dear abigail::what about when the other PW is invisible?

>> April 16, 2010

Dear Abigail,
I am a young lead pastor's wife (at a university campus church plant).

Eight months ago, our church hired a part-time pastor who has a wonderful family: wife and four children, ages 5-12.

The new pastor's family does not come to church. 
On very rare occasions, the wife will join her PH at services, but she is not involved in any way outside of that.  They attend another church on Saturday evenings as a family, saying that it meets their children's spiritual needs. 

Our attendance runs from 35-90 (depending on school breaks), and we do have families with children in our church.  We had a children's class when this new pastor began, but he wanted it turned into a nursery for toddlers and babies only. Now this pastor's family says that they do not come because there is nothing for their kids to do.  I asked the wife if she would be willing to serve in the nursery so that the other moms and volunteers could spread out.  She says that because her children don't attend, she'd rather not help.

I am ten years younger than this PW and have much smaller children (my oldest is 3). We attend every service (except when ill), and I am involved in mentoring many of the young women... even though I'm only 3-5 years older than most of them.  I support my husband any way I can, even if sometimes it means (during pregnancy and right after birth) we only come for the actual service. 

I feel bothered by the other PW/family's absence. Is it normal for pastor's wives to be invisible to the extent of not attending the church the PH leads? When questioned, this PW has said she is not used to being attached to her husband's hip in ministry. My thoughts are:  "How can he invest himself fully if his wife is not part of the equation?"  

I definitely don't expect her to be attached to her husband's hip, but I do think she should share the vision of the body and be part of it.  My PH and I have had many people ask us why this PW doesn't come to church. We don't know what to say. My husband has difficulty trusting the other pastor's commitment and potential for longevity without his family's investment.  

My PH has had to take on a part-time job (he gave up a portion of his salary to hire the new pastor), so their lack of involvement is also frustrating because of the time my husband's new job takes away from our family.

This PW has so much to offer the young ladies and young moms in our church!  I'm befuddled as to why she wouldn't want to share her wisdom from being a follower of Jesus, a wife, and a mom for many years!
I have tried to talk to her, and she says she wants to be involved, but won't force her children to come to church or serve when there is nothing for them, so she has to stay home with them unless she has a babysitter. This was a month and a half ago and she has been to church only twice since.  

I don't want to be legalistic. But I see that the body has a hard time respecting this leadership style. What would you do? ~ Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,
I sense your frustration and longing to see things change in this sticky situation. Of course I hope you have been seeking God's wisdom in prayer and study as you decide how to interact. The behavior and attitude of any PW has a profound impact in her congregation, for either good or bad. This goes for you just as much as for the new PW in your church.

First, let's talk about you: It's obvious that you are dedicated to your role as a PW, that you love your PH, and that serving in ministry is highly important to you. You are willing to make service a priority even at the cost of your own comfort and convenience. It can't be easy to be this active with small children. Kudos to you for publicly supporting your husband and setting such a great example for your kids. 

Now I have to ask you a tough question. How much of your frustration at this PW comes from feeling that she should be doing at least as much as you are? After all, she is older and her children are not so small, right? Did you have dreams of gaining a PW partner in ministry that are now shattered? Are you sure that you aren't the tiniest bit jealous that she stays home while you are working so hard? I'm not saying this to condone her absence - just to make sure that you have searched your heart and that your motive for addressing the issue isn't rooted in envy or a similar negative emotion.

Next, let's talk about the other PW. Do you know her story? Was she once heavily involved and then got burnt out? Is there a private health issue? Does she see this as a season of life where she is most needed at home? Were the expectations very different in her husband's last church? Or is she perhaps ignorant of how her absence is diminishing her husband's leadership and eroding the respect of the body?

True, it is crucial to protect our children from being overburdened as PKs. On the other hand, every child (who will become a successful adult) must learn at some time that there are things in life that we do to serve others, whether or not they are "fun" or designed for our convenience. Going to church with a community of people of all ages and backgrounds is an excellent training ground to teach children that we do many things for the good of others. This holds just as true for PKs as for any other family in the church. (Check out the phenomenal book "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement" by Twenge and Campbell, to read more about this.)

