A recently-released LifeWay Research survey shows that ministers’ spouses acknowledge the blessing – while wrestling with the challenges – of their roles in the church.
The study, released Sept. 12, surveyed those from a variety of Protestant churches in numerous denominations including Baptist, non-denominational, Methodist, Lutheran, and Assemblies of God. Respondents also included those of Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Church of God backgrounds.
Most of the spouses’ pastors work at least 35 hours a week. A little over half have children at home. Most of the participants, 96 percent, were women.
The results come at time when churches prepare for a month when concerted efforts are made to show appreciation to their pastor. The opportunity exists, however, to say thank you to the other individual who greatly contributes to a successful ministry.
And such words of affirmation are greatly deserved. In the study participants expressed a desire to manage their home well. However, matched by that is a desire to find their place in personal ministry. When they meet that desire, says Mary Cox, it opens up avenues to bless the church.
The call to use a gift
“I can identify with the findings of the survey,” admits Cox, state missionary in the Ministers’ Wives ministry of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Cox’s husband, Frank, serves as pastor of North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville.
An overwhelming majority of participants, 85 percent, agreed that their church took “good care” of their family. Even more, 86 percent, said their congregation felt their marriage should serve as a good role model. However, 59 percent said those same congregations interfere with their family free time during the week and 72 percent indicated their spouse had experienced resistance to his or her leadership.
That, Cox points out, leads to stress at home, which affects a ministry.
“Expectations and comparisons can be passed down from a previous pastor and his wife to the next,” she explains. “But, many churches understand the pastor’s wife needs to use her gifts. We all need to be able to allow God to show us where He wants us to be to serve.”
If a call goes unanswered
The freedom to do just that, she comments, connects with finances. It also involves more than one party.
“Like everyone else, God gives us an income. With that comes the responsibility to be a good steward. We discipline ourselves to live within our means and when we look at our financial obligations we know where we can say ‘yes’ and where we have to say ‘no.'”
The other side of the responsibility, though, lies with the church.
“If a wife feels a strong calling to serve and support her husband, working outside the home and church can be very difficult,” says Cox, who has been a pastor’s wife for more than 30 years. “She feels she must work so he can do ministry. At times she may feel left out and even become bitter.”
In the survey, 81 percent of respondents indicated a strong call to ministry.
Families of pastors have always felt the pressure of living in a glass house, where any imperfection can be studied and scrutinized. That pressure increases with today’s share-happy world of social media.
But, Cox feels those actually make for a place where people want to see authenticity, ministers’ families included.
“If a spouse is working, serving in the church, and trying to raise a family it can become a balancing act. But while ministry does carry a brighter light and we are watched closer than others, our congregations don’t expect perfection,” she states.
“The truth may be that we place more pressure on our family than the church does. We should be willing to embrace the Christian life with its ups and downs, and let our congregations see that.”
Georgia Baptist Ministers’ Wives will host a luncheon Tuesday, Nov. 14 during the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting at North Metro Baptist Church. In additon, a retreat for Ministers’ Wives will take place Jan. 25-27 at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa. Georgia Baptist Ministers’ Wives also provides a closed Facebook group for those wanting feedback and advice from others.