“Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33)
“My husband is always confident–and sometimes right.” –What Mrs. Mark Devers says about her pastor-husband
My wife Margaret–a pastor’s wife for 52 years–was watching a panel discussion of some type or other in which four pastors’ wives were discussing their lives, their homes, and their husbands. One said, “My job is to keep him grounded. I tell him all those people at church see you as some kind of saint, but I saw you this morning in your underwear.”
The audience laughed; Margaret was offended.
She was embarrassed for that husband/pastor. “It was unbecoming to him,” she said. “She could say that sort of thing to him in private, as a tease, but should not say it in public. It was wrong.”
Wish we could take a poll at this point, and ask every spouse of a minister to register whether they agree or not.
How a pastor’s wife refers to her husband to others says volumes about many things– their home life, their relationship, and how they see their respective callings. It also says a lot about her.
We have written on these pages about the pastor’s duty to his wife. We have cautioned pastors never to make a reference to anything his wife did or said without her glad permission and full support. But we have written nothing–until now–on how the wife of a pastor speaks of her man in public. Granted, only a small sliver of ministerial spouses will need this, but even so, it’s worth posting.
They once asked Dwight L. Moody whether a certain man were a Christian. “I don’t know,” he answered, “I haven’t talked to his wife.”
Or at least, she thinks she does. (And I have always told this story as though she were the authority on her husband. I’m beginning to rethink that.)
True, the wife doesn’t know everything there is to know about her husband and his faith. Each of us is a private person, known only to the Heavenly Father. No one knows all there is to know about another.
So, while the pastor’s spouse may be in the best position to know the man, she’s not infallible. And that’s worth stressing.
She knows a great deal about her man. I would tend to believe what she says. But not always.
Let’s make a few points here…
The pastor’s wife is not his judge. She is not the critic who determines whether he makes it to heaven, whether his prayers are legitimate or just so much play-acting, or whether his sermons are worthy.
Most pastors’ wives have opinions about all these things, to be sure. You cannot live with a husband for most of your life and share all of his life-experiences, live in the pastorium and hear all his sermons, without coming to certain conclusions about the man.
And that’s where it gets a little scary.
While some wives feel a necessity to humanize their husbands before the world–“I’ve seen him in his shorts!”–more than a few need to be reminded that pastor-husbands are human and no more perfect than the rest of us.
When God’s word said, “The Lord Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14), it applied to the pastor and missionary as well as every saint or sinner in the land. The Lord is under no illusion about any of us. He knew He was getting no bargain when He bought us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.
And sometimes, the pastor’s wife. That is, sometimes she loses confidence in her man when she discovers he is flawed, and capable of the most grievous of sins.
Pray for every pastor’s wife you know.
I have known more than one pastor’s wife who despised the life to which she was consigned.
One I knew hated living in the glass bowl, as the saying goes, and despised her husband’s calling. She would sit in church with her arms crossed, glaring at the man during his attempts at sermonizing. It will surprise no one to learn their marriage did not survive. And along with his marriage went the ministry. The last time I saw the man he was working in the local newspaper office.
God will have to sort these things out. Was she right or wrong? Was she justified in rejecting him? After all, she knew him in the intimacy of their home.
We take great comfort in the Lord of Heaven and earth and He along being our Judge.
I knew a spouse of a minister who resisted any attempt at counseling to save their marriage. Within a year of their divorce, she had “taken up” with another woman known to be a lesbian.
The stories are legion. And legendary.
A few random suggestions…
One. What the wife thinks of her husband will be revealed in her words. “Out of the abundance of the mouth the heart speaketh,” said our Lord (Matthew 15:18). It will come out. Work at loving your husband.
Two. The wife must keep her focus on the Lord Jesus, just as every other believer should. Ruth Bell Graham said in her experience too many wives expect their husband to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be. That is a sure recipe for disappointment and frustration. Let your husband be himself, and not have to live up to your expectations.
Three. Let the wife know her own frailty, humanity, and limitations, and enjoy the fullness of the grace and love of the Heavenly Father. Nothing will do more toward making her a full and mature follower of the Lord Jesus. The person who has been forgiven little, said our Lord, will love little (see Luke 7:47). By enjoying the Lord’s mercy, you can show mercy to others.
Four. As with every husband and wife on the planet, there will be errors and slips and mistakes, so a heart that is slow to take offense and quick to forgive is always a good thing. Be a good forgiver. And once you have forgiven it, forget it.
Five. Young pastor-couples would do well to find mentors among veteran ministry friends. Take them to dinner, have them into your home, and learn from them. When you find your relationship stymied by some obstacle, seek their counsel. Pick their brains.
Six. The wife of a young pastor (okay, the young wife of a pastor!) should consider pulling together other such ministry wives for occasional fellowship. They need each other far more than they realize. And once in a while, they should invite in a veteran ministry wife and put her on the hot seat, asking her about problems they have encountered in their pastorates as well as in their homes.
Seven. If the wife finds herself on the spot by friends or a Bible study class regarding a personal situation in which she does not know how to respond, let her ask her man. “How should I respond?” “What would you like me to say about that?”
Eight. No wife should feel the need to tell people what goes on inside her home. Church members will sometimes be curious, and some will pry. A wise husband-and-wife will distance themselves from toxic people.
Nine. Start and end every day by praying together. Pray for wisdom in dealing with all the people you’ll be seeing today, for strength and inspiration in study, and for restraint regarding stresses and pressures.
Ten. Take magazines like Home Life (the Southern Baptist monthly from Lifeway) and find helpful articles which the two of you can discuss. A good marriage is a work in progress. Always be improving it.
A good marriage. Is a work in progress. Always be improving yours.
God bless your home, your marriage, and your ministry.