If you are already married, good. What is it the Bible says–He who finds a wife, finds a good thing. (Proverbs 18:22) I would suggest the following to you as a husband: (If you are unmarried, keep reading; the second part is for you.)
1. Accept that she is God’s will for you, period. Maybe as a bride she knew what being a minister’s wife meant and maybe not. In some cases, you were married before receiving the call and she came reluctantly into the ministry with you. Be patient with her, even as the Lord is with you. Do not play the game of saying, “I should have married someone else.” There is no percentage in that. All it does is add to your frustration and lock her into your low expectations. Accept that this woman is God’s plan for you. Take her as His gift to you and your ministry. Thank Him for her.
2. Do not expect her to come into the role of a minister’s wife fully grown. It’s a demanding job and one she will have to grow into, similar to the way you will grow from pastoring small churches to larger ones. Case in point: my wife Margaret.
When we married in 1962, Margaret gladly accepted that she would be the wife of a pastor, but dreaded the demands that might be placed upon her. She came willingly to the role, but worried about her adequacy. “Don’t ask me to teach a class,” she said. At our first church, she didn’t. At our second church, she taught children. In our third church, she worked with single adults more as an encourager than anything, even going on a mission trip to South Dakota with them. In our next church, she taught young married women and later, older women. She had matured and grown in her confidence so that by then she could do anything the job required. But she had to pick it up at her own pace. It takes time for the wife to see that the adults in church are not to be feared, that they are only big children, and that she is capable of leading them.
3. Protect her from the demands others place on her. There’s always someone who expects her to lead the women’s ministry and to accompany you on your pastoral rounds, even to the point of being the assistant pastor. Do not leave her to stand up to these expectations alone. You are the minister and you are her husband, and you alone can ease the unrealistic expectations of church members while supporting her. You do not want to say to them that, “Well, my wife isn’t gifted in that area” or “She doesn’t have time for that.” Rather, you tell them, “I need her to help me. The best thing she can do to help me be a better person and a better pastor is to keep our home and prepare meals and look after our children. When you see me doing well, you’ll know she’s doing a great job! Thanks for understanding.”
As you lessen their expectations, you will take the pressure off her. Later, as she begins to blossom and do more in the church, the church members will be thrilled because she is exceeding their expectations (the ones which you lowered!).
4. As your wife’s spiritual leader, you walk a fine line here. At times, she wants you to be that and at other times, just her husband and lover. At all times, you set the example for her, but at no time do you preach to her–except from the pulpit when she hears the same sermon everyone else does. You will want to pray for her every day and pray with her.
For the unmarried pastor, choosing the woman whom God has chosen for you is exciting, challenging, and a little scary. Here are the three things you are looking for in a wife:
1. Someone who is like you. You and she share common directions for your life. You both love the Lord and want to please Him in all you do. Going to church is not a chore for you both, since you each know how crucial worship and service to the Lord are to believers. The less spiritual one of you is not tugging against the more spiritual, adding to the spiritual warfare which we all encounter every day anyway. You’re on the same page. In John 8:29, Jesus said, “I do always do the things that please the Father.” None of us can say that yet, but it should be our goal. No minister should take a wife for whom pleasing God is not paramount. Neither should he judge her if she falls short in this area. Love her, pray for her, and encourage her.
2. Someone who is different from you. You are unalike in a hundred ways. You’re male and she’s female. That’s a great arrangement. But with that, you will discover that one of you is more orderly and the other messier. One is spontaneous, the other structured. One more arty, the other less. One more athletic than the other. Part of the enjoyment of marriage is these differences. Much of the headache of marriage is these differences.
One day after we had been married 25 years, my wife and I were riding down the highway and I said, totally out of the blue, “When we retire, I don’t know about you, but I’m moving to Cincinnati and every afternoon between 1 and 4, I’ll be at the ball park watching the Reds play baseball.” I have no memory of what she said to that.
A week later, she said, “Could we talk about this business of moving to Cincinnati? I’ve never even been there. And what am I going to do while you’re at the ball game?” I said, “Are you still thinking about that?” That got us to discussing the different ways she and I brainstorm.
What we discovered is a major difference between us. When I’m dreaming out loud, what comes out of my mouth is what I have just thought. It’s totally okay for her to reject it. But when she speaks, what she says is the result of a lot of thought and she is committed to it. She thought I was thinking the way she does. So, we made a decision.
These days, when we brainstorm or dream out loud, we preface our remarks with an introduction. Mine goes like this, “Okay, now, this is the first I’ve thought about this, but what if we did such and such.” That means she is free to accept it as inspired or to dismiss it as hare-brained.
Learning the differences in you and your wife is part of the fun of marriage. And it takes the rest of your lives together.
3. Someone who is better than you. The old saying goes: “It’s a poor preacher who can’t outmarry himself.” A sports fan who knew Margaret said to me, “Joe, you outkicked the coverage when you married her.”
In saying you ought to marry a woman better than you, I mean simply that you ought to so admire her that you believe she’s a better person and a finer Christian than you. I have often felt that about my wife. When she prays, you cuts out the clutter and goes straight into the Lord’s throne room. She prays with such simplicity and faith and directness that I have sometimes written down the words later so I could pray that way.
Like you, different from you, better than you. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “I will make a helper suitable for (Adam).” The word translated suitable is an interesting Hebrew word literally meaning “like opposite” him. Which makes it profound, I think you will agree. Eve was like Adam in many ways–as the only other human in the Garden. But she was the opposite to him in many other ways. I guarantee you, the old boy was delighted at the differences.
Pray for your wife. Whether you have one or plan to get one. She’s going to need all the help you and the Lord can muster.