On January 7, 2006, I dove into the trenches of ministry doe-eyed and unsure of myself. Although I began attending church services when I was about twelve years old, I had never seen the behind-the-scenes of ministry. So, when the Lord brought a handsome pastor into my life, I had no idea what to do. I certainly wasn’t an ideal pastor’s wife (you know the kind: soft-spoken, sweet in all situations, never critical, perfect wife and mother, even more perfect Christian).
The Lord would demolish my idea of the perfect pastor’s wife over the next few years, mainly through my own sin and my husband’s long-suffering. 2006-2008 would be filled with irate church members, somber theological conflict, and a revolving church membership door.
When I got the call about speaking at the Sojourn Network Leader’s Summit earlier this year, I immediately began jotting down notes. The topic would be “The Pastor’s Wife and the Dumb Things We Do.” Within 60 seconds, I had eight mistakes that I had made in my nearly eleven years of being a pastor’s wife. I was able to narrow it down to two mistakes so that I could keep in the given time frame (but I could have easily gone longer!). The first mistake was assuming that the behind-the-scenes of ministry would be free of hardship. The second was underestimating the importance of having deep friendships both inside and outside of the local church.
ASSUMING THE BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF MINISTRY WOULD BE FREE OF HARDSHIP
I unwittingly believed that pastor’s wives had it all together. On top of that, I thought, “Hey, we’re all Christians here, right? We’re all seeking to honor the Lord and love each other. Surely ministry is going to be easy.”
If ministry was going to be easy, then having it all together would be just as painless. I thought my role would simply be to pray with other women, disciple younger girls, and maybe lead a Bible study all with a Holy Spirit smile on my face.
However, I quickly realized that ministry was difficult and that it wasn’t about the appearance of perfection. When church members yelled at my husband during a member’s meeting, I didn’t have it all together. I actually left the meeting in angry tears. When our congregation dwindled down to 25 people, I didn’t have it all together. I doubted the Lord’s calling for this particular church body. When other churches called to see if my husband was interested in switching pastorates, I didn’t have it all together. Giving way to my fear, I nagged my husband to take a different pastorate.
The reality of my own desperation for the Lord squelched the appearance of perfection. And boy, was I desperate. Ministry was full of hardship and I had to trust that the Lord was leading my husband, who was in turn leading me. The trenches of ministry were unsettling. I prayed for my husband to have strength and I prayed that I would be able to point him to the Lord on the hardest of days. Over time, the hardship of ministry was no longer terrifying. It actually became sweet because it was, as Spurgeon so beautifully put it, the wave that threw me against the Rock of Ages.
Ministry was hard and I didn’t have it all together. But those two weaknesses gave way to the incredible strength of the Lord. I became a pastor’s wife who was completely desperate for the strength of God thanks to his sovereign goodness in the hardships of ministry.
My husband never wavered in his commitment to the local body here in Augusta. He believed that the Lord was working the hardships for good. Now, 11 years later, the church is unified and thriving. This didn’t come about because things were easy or because we were an impeccable power couple ready to take on the church. It came about because the church was not dependent on us. It was dependent on the kind and loving hand that created it.
UNDERESTIMATING THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING DEEP FRIENDSHIPS BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
Not only was ministry more difficult that I anticipated, but friendships were more complicated than I realized. While engaged, I met with a seasoned pastor’s wife who gave me advice on various aspects ministry. Her biggest emphasis was on friendships. “Do not get too close to women in the church. I’ve been burned and my family has suffered because I made that mistake.” Because I was doe-eyed and had unrealistic expectations, I brushed her off as a bitter woman who didn’t know how to love well.
I dove immediately into friendships within the church, which did end up biting me during those difficult first few years. One of my mentors was someone in the aforementioned situation who yelled at my husband in a member’s meeting. It was disheartening and incredibly discouraging. While I can see the temptation to throw off all deep friendships within the church, I simply couldn’t see a good argument for it in Scripture. In fact, I felt that the women in our local body were intentionally placed in my life for accountability, