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FOR WOMEN IN MINISTRY

How Can a Minister’s Wife Cope With a Church’s Expectations?

By Joanna Bloss


Keeping ministry obligations and fulfilling family responsibilities is a juggling act for even the most competent of ministry families.

In the early days of my husband’s pastoral career, he held the highly esteemed but meagerly paid position of youth intern. Being a young seminarian, he worked long hours, embracing any opportunity available to gain as much experience as he could. I, being young, in love, and a childless bride, stayed at his side—singing in the choir, teaching the children, and playing the piano. I even survived a junior high lock-in or two. Imagine my delight when, at our annual congregational meeting, I was bestowed the honor of "Layperson of the Year." The church chairman beamed as he handed me the award. "How could we have known," he said, "that we would get two for the price of one?"

It wasn’t long before the demands of full-time ministry and a few children entered our lives. Somehow "two for the price of one" seemed like a good deal for everyone but my husband and me. Keeping ministry obligations and fulfilling family responsibilities is a juggling act for even the most competent of ministry families. In addition to our own expectations, we must deal with the constant demands of needy congregations.


Often, we are the ones who create unrealistic expectations and set ourselves up for failure when we cannot possibly live up to them.

So how do you cope with both realistic and unrealistic expectations? Ideally, you and your husband should discuss this long before it becomes an issue—preferably before that first interview with the search committee. First, you might ask yourself where those expectations are coming from. Often, we create unrealistic expectations and set ourselves up for failure when we cannot live up to them. And at some point, even in the best situations, most of us will encounter expectations from others, no matter how subtly they may be communicated. Here are some questions to ask to determine what you realistically can and cannot do.

WHO IS SETTING THE STANDARD?

I have a friend who, in my mind, is Superwoman. She’s up at dawn to have her quiet time, exercises regularly, is a gourmet cook, and home schools her children. She can accomplish more in 24 hours than I can in a week. It would be easy for me to be intimidated by her; but because I know her so well, I’ve learned two things: Although her life seems perfect on the outside, I know she struggles to maintain balance and order. Second, I know that God doesn’t intend for us to be cookie-cutter Christians. He has gifted me in different ways than my friend, and my job is to shine in those areas instead of longing to be like her.

Perhaps you’ve been comparing yourself to the pastor’s wife or even to your predecessor. Don’t. God has called you to be the best you can be. His is the only standard you should try to measure up to.

WHAT IS YOUR SEASON OF LIFE?

I have three small children, so my availability is different from my friend Katie’s whose girls are in high school. I eliminate almost every evening activity that would require a baby-sitter. That means no evening Bible studies and no committee work at night. At times I find that frustrating, but I remind myself that this is my season. Someday, when my little ones aren’t as needy, I’ll be leaving the house after 7 p.m. My husband and I need to save our precious baby-sitting dollars for nights out together—not planning the next pancake feed.

Perhaps you work outside the home or care for an elderly parent. You must consider these responsibilities when deciding what can be reasonably expected of you.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE?


Spending time alone with God will allow Him to reveal to you where He wants you to invest the rest of your time.

You may have experience teaching Sunday school, playing the piano, and taking meals to shut-ins, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do those things. Experiment until you find what you really love doing—then be available to do it. I find that teaching a women’s Bible study is energizing. Adequate childcare is available, and I can prepare when my children are sleeping.

When you are operating within your gifts, you will generally feel energized and not drained. Once you determine what you love, you’ll be free to turn down opportunities that conflict with your schedule and your gifts. However, if you are being asked to do something you’d rather not do, ask yourself if the Spirit may be trying to stretch you.

CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO THIS JOB?

I struggle with wanting to rescue every needy ministry in the church. If there is an empty spot on the Christian education board, I want to fill it. If we are desperate for one more Sunday school teacher, I’ll teach that class. Instead, I’m learning to be quiet. It is not my responsibility to single-handedly keep every ministry in the church alive. There are plenty of other capable people. Sometimes I just have to let them figure out who they are.

ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES?

One pastor’s wife I know was criticized because she sat with the same family too many Sundays in a row. It would be tempting to explain how hard it can be to go to church Sunday after Sunday alone, or to tell why it’s nice to have help corralling the kids. I’ve found, however, the greater the explanation, the more there is to criticize. So, do what you have to do, smile sweetly, and sit with whomever you like. It also helps to have your husband as an ally. If you’ve talked through these issues ahead of time, he may be able to deflect some of the criticism that comes your way.

HAVE YOU SET APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES?

People will have ideas about how the pastor’s wife should spend her time within and outside of the church. Rather than allowing yourself to be swayed by their opinions, make up your mind ahead of time and be firm about what you can and cannot do. Your primary function is to be available for your husband and family and to see that your home runs smoothly. You cannot do this if you allow others to dictate how you spend your time.

Set appropriate boundaries. Let the machine pick up the phone at dinnertime. Protect your day off. And do it with confidence. People learn to respect someone who has clearly defined boundaries.

ARE YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER?


God has called you to be the best you can be.

Often in ministry we get so caught up in doing good things, that we fail to do the best things. Our ultimate responsibility is to love God. If you are too busy to meet with God daily, then you are too busy. Spending time alone with God will allow Him to reveal to you where He wants you to invest the rest of your time.

My husband and I learned we would never succeed in trying to please people. Instead we’ve tried to focus on loving them. We demonstrate that love by being available in times of need, but also by simply enjoying the fellowship of those in our congregation. Building relationships takes time, and is more rewarding than bending over backward trying to anticipate and meet expectations.


Joanna Bloss ministers with her husband in McPherson, Kansas.

 

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