmony between them all. e.g.
* The young people don't want to sing hymns - the older people do.
* The young people like drums and noise - the older people don't.
* Older people can't understand why young people can't sit through a boring
worship and be happy.
* Young people often sit up the back of the church with their peers. If they
talk, sometimes an older person will discipline them, and this makes them
feel like not wanting to come again.
* Young people like to be involved in lots of adrenalin-pumping activities
to use up all their energy - if they have ideas, older people should respect
and listen to these ideas.Ideally young people should listen to the oldies,
but they don't often do. Therefore, we who are older and wiser should take
the initiative. It's okay if a congregation have three services where each
generation is able to worship in their style.
If I at 55 years of age can go to the Australian Gospel Music Festival with
a bus-load of young people, get into the moshe pit and crowd-surf - why
can't other older people also adapt. You have to learn to relate to all
generations and this is not easy, particularly when negative criticism
8. Negative criticism This is one of the worst problems that a Minister and
his wife have to endure and you find negative people in every congregation.
I always identify them now and keep my distance, or at least try to diagnose
why they are like they are, but for a young, married pastor's wife, she
needs to be very careful because criticism of her, her husband or family can
The best book on this subject is "Practical Criticism - Giving and Taking
it" by John Alexander.
"Criticism - expressed and unexpressed, specific and vague, valid and
invalid - is a fact of life inside the Christian community and outside as
well. Often it is unhealthy. It can turn people against each other and
destroy fellowship. It can bring civil war to a witnessing, loving Christian
community, sap its life and ruin its worship of God and its ministry to
"Positive criticism can be healthy. It identifies strengths and
accomplishments. It indicates satisfactory achievement as judged by the
critic. We all need positive criticism. A good pastor.motivates people by
words and attitudes skillfully chosen to build confidence and express
appreciation for not only their finished products but also their efforts and
willingness to try."
For me personally, this whole subject has been relevant to every
congregation where we have been.
There are those in the congregation who want to control you, and will even
go to the extend of doing/buying things for you or your family, so that you
are obligated to them.
There are those who will give negative criticism of your leadership and
expect you to have all the gifts whereas you don't have - the whole body of
people needs to be operating if the church body is to be an attractive
place. Some people are more negative than others. Some will criticize but if
you ask them the facts, they don't have them. You have to be very skilled
when dealing with negative critics, and it is hard to "speak the truth in
love". So many people speak in a manner that bruises, stabs and crushes and
these words can destroy any relationship. Gentleness and love is so
important. The minister and his wife desperately need people who will speak
honestly. I didn't realise until that situation in Townsville that the
church has people who are the "slash and burn" type!!!! A couple need those
who can support them with love and gentleness.
9. In Townsville, when Donald was "side-lined/walked on/manipulated by the
power group" at that Presbytery meeting at Crystal Creek, people were able
to minister to him in gracious, kind ways. He was always there for others to
care for them, but when he desperately needed love and support, there were
those who deserted him. They were not there for us, and when we made the
decision to leave, they didn't really understand. But Romans 8:28. It is
important when situations like that one in Townsville occur that the
minister and his wife are given maximum support. Those situations take their
toll. If resentment and unforgiveness builds up because no-one has cared
enough, this will have serious consequences for the minister and his wife.
10. Finances: this can sometimes be a problem when you have to live in a
Manse all your life and don't have your own home. Some pastors wives live by
faith, and this can sometimes be difficult. I remember a certain surgeon in
Townsville who didn't seem to like minister's wives working and I felt
guilty when I went back and did my refresher course in Nursing. A
commandment that I have always had to keep and I find it difficult is "Do
not covet - always be thankful for what you have got"
Management Issues: It is my perception that a Minister must have good
management skills. If this is not the case, a lay person who has these
skills must offer to give of their time and energy for this role. When a
church family has growth, it has to have a structure (e.g. Church Council).
This must operate if the church is to function and feel like a close-knit
family where loving relationships are developed and valued.
In this congregation now, we have about eight areas, involving many groups
of people e.g. Administration, Pastoral Care, Youth, Outreach, Education,
Worship, Property etc. Because I have skills in organization, I have helped
Donald in the past fortnight organize an overnight seminar for 38 of his
leaders in the church. He is the only paid employee, but these people are
valued and appreciated and our church wouldn't be attractive if all of these
people didn't do what they do, as unto the Lord.
11. Inadequate training in interpersonal skills e.g. conflict resolution
etc. Increasingly, ministers/pastors and their wives find it difficult to
cope with all that is expected of them. If they don't have skills in
counselling, what do they do with difficult situations. People often come to
them as an initial contact because their service is free, but sometimes
these people need COUNSELLING, and not just pastoral care. They need to know
the difference between pastoral care and pastoral COUNSELLING! These days,
if an minister/pastor gives the wrong advice, they could find themselves in
a court of law being sued. Also, sometimes in your congregation, you may
find a person with a psychiatric condition who is very manipulative and can
cause a lot of trouble. These people can be quite dangerous and I have had
experience with these types of people. If they seek to sue you, or blacken
your name, your reputation can be ruined for life. Sometimes, a desperate
woman will set up a minister and this can have a devastating effect upon him
and his wife. Proper training should be given by Christian Counsellors to
the pastors and their wives to know what to do with situations that are
beyond their depth! A good congregation will seek to put training in place,
so that a minister and other leaders are protected!
12. Constant exposure to people's problems and pain. This situation is very
real and quite demanding. Some people can use you so that you give and give
and give and give, and you find yourself exhausted emotionally and
physically and spiritually. You become drained and this affects all your
relationships. You could become bitter and used! Ministers and their wives
MUST TAKE TIME OUT TO RELAX, HAVE FUN AND LAUGH, READ GOOD BOOKS.
13. Maintain a good marriage. If a minister doesn't maintain his marriage,
no one else will - and when he is totally exhausted with giving out to
others, and his wife also wants time, there could be conflict. Over the
years, I have sought to make our marriage a top priority in the following
ways. Have a dating day each week - even if only part of a day. Dialogue
together because it is our best way of communication. Buy a new marriage
book every year. Express gratitude to those who encourage us with our
marriage. In Townsville, those young people gave us a candlelit dinner on
the Strand for our 20th Wedding anniversary - others paid for a night at
that Motel - another couple took us for a surprise night-away to Magnetic
Island after I broke my wrist after a car accident.
14. Children of the Manse : These kids are often not allowed to be
themselves, because people have expectations of them. e.g. James and his
boxing. Donald and his shooting! Motor-bikes. A mother must be the best
advocate for her children. Parenting must be taken very seriously. During
the teenage years, I was very grateful for those young people who met in the
Manse every Tuesday night - who were fun. They made a great impression on
our kids. Children of the Manse need good role models and people who really
care about them.
15. Extended Family: A minister is always expected to be in the pulpit on
Christmas Day. All other families usually have family gatherings, but for
the minister and his wife and family who may be hundreds of miles from
family, this can be a very lonely time. I always remember Rev. Rob Grenfell
taking services in western Queensland and then getting in the car and
driving all the way to Victoria to see family.
16. Working with Volunteers - in this parish, only Donald is paid. Everyone
else uses their time and energy in jobs outside in the world, and then they
give time and energy in their stewardship to God in christian ministry. This
work is voluntary. If they are tired, then they don't do their job or they
take the weekend off. If a job is important, often the minister or his wife
will do it, even if they are already overloaded. Volunteers need to be
appreciated and I am grateful to Donald for initiating a "member of the
Month". In ministry, even though you get worn out with all the work, you
still have to show appreciation and an attitude of gratitude for those who
give to the Body of Christ to make it such an attractive place.
Many changes - especially moving to a new place : I could write heaps here,
but people need to remember that the STESS AND GRIEF involves every family
member and often, it is the wife who is the hub of the home, who has to cope
with the change with God's strength.
Employed by people to whom he ministers.
17. What is the role of the pastor's wife? This is not easily defined and
has changed. You will find many ministers wives who have been hurt and then
refuse to get involved ever again. They are the walking wounded and for them
to trust someone, can be quite difficult. As a christian woman, I find it
easy to get involved with people, to love them and care for them, because of
my background and training. But I need someone to say to me "Barbara, what
are your personal goals for this week? Did you reach them? Are you coping
with the balance that you have to have in your life as a minister's wife?
Not everyone likes to stand on the door beside their husband on Sunday
mornings and shake hands with the flock, but I do. I enjoy people. I care
for people. I love people and I want to see us giving good pastoral care.
Others may not be happy doing this, and members of a church family must
realize that all wives of ministers are different!!!
18. Support for the Pastors wife! Meeting with Prayer partners each
fortnight, down by the creek is great. I meet with two women who are not in
this congregation and have been doing this for the past few years. They
support and pray for me and I and pray for them. Invaluable and important -
healthy same-sex friendships. We write out our goals each year and help each
other reach them with God's strength and wisdom. Do you have a support
19. Journalling: Over the years, there has been great seasons of change, but
the most theuapeutic action for me in coping with relationships including
family and marriage, has been to journal. When I die, people will pay big
money for my journals, and it will be too late for me to be prosecuted, but
to journal alone with God my Father has been a wonderful, healing
experience. I always read heaps of good christian books. In journalling, I
do the following.
Reflect on the previous day or week
Put a date and time at the top of the page, even if it during the night
Reflect upon situations and people
Write down under the heading "Things for which I am thankful" (Phil 4:6)
Write down another heading "Jobs to do"
20. WOMEN and CHURCH PEOPLE WHO ARE HELPFUL: I Value greatly those dear
friends who encourage me in so many different ways. I keep their cards and
letters and notes. I pick their brains for wisdom. I keep in touch with
them. James Dobson says that women need other women to encourage them with
their roles, and I agree!
At the end of last year when I was so tired from all that I did in EMU
(Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church) , I still wanted to have an
evening for women. I felt worn out, tired, needing a break and wasn't very
well organized. However, we did have an evening and I decided that even
though I felt this way, I would seek to deliberately try to make the evening
a blessing to those women who came. I baked Christmas shortbread biscuits,
wrapped them in a plastic container and red celephane with gold ribbon. I
gave one to each lady who came and on the container I typed a thank-you note
which said "Thank you for your love and support". I find that when you
deliberately go out to others and be proactive in a positive way, then God
blesses your giving.
When we travelled to Bourke, three families who are related made sure that
our Christmas Day was special. We took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
services, then packed up and didn't get away until 3pm. That night, we
camped in the Jondaryan Church yard and had our Christmas Dinner. These kind
people had done the following.
* covered a cardboard box with Christmas paper
* put a polystyrene box inside containing ice with containers of ham,
coleslau, turkey and other salad.
* another gift had a small plum pudding with custard
* more crunchy nuts and nibbles for driving
* 20 gifts individually wrapped up with instructions to open one every half
* one gift had $5 in it with a note "Buy yourselves an ice-cream at the next
* a Quiz typed up by one member of their family with questions and answers
(to do with tractors and other interesting topics)
What a great blessing this was to us as we traveled in the hot weather and
when we felt worn out!
Anyway, Rowland, I trust this is okay!
A note from Rowland: Barbara, not only is it O.K., I think you have
expressed brilliantly and honestly many of the feelings of the pastors'
wives I talk/listen to. May your thoughts and encouragements strengthen
thousands of others.