It was once unheard of for a PW to stay home when her PH was at church. Sadly, there is a growing trend of faceless PWs who feel no calling to support their husband's ministry. While shared ministry looks different for every pastoral couple, and while every PW has her own personality and gifts and interests - the basic components of loving people and being willing to serve according to her gifts are absolutely imperative for any PW. Without these, her husband's ministry is guaranteed to stagnate. Yes, it is important to achieve balance and keep adequate family time, but when the pastoral family focuses only on meeting their own needs the ministry will wither.

When a PW is consistently absent (except when ill or perhaps traveling for work), the body begins to worry. Is the pastor's marriage solid? Is there a secret problem? Does she have an undisclosed illness? Does she hate us? Have we somehow offended her? Can her husband be trusted? It sounds as if your congregation is already beginning to ask these questions. (And when members inquire, I suggest telling them to go and ask the other pastor directly. It may help him to realize how his wife's attitude affects them.)

Certainly the PW should hold herself to the same (if not higher) expectations of attendance and involvement that is shown by every other active and dedicated member. Scripture also places an imperative on female leaders to engage in mentoring and teaching younger women (Titus 2:3-5). No pastor can effectively lead a church, or convince members that their service is important, if his own wife and family refuses to attend and be engaged. It may not show for a while, but her disinterest will take its toll on his credibility.

I believe that, rather than being between you and her, this is a matter for your PH to address with her PH. Scripture implies that the state of a church leader's family is crucially connected to their eligibility to serve (see 1 Timothy 3:2-5). Has your husband had a frank conversation with his assistant pastor about how the absence of his wife and family is negatively impacting the body? Perhaps your PH should address this as a matter of growing concern, including the fact that this pastor's commitment and longevity are unclear as a result of his family's failure to connect with the church body.

If your husband's discussion reveals a legitimate reason for the PW's absence (i.e. a private illness, or  severe depression), then the situation should be tactfully expressed to the church in a way that engages their prayers on her behalf. That way the body can sympathize and minister to her. Otherwise, your PH - as the senior pastor - may need to gently explain the repercussions on the body if this trend continues. 

I would suggest that you and your PH work together with the other family to help them understand the importance of regular attendance and involvement, and to get creative so that they also feel their needs are met. Of course, if you choose to address the issue, you must be prepared for the possibility that they will decide that this ministry is no longer a good fit for their family. However, it is appropriate to make it clear (especially since your husband has given up part of his salary to bring this family into your ministry) that there are some basic expectations in your church's local culture, such as the regular attendance of the pastors' families.

May God bless you and your PH as you prayerfully consider how to best communicate in this situation so that Scriptural principle isn't compromised, and yet the needs of both the congregation and the pastoral families are fulfilled.

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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Anonymous,  April 17, 2010 at 11:54 PM  


Wow, thanks! My husband and I both were looking forward to your answer, and both of us thought it was really well thought out and wise!

I definitely do think it is important to search my heart on this matter, and I can honestly say I have. I think what you mentioned about looking forward to having a team in ministry is what I have been struggling with. My husband and I both expected to have a team with them being hired on (it was one of the reasons we hired another staff member)... especially after going at it alone for so long. I truly don't feel jealous, as I love being involved, but I do think at first I had some expectations regarding her investment in others. I never felt it was in comparison to me, just hoped for some effort.

Over the last several months my PH has had several meetings/conversations with her husband regarding this to try to understand. In so many words, the pastor has just said "it is what it is". I think that is where we (my PH and I) started questioning if what we were expecting (attendance) was even reasonable... or perhaps legalistic. Hence the Dear Abigal letter.

Prayers for guidance were answered this week when my husband had a meeting with him intending to clarify the expectations for someone who is on staff. The other pastor came in and resigned his position in order to better financially provide for his family even before my husband had an opportunity to say anything. (The church they ministered in prior to our was able to provide them a much larger salary than we are currently able to. They had been living on that budget and had bills accordingly when they moved here. He owns a business and is now going to work on building that business up in order to provide at the level they need.) We definitely respect his decision and regard it as a direct answer to prayer. It turned out the best possible way we could have imagined.. praise God!

We have learned so much in this whole situation including, but not limited to, revising the hiring process for new staff. ;) Thank you for answering my letter and the wisdom imparted!

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