February 4, 2014

Three Ways to Thrive in Marriage (While Also in Ministry)

I love Kari Patterson's writing. She writes over on her blog, Sacred Mundane, and has written a fabulous guest post for me before called A Letter to Myself Five Years Ago. Today, she's back with an insightful post about why she's a wife, not The Pastor's Wife. 

I was 18 the first time I saw him, standing there up front, holding the mic. Unimpressed, I slouched down in my chair and folded my arms, thinking, “That’s the kind of guy my mom would want me to marry.”

Famous last words.

Five years later I did in fact marry this man. People change. And I changed when I fell in love with Jesus and began following Him. Suddenly this godly, kind, handsome guy at the mic seemed really appealing. By the time we married we were both working as missionaries and accustomed to the ministry life, so the transition into marriage and ministry life was easy. We got a joint checking account and continued life as normal. 

But our ten years of marriage and ministry have been anything but normal.

One year in we moved to another state for a pastoring job, only to discover disaster after disaster.  Determined, we filled every random role available—leading the 55-and-older ministry (which was in reality the 80-and-older ministry), leading community groups in cities we didn’t live in, coordinating the couple’s Valentine’s dinner (I still have nightmares), and living in a windowless apartment with rotted out floors. We later moved back and juggled seminary with babies and three-hour round-trip commutes, odd jobs, living with parents, internships, then a pastoring position and another final leap into the wide-open unknown world of church-planting. All of this involved 13 moves, 6 churches, 2 kids, and I’m tired just writing it down.
But, while I don’t recommend so much change in a short amount of time, the benefit was a wide variety of experiences and the opportunity to observe many ministry marriages. So, out of this experience and observation, what stands out as most important are three memorable quotes from wise women I’ve met along the way:

“I am not a pastor’s wife, I’m Seth’s wife.” Hannah Trimmer, married 11 years

There is no biblical role or office of pastor’s wife.  In my opinion, the setting apart and pedestal-placement of ministry wives is one of the greatest dangers to women who are married to pastors. If my emotional energy is spent on maintaining some persona, meeting everyone’s expectations, or playing a part, I won’t have the strength to meet my husband’s needs. I’ve found the most joy and freedom to stand by my man when I ditch the Pastor’s Wife deal and just be Jeff’s wife.  

“Keep his underwear drawer full!” TaLisa Rogers, married 16 years

This priceless piece of advice came during our engagement, and I’ve tucked it away as sacred ever since. The point: In the midst of all the “spiritual needs” around you, do not overlook meeting the basic, necessary, physical needs of your man. Having good meals (not gourmet!), an ordered home (not perfect!), clean clothes (especially underwear!) allows your man the brainspace to fulfill the ministry at hand.  During one particularly stressful season (Oh my, I can’t believe I’m sharing this) we had such limited space that I used a hanging shoe-organizer with seven slots and put in each slot one pair of underwear, one pair of socks, and one undershirt. Each day Jeff just pulled out his day’s garments and never had to think twice. He loved it and still says this was one of my most ingenious ideas (but he’d rather I not post photos).

“My job is to seduce the pastor.” Pam Hunter, married 45 years

Sex. Well, there you have it. I’m so sorry to shock all the parishioners but pastors have pretty intense drives, if you know what I mean. And preaching just revs everything up (I’ll leave it at that), while frequent discouragement necessitates comforting and tangible support, often through physical intimacy. No one else can support your husband in this way. Other people can run the children’s ministry. Other people can counsel others. Other people can do the books and clean the office and meet with crying women. No one else can meet your husband’s legitimate physical needs.

This quote was spoken to me by my own pastor’s wife, who I’ve watched for 28 years. She’s been wife to a pastor for longer than I’ve been alive. She has juggled, hosted, counseled, prayed, served, laughed, cried, listened. She is one of the wisest women I’ve ever known. And as they just celebrated 45 years of marriage, having touched thousands of lives, she maintains that this is crucial to the vitality of a marriage in ministry. 

Yes, maintaining your marriage in the midst of ministry is difficult. But thankfully we have wise women who have gone before us and lovingly encouraged us with their words. I pray these bring a smile to your face and hope to your spirit as you walk the road as a pastor’s wife today.

What are some wise and memorable words that you've heard from seasoned pastor's wives that have helped you?