“A fourth threat to undermine a man’s ministry is a non supportive wife. It could also extend to the children, but particularly a non supportive wife, one who nags and battles a pastor as he tries to be faithful and loyal to the Lord and the church. If she is negative on the church or the people in it, or if she is spiritually out of sorts or materialistic and self-indulgent or a little too controlling, she will cease to be that support that her husband so desperately needs to serve his people with joy. A fully supportive, loving, trusting wife who will be honest but who will stand with her husband to the very end frees a man up to do with all his heart what God has called him to do.”
(John MacArthur, Jr., “Answering Frequently Asked Questions,” Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry: Shaping Contemporary Ministry with Biblical Mandates, ed. John MacArthur, Jr. (Dallas, TX: Word, 1995) p 371)
Inner city ministry can be a tiring, frustrating, depressing, slow, repetitive, slander receiving, gossip inducing, bitter, thankless grind at times. Talking to my Pastoral Assistant recently, he reminded me of the naive enthusiasm he had for ‘ministry to the poor’ when he first came to us a couple of years ago. Don’t worry, I’ve soon knocked all the joy out of him! My question to him, as it is to all my married men, was, ‘How is your wife handling things?’ In my 14 years of ministry thus far, this is a fundamentally important concern for anybody entering into any type of ministry, let alone one as difficult as church planting.
A friend gave me two pieces of advice many years ago when I first got married: (1) Honour your wife always in public and private. She is not ‘her indoors’ or ‘the missus’—she is a gift God has given to you to treasure and cherish and (2) Your wife and your family are your primary mission field. I have never forgotten that, and have sought to live up to those expectations.
In all my years of ministry the Lord has led me to Bournemouth, Birmingham, Brazil, and Edinburgh and we have, by God’s grace, made an impact (largely positive) wherever we have been. People have been won to Christ, projects started, churches planted or reinvigorated. Without my wife by my side, supporting me, praying for me, kicking my ass, and loving me, I don’t think I would have lasted this long in the ministry. I bring random strangers home for meals, showers, and clothes, often at a few minutes notice and she does not blink. She has an almost superhuman gift of hospitality (so missing and yet so necessary in our work) and an endless patience even with the most garrulous guests. We have sat up nights with people going through cold turkey, we have had people turn up on Christmas day for lunch, we have even had guests come on family holidays, and yet through it all we have managed to maintain our love for one another and a deep appreciation of our distinctive roles within the ministry we have.
Those of us who have been doing this gig for any length of time know how our lives are a ‘goldfish bowl’ and we know the pressures on our wives. People seeking friendship to get close to the ‘power base’ or, more common here, people excluding her because of who her husband is. After all, who wants to invite the pastor’s wife to their party? I think my wife is great and people should make more of an effort with her, but short of some sort of papal decree, we both get on with the job we have, and I try to be as supportive and loving as I possibly can. My wife is definitely my best mate and we still laugh and mock one another (and other people) after all our years together. We do spiritual stuff too—fear not!
Sadly, I am seeing more and more how‘high maintenance’ many young wives can be for men entering the ministry. Maybe it is personalities, I don’t know, and I fight hard not to fall into judgementalism. But, for me at least, many men are excluding themselves from the ministry because they (1) have no idea of biblical headship and (2) their wives take little or no interest in their calling and see it as an infringement, almost, on their ‘real lives’. Or, (3) their wives are actually controlling and manipulative (the most common) with regards to how the husband spends his time for the church.
Many young couples are seeing the ministry less as ‘a life’ and more as a 9-to-5 job. They divide their lives into ‘ministry time’, ‘leisure time’, and ‘me time’ instead of thinking of it all as the‘Lord’s time’. When I am considering men for the ministry these days, I am looking more and more at their wives and I am encouraging them to do so too. I think it is naive of many women who say‘it’s my husband you’re getting, not me’. Whilst, I understand the sentiment behind it (they are not unpaid skivvies for the church after all), I think it is a sad indictment of our increasingly individualistic, secular culture permeating Christian ‘community’ and eroding our biblical value and ideals.
You don’t have to be married to thrive in our ministry, but I bet I know what the response would be if you asked a single person what their preference would be. You also have to have a secure and happy marriage and an immensely supportive wife to thrive in this ministry. If not, get out quick. I thrive because God is good and my wife makes sure that our home is a refuge from the storms of ministry, even if I sometimes bring a little bit of driftwood home from time to time.