Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's My Responsibility?

A Bible study for moms is meeting at my church this morning and I am not there. It's an established group that meets on a regular schedule and, mostly because I've been sick, I have been only once.

It's a fine group. The study is fine. It's not a group I'd be likely to spend much time with were I not the pastor's wife. And there's the rub: what is my responsibility to the women of our congregation as the pastor's wife?

I am the most widely-known woman in the congregation. Some people assume that, because I am married to the pastor, I am "better" at being a Christian than most. This morning when I dropped my kids off for preschool one of the other moms was teasing me about not going to Bible study this morning. "She's the pastor's wife and she's not going to Bible study?" I replied, in the same light tone, that there is no correlation between being the pastor's wife and being a "good" Christian. She thought that was pretty funny.

It happens that the time during which this group meets is the only time I have to be alone. All my children are at school for only 5 hours each week. I treasure those hours! I'd rather not subtract two of them for a group Bible study.

This situation represents a question I am constantly asking myself. What is my responsibility to the congregation? I appreciate that I have a unique position from which to encourage the women of the church. I want God to use me for that purpose. I also want to take good care of myself; to make choices that sustain me.

What would you do?


  1. I would absolutely one hundred percent NOT go to that Bible study. Since you asked ;) My husband is a youth pastor and I know what you mean about the expectations. It is so important for you to have sanity time. I vote stay home!!

  2. As for what I would do, I would go to Bible study, but NOT because I was the pastor's wife. I would go because I need it and want it and crave it more than I need my alone time. (Come to think of it, when we used to live an hour away from here, and there was no Bible study at our church, I would come to Bible class here and get both my alone-time from the two hours commuting and my Bible-class fix.)

    My pastor used to tell me (before we moved here, and when my husband was still serving full-time as pastor of another congregation) that pastors' wives often get themselves into trouble by thinking of themselves as a "pastor's wife" instead of as "just another layman in the congregation." He told me over and over again that I am a saint and a sinner, a person who needs Christ and His sweet gospel, and that is what governs my place in the congregation. Look at the Table of Duties: the first sections are "to pastors" and "to hearers." That's what you are, first and foremost. A hearer. There's no halfway spot between pastors and hearers (be that pastor's wife or DCE or day-school teacher).

    By the way, I think you handled yourself this morning just right! You kept the tone light. You answered what needed to be answered. And you didn't try to "excuse yourself" and explain it to death.

  3. I think first and foremost in her life she is a wife and a mom. As a member of the congregation, she is first and foremost a hearer. That is, when she goes to church she needs to listen and receive the words of law and gospel for her salvation. In my opinion, a layperson's "church duties" end there. Everything else is optional. If I ever started my own church there would be no Sunday school (it robs parents of their responsibility to bring up their own children in the fear of the lord), no potlucks, no youth group, no lay-led Bible classes. The only thing necessary is the pastor, the listeners, the altar guild, and maybe a music leader of some sort. Everything else just gets in the way of our vocational duties. And adds guilt to those who cannot participate for one reason or another.
    If people want to socialize, why do it at church? Let's just meet at one another's houses or a restaurant. Socializing should not be looked upon as a church duty. I'm not saying that Bible class is socializing, I'm just going off on a tangent right now.

  4. There is something about those few precious hours to yourself (when no one else is around, where you don't have to be the "pastor's wife") that is very special, rejuvenating and just yours! As a wife of a pastor of a church that has difficulties between leadership, I look for opportunities to be by myself (away from church members, away from situations where I am the “pastor’s wife”). Part of this is due to the unreasonable expectations of this congregation towards the pastor and his family (the elders once told me that my children and I were called with my husband by them) and part of it is due to me not wanting to be what everyone thinks I should be. That is a very tough situation to be in and one that many laity just don’t understand. It is a daily struggle to get them to understand that I have as much theological training as they do! Not as much as my husband does!

    So, whether the time I have to myself be spent watching a movie, reading a book, taking a bath or being in God’s Word, the times when I don’t have to be the person that others look to or are disappointed in because I don’t act like the “pastor’s wife” are times that make it possible for me to go to church the rest of the week and fulfil, to some small extent, the roll that God has placed me in (not the roll others want me in).

  5. Love reading what you all are thinking about this. @Maggie - when you are in a church that makes your life difficult, it is definitely a good idea to steer clear as much as possible. Glad to know you see the necessity of that.

  6. Oh how I get this struggle and am still grappling with it. For me, I have been trying to practice prayerfully consider what activities are being offered at our church (new to us in the last 14 months) and then ask God to show me what I should be involved in; who He wants me to go "visit"; how many lunch offers to extend, etc...the list goes on - you know it all too well. That I would truly be Spirit led in the things I say "Yes" to or "No" to. I try hard to be in a place of seeking God's approval only. I also seek not to be a jack ass while only seeking His approval as I can "not care" what others think so much at times that I cause an offense by not being sensitive to His people. And I do believe a huge part of the Body of Christ fulfilling her purpose is being together, encouraging one another and praying with and for each other. Balancing this with family, personal seasons of the dark night of the soul, sickness as you are very familiar with, etc, is difficult and can only be achieved by seeking Him personally each day. I neglect to do this daily and that's when I get a total pastoral wedgie. But as I pratice more the discipline of seeking Him in my church participation/leading and let go of what others think is when I live peaceably even if others think "she should have come!"

  7. If you do everything everyone wants, you are not an individual anymore. Be assertive enough and have enough confidence to go forward as you need for yourself and your family. A pastor's wife is a Christian; not a pushover or someone to be stepped all over. There are a million ways to study and increase your Christian walk besides being in with a group of women among whom would make such a comment in the first place. Spend time doing what you want and need to rejuvenate. You will have plenty of time to serve.

  8. What a great post! So nice to read everyone's thoughts on this. We are relatively new to ministry (almost 4 years as full-time pastor). We are at our 2nd church and they are very gracious and understanding that I have a life outside of church. At our first church however, it seemed as if my family was needed to witness a light bulb change happening at the church. Also, our pastorium living room window actually looked out at the church which constantly stressed me out bc I felt like I should be there anytime someone else was.

    I often find myself feeling the need to take on 40 different responsibilities. But the truth is, I would never encourage another woman in the church to take on so much that it distracts from her family, so why would I?

  9. I am a strong believer in the Pastor's wife doing what makes her heart sing and nothing more. Don't allow "shoulds" to make your decisions for you regarding your own time. If we step in and attend everything or lead the youth because no one else will it sends the wrong message and will wear us out.

  10. I absolutely would not go to the Bible Study and have not gone in the past. The man I married is a pastor. That does not mean that when I married him I gave up my identity as an individual and simply became "the Pastor's Wife." When a woman marries a doctor, no one expects her to sit in the waiting room with the patients. If a woman is married to a cop, no one expects her to patrol with him. So why does a woman who marries a pastor cease to be anything other than an extension of her husband? It bothers me when I hear other wives say "we were sent" or "we were called." Sometimes it feels as if they are just trying to put on a show.

    My husband was called to ministry. I was not. My husband is appointed to a church. I am not. When we go to a new church, my husband tells the congregation that I am a member of the church. He expects nothing more of me than he expects of everyone else. And that is what I am. I am a Christian and a member of my church. I am not the "Pastor's Wife." I am raising a toddler, work two jobs, and am working on a Ph.D. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a student. I find that when my husband and I are firm on that, then the people in the congregation accept it. I participate in what I want and can participate in and I do not go to the things I cannot or do not want to attend. In the end, you have to live the best life you can live. You cannot live your life trying to live up to others' expectations.


Thanks for using this space to share your encouraging words.