Monday, November 25, 2013

Duties and Expectations of a Pastor's Wife

My article from this week's newspapers about duties and expectations of a pastor's wife:

Q:  What does the Bible have to say about the role of the pastor’s wife in the congregation?  Are there additional expectations of her, or special privileges in comparison to other members? 

If an individual with no experience in a church were asked to observe the life of several congregations, they would probably report that, when their pastor is married, the pastor’s wife is treated differently, to some degree, than other members of the congregation. 

In traditions with celibate clergy, this is obviously not a question, and in traditions which have instituted female clergy, the social dynamics have been reported to be different for clergy husbands, but in the majority of traditions where married, male clergy are the norm, the pastor’s wife finds herself facing a unique set of expectations not placed upon others. 

Many African-American Protestant congregations even refer to the pastor’s wife as the “first lady” of the congregation, with a role in the congregation that resembles the role of the President’s wife has in our nation.   

It has been a typical expectation in the recent history of American Christianity, that the pastor’s wife be able to play the organ, that she would teach Sunday School, participate heavily in (or frequently to lead) the ladies aid or other women’s organizations in the congregation, and possibly lead a youth group serve (without pay) as church secretary, or direct Christmas programs for good measure.  

In addition to all of this, she was expected to manage her household, largely without the assistance of her husband (who was too busy with congregational business to help at home), ensure perfectly angelic behavior from her children (both in and outside of church), and be prepared at all times to host guests at a moment’s notice in her perfectly-kept home.  And if her husband was found in any vice, such as an affair or alcohol abuse, local gossip would likely find fault with her for “driving him to it.” 

Wives who found themselves living in a parsonage (church-owned home for the pastor’s family) often faced even more challenging circumstances, as not only were their lives (with accompanying mistakes and imperfections) more easily observed by the congregation, with little privacy (what some authors have called “life in the fishbowl”), but often they were held to impossibly high standards for their care and keeping of the “congregation’s house.” 

Even when these expectations are not as severe as they once were, many of them still carry on today, but what does the Bible have to say about the role of the pastor’s wife?  Nearly nothing.

While it does seem that many of the Apostles were married, (1 Corinthians 9 mentions the apostles’ wives, and the Gospel of Luke mentions Peter’s mother-in-law) I cannot recall any instance where the wives actions are described or that their names are even mentioned.  Likewise, the roles of Barnabus, Titus and Timothy’s wives and the rest of the second generation of pastors are also not described within the Bible. 

The closest the Bible comes to describing the expectations of a pastor’s wife is when Paul writes to Timothy and Titus that the pastor must have only one wife, and that he must have his family and children in order—but these are more about the pastor than his wife. 

Biblically, there is no such office in the church as pastor’s wife.  The pastor is called to publicly proclaim God’s Word to his congregation, and the administer God’s Sacraments there—that is his office, and does not extend to her.  His wife finds herself not in the role of co-pastor, unofficial secretary, or full-time church volunteer, but instead that of wife, mother, neighbor, Christian woman, or whatever earthly vocation she has chosen to undertake.  Her she is called, first of all, to carry these out well. 

She may then do some of the things previously mentioned, but not because she is the pastor’s wife, but because she is a Christian and serves in the congregation just like the other members.  In other circumstances, her greatest contribution might not be what she is expected to do in public, but to care for her home and children and thus support her husband’s ability to be about the work of ministry on behalf of the congregation.  All are equally beneficial to the body of Christ, one is not more noble than the others, and she is free to do whatever seems most wise in her judgment for the circumstances in which she and her family live. 

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