Married to the Ministry: has the pastor’s wife’s role changed for better or worse?

When my wife and I interviewed at my present church she asked what expectations the congregation had of staff spouses. She was told, "We just expect spouses to be church members like everyone else - serving, attending worship, and living uprightly. You know, no smoking pot in the back of the church." That's a pretty low bar, my wife thought, but one she could reach.

Of course, things have not always been so easy for clergy wives. Opinion Journal recently posted an article by Lauren Winner (author of "Girl Meets God" and "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity") about the changing expectations placed on spouses of ministers. Below are a few excerpts. Read Winner's entire article here.

Until fairly recently, hiring a minister or rabbi was a two-for-one deal: Into the bargain, churches and synagogues got A Wife, who would host teas, teach religious-education classes, sing in the choir. All this, of course, without a salary.
But she did get a job title–the diminutive rebbetzin in Jewish communities and the clunkier, and somehow more ominous, minister's wife in Protestant circles?
Second-wave feminism was, for clerical wives, a double-edged sword: No longer were women accorded honor and respect simply because they were married to a minister. And some clergy wives, reading "The Feminine Mystique" along with everyone else, began to rethink all those hours they had devoted to polishing the church silver. A role that had once seemed noble began to seem, well, exploitative?
Why is the wife's contribution to that work somehow defined by her husband? ("I sometimes muse that if I died, my husband would remarry, and someone else would assume my role in his ministry, but that if he died, I would not only lose my husband, I would also lose my position as a colleague in campus ministry," says one of my friends, the wife of a campus minister.)
?The problem with a facile feminist critique of the role of clergy wife is that it misses the real beauty of the collaboration sometimes found in clerical marriages. There is something wonderfully seamless about their lives–their work and their marriage is all of a piece. Husband and wife are profoundly knitted together, and their shared calling offers something of a rebuke to the hyper-individualism that characterizes so many American marriages. Indeed, they may set a nice example for the flock.
August 04, 2006

Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments


August 14, 2006  3:28pm

Wow Andy, your comment is better than the original article! I have wrestled with the role of women in ministry, wanting to respect God's order in the home and church, but not wanting to hold women back from serving God. In the charismatic tradition, women like Kathryn Kuhlman reluctantly entered ministry. When she kept asking God why He wasn't calling a man to do it, she said that God told her that the men weren't obeying him, and so he was calling her! Interesting theology there. When I was in missions, it was admitted that not only are there more women than men in missinos (good place for a single guy missionary to be ;), but that in many cultures, they were more effective because they weren't seen as a threat like men often are by the local government leaders, who feel like their authority is being challenged by these incoming men.

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Andy Rowell

August 11, 2006  11:19pm

Another outstanding piece from Lauren Winner. She says that some women who were not allowed to pastor themselves, married pastors and thus found some fulfillment by engaging in the limited amount of pastoral work expected of a pastor's wife. I have also seen extremely competent pastorally gifted women who have found their way into roles as "administrative assistant" or church secretary. In another setting, these competent gifted women may have considered seminary and become outstanding pastors themselves. Interestingly, according to 2005-2006 report by the Association of Theological Schools, there are almost as many "Black" women pursuing their Masters of Divinity degree these days as men (2,366 Men and 2,330 Women). However, for "White", the numbers are still quite far apart: 16,268 Men and 6,791 Women. Other pastorally gifted women have gone into "Christian Education," chaplaincy, or counseling as the acceptable approximations for church ministry. And others struggle wondering what to do with their pastoral gifting when they haven't met the right man and what to do with their time when they are struggling with infertility. (See the journeys of Carolyn Custis James and Gretchen Gaebelein Hull as told in their books). Sadly for many of our young women growing up in evangelical churches, becoming the pastor's wife still seems like their best shot at being involved in church ministry. The number one nonfiction book on the Christian Bestsellers List for September 2006 is Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge. As a professor at Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college, I can tell you that young Christian women are reading it in droves. Unfortunately as Agnieszka Tennant points out in her Aug 2006 Christianity Today article "What (Not All) Women Want: The finicky femininity of Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge", the Eldredge's advocate a "tame idea of beauty" - one exemplified by "Pioneer women [who] brought china teacups into the wilderness." There are other ways of being beautiful. I know because I have a pastor's wife who has her MDiv just like me. I'm thrilled to be a pastor's husband.

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