The Pastor’s Wife
I am not a big fan of parachurch ministries, but I have a very short list of some that I appreciate very much. Near the top of that list is 9Marks. Few ministries have done as much to promote a biblical view of the church, and I give them high praise for that service. I hope you will keep that in mind as I begin this critical post on a subject that I consider very important to the church and family—particularly, your pastor’s family.
A recent 9Marks article addressed the problem of Fighting Burnout as a Pastor’s Wife. The title alone was enough to put me on edge. But before I get to that main point, I want to address a couple of other problems with the post.
My first complaint is comparatively petty. The author commits one of my pet peaves, using the term “help-mate.” You’ve seen this, I’m sure, and probably haven’t given it much thought. You might have done it yourself. Please stop. “Help-mate” is not a biblical word, nor is the closer-to-biblical “helpmeet.” In King James language, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Help” and “meet” are separate words. Rather than comprising a single noun, they are a noun and an adjective. Read it as “an help [that is] meet for him,” which means, as the NASB makes more clear, “a helper suitable for him.” Reducing “help meet” to “helpmeet” flattens that meaning. “Help-mate” obscures it further.
Second, and much more serious, is the twisting Mark 12:41–44. In fairness to the author, she has probably heard it preached the way she presented it many times. I know I have, and was none the wiser until just a few years ago. But this text, the account of the widow who put her last pennies in the offering plate, is not in praise of extreme sacrificial giving. It has nothing at all to do with that. It is an indictment of the hypocritical, oppressive religious system that led her to give what she should have kept for her own survival. (A full exposition of the parallel passage Luke 21:1–4, appropriately titled Abusing the Poor, can be found here.)
Now, getting to the point . . .
That a pastor’s wife should experience any unique kind of burnout reflects an unbiblical view of who she is. That I have to say this is a sad commentary on the church, but here it is: there are two biblical offices in the church, elder and deacon. There is no biblical office of Elder’s Wife. The church has no more claim on the time and energy of pastors’ wives than on any other member. The responsibilities and priorities of pastors’ wives are the same as those of every other wife in the church: take care of your husband; take care of your children; take care of your home; if you have any time left over, by all means, see what you can do to serve the church. If any wife is exhausted, let it be because the responsibilities of her home are heavy enough. (Ladies, can I get an “Amen”? I thought so.)
In fact, the good folks at 9Marks know this, and have said so.
If you are among those who expect the pastor’s wife to be the head of this or that, stop. If you are a pastor who lays the responsibilities of ministry on your wife, stop. If you are a pastor’s wife who feels obligated to serve above and beyond any other church member, please stop. As a wife and mother, you’ve got enough to do. If you have the time, energy, ability, and inclination to teach Sunday School or lead that women’s Bible study, by all means, do so. If not, your responsibilities to your family are much more important, and will bear far more valuable fruit than anything else you will ever do. What is more, your husband cannot have a fruitful ministry without you in that place. That means the whole church is depending on you to not let them depend on you. So consider this your excuse, next time you are asked to head up one thing or another, to politely decline, guilt free.
There is much to commend in the article I have just criticized. For any woman (or man) who finds herself weighed down with overwhelming responsibility, the principles apply. God loves you, and he will carry you all the way. But he has not called you to do everything.
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