As a pastor’s wife, I belong to several Facebook groups specifically for the wives of those in ministry. I would say that at least every few months a certain recurring topic shows up in the various feeds. The question asked of the fellow PW’s goes something like this:
“Do you have friendships within your church?“
As a 30 year ministry wife veteran I can certainly understand where this question comes from. One does not go through any substantial length of time in church ministry and come out unscathed. I don’t know of any pastor’s wife or family that has not incurred bruises and even some lasting scars as a result of being on the receiving end of some mean church people. A sad fact is that people within churches can be cruel at times, and we can even be betrayed by those we thought we could trust. I have seen my husband physically ill over the dread of the monthly business meeting. I’ve seen my children jaded by how some people in churches act. As a result, pastor’s wives can often feel very alone and like an outsider. We often find it hard to make friends within our churches because we don’t feel like we can offer ourselves fully to the friendship. There’s always a part of our lives we keep guarded. Fellow ministry wives will get this.
I GET THIS.
There have been seasons in ministry where I felt very much alone, where all the ladies in the church were going out and doing things together, but I was usually never invited to come along. It can be hurtful, even if unintentional. I believe that many times, and for a variety of reasons, the women in our churches don’t really want to invest in a relationship with the pastor’s wife. A statistic in the SBC at one time said that a pastor’s average tenure at a church is 18 months, which is very much like a revolving door of pastor in/pastor out. This can make it very difficult for pastor’s wives to make friends, and likewise, hard for church members to devote time to invest in a friendship that may end just as quickly as it started. All of these factors can lead us to withdraw from making friendships within our churches. And honestly, it can sometimes seem easier just to decide to keep people at a distance to keep from getting hurt. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt this way in certain seasons of our 30 years of ministry.
Ourselves and our feelings cannot be the focus of those of us who are called to ministry.
Yes, I said “US“.
Dear sisters, if your husband has been called, as his wife and partner, YOU have also been called. When our husband is the shepherd of a flock, like it or not, WE are the shepherd’s wife. And the shepherd’s wife isn’t allowed to not care for the sheep. In fact, much of the time, she is with him, side by side, caring and tending to those in her husband’s fold. She is holding the hand of the wife whose husband has left. She is making food for the husband and children whose wife has cancer. She’s at the hospital with him when the phone call comes at 2:00am. We are there in the trenches with our men. We cannot afford to enter into a ministry determined to keep the people at arm’s length in order to “protect ourselves”. The honest truth is: Ministry hurts. Loving people hurts.
Several times I have entered into a new church with the idea in my mind of, “This time I’m just not going to get as close to people as I did last time.” And do you know what?
I’ve never been able to do that.
If you truly have a heart for ministering to the church your husband has been called to shepherd, you will not be able to stay withdrawn from them. These people will become “your people”. You will laugh with them and cry with them. You will go to ball games and bar-b-que’s with them. You will be there for the births and for the funerals. Your lives cannot help but become intertwined if you are truly invested in the ministry life you’ve been called to. Before writing this blog I was doing some reading about shepherds and their wives. Not pastors. REAL LIFE shepherds. That care for real life sheep. There is a family in Maine that cares for the flocks of sheep on the outer islands of the state. They have regular jobs, but are the sole caretakers for the sheep that roam those islands. They are invested in the care and lives of that flock that has been on those islands for over 300 years. Right now, that flock is entrusted to them. The wife, Eleni is pictured below, and what she said in the caption really resonated with me as the partner of a pastor/shepherd:
There is something about being at the bedside of a dying member of your flock. I’ve been in this position numerous times in ministry. The connections we make are real. The pain we feel is real. And as the shepherd’s wife above says, “There’s something really beautiful in what you did and how you connected.” What we do has value. Eternal value. The members of our churches can sense if we are genuine in our care for them. They trust us with their most precious moments of birth and death and everything in between. If we are keeping them at arm’s length to protect ourselves, how can we truly care for them in their most vulnerable hours?
I understand we won’t be “best friends” with every single person in our congregations. Even Jesus had a close circle of three among the twelve. But we are told in scripture that the people in early Church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread together. The Enduring Word Commentary says this of Acts 2:42:
They continued in steadfastly in…fellowship: The ancient Greek word koinonia (translated here as fellowship) has the idea of association, communion, fellowship, and participation; it means to share in something.
i. The Christian life is meant to be full of fellowship, of sharing one with another.
· We share the same Lord Jesus.
· We share the same guide for life.
· We share the same love for God.
· We share the same desire to worship Him.
· We share the same struggles.
· We share the same victories.
· We share the same job of living for Him.
· We share the same joy of communicating the gospel.
I have found some of the comments on these social media posts very sad. It has been said by some wives in the comments,
“No, I don’t have any friends in the church.”
“It’s just not wise in my opinion and personal experience.”
“Go find your friendships outside the church.”
My question would be, “Where??”.
While, yes, we CAN find some friendships elsewhere, typically, our closest friendships are made where we spend most of our time and with the people with whom we spend most of our time. For us, this has always been with the people in our churches. As wives of pastors we do not live our lives independent of those in our care. Shepherds live with their sheep. This is why it is a calling. You aren’t called to something you aren’t willing to sacrifice for and commit your life to. Being called to ministry is being called to PEOPLE. Yes, I understand that it can be so hard at times. It can hurt and be very frustrating. But as a ministry couple, we can look back through the years and the miles and, yes, while there have been some deep wounds, there are mostly smiles and good memories. And souls saved. There are people who are forever woven into our tapestry. Good and bad. But mostly good. I can honestly say we have made friendships that have endured throughout the years. There are women that I still text and message when I see that they are going through something difficult. Or if there is something to celebrate.
We recently got to spend some of those last bedside moments with dear friends from a church where we formerly served. Jeremy went home to be with the Lord after battling Covid-19. But before he died, his wife called us and said to come. We had been in their home so many times during our 7 year tenure there with them. And they in our home. Cheering on the Sooners every fall. Sharing homemade soup, sandwiches, and Joy’s brownies. Jeff and Jeremy golfing on their days off. Going to the Texas Ranger games. To get the honor of being there in those most precious of last moments will always be a treasured memory, because we were PRESENT with them and were invested in their lives when it counted. We wouldn’t trade that for any amount of pain we may have avoided by choosing to remain distant from those in our care. It’s been worth it all. And we can’t wait to one day see Jeremy again!
So my advice to wives in ministry would be to make the friends. Love your people. They are YOUR people. Do life with them. Don’t live in fear or dread of pain. God will bless what He has called you to. If it is truly your calling, it will be worth it. Even if sometimes you aren’t sure. And you will live with the reward of knowing what you have done has made a difference both here and in eternity.