Joel and I love to talk to new couples that are on the verge of marriage. The love is palpable, the conversations cooperative, the joy contagious. We enjoy helping them think ahead to what it would be like to merge two lives, two families together.
One of the sessions that we include in our pre-marital counseling time is a discussion about family of origin. We talk about the bride’s side of the family, then the groom’s.
Are your parents still married? How did they treat each other?
How did you celebrate birthdays at your house?
What was a typical day like in your home? Did your mom serve you a hot breakfast every morning, or did you eat cold cereal?
Who was responsible for child discipline? Taking out the trash? Taking care of finances?
What did you do on each of the major holidays?
The banter is fun as discoveries are made. We help them negotiate new ideas and make adjustments for their own new family. It is a fun and easy conversation, but one that is oh so important, for it calls expectations into check.
Expectations are highly influential to the health of a relationship, and our past experiences shape those expectations.
It is no different for a pastor’s wife and her church.
A lot of misunderstanding and hurt can be subsided if all parties involved are aware of the their “spiritual family of origin”.
- What was the previous pastor’s wife like? How did she do things?
- What was your pastor’s wife like in the churches you grew up in? What role did she play? How involved was she?
- How did those experiences affect how you view your own role or the role of the pastor’s wives around you?
For instance, growing up my mom was a pastor’s wife. I have memories of being at church nearly every time the doors were open, at least four services a week. We had missionaries into our home. My mom worked one day a week as a nurse, but the majority of her time was spent on the phone with people who needed some sort of counseling (we only had one car, so she was home bound). She was (and is) very involved, and there was only one other wife of a part time pastor on staff.
The trend continued with the rest of my pastor’s wives. When my parents moved to being professors at a seminary, we attended several churches. Joel was employed at four churches before our current one.
Nearly every pastor’s wife was highly involved and influential.
Two ran the women’s ministry. One of them was an avid note writer with a bubbly personality. The other was the key soloist in the church.
One was the children’s director. She was incredibly hard working, and together we started a reputable pre-school on the church property.
One was the pastor’s administrative assistant. She was gentile and hosted us as pastor’s wives in her home.
All were respected. All were involved. All were leader among leaders.
So without even thinking, I slipped into my role with these pictures in mind. But, what if the new church has a history of absent pastor’s wives? What if the other pastor’s wives have their own origins of inactive pastor’s wives? What then? What kinds of conflicts and misunderstandings arise?
Or, what if it is the other way around, and the church has a history of highly involved wives and the new pastor’s wife has no previous example by which to follow? What if she has to flounder and create her own? Wouldn’t she be bound to falter a bit, or perhaps step on some toes?
Or what if these two pastor’s wives are on the same staff? What then?
I believe that a wise church has these conversations of understanding that include the pastor’s wife from the beginning, ideally even during the hiring process. No one needs to fit into another’s mold, but each needs to see where the other person is coming from and where they can adjust to accommodate the other.
Role definition and communicating expectations can solve a lot of conflict before it even starts, which makes for a healthy ministry “marriage”.
All for the conversation,
What have the pastor’s wives been like in your life? Have you ever considered how your previous church relationships color and shape your current ones?
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