Monday, April 12, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Church Roles

Here's a job description for a pastor's wife (PW) from a Time Magazine article that I'll discuss in a later post:
HELP WANTED: Pastor's wife. Must sing, play music, lead youth groups, raise seraphic children, entertain church notables, minister to other wives, have ability to recite Bible backward and choreograph Christmas pageant. Must keep pastor sated, peaceful and out of trouble. Difficult colleagues, demanding customers, erratic hours. Pay: $0.

That's really pretty par for the course. It seems like in most traditional churches that the PW is expected to play the piano, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, run the nursery, and raise perfect children. I have done many of those things. Here's a rundown on various PW roles and responsibilities I have assumed in the four churches in which my husband has been employed: nursery worker, adult SS teacher, choir member, AWANAs Chums leader, VBS Musical Director, children's choir teacher, youth SS teacher, youth chaperon, youth accountability leader, adult SS teacher, women's Bible study leader, VBS teacher, choir, handbell choir.

I filled these various roles during different seasons of life. Sometimes I was a full-time working wife putting my hubby through seminary and commuting 45 miles one way, plus all of the church stuff. Through other times I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler. Then I was a part-time working mom with two rugrats. Currently in our church plant my roles include making homemade baked goods for our hospitality table two Sundays a month, working in the nursery as needed, picking up students at the university and taking them back every Sunday, and I have led women's Bible study.

I've worn a lot of hats, filled a lot of shoes, and taken on a lot of roles in the church. However, here's what I've learned.
1. I don't have to do it all.
2. Even if no one else steps up, I don't have to have to always swoop in and save the day and fill the empty slot.
3. I don't have to do things that I am not gifted in or called to.
4. Guilt is not from God.
5. My family comes first.
6. Busy-ness in the church is not next to godliness and in fact oftentimes, excessive church activity can pull me away from God.
7. And here's the big one: It's okay to say NO...and I don't have to provide a reason.

When Robert first became a youth minister while in seminary in Texas, I was all about be Susie PW. I did everything anyone remotely asked of me. For the most part I enjoyed it. However, there were two things that I was pressured into that in hindsight I should have refused. The first is that "there was no one else" to direct the VBS musical so it fell in my lap. I can read music and I can sing, but not performance-type singing. I had to teach about 50 kids to sing, dance, and act in a week. To top things off, I was in the first trimester of pregnancy. I was never sick when pregnant, but I was utterly exhausted! I was working full-time and had a killer commute. Doing something way out of my comfort zone and skillset was the last thing I needed on my plate. The other thing was that I was begged to be the lead in our Christmas play. We were at a small rural church with a median age of about 65 years. I was in the choir. As mentioned previously I can carry a tune, but I don't sing powerfully or particularly beautiful, and I certainly don't sing for other people unless in a group. However, the Christmas program was kind of a modern day retelling of the Christmas story with this husband and pregnant wife and their daughter seeking out a hotel when their car broke down. Not only was I one of just 3 women in the church actually of child-bearing age, but by this time I happened to be 6 months pregnant. Perfect casting! Did I mention that I don't sing solos? I also don't act. Even doing skits sends me into a panic. Now here I was the lead in the Christmas play with a solo and a harmonized duet with my "husband" who was actually about 10 years older than me and married to the choir director. We had to gaze adoringly into each other's eyes and sing to each other and then have this big "embrace." I'm breaking into hives just thinking about it. According to Robert, I barely made eye contact with him at our wedding, and now I have to make goo-goo eyes to a guy I barely know while his wife directs us? I remember practicing it at dress rehearsal with everyone snickering and my big hard belly right there in the midst of things, as I prayed for the floor to open up and swallow me. I remember someone videotaped the darn thing and asked if I wanted to watch. No! Never! And if it were to ever appear on youtube I would not be responsible for my actions.

Fast forward through the time in Missouri where I was a VBS teacher and/or missions leader to Louisiana where I was a VBS teacher....then BOOM!! An epiphany! I don't like VBS. Yes, I think I am really good at working with children of all ages. I get kids. I can relate to them. I can make learning fun. However, VBS sucks the life out of me. I don't like it and even more than that, I really don't believe in VBS philosophically in the traditional sense. At the churches where we were serving at the time, VBS was basically a free babysitter and something fun for the church kids to do in the summer. It was a lot of work and a lot of money for kids who already knew the same 5 Bible stories to hear them once more, eat some cookies, and make a craft. (For the record, I am not inherently opposed to VBS. Depending on the community it can fill a real need. However, I am much more a fan of Backyard Bible Clubs. Instead of making unchurched kids come to us, why don't we go to them?).

So I had my epiphany and when it was time to sign up for VBS, I didn't. I was a PW who didn't work at VBS. Scandalous!! And you know what? I'm pretty sure that God still loves me. I also didn't feel the need to give a reason. "No, I'm not going to help out this year." That's it. No justification. No guilt. Wow!! It is for freedom I have been set free. (Gal. 5:1).

From then on, I only did what I felt gifted to do and passionate about. Does that mean that I never have done things out of my comfort zone? No--I think God pulls and pushes us and challenges us to do things we have never done before and things that we may not necessarily like. It's just that I was free not to do things just because PEOPLE expected me to do them. No doubt that God has a sense of humor. I married a youth minister. Know what age group in church terrifies me the most? Yep, youth! However, I have been a youth chaperon, led youth accountability groups, and taught youth SS for over 10 years. That's way out of my comfort zone. I don't even have the spiritual gift of middle school!

I do think that every PW needs to have some active role in ministry and service. However, I think the role she assumes is ultimately between her and the Lord. It could be leading a Bible study or washing dishes after Wednesday night supper. It might be in front of a crowd or it might be behind the scenes. And I don't think the PW needs to be involved in ministry merely because she is a PW. I think she needs to be involved in ministry because she is a believer and part of the local church body. Period. The same rules apply for all church members.

Ultimately, that's the church role of a PW---to be a good, active church member. Nothing more and no less than would be expected of any other church member. And I have found it beneficial to state that up front during the hiring and interview process, but that's another post for another day...


  1. "No" is the most wonderful, freeing word. I use it a lot. It lets me say "Yes" to better things.