Rowan Speaks

Being a Shepherdess

I have the joy and privilege and responsibility of being a pastor's wife.  Yes, I said "being a pastor's wife" and not "being married to a pastor."

At one time my husband and I had a flock of over 300 sheep.  Literal sheep.  While being a shepherd helped to prepare Moses for being a leader and David for being a king, being a shepherdess has helped to prepare me for being a pastor's wife.

In my travels and, especially when I first became a pastor's wife (officially), I would ask two questions to every pastor's wife that I met along the way:

What do you love most about being a pastor's wife? and

What is your greatest challenge being a pastor's wife?

So far ladies either answer the question with their greatest joys and challenges or they become affronted and ask what does that have to do with them?  After all, it's their husband's career, not theirs!

My years as a shepherdess taught me that we have an important role to play in the life of the flock, whether it is our primary career or not.  When the shepherd needed help with lambing ewes or newborn lambs, it was the shepherdess who helped.  When the shepherd was away, the shepherdess fed the flock or delivered the lambs.  When hypothermic lambs needed to be taken in, it was into our home.  When care of the flock would take the shepherd out and away at all hours, the shepherdess would have to make a sacrifice for the good of the flock and hold down the fort at home. She could either resent the shepherd or join in with full support as part of a joint endeavour. 

Scripture speaks to the important role that all women have in the body of Christ, in addition to their individual giftedness.  Titus 2:3-5 outlines it for us:

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husands, that the word of God may not be reviled." (ESV)

But the wives of elders/pastors and deacons have some verses of qualification that would indicate to me that it is indeed a role within the church:

"Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things."I Tim.3:11 (ESV)

Why do we resist the concept of the pastor's wife as a role in the church?  As I have considered that, some ideas come to mind.

One reason might be that we consider the role of pastor to be a career, and not a calling or spiritual gift.  In that case, there would be no reason for the spouse to identify with the role.

Another reason is that when the pastor's wife is seen as fulfilling the role, the church can put a lot of expectations on the wife that are beyond what God may be requiring.  If the wife is so busy giving the church "Two for the Price of One," she may not have time to embrace the season of life she is in with young children, or serve according to her personal giftedness.  While I am so grateful my husband has the freedom to pastor full-time, churches have historically underpaid their pastors.  This has resulted in their wives having to work outside the home to pay the bills, and then work a second, unpaid job at the church. I saw a day planner for pastor's wives and it had an entire section on how to clean the church!  A generation of PK's was lost to the kingdom because parents were so busy serving the church they neglected their own children. Separating ourselves from the calling or role has been one way of trying to put boundaries in place to prevent these problems.

I also thought that independent wives may want to have their own identity apart from the church or her husband's career.  The Proverbs 31 wife had a flourishing business yet her husband was in leadership.  In many ways her independence and diligence freed him up to be able to confer with the elders in the gates (places of leadership). Her kindness and hard work was a real blessing to her husband, who called her "blessed."

I have one friend who loves to introduce me to her unchurched friends with "...and she's a pastor's wife!" As I see their eyes widen with a bit of concern I always make light of it by interjecting, "At least let them like me first before you tell them that!" and they all laugh and it's okay.

So what do I love most about being a pastor's wife and what do I find to be the greatest challenge?  While my answers would vary from day to day, today I would say that one great joy is that I have the opportunity to pray with people and care for them, and to minister especially to the women and children of the church (ewes and lambs).  The greatest challenge is to remember that, while I have influence, I do not have authority.  It is difficult when my husband is misunderstood or there are issues in the church because it affects our lives more thoroughly than issues at other "work" would. Our church is so great at not placing any unreasonable expectations on me or our children and they appreciate what I do to help, so that has not been a problem for us.

It may surprise you that I vowed I would never marry a pastor when I was a young person.  You see, I wasn't "cut out" for being a pastor's wife.  I am too outspoken and I don't play the piano.  And I didn't want people putting expectations on me or my children to be perfect and well-presented at all times.

God has been so good to show me that I was wrong about that.  I was putting expectations on pastor's wives in thinking they had to be quiet and play the piano. Now I see that it is a great privilege and opportunity to first of all be a helpmeet to my husband, but also to work shoulder to shoulder with him in advancing the kingdom of God.  If that means caring for ewes and lambs and praying with someone when he can't come to the phone, so be it!

I just have to be careful to invest in my own family and help manage our household well in the process and realize that a woman's life is a series of seasons.  We can't do it all or have it one time.  Pray that I would get the balance, and I am praying for you, too.

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