“It’s suffocating to think that I’m supposed to be doing the ministry wife thing a certain way.”
As a pastor’s wife, I find myself fighting the same internal battles that have plagued me from year one—only now I recognize them more quickly and have tools to combat them. Ministry wives, do you think or believe these lies, too?
1. My identity is that of a ministry wife.
It doesn’t take much. Your husband is called to a church or you announce to your friends and family that you’re headed to the mission field, and suddenly you are labeled and introduced everywhere you go as the pastor’s wife or the missionary’s wife. The labels so quickly enter the heart, causing a subtle shift from identifying as a child of God to identifying as a role, status, label or category. As our identity wraps around the “ministry wife” label, we start questioning what a ministry wife does. What are the ministry wife’s activities? How do we measure our performance as the missionary wife? This subtle shift tweaks our motivation and reason for ministry. It leads us away from the heart of God and our primary identity to pride and performance.
2. I am not called to ministry.
This isn’t just a lie we believe, it’s also a go-to excuse for the timid and the resentful. I know because I’ve used it myself during times when I just wanted to escape and run free. But the truth is that God has called me to do this work. I wasn’t good at geometry proofs, but it seems to me that if a=b and b=c, then a=c, and if I’m called to my husband and he’s called to this work, I’m called, as well. My role in our ministry looks totally different, but I’m called to it just the same. I honor God when I honor the man he gave me.
3. As a ministry wife, I’m playing a specific, scripted role.
It’s suffocating to think that I’m supposed to be doing the ministry wife thing a certain way, but I spent too many years self-suffocating because I was trying to be like the pastor’s wife at the church down the street or the ministry wife down the pew. I’ve tried on all their personalities, activities and gifts, but, in the end, I’ve discovered it’s freeing and way more fruitful to be who God made me to be rather than a stiff imitation.
4. My husband is important to the work of the church, but I am not.
My husband is up front and out front. I’m just kind of sitting there. At least that’s what it feels like sometimes, which, when I believe this lie, I fail to recognize the opportunities I have. For some crazy reason, just because I’m a ministry wife, I can influence people. I can speak grace into the burdened legalist. I can turn conversations in a spiritual direction and offer biblical wisdom, and it’s not that awkward because people expect it. I know when people are hurting, so I have opportunities to offer comfort, help and Christ’s healing. How is that not important to the work of the church?
5. My job as a ministry wife is to serve people.
OK, yes, I serve people. But people are not who I am ultimately serving. Like No. 1 listed above, there is such a subtle difference between the two that I find this lie the easiest to believe. After all, ministry is about people, being with people and meeting the needs of people. But if people are my primary motivation, if I look to them for cues of what I should be doing, how I should be doing it or how well I am doing it, ministry easily becomes a chore and a losing game. Ministry is about serving God, looking to him for direction and for power to fulfill what He asks, and doing all of it to please him. Serving people is a natural byproduct of serving God.
6. I have to be available to everyone at all times.
How’s this for a big fat lie: I have to be at everything, do everything, say yes to every request and know everyone equally. We know this is a lie because if any woman tried to do all these things, she would be a boundary-less blob of crazy. She would have no good friends, no time to rest, and would be saying no to her family at every turn so she could say yes to everyone else. In fact, if she has pinpointed the deceit of No. 5 and seeks God’s leadership in her time and decisions, she will have priority time for the Lord, for her husband and family, and for rest. She will, in fact, be sane.
7. I can’t ask for help or reveal my weaknesses and struggles.
Ah yes, this one. This is a modern-day version of the “the pastor’s wife can’t have friends in the church” lie, birthed out of the Pinterest and Facebook era of cultivating a good exterior and being reluctant to admit weakness. This isn’t always the ministry wife’s fault, but instead a cyclical pattern between the church and its leaders. A ministry wife, for example, may share something with a trusted friend, and either that friend has no idea of how to respond or they blab it to others, causing the ministry wife to retreat back into herself. It’s a lie either way, this idea that a ministry wife doesn’t have struggles or that she shouldn’t be able to safely reveal them to others so as to receive the ministry of the church.
Ministry wives, here are the truths:
Your identity is as a daughter of God. You are approved and beloved by him.
You are called to a man who is called into the ministry, therefore you are called into ministry.
God only expects you to be you and to use the specific gifts he’s given you.
You are influential and important in the work God is doing through his church.
You are serving God, not people, although you will serve people as an outflow of serving God.
It’s proper and right to set limits because you are limited person.
You need the church because you need sanctification and community.
Which of these lies do you most often believe? What lies would you add to the list?
Christine Hoover (@christinehoover) is the wife of a church planter and author of The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart (Moody, 2013) and From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel (Baker Books, 2015). This article was originally published on Christine’s blog, Grace Covers Me.