just for pastor's wives (1)

>> March 14, 2011

Dear Pastor's Wife,

Over the past 16 years of being the wife a man in full-time ministry (i.e. a pastor’s wife), I have learned a lot...both through wise and godly counsel and from experience.

I always wished that someone would have sat me down and told me all the things that would be helpful for me to know in ministry. I didn’t take Pastor’s Wife 101 in college :). Most of what I learned I observed from my mom (or she counseled me in along the way), I gleaned from books by pastor’s wives, or I figured out by trial and error.

Through the years I have developed a love for sister PWs and am sensitive to the needs that they have as they fulfill a unique calling on their lives. So, from time to time, I thought I would share some things that I have learned along the way. I don’t do them perfectly, as I am a work in progress and have much more to learn, but there are certainly little pearls of wisdom I can pass on...especially to those who are just starting out in ministry.

#1 Recognize that it takes about three years to feel at home and find your place.

Oh, I have had to remind myself of this piece of wisdom time and time again! Not only is it true for a pastor’s wife, but I believe it is true for anyone starting out with a new church...layperson or otherwise. Upon setting foot in a new church, idealism and expectations run high. Based on previous experiences we have preconceived notions of how things should be...either positive or negative.

I have found (after being “new” in four different churches) that it takes a long time to form lasting relationships, to figure out the in’s and out’s of the church body, to find a good fit for my own giftings, and to settle into what is normal and healthy for the current church situation. So often times, people become discouraged at about year 2, wondering why they don’t feel like they fit in, when in reality they just need to hang on because year 3 is a-comin’! (Of course, each circumstance is different and it make take shorter or longer for some).

Within the first year, I have found two pieces of advice helpful. The first comes from Chuck Swindoll who told a friend of mine, “Be careful who greets you off the plane”. Meaning, be careful of those who try to befriend you hard and fast in the beginning. Often times, these people are ones who are starving for friendship...and for a reason. Or, they had extreme loyalty (and thus influence) to the previous pastor and his wife and want to recreate that same relationship with you. In short, they are feeling a loss and may have an agenda. Although the attention is nice, it may come to harm you later.

The second piece of advice is not to tie yourself down to any one ministry in the first year. As soon as pastor’s wife sets foot on the scene she is a novelty and new “help” for any given ministry. It was a blessing for me to let people know up front that I would not be committing to much at first so that I could get to know the church as a whole. We visited as many community groups as we could within the first six months. I went to all three services. I was a participant in the women’s ministry. I helped out here and there in the children’s ministry. We had people over to our house as often as we could.

I kept myself free enough to be visible and active in as many things as possible without having to lead much of anything. I supported my husband along the journey of his learning curve. I don’t know that I stuck to my plan for the whole year because six months into it we had committed to a community group and I served on the children’s advisory board, but the pressure was off and I was free to make decisions based on where I felt God was leading me. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is important to count the cost before making a leap of commitment that may, or may not be the best fit for you or your family.

By the second year, the “honeymoon” (if you ever got one) is over. New staff come on board that then become the new novelty. Idealism gives way to reality and it’s time to figure out how to settle down for the long haul.

By year three, trust and credibility have grown, friendships have been forged, giftings have been placed, and a ministry wife can settle down into her church family like a familiar warm blanket.

The transition to a new ministry has its ups and downs, but perseverance is your friend. I have been so blessed to be at the church that we are at. Honestly, I don’t know that a transition could have gone any smoother as our people have been so generous and gracious toward me. But, there is still a transition nonetheless and for those of you in rockier circumstances...hang in there!

Remember that it will probably take about three years and recognizing this fact will save you from acting out of insecurity, which is never a good thing. You will find your place in your new church family and in doing so be a blessing to them.

Waiting for God's timing in all things,
~ Joy

Growing up in a pastor’s home, Joy Dombrow was molded and shaped by a life of ministry and service.  While studying Human Development/Education at a Christian college and then teaching, she partnered with her husband in youth ministry at four different churches, a calling that would continue for 15 years.
Currently, Joy’s husband Joel serves as lead pastor of Willamette Christian Church, where she serves in a wide variety of teaching, serving, counseling and advisory roles. She is passionate about helping women understand and apply the truths in God’s Word and enjoys using speaking opportunities to do so.
In her free time, Joy writes, cheers her kids at sporting events, plays board games, chats with friends, reads five books at any given time, and makes references to her beloved television show Little House on the Prairie... all while sipping on a cup of peppermint tea.
Joy and her husband make their home in the Portland, Oregon area, along with their two school-aged children, Nathan and Elisabeth.
She has graciously shared this series as a guest writer for CLUTCH. You can read more about her life, ministry and family on her personal blog here.
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