We've all known the proverbial pastor who seems content in the ministry but the next time you run into him, he's selling real estate. A mutual friend explains, "His wife just wouldn't support him. She said his call was hijacking her future."
Then there's the wife who is willing to support her husband's call, as long as it doesn't affect her preferred way of life. So she constructs boundaries that look more like the Great Wall of China than a pleasant white picket fence.
Yes, a married couple is called to love one another, and marriage vows are at least as important as ordination vows. Most of us in church leadership believe that God calls couples together into ministry, and God's true call is considerate of each partner's needs, fears, and aspirations. How this works itself out at home and at church is as individual as the couple. There are many lifestyle options that successfully answer that call without trampling on one partner's needs.
The following stories of called husbands and hesitant wives illustrate what helps and what hinders two partners toward agreement. (Names and some details are changed. And please accept my apologies for stereotypically referring to the one with the call as the husband and the one who has doubts as the wife. I do comprehend the extent of women in full-time ministry today, and also the vast majority of couples co-existing happily in ministry. But my contacts with denominational leaders and clergy counselors have indicated that it is almost exclusively the husband who feels constrained by the wife's resistance. So that's the situation I address here.)
Case 1: "I didn't agree to this!"
Sandi grew up in a troubled ministry home. Her parents' example led to her bitter vow never to marry a minister. Her dad worked on a mission field overseeing several rural churches. Her mom had many gifts, but they remained unopened down on the bottom shelf of her life while she cooked and cleaned for the youthful volunteers who drew her husband's greatest energies. Sandi observed her mom's jealous scowls, angry tears, and sarcastic protests after her dad left for another important and exciting meeting. Her mother lived unhappy and died unhappy, and Sandi vowed to find a happier life.
In college, Sandi thought she'd found happiness when she met and married Bill, a Christian planning a career in business. All went well until Bill's older brother, the family favorite, made everyone proud by graduating from seminary. That sparked an interest in Bill, and he told Sandi he wanted to go to school "just to study the Bible on a deeper level."
Pretty soon Bill was in seminary, just to learn, so he said. Sandi wasn't nervous yet, not even when he took on a youth ministry assignment part time, since this was "just part of the hands-on curriculum."
Anxiety arose one day when someone asked if she was the youth pastor's wife. She sputtered, "Why, no! Bill is just helping out as an intern as part of his studies."
The clouds darkened a few years later when the church asked Bill, now a seminary grad, to serve as interim pastor. Bill's discussion with Sandi consisted of his dismissing her protests and focusing on the benefits, primarily the rent-free parsonage. As the assignment progressed, he enjoyed the affirmation of his gifts and the admiration of his parents. He deflected the protests of his wife, questioning her "lack of surrender." Didn't she know that Christians must die to self?
Inside, Sandi was terrified. "The other woman" who had stolen her dad's affections had now enticed her husband, too. Avoiding more criticism, she went along in a resigned, listless way, arriving late to church, leaving early.