She's already spent the day cooking, cleaning up, and caring for four little ones. She's tired and needs a massage. It's 9:30pm, and her husband is still not home from the hospital where one of the church members is not well. She tries not to be bitter, but he was out late last night for a meeting, and the night before that he was preaching for a nearby church's evening service, and he's missed every lunch for two weeks. She thinks, Is this what God expects of a pastor's wife? Maybe I just need to get used to this.
When she and her husband moved to seminary, they felt such excitement about following the clear will of God. They admitted to one another that things would get tough sometimes, but they committed to love and support each other. Like clockwork, finals week hit every December and May. For days she hardly saw her husband except when he came home to fill up the coffee mug before heading back to the library to study. She told herself this was just for a season: Surely once ministry comes, and he no longer has to work a job and go to school, then he will have more time to spend with me.
Sure enough, things did settle down. They moved to a small town and began ministry in a smaller church, and for a while his schedule was pretty open. But now as her husband got more involved in the community and with church members, she begins to fear she's losing him again. What should she do? She wonders, Is this what I signed up for–a life lived in the shadow of the Church?
Someone gave my wife advice at the beginning of my pastoral ministry. They said that she had to realize that in a pastor's life the church comes first and his wife comes second.
These were some of the most heartbreaking words I had ever heard–and these came from a retired pastor's wife! It brought me to tears to think of my wife living as though she was a single mother left alone to raise our children because I had put the church first.
Brothers, how do we do our best to make sure our wives don't end up playing second fiddle to the Church?
Let me encourage you to think on these four basic truths:
1. Remember you are not married to the Church.
The Church already has a husband: Jesus Christ. You, Pastor, are not him. So, stop acting as though your church is your highest responsibility in life. It is easy for pastors to develop a messiah complex, believing that if we aren't there to wait on our churches hand and foot they will languish. When we begin to see ourselves as our church's savior, you and I are both thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3). God has given you one wife–not two. Besides, don't you know that polygamy leads to jealousy?
2. Recognize the difference between self-denial and spouse-denial.
Stop making your wife exercise self-denial for the Kingdom of Heaven. What is really happening is that you are denying her. Are sacrifices going to be necessary for the Kingdom? Yes. However, how many times does your wife get to freely choose whether she will sacrifice? How many times do you make that decision for her? Every time you skate out of the house for a hospital call at 8:30pm or forget to tell her you will be home late or that you have a lunch appointment, you are making the decision for her (I'm the worst at this, by the way). Allow your wife opportunities to choose whether she will make the sacrifice, and don't be disappointed if she chooses not to.
3. Keep first things first.
We hear it so often, but we rarely think about it: We have a first priority responsibility to be washing our wives with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). "Yeah well, she comes to my bible studies, and she hears me preach on Sundays." We both know that's a cop out. Every husband and wife has room for growth in the intimacy of the Word. Marriages built around the Bible–reading, discussing, and praying it together–will be able to weather the bumps and bruises of life in the ministry. God will hold husbands accountable for how well we have imitated Christ's relationship with the Church in our own marriages–not on how well we have tried to usurp Christ's relationship with the Church.
4. Make sure your church knows where your priorities lie.
Your wife is the one who listens and cares for you when you are hurt by members in your congregation. She is the one who tenderly nurtures your children while you are off fighting for the Kingdom. She is the one who willingly sacrifices for you day in and day out. She is the one who will be with you after you have worn out your usefulness in the pulpit. Make sure that she knows you are committed to her above all else. Make sure your church knows it, too. Don't be ashamed to tell members "No," making it clear that it is because you have commitments to your wife. They will–or at least should–respect you more for it.
I pray that when my vocational ministry comes to a close, my wife will be able to say that I always put her first. Perhaps you notice some of these problems sprouting in your marriage. May we all grab a shovel and dig these weeds up by the roots, throw them into the fire, and cultivate love for our wives that will bloom and bring vibrant, Spirit-filled life to our marriages.