By Gloria Furman
An article in our local newspaper announced an airline’s new policy—“your fourth wife flies free”—in honor of a ruler who had just taken his fourth wife.
When my husband traveled to India for ministry he brought back an interesting anecdote. He said, “Every pastor I met introduced himself to me like this: ‘My name is So-and-so; I have one wife and however-many kids.'” One of our church members from India explained that the rules of English grammar might be the reason the Indian pastors said that they have “one” wife instead of “a” wife.
Even so, in this area of the world, monogamous marriages are not assumed. I suppose it couldn’t hurt for married pastors to affirm that they are married to only one wife! Besides the “only one wife if you’re married” clause, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list nearly 20 requirements for a potential under-shepherd of the Lord’s sheep.
But where is the list of qualifications to be an elder’s wife? Scripture-based ecclesiology offers no explicit job description for the office of pastor’s wife, because there is no such office.
Empty Nesters to Nursing Moms
There is no office for the elder/pastor’s wife, yet many wives feel pressure (or even a desire) to function as an honorary elder or unpaid staff member of the church. Direction in ministry for a pastor’s wife can take on many forms, but one specific ministry ought to be valued over every other service opportunity she may be gifted to do or feel passionately about—that is, a wife’s ministry to her husband and family.
To state it negatively, a pastor’s wife’s ministry to her husband and family should not be regarded as nominal and diminishing in comparison to other opportunities to serve in the church.
Pastors’ wives love Jesus, love their husbands, love their churches, and want to serve the Lord. Of course a pastor’s wife wants to be “sold out for the kingdom.” But she would be selling the wrong domain if she punted her God-given responsibility of faithfully serving her husband and family. None of us really wants to neglect or disown this main ministry that God has hand-picked for us. Pastors’ wives, just like every other church member, need discipleship, intentional care for their soul, and direction in ministry.
The subject of “seasonal ministry” was brought up around the lunch table where I sat with the other elders’ wives in our church. Some are empty nesters or nearly empty nesters. Others have nursing babies at home. The nature of our husbands’ work varies. Our husbands also have various issues with physical health that limit or redirect their efforts in service.
Between the pasta and Panini, we marveled at how exceedingly difficult it would be for all of us to be called to the same area of formal service in our church. Our gifting and passions differ greatly. But we share one ministry in common, which is ministry to our husbands—to be his one wife with all the power of Christ who so mightily works in us.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the Pastor’s Wife
As our pastor-husbands “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” we must come alongside and support them in this calling. One place to start looking for specific ways to minister to our husbands is the list of elder/pastor qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We can assume there is reproof and instruction from these passages to apply for ourselves.
One example is immediately apparent but perhaps seldom taught. An elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Timothy 3:4). The harrowing task of managing his household is given to Christian men. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden a man’s efforts to lead his family have been met with opposition from within and without. We’re sinners who marry sinners and give birth to more sinners. A man who aspires to the office of elder aspires to a noble thing. But first he must die to himself and lead his family likewise. Surely an elder could do this task of managing his household with greater dignity and confidence when his wife is walking with the Lord and supporting her husband, his leadership in their family, and his leadership in the church.
Many women’s Bible studies discuss how to become a “Proverbs 31 woman.” An excellent wife, who can find! These studies would also do well to caution women against becoming a “Proverbs 21 woman.” “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman” (Proverbs 21:9, 19). I like to joke with my husband that when I am “a quarrelsome and fretful woman” then he is in double trouble. Our roof is less than habitable, and we live in a desert!
Are you a quarrelsome and fretful wife? Are you the common denominator of dissension and strife in your home? Or are you a supportive and helpful wife? Are you building your home by God’s grace in order to bring it under the headship of your husband to the glory of Jesus? Or do you foolishly tear down your home with your own hands (Proverbs 14:1)?
There are other general qualities in these passages that every Christian man ought to aspire to. An elder must be “hospitable.” How can you support your husband as he invites both strangers and also loved ones into fellowship? An elder must be “above reproach.” How can you graciously support your husband’s commitment to living a life of integrity? Every wife ought to cheerfully support her husband’s grace-driven and grace-sustained efforts in being sober-minded, self-controlled, gentle, and holy.
One character trait unique to men who aspire to leadership in the church is their ability to teach God’s Word. An elder must be “able to teach.” It might seem wives cannot help their husbands in this regard. Not so! I’m so thankful the Lord started pointing out to me ways that I could support my husband in his ability to teach in our first semester in seminary. Ten years later I still have to ask myself these heart-questions as I aim to support him: Do I respect my husband’s hard work in study? Or do I resent the time he spends preparing to minister the Word? What are some creative and sacrificial ways I can budget time, money, and resources to help my husband as he seeks to be “able to teach”?
No Matter Your Age, Get Titus 2 Help
Many pastors’ wives are young. Some of us are newlyweds. One woman wrote me an email a few weeks ago and said she was a “pastor’s wife in training” as her fiancé just started seminary. Like me, she was struggling with fears and insecurities about the role she would assume once they were married and her husband started pastoring. Sometimes a pastor’s wife with little experience in life, marriage, and ministry is thrust into leadership roles simply by association with her husband.
Instead of giving in to fear that we are incapable and insufficient, we should rely on the sufficiency of Christ and lean into the older women in our lives who can teach us how to love our husbands and children like Titus 2 describes. Surely a pastor’s wife who models humility and teachability is leading other women faithfully in her example of biblical womanhood. A wife who draws on the strength and creative energy of God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) will not lack anything she needs for service to her husband.
Pastors’ wives need specific support and encouragement to be excellent wives to their pastor-husbands. After all, she’s the only wife he’s got!
(A version of this article first appeared at The Gospel Coalition)
Gloria Furman (@gloriafurman) lives in Dubai with her husband Dave, a pastor at Redeemer Church of Dubai. They have three young kids. Gloria is the author of Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home (Crossway, 2013) and blogs regularly for Domestic Kingdom.
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