Expectations. They drive our actions and choices more often than any of us are ready to admit. For the pastor’s wife this can become a sickening balancing act. Because of the expectations expressed or implied from ourselves or others, we struggle with what we should or shouldn’t be doing in the church. I know one pastor’s wife who carried a huge burden because a family left the church because she didn’t have time to be friends with the wife. If that isn’t enough for you to second guess your ministry choices, I don’t know what is. But we can’t let other people move us in how we serve the church.
So, What Should You be Doing?
My pat answer to what a pastor’s wife “should” do about anything is always, “it depends.”
Consider Your Home Life
When the church appointed or hired your husband, they didn’t hire you by default. This isn’t a two-for-one deal. If the church expected you to fill a particular role when your husband was hired, they should have offered you a job. Your number one ministry is your husband and family, not the church. Because of this, you must be realistic with your stage of life and what is already on your plate. What’s appropriate for you, your husband, your kids, and career (if you have one)?
Consider Your Gifts and the Needs of the Church
My husband and I routinely review my gifts against the needs of the church and what I have time for. This isn’t a “Cinderella” moment where you can only go to the Ball once all your chores are finished, but more of a way to protect yourself from spreading yourself too thin by doing many things poorly instead of a few things well. It also ensures you’re actually “helping” the church by serving in a ministry to help its flourishing instead of adding one more fledgling ministry to the roster.
Many women get frustrated because they feel a strong gifting in a certain area and they just don’t have time or there isn’t a place for it in the church. The lament is often, “Why would God give me this gift if he didn’t want me to use it?” He wouldn’t. But the timing might be “not yet”. In the meantime, grow your gift while you wait.
Consider the Gifts of Those Around You
What is the skill set of others in the church? Is there someone who loves a ministry you’re considering serving in with more enthusiasm and passion than you, but just needs some encouragement to raise a hand to fill that spot? Or are they defaulting to you as the leader since you’re the pastor’s wife? Recognize when someone else might be better suited for a role than you and determine how you can serve alongside them.
Sometimes, particularly in an early church plant stage, the pastor’s wife gets to “fill in the gaps”. I personally enjoy this role because I like seeking out people who are gifted for the empty slot while still helping a ministry “go”. But a pastor’s wife’s default should not be an interim anything unless that’s something you and your husband are fine with (as in my case). Sometimes a ministry needs to languish, unattended to encourage the right person to step forward so that ministry can thrive as it was meant to.
Handling Others’ Expectations
I was not raised in the church, so my idea of a pastor’s wife was someone who was born godly. The joke was on me when I became a pastor’s wife, patchwork past and all. I was sure I would be rejected. And I did indeed let some folks down with my lack of religious pedigree, but God uses the brokenness of our past, the imperfections in our present, and the misguided expectations of others to illustrate what is most important to him in order to show off his redemptive work in the worst of us. To be a pastor’s wife is to fulfill the description in 1 Timothy 3:11. It is also to follow Jesus first, as any disciple of Christ would. It is to be a congregant in your church before you take on leadership there. If you were only attending the church, how would you serve her?
When others impose their expectations or indirectly hint around about why you aren’t doing more or why you’re serving where you are, you get to choose your response. My go to is, “that’s not what God has for our family.” Whatever your situation, you do not have to justify or explain it to anyone.
If you remove your own expectations of what you think you “should” be doing or what you think others think you should be doing, what are you left with? How do you want to serve the body of Christ with the time and resources you have? That is what you “should” be doing.