(Note: I wish Margaret were here to help with this one. As my wife of over 52 years and through our six pastorates covering 42 years, I suppose she heard it all. As of January 2015, she's now resting in the arms of her Savior. In her memory and in her honor, I send this forth to encourage church members to bless this dear lady married to the shepherd whom God sent to your church. Please see the disclaimer at the end.—Joe)
"Encourage one another and lift up one another ... ." (1 Thess. 5:11, somewhat, and a favorite line in an old chorus)
"You cannot use my name."
That's how the typical private note from a preacher's wife begins.
Marlene introduced herself as the wife of a pastor. She had come across our article from a year or more ago on "59 Things Not to Say to a Preacher." Back then, I had solicited input from Facebook friends and ended up with that number of comments which preachers do not need to hear and which affect them negatively. The article got a good bit of play and drew more than a fair share of controversial reactions.
Preachers loved the list. And so did their wives, incidentally. There's a lot of hurt out there.
Marlene appreciated the list, she said. But she added that I had quit early. We need a list of what not to say to the wife of a preacher.
So, I asked her to get me started. Here is her reply:
I accidentally deleted your email. Sorry, must have been the turkey overdose. (This was around Thanksgiving.) Here are a few of the things that we PWs do not enjoy hearing:
- Numero Uno ... Do you play the piano?
- Our former pastor's wife did it this way.
- Where were you this morning?
- Why weren't you at the meeting?
- Do you sing in the choir?
- If we call your husband, what do you bring to the church? Getting a good preacher's wife is like getting two for the price of one.
- Since you work, your husband doesn't need a raise.
- Since your husband wants a raise, maybe you should get a job.
- Anything that begins with "We knew you wouldn't mind ..." is never good.
- We knew you wouldn't mind if we borrowed your husband for a while.
- We knew you wouldn't mind if we volunteered your home for a meeting, party and so on.
- We knew you wouldn't mind filling in for the missing nursery worker.
- We knew you wouldn't mind filling in for the missing Sunday school teacher.
- We knew you wouldn't mind overseeing (insert project here).
- We knew you wouldn't mind making the angel costumes for the children's choir.
- Anything that begins with "But you're a preacher's wife ... you don't have any problems ... just ask your husband to pray for it ... you can't wear that ... you're not supposed to be sad ... you're not supposed to have fun ... you're not supposed to get angry ... you're not supposed to say no ... you will just have to grow thicker skin."
- Anything that begins with "I don't mean to pry but ..."
- You could improve your housekeeping skills ... you could improve your yard-working skills ... you could improve your (insert whatever here).
- Anything that begins with "I just think you should know ... what so and so said ... what someone said about your husband ... what someone said about your children ... what someone said about your hair ... what someone said about your dress ... what someone said about your (insert anything you do or do not do here)."
- I even had someone tell me that I was not wearing "preacher's wife shoes" one time.
That was her list. Did she leave out anything?
Marlene fairly well wrote this article, didn't she? But in the interest of covering the subject, I put the question out to our rather extensive family of Facebook friends. Here are some actual things people have said to a preacher's wife:
1. "You really need to be in church every Sunday sitting in your usual spot on the third row where people can see you! I know you are really sick, but you need to be seen or people will think there are problems in the pastor's marriage or with our church."
The PW who wrote that added, "You cannot use my name." Bless her heart.
2. "I don't know ... I just cannot see you being a good pastor's wife."
3. "Could you sit with your children on the back row so the rest of us can enjoy the sermon?"
4. "He's putting on a little weight, isn't he?"
5. "I know we terminated your husband, but we love you."
6. "I know we terminated your husband as pastor, but we would like you to keep working in the nursery."
7. (Saturday morning early at the front door.) "Good morning! My husband (chairman of deacons) said it would be all right if I showed my sister from Seattle the renovated parsonage. We're so proud of it."
8. "Your husband has nice legs." (PW: "I forget how I answered that.")
9. "How can you afford to live in such a nice house?" (Answer: "Because I work and my preacher-husband is retired from a 20-year career.")
10. "The last pastor owned his own home, and we haven't actually used this pastorium for the past 7 years, but it's here for you." (PW: "Its condition was deplorable. Completely neglected for 7 years."
And All the Rest of the Submissions
– Where were you last night?
– You're the pastor's wife. You should never (or always) ...
– You need to dress better. You don't want to go around looking like a church mouse.
– Do you plan to quit your job now that your husband has an income?
– Does your child always act this way?
– I thought all preachers' wives played the piano.
– No, you cannot paint the walls of the parsonage. (When she had a baby, she did it anyway, she says.)
– It must be nice living next door to the church.
– Tell your husband he needs to visit Mrs. Henshaw today.
– Why can't you be more like your husband?
– What exactly do you do with all that money we pay you?
– God told me that He wants you to ...
– What Sunday school class do you want to teach?
– Have you or your husband called Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw? They've not been to church in a while.
– Since your husband doesn't have a real job, could you ...?
– I can't wait to help you decorate your home for Christmas open house. Do you want it to be for three days or just two?
– It must be wonderful to be around all that wisdom (or godliness or holiness or whatever) 24 hours a day.
– What is your role in your husband's ministry? (The PW answered, "Ummmm. Being his wife.")
– And my favorite of all: "Sweetheart, you may want to keep those moving boxes handy. Just in case."
A late submission from a pastor and wife included the following:
– "You need to know that I just don't like you."
– "When you are on the praise team, I do not worship because I can't stand you."
– "I can't imagine what your husband sees in you." Yes, this was said numerous times to my wife by a "godly" woman at our present church.
– "You need to tell your husband [this is what he said wrong in his sermon]."
I was right, by the way.
– "I just want you to know that I defended you when [insert name] said [something nasty about you]."
– "The way you and your husband are so in love just makes me gag."
– "Now that we're friends, I can't handle knowing that you and your husband aren't perfect. I'm having a real problem with it."
The list seems endless.
Marlene, who started all this in the first place, suggested we compile a list of positive, helpful things to say to the wives of preachers, and we intend to do that. But first, we'll send this out and let it do its work.
What Do All These Caustic Comments Have in Common?
Answer: Each one is rooted in the philosophy that the pastor is a hired hand and not the overseer (episkopos) of the Lord's flock, and that his wife and children are appendages to him and answerable to every member of the church.
One wonders where that crazy thinking got started.
Scripture makes it plain we are to be in subjection to the elders who rule (Heb.13:17, among other places) and to love them and pray for them.
Our article "The Most Vulnerable Person in the Church," published a year or so ago, touched a sensitive place in the heart of the Lord's people, and this piece has gone viral. Google it if you missed it on one of its flybys.
Sometimes, after talking about the difficulties of pastoring churches and trying to lead God's people, I will add something to the effect of: "This is why the Lord has to call laborers into this work. The expectations are too high, the needs too overwhelming, and it's impossible to do without His presence and power.
We thank God for every God-called pastor and every spouse who feels equally called by Him to the most difficult work on the planet: shepherding His people.
(Disclaimer: I am well-aware that some preachers are women. While I personally have no problem with that, at the same time, I have no experience with it. For me to write on what not to say to a woman pastor or to her husband would be highly presumptuous. So, thank you for giving me a pass on that.)
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.
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