Say you’re a pastor. And let’s say a pastor search committee is all over you, believing that you are the man for their church, God’s own choice. And they want you to travel to their city and preach in their pulpit and give their people a chance to “call” you as their new shepherd.
And let’s say the church is much larger, the salary provides a hefty boost in your income, and the prestige is twice what it is where you are. This has to be of God, right?
Oh, one thing more. Let’s say your wife is unhappy about it.
What does a pastor do in this case?
Most of us in the ministry have been there at one time or another, in one way or the other.
In my case, it was the opposite. My wife thought the committee was correct, that relocating to the bigger church was of the Lord. I was the holdout, the one who could not decide.
It wasn’t that I was opposed to moving. I just wanted a word from God that it was the right thing to do.
A friend counseled me on how to pray in this matter. I did as he suggested, and a half-hour later rose to my feet and picked up the phone and called the chairman of the pastor search committee, asking them to remove my name from consideration. I called Margaret and told her, then buckled down to becoming the best pastor for my people I knew how to be. It worked out.
Or did it? To this day, Margaret is not so sure we did the right thing.
The main reason is that one year later, we accepted the call to another church–yes, a larger and more prestigious church–and it did not turn out well. After a very hard three years, we took a paid leave of absence and walked away from that pastorate, ending up in metro New Orleans.
This is one of those things which every husband and wife have in their relationship attic somewhere: an issue on which they simply agree to disagree.
The other day a pastor’s wife e-mailed me about a similar situation she and her husband were facing.
She has given permission for me to use their story. Obviously, we’ll not be using their names or personal details.
Kerry’s first note was as follows:
Dear Brother Joe: Have you ever written anything on your blog that has to do with candidating at a church and you and your wife needing to have unity on the decision? Keith and I are in a bit of an impasse right now and we are praying for unity. The red flags are more serious for me than for him. I don’t want to keep him from being at a great church; I just don’t think this one is it. Anything you have to say about this type of situation is welcome.
Not remembering having dealt with this subject as such, I suggested to Kerry what we frequently do to someone looking for articles on my blog dealing with specific subjects: Type into the search engine “McKeever/whatever-subject-you-are-interested-in” and see what comes up. With something like a thousand articles, there are few issues the blog has not touched on.
I called my wife and read Kerry’s letter to her. She said, “What are the red flags?” Good question. So, I sent an email to Kerry asking that.
Her answer was four pages long. Briefly, the problems Kerry had with their moving to the other church involved:
–medical issues. They would be far removed from the kind of medical specialists the family requires.
–church issues. The congregation had made life miserable for the previous pastor over home schooling. Some powerful church leaders were involved in the public schools and felt strongly the pastor’s family needed to support them. Kerry was homeschooling their children for some good reasons.
–personality issues. The committee wanted a pastor’s wife to be more submissive than they felt Kerry was.
On the other hand, Keith wanted to be back in the pastorate so strongly, after having had a bad experience in the previous church. Even though this was not a perfect situation, he would be fulfilling his calling and satisfying that inner longing to be serving God’s people as shepherd.
Kerry wanted that for her husband, too. However, she knew that another bad experience in a church would be the worst thing imaginable for them.
Kerry and Keith talked and prayed and waited. The answer they got came through the pastor search committee. For reasons of their own–perhaps all of the above, they didn’t say–they called Keith to tell him they would be looking elsewhere for their next pastor.
Was he disappointed? No doubt.
Kerry was relieved. However, she was hurt for Keith. She wants so badly for him to be back doing what God has called him to do. She just wants it to be in the right church.
Margaret and I have discussed this at length. Here are our suggestions for pastors and wives in similar situations.
Talk about these things now, long before a pastor search committee comes calling.
The worst time to try to formulate a plan for handling such differences is in the midst of them. The best time is when no such options are in the picture and no one can win or lose.
Decide to honor each other. To listen to each other’s concerns. To respect the other.
My wife has generally left these decisions up to me. However, if she had concerns, she wanted to be heard and to know she had been heard. That put a responsibility on me to pay full attention to her thoughts and concerns.
Decide what you will do in case you are at an impasse. In most cases, at least in the portion of the Lord’s work with which we live and work, that will mean that the ultimate decision will belong to the pastor husband.
In one case, I told the president of an institution who was inviting me to join his staff I was “95 percent sure” the answer would be “yes.” Then his assistant showed us around the campus and we walked through the three houses that were available. We could live in any one of the three. My wife cried when she saw them. On the way home, we talked and talked. We prayed some and we probably cried some. That’s when I knew in my heart that we were not supposed to make this move.
Her “red flags” had stopped me from making a mistake.
If she knows he is really hearing her and that he values her input and takes it seriously, even if they cannot agree, she will tend to be supportive.
If, however, this is not the case–that is, if he really listens to her and then overrules her and she becomes resentful and nonsupportive–the marriage has serious problems. This decision more likely revealed the problems than caused them.
If necessary–if she feels he is not listening to her or valuing her input sufficiently–it might be necessary to dig her heels in for a while. Not permanently, but long enough to be heard.
This word is from my wife. I don’t deny that sometimes it might be necessary for a wife to do this. But let her husband be such that her hesitation really matters to him enough for him to stop and listen.
Let the wife keep telling herself this: His whole ministry is based on his ability to hear God’s will and to follow it.
Again, this is from Margaret. It’s how she handled these things over the years.
My heart goes out to pastors’ wives. Theirs is an unpaid position with a hundred demands and expectations, and not all from the church congregation. Sometimes it’s the preacher-husband who expects her to function as a servant with no mind of her own and no desire except to make him look good.
God, bless all pastors’ wives, please.
Once in a while I will hear of a pastor who relocated or stayed, based not on his preference for his own ministry but for his consideration for his wife’s work. One minister told me his wife had moved several times for his work and now that she had a great job and the offer of a promotion, he felt it was only fair that he submit to her needs this time.
It would be unfair of us to judge him wrong.
Each husband/wife team will make their own calls in such situation.
The new city (where they moved) needed preachers too, and soon he was pastoring a good congregation there.
“It is to his own master that a servant stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). That little verse keeps reappearing in a lot of my conversations with the servants of the Lord. It safeguards us from judging one another in decisions we make regarding the Lord’s work.
The main consideration for a husband and wife team is to make sure you are both listening to the Lord. One thing we know: He is not going to send contradictory messages.
Stand together, pastor and pastor’s wife. Be a team. Support one another. Together, you will be a mighty force for God. Divided, you will wreak havoc in the church, destroy your home, and end the effectiveness of a good minister of God.