DULUTH — Mary Cox got several surprises when she became the Georgia Baptist Convention’s (GBC) state coordinator for ministry to minister’s wives.
“My very first year in this job, I had two pastor’s wives that were alcoholics,” said Cox, who has served 11 years in this position. “One pastor’s wife wanted help but the pastor wouldn’t let her get help (feared losing his job).
“Another pastor wanted his wife to get help but she didn’t want the help. That was eye opening for me.”
Cox has been the volunteer women’s ministry director at North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville more than 20 years where her husband, Frank, is senior pastor. She also coordinates the luncheon for Southern Baptist minister’s wives at the annual summer convention. Cox understands the challenges faced by minister’s wives, whom God created to be helpmates to their husbands.
“Some women feel like they lose their identity as they just become someone that’s kind of in the background,” Cox said.
Coupled with the job demands of ministry, she also hears many wives say, “I feel like my husband is married to the church. There’s always a struggle to find family time.”
The role of a minister’s wife may be the most misunderstood in local churches. The church didn’t hire her; they hired her husband. Still, there are expectations, both implied and assigned.
“That’s where I think they get discouraged, they feel like they aren’t able to do everything that they are expected to,” Cox said. “Sometimes we (minister’s wives) put those expectations on ourselves.
“She has an image of what she thinks a minister’s wife should be, and if you are brand new, that new pastor’s wife feels like a fish out of water,” Cox said. “She’s not sure what to do.”
“Some women feel like they lose their identity as they just become someone that’s kind of in the background.”
Her experience as the spouse of a high-profile Georgia pastor serves her well when consulting with other minister’s wives. Early in her marriage, her husband gave some good advice.
“Just pray about it, and if God leads you to do it, then do it,” Cox recalls her husband saying about church service opportunities. “If not, you are free from that. He allowed me to make those decisions.”
Besides the expectations that minister’s wives feel, they also must cope with the church criticizing their husbands.
“That’s where I think they get discouraged, they feel like they aren’t able to do everything that they are expected to. Sometimes we (minister’s wives) put those expectations on ourselves.”
“Criticism of your husband is a tough spot,” Mary said. “We want to be the defenders of our husbands. It’s better to let God be our defender.”
Criticism of the minister’s children is yet another tough spot.
“We become mama bears when someone is attacking our babies, and we’re going to come out,” Cox said. “I actually chased a lady out to the parking lot and grabbed her by the shoulders and said, ‘We need to talk.’ I don’t suggest that. I wouldn’t do it again.”
Resources for minister’s wives
The Cooperative Program makes it possible for the GBC to offer help to minister’s wives by paying for counseling that often deals with depression and marriage issues. Cox organizes a luncheon for minister’s wives at the annual state convention. Then each January, the GBC sponsors a three-day, two-night retreat at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa.
Attendees at the annual retreat have access to a counselor, physician, and massage therapist. They can attend classes on strengthening their marriage and family, dealing with difficult people, and raising children in a “fish bowl.” Two random attendees get an entire clothing, hair, and makeup makeover.
Cox asks church members to be wise as they relate to minister’s wives.
“Church members need to see their minister’s wife as an individual, that she is special in her own right,” Cox said. “She has special gifts and abilities to serve the Lord.”
Whenever possible, encourage the wives of ministers as that helps them to maintain confidence, Cox said.
“I believe you are called as a couple,” Cox said. “If she looks at it as a job, she’s missing the opportunity for what God wants her to experience.”