The pastor’s wife’s greatest ministry

“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

(Disclaimer: I write as a Southern Baptist, where all our preaching pastors are male. While I know a few women pastors, they’re in other denominations and I know zilch about what goes on in their households and how they relate to the husbands. I respect them highly but for me to write about what they need would be presumptuous.)

A pastor’s wife’s greatest ministry is to her husband first, and her children second.

We were two weeks away from beginning a new pastorate.  A couple of days earlier, we had been informed that the church had voted 85% to invite me to become their new pastor.  After praying long and hard about such a less-than-unanimous call, we felt it was the Lord’s will that we accept.

It was a difficult time in our lives.  I had just come through the most difficult three years of ministry in my life, and the church to which we would be going was still reeling from a massive split just 18 months earlier. It was not going to get any easier.

Nothing about this was fun. We knew going in that we were bruised and that the people we would be shepherding were hurting.

My journal for Monday, September 3, 1990:

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Let’s say you are a young woman thinking of marrying a young minister

Then, here is what I would say to you….

One. –It’s an exciting and sometimes scary life.  You get to see the work of the Lord up close; you also become the target of the enemy’s work.

Okay, you’re wondering why you would become a target, when all you want to do is to be married to this terrific guy who has heard God’s call to spread the gospel.  What could anyone possibly find wrong with that?  Answer:  You have three enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The world is the system around you and it is no friend to grace; the flesh is the nature within you and it is hostile to God; and the devil is, well, you know who he is.

In Acts 20:28ff, Paul tells the pastors of Ephesus to expect trouble from two sources: bad people outside the church and troublemakers inside.  That is still in effect today.

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The pastor’s wife: Target on her back

“What are these wounds? I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zechariah 13:6).

A year or two back, I wrote an article on pastors’ wives that has traveled around the earth a couple of times.  “The most vulnerable person in the church” struck a nerve with a lot of good people, many of them hurting from mistreatment by the Lord’s finest.

If something about that seems backward to you, then join the party.

Pastors’ wives seem to be more at risk than anyone else in church.  The expectations on them are the highest, the support the weakest, and the attacks arrive from the unlikeliest of sources.

Periodically, these women send me their stories.  Most are happy to be serving their churches, possess a strong sense of God’s call, and are grateful for the love of His people.   Once in a while, however, their stories make me cringe.  More than once, I have shed tears at the way church people make impossible demands and place heavy burdens upon these sent to lead the Lord’s congregations.

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What every pastor’s wife–and one in particular–wishes to say to the deacons

Every pastor’s wife I know would like to say to the good and faithful deacons:

“Thank you.”

“Thank you for loving the Lord, for loving this church, and for loving your pastor and his family.”

“Thank you for praying for us, for being in your place of service on Sunday, and for taking care of the members during the week.”

“Thank you for your servant heart and for not seeing yourself as my husband’s boss, only as his support and helper.”

“We are richer and the work is better because you are faithful.”

Sadly, all spouses of pastors cannot say that. But they wish they could

When the wife of a pastor friend suggested an article on “What preachers’ wives would like to say to the deacons,” I said, “Write me what you would tell them,” and I’ll see what I can do.

Here it is–her list, completely untouched, just as it arrived a few minutes ago.

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Dear Preacher’s kids….

“Now, it came to pass that when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel…. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (I Samuel 8:1-3).

Let’s talk about the offspring of the Lord’s shepherd, those sweet little lambs birthed into his beloved family in order to enrich their lives, to bless the church and to provide a fresh palette on which the preacher and his lady can demonstrate all it means to grow up in the fear and nurture of the Lord.

Those little monsters who terrorize the congregation with their out-of-control behavior.

Those darling babies and toddlers who are smothered by the loving attention of the entire congregation, and for whom teenage girls compete as babysitters.

Those juvenile delinquents who run up and down the aisles of the church and treat the sacred buildings as their own personal playroom.

Those teenagers who look so angelic on Sunday and test their parents’ patience during the week, the subject of ten thousand stories in deacons’ homes, who exasperate the seniors in the church hoping for a little peace and quiet this Sunday.

They put the gray hairs in their preacher-dad’s head and the great stories into his sermons.  They put the the lines in their mom’s brow and the thrill into her heart.

They occupy the major portion of their parents’ prayers day and night.

God bless ’em.  We love our PKs.  Our preachers’ kids.

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Good things to say to a preacher’s wife (and why saying them is a good idea).

The preacher’s wife (Marlene is not her real name) who suggested an article on 59 things NOT to say to a preacher’s wife ended by suggesting that we follow it with a positive piece listing good things to say to the wife of the minister.

Marlene got us started with this list:

I am praying for you. We love you.
Thank you sharing your husband with us.
Thank you for sharing your lives with us. We love you.
I do not want anything from you but friendship.
Let me help. We love you.
You have such great kids.
Let me know if you need anything. We love you.
I overheard this compliment.  “You are a success at (insert career
choice here).We love you.”
I really missed seeing you this morning.
How do you feel? We love you.
We appreciate what you bring to the church.
WE WOULD LOVE TO PUT YOU ON STAFF SO YOU CAN SERVE THE LORD
FULL TIME!!!!!!!

Those are all nice.

All right. That was Marlene’s list.

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What not to say to a preacher’s wife

(I wish Margaret were here to help with this one.  As my wife of over 52 years and through our six pastorates covering 42 years, I suppose she heard it all.  As of January, 2015, she’s now resting in the arms of her Savior. In her memory and in her honor, I send this forth to encourage church members to bless this dear lady married to the shepherd whom God sent to your church.  Please see the disclaimer at the end.–Joe)

“Encourage one another and lift up one another….” (I Thessalonians 5:11, somewhat, and a favorite line in an old chorus)

“You cannot use my name.”

That’s how the typical private note from a preacher’s wife begins.

Marlene introduced herself as the wife of a pastor. She had come across our article from a year or more ago on “59 things not to say to a preacher.”  Back then, I had solicited input from Facebook friends and ended up with that number of comments which preachers do not need to hear and which affect them negatively.  The article got a good bit of play and drew more than a fair share of controversial reactions.

Preachers loved the list. And so did their wives, incidentally.

There’s a lot of hurt out there.

Marlene appreciated the list, she said. But she added that I had quit early. We need a list of what not to say to the wife of a preacher.

So, I asked her to get me started.  Here is her reply:

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Why you may not want to marry a preacher

“Do not be unequally yoked…” 2 Corinthians 6:14 (a reference to Deuteronomy 22:10 where Israel is told not to plow with a team composed of an ox and a donkey).

We all agree that Scripture teaches believers should not marry unbelievers.

But, would it be an unequal yoke for one called into the ministry to be wed to a Christian who resents his calling and resists the demands that this life places on her?

Surely we can agree that not everyone should marry a preacher.

(The obligatory disclaimer: In our denomination, preachers are men. I know some women pastors in other denominations and respect them very much. But I know nothing of the pressures they face. Thus, for me to write for their situation would be highly presumptuous. Please do not write accusing me of sexism or prejudice against women. Thank you.)  

When I began this list a few days ago, mostly I intended it as a light-hearted piece since I’m a preacher and love pastors and their families.  Any woman who marries a called servant of the Lord should feel special to Him, I’m thinking, and she needs to know what she’s getting into. And then, I decided to ask for help.

I invited Facebook friends to suggest reasons why someone “might not want to marry a preacher.”  I expected soft answers. Oh my, the responses.

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My single biggest regret from a lifetime of ministry

I invite you to read this opening to my journal dated October 1980.

I was 40 years old and Margaret was 38. We were in our 19th year of marriage, and pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi.  Our  children were 17, 14, and 11.

The first entry in the book is dated October 9.  However, the paragraph above that reads:

The month of October got off to a poor start around the McKeever household.  I announced to Margaret that until October 27th, there were no open days or nights.  The month was filled with church meetings, committees, banquets, associational meetings, speaking engagements at three colleges, a weekend retreat in Alabama, and a few football games. She cried.  Once again, I had let others plan my schedule in the sense that I’d failed to mark out days reserved for family time.

I ran across that book today, read that paragraph, and wept.

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No two marriages are alike, but some are amazingly like yours

“They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35).

No marriage is perfect.

The union of two godly well-intentioned disciples of Jesus Christ does not guarantee a successful marriage.

And even the successful ones–however we would define that!–in almost every case had their ups and downs.

So, if you’ve been feeling like a failure because a) your husband spends more time at the church than at home, b) your wife isn’t nearly the cook or housekeeper your mom was, c) you and your spouse argue, d) you have each lost your temper and said/done some things you regretted later, or e) all of the above, then….

Welcome to the human race.

I’ve been reading William J. Petersen’s book “25 Surprising Marriages: Faith-building Stories from the Lives of Famous Christians.”

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