The day I was married I assumed the role of a husband. Years later, when I was installed in my first church I assumed the role of a pastor. What I didn’t realize until later was the tension that dual role can create.
The word pastor is the Latin word for shepherd. When Jesus calls Peter back into ministry He asks him three times do you love me and gives him three charges: feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, and feed my sheep. We are to be shepherds. In John 15, Jesus tells us a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
Pastors are called to do the same. Because we love Jesus, we are to care for the flock entrusted to our care. And, as shepherds of that flock, we are to care for them sacrificially.
As husbands, we are instructed to love our wives as Jesus loves the church, which also means sacrificially. This means a married pastor is charged with serving both his flock and his wife sacrificially.
What I learned in my pastoral ministry is sometimes these noble callings exist in tension with one another. What is a pastor to do when he has to make a choice between them? Does he sacrifice his ministry for his marriage or his marriage for his ministry? I am afraid too often his wife comes in second.
Generally, she understands this tension and she supports her husband. But sometimes she may begin to feel left out. He wears himself out serving the church and then comes home to her exhausted. Where is she to turn to process this? Her church is the body of Christ, but it is also her husband’s employer which means they are the very ones he is called to sacrifice for.
Over time, some wives of pastors struggle with this. If he puts the church before me is he loving me the way Jesus loves the church? But if he puts me first is he no longer a good shepherd? It creates what may become a distressing tension.
Looking back on my years as a pastor, I remember many more times when I put the church before my wife than when I put her before the church.
The hardest memory I have is the day I stayed behind in Mississippi to work on my sermon instead of accompanying her in the car to take my daughter and two grandchildren (ages 3 and 1) to South Carolina.
She was driving when a car abruptly changed lanes causing her to swerve which led to the car rolling over killing her but miraculously sparing my daughter and her kids any serious injury.
My absence at that time still haunts me to this day. Did my putting the church first result in her death?
Most pastors don’t face an issue that serious. But, like me, they remember missing important family events due to needs of the church. I almost missed my eldest daughter’s college graduation. And I remember at least five family vacations cut short because of issues back home in the church.
This tension a pastor deals with makes it difficult for us to love both the church and our wife in the way scripture calls us to. Some pastors resign when that tension becomes too great. Some wives leave their pastor-husbands when they feel they have come in second too many times. Most just suffer under the stress silently but it gnaws at their spirit.
I do not know how to remove the tension these two Biblical callings create for a pastor and his wife. But I do believe the church needs to address this reality by providing resources to help a pastor and his wife manage that tension.
One way is to recognize the tension our pastors’ wives may face and give them a safe place to process the challenges it creates in their life and their marriage. To me, access to safe, convenient, confidential and affordable Christian counseling is a good place to start.
That is the goal of Cherish. Based on research others have done, I believe it can save and strengthen both marriages and ministries by making healthier wives, pastors, and their marriages.
This is why I am praying we can raise the funds we need to make this a viable lasting resource for pastors’ wives.
– Bob Clarke, Former Relief Director
PCA Retirement & Benefits (RBI)
The employee benefits agency of the PCA.
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