Monday, February 27, 2012

A Risk...A day in the life of a preacher's wife

I've been doing some research and reading lately on the role of a minister's wife.  No lie...it's a tough (second) job.  Many days it's rewarding, many days it's incredibly blessed, but some days it's hard and some days it's lonely.  I was reading on Dan Bouchelle's blog, he's a mentor to Clint and has been in ministry for some years.  It's risky to put this out there, but he says so well what I feel some days...and I'd imagine your preacher's wife feels the same.  I'd like to echo that this isn't meant to be whiny...just a glimpse into our lives. 

I've copied his entry, but you can read his full blog at: www.danbouchelle@blogspot.com

While I have only worked for three churches in a full-time capacity, I have interviewed with quite a few. Once, when my wife Amy and I were interviewing with a church for a preaching job, Amy asked what were the expectations of her if we were to get the job. The elders, elders’ wives, and search committee members looked at each other nervously as if they had never thought about this before. There was a long awkward pause before someone finally said, “It would be nice if you would just smile and talk to people.” That elicited a lot of laughter which indicated a back-story that was unknown to us. It seems the previous preacher’s wife was considered to be an angry, unfriendly woman who only spoke to a tiny group of trusted friends and treated everyone else with neglect or contempt. My guess is that this perspective was exaggerated and skewed by a variety of events. Never-the-less, it is not uncommon for ministers wives to struggle with feelings of anger and resentment toward the church. Why might that be? In the spirit of understanding and maybe reducing the pressures a little, I write the following at the risk of sounding whiny again.

  1. The church assumes that it is hiring a whole family. Every search committee lies and some of them even know it. They tell the minister’s wife that nothing more will be expected of her than any other involved member, but that is rarely true. If the preacher’s wife does not show up for an event—esp. a children, youth, or womens ministry event—it will draw criticism. An elder will get cornered or called. He will then call the preacher "just to let him be aware." He is then expected to let his wife know that “a lot of people” were really disappointed . . . . If the minister’s wife is not leading VBS, the womens ministry, hosting showers (which by the way can cost ministers families a ton of money since the wife is expected at all of them), and every other event considered suitable for women, she becomes a target. This is true even if the elders say it doesn’t have to be. They cannot control the expectations of all the members. In addition, parents with children the age of the minister’s children often want their kids to be best friends with the the preacher's kids so they can save their kids. The pressure is intense for the minister's children to get along with every child and make them all feel special. The minister's children are expected to be Bible scholars, leaders, and good examples everywhere. They didn’t sign up for this and they often get rather bitter about it and act out, which only makes things worse. Oh, and if the kids turn out well, people brag on the preacher as a father and act like he gave birth to the kids and raised them alone. The preacher’s wife often doesn’t even have a name, she is introduced to people as “the preacher’s wife.”
  2. The church expects the minister to put the church before his family. Everyone who calls the minister’s house in the evening, on the weekend, or in the middle of the night assumes they are the only one calling and that the minister has a special affection for them and would want to talk to them. You cannot take care of your family as a minister without disappointing and even angering people in your congregation. Knowing this, and feeling the criticism for the times the minister was not there for someone, it just gets easier to disappoint your family who will forgive you more quickly for a while. But, over time the cost builds and leads to resentment. Ministers’ wives often feel like their husbands have a mistress (the church) and they can’t compete. However, who can they talk to about this? All their friends are in the church and they don’t want to discourage them so they don’t tell anyone. The frustration builds with no way to express it.
  3. The church rarely provides time away or compensation commensurate with the demands and responsibilities of the job. Ministers are hardly the only people with jobs that can be extremely demanding. Many professionals have jobs that make similar demands. The difference is that those jobs usually pay well enough that when they have time off, those people can really get away to a nice place and experience renewal. This rarely happens for ministers. Even if the money is there, the time is not. When the preacher is away, people complain and put him on a guilt trip when he gets back. “I worked for six month to get my friend to come to church and when she finally came you weren’t here!” Being tied down every weekend gets to be extremely restrictive after years pile up. If the minister is not able to negotiate sufficient time away, it will begin to take a toll on the family. If he does, he will get criticized for “being gone all the time.” “Why do we pay that guy, he is hardly ever here.”
  4. Ministry means living in a fish bowl and every part of your life is up for criticism. Here is my favorite criticism we ever got. “They dress their children too nice.” Yep. My wife was sewing our children’s clothes to save money, but that didn’t matter. We’ve been accused of being child-abusers because we spanked our kids. We have been told it was our children’s responsibility, when they were as young as 9-11, to watch after the younger children at church and stop expecting someone to minister to them. I've also been criticized for caring too much about poor people. I’ve known ministers and their wives who were criticized for being “too smart, too biblical, too concerned with social justice, too moral—no joke, too concerned about racism, and too nice looking. Minister’s wives and children are always on display and everything they wear, how they drive, the expressions they make during church or class, who they talk to or don’t, who their friends are, it’s all up for public discussion. One time after I mentioned that we lived in a fish bowl, a woman in the church came up to my wife and said, “It’s time to change your water!” A little of that is tolerable. A life-time of that wears very thin.
  5. Much of what the church expects seems to have little to do with what the minister and his wife believe are legitimate parts of their ministry. Most ministers and their wives (who are also ministers though without job description or pay) are doing what they do because they love the Lord and feel a call to share the good news, care for people, and make disciples. However, the expectation to be a priestly presence whose appearance conveys importance on someone’s pet ministry has nothing to do with their sense of call. If ministers and their wives could just do what they got into ministry to do, they would gladly make great sacrifices for the Kingdom of God. They probably already have. But the sacrifices demanded seem mostly to be for petty things or busywork. No one resents when the preacher gets called out at 2:00 a.m. because someone has had a fatal accident and the family needs comfort. But, when evening after evening is spoiled by needy people who want unwarranted attention to prop up their flagging egos or calm their out-of-control anxieties, it gets hard to accept.
Forgive me if this sounds like complaining. It isn’t meant that way. Most of our experience in ministry was rewarding and we were loved well by our churches—most of the time. The leadership of the churches where we worked did well to protect us as much as they could from these kinds of unrealistic expectations, but they could only control so much. Over time, I got better at learning to say “No” and living with people being unhappy with me. I once told a woman, "Look, I get up in a world where someone is angry at me every day. Today is your day." After I almost ruined my marriage in the early years, I learned to protect my family better. But, just in case you’ve ever wondered why ministers wives often look tired, seem emotionally withdraw or even cranky, this might help you understand. It also might help you to understand a question Amy once asked in an interview. “If we come here will you treat our family like members of the church or will you just view us as employees.” Then she broke down in tears. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

8 comments:

Kelli said...

Thank you for sharing this, Kat! I cannot imagine the selfless attitude and patience it takes to be a minister's wife, and I admire anyone who has the guts to do it. I hope y'all have been able to find positive community and support as a ministry family; it is so important for anyone, but especially for the people who give and give and give of themselves in this way.

Chelsie Sargent said...

Thanks for sharing this- it was good to read these words as a ministers wife myself:). If only we lived closer...

Ashley said...

What a hard job, I can't even imagine! I admire & am thankful for all you PW's out there! :)

hollie marie said...

This is brilliant- it really targets some of the thorns that can come along with ministry life. I think we've all experienced these things at least once and can relate to the emotions that come along with it. I may just post this to my own blog- thanks so much for sharing.

That being said, I love my life as a minister's wife and wouldn't change our calling!! :)

Tesha said...

Hi I am from Kelly's link up. Good post and true. We are a church plant so some of the things are different when your pioneering but the expectations can be overwhelming. I recently gave birth to our sixth child stillborn. Grieving in front of other is very difficult. You baby boy is so cute thanks for sharing!

Jill said...

great post...i can totally relate!

found you through kelly's blog :)

Allison said...

Stopping by from Kelly's link up. What a great post.

Jen said...

Love this! I am going to share with my husband.

I didn't get my own post up for the SUYL link but am enjoying reading everyone else's stories.

My husband is a Presbyterian pastor and we have 2 little boys (2 and 3) and another baby due in August.

Looking forward to getting to know you more!

Jen