Mrs. in Ministry Session 3: Burdens and Blessings

This was the third in the Mrs. in Ministry teaching and fellowship time at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Michael A. Milton, President and James M. Baird, Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina. Mike and Mae welcomed another wonderful gathering of pastor wives in to be! We gathered with Mike and Mae sitting in the front of the fire place and all gathered around on chairs, sofas and even on the floor! Mike began with devotions, and Mae led in some reflections on burdens and blessings of the pastoral wife and family. The session concluded with a season of prayer. Then, what else? Fellowship and food. We offer these notes for the benefit of others, as God may use them for other’s good and for His glory.

Introduction

Devotions: Ephesians 6.12-20; Philippians 1.12; 4.7

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6.12 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 13 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 14 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 15 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 16 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 17 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 18 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 19 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. 20

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, Philippians 1.12

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.7

1.      In Ephesians 6.12-20 we apply these truths to our pastoral family. The Pastoral Family is entangled in a warfare that is spiritual but real. Therefore we are subject to the attacks of the Enemy. Prayer, family devotions, appealing to the congregation for prayer is absolutely necessary. Our children, too, must be covered with prayer, as they are a part of the family and often the object of the attack by Satan. The congregation should and we as parents should avoid the stereotypical depictions and expectations of “PKs’ and instead lift them up to Christ daily.

2.      In Philippians 1.12 we learn that even when hard times come, they come for the advancement of the Gospel. In the end, the very things that seek to destroy us are the very things that God uses to advance us, to protect us, to bring blessings to us, and to build up the Body of Christ. Do not let the hardships make you believe that the Gospel is not advancing. It is just not advancing in the way we would expect! But, then again, Christ gets the glory when through our hardships the Church is strengthened.

3.      In Philippians 4.7, we see how the peace of Jesus is supernatural. It is not fleeting emotions, but a firm foundation of God-sent “eirene’.” This Greek word is not the same as the Hebrew “shalom” which speaks of wholeness and health, as well as “inner peace.” This Greek word speaks of the restful blessings of knowing that God is in control in such a way that His sovereign grace establishes a new disposition of life, a quiet disposition of total “sweet surrender” to Jesus Christ and His rule and reign. This peace will, dear pastor’s wives, guard your hearts (your emotions, your dreams, your hopes) and your minds (your intellectual struggles with the hard and sometimes disappointing reality of the life of the Church and the idealistic, spiritual, “not yet” of the Church.

Applications from Mae on the Burdens and Blessings

I. Burdens

1.      NOT BEING ABLE TO DEFEND YOUR HUSBAND! The attacks on your husband will come. This is the diabolical activity which Ephesians speaks of. The burden of the pastor’s wife is that she cannot usually speak into the attack. It has to be handled by your husband. Your role is to pray and to console and to point to Jesus Christ and His power. But one of the greatest burdens you will ever have is to know that your husband is being unduly charged with this or that and you know the truth.

2.     UNFAIR CRITICISMS WITHOUT RESPONSE. The criticism on your husband will come that are unfair. There will be those that are, to the contrary, quite fair! But usually you can and should speak softly in your wifely way to help him see his mistake, his problem, so that he can correct it. But when there are clear criticisms that burden your husband, and again, you cannot speak to it, or “correct the critic,” it is hard. Once my husband was critiqued for wearing his pastoral robe (the congregation was not used to it, so that part was understandable). Some found it to be a sign of his cockiness, or “higher-than-thou” attitude, or over-estimation of himself. Ugly things were said to our son and to directly to my husband. No one knew that my husband decided, years before, when he was first licensed to preach, that he would imitate his pastoral mentor, Pastor Bob Baxter, to wear a pastoral robe out of modestly to cover himself so as not to bring attention through his business suits, and so forth. Or that his Aunt Eva loved his robe and for her it meant her prodigal son, a poor boy from Louisiana had been recovered by the Father and given a robe to preach His Gospel in. Nor did they know that my husband saw that old robe as a sign that he was unworthy of the office to which he had been called. Thus overtime he put on that robe, he was doing something specific that God had called Him to: to deliver the Word of God to the world. But no one said a thing. We endured it. It was a burden and brought heartache. But the Angels who ministered to Jesus in the desert ministers to His pastoral families.

3.     UNDUE INTRUSION.  There is the burden of “intrusion,” we might say, but that burden is really not that bad. You just have to expect that as a pastor, you may be on your way to a vacation when someone dies and your husband is called upon for ministry. That is just the way it is. There have been at least two times when we have been on vacation that Mike has left us at a vacation home, flew home for a funeral and then returned to resume our time away. But I never resented that. That is just part of the calling. If you ever begin to resent that, you will be forever unhappy! On the other hand, you have the right to a “day off.” Sunday is not it! Saturday is not it! There must be a time when your husband and the family can recover and rest and find that one-in-seven, which God commands. You have the right to say to yet another call (that is not an emergency) that “today is our day off. My husband will call you back tomorrow.” On this one, I answer the phone on his day off, not him! Protecting that time will, in the long run, allow your husband to minister more effectively, and the congregation will receive more spiritual blessing.

4. UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. This is the most famous, I think, if you were to ask most pastoral families. Congregations expect a lot. And they deserve a lot. They should expect a great deal of spiritual leadership from their pastor and his family. But kids will be kids! And it doesn’t matter if they are the “Reverend’s kids” of “the lawyer’s kids!” Children can often bear the brunt of these unrealistic expectations of behavior. Now, we have always told our children, and mostly it has been John Michael because he grew up a pastor’s son from his first breath, that because of father’s role, there are eyes watching. This simply means we have a certain responsibility. You can like it or not, but that is the way that it is! The British monarchy has it. Others have it. And we have it. In a different way, but we bear a certain role in the community. Having said that, we are still a family, deserving privacy, deserving the opportunity to be sanctified in the same way as others. To  tell you the truth, this can bring the most pain. But Christ protects us, teaches us, helps us and guards us. One thing that I think is important is helping the congregation to come to grips with the reality of the pastoral family. Once I was asked, “What is your role as pastor’s wife?” I answered, “I take care of the pastor. If I don’t do that, he can’t take care of you.” That was the end of that! And that truly is the way that I feel. When realistic expectations of our role is established (and that can take time), things go smoother. Again, the pastoral family exists not in a vacuum but in the context of spiritual warfare. So we should not expect that this area which Satan can use to hurt the ministry will ever just be finally settled. It is an area in which both pastoral family and congregation are at risk. But God is greater. And our role is first and finally, “sinners in need of a Savior, just like you. We are here to serve you. Pray for us. We are not perfect. My husband is the pastor. Not me. I am here to help him. Our children are here to be loved by him, discipled by him and if at the end of the day his family is not ministered to, then no one is ministered to.

But there are other expectations: good ones, healthy ones, and Biblical ones.

And that leads me to speak to the many, many blessing!

II. Blessings

1.      COMMUNITY. There is the blessing of community. When you are a pastoral family you have “instant community.” Sometimes that comes quicker for your husband than for you. However, I have always enjoyed the role of pastor’s wife, in which I am able to have a community of people praying for us, helping us, and encouraging us. I have spoken of the burdens that people bring, but they also bring much more blessing in Christ’s name.

2.     RELATIONSHIPS.  There is the blessing of life long friendships. Being a pastor’s wife means that should the Lord move you to a new assignment, you don’t always have to leave your friendships. They change, of course, but the love you had in your heart for someone stays with you. Thus as you move through your ministerial career, you collect loved ones from each church or ministry. We have friends now from Kansas, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee (and Wales!) and now North Carolina, and we see these as lasting forever. The lives of your people occupy your thoughts and prayers all of the time. When they hurt, you hurt. When they are happy, you are happy. But is this not the way of a shepherd and his wife and children? When you love the flock, it can hurt and it can bring indescribable joy.

3.      PROVISION. There is the blessing of provision. The people of God take care of the pastoral family! They really do! They bless you with Christmas gifts or birthday cards and remembrances. I grew up a pastor’s daughter and saw this. Sometimes, in our poor little churches where Daddy was minster, we got used things. But they always wanted to show their love to us in some tangible way. And as a pastor’s wife, I have seen the same thing. One thing we have been blessed with is that the people have provided vacation spots for us! This has been huge. It has allowed us to retreat, as a family, to recoup, to revive, to renew, and to rest, and focus on our lives as a family away from the “fishbowl” of the ministry. The people did this. And they still do it, even though we are not in that particular church anymore! We are so thankful for this.

4. SUPERNATURAL PRESENCE. The bottom line is that ministry can have many burdens. But the blessings abound much more. For every burden, there are ten blessings. And often the burdens, themselves, become blessings. And that is the power of the Gospel at work in the home of a pastoral family. The truth is that from morning to bedtime, our lives are consumed with the work of the Gospel. We pray in the morning, and we call each other in the day, and we have devotions at night, and tuck our son into bed, and go to sleep, most often thinking of the flock of Jesus. But this is, again, is simply the life of a shepherd and his family, seeking, in God’s name and for His sake, to take care of His flock. To love them is to love Him. And to love them is to know God’s love back to you through them. It is a beautiful circle of love.

We have been blessed more than we deserve. We have received more than we have given. We have seen Christ in the lives of our people. They are our heroes and heroines of the Gospel.

The pastoral ministry? There is nothing like it in the world.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4.13.

Discussion, Questions and Reflections

Prayer for Pastors-Wives-to-Be

Fellowship

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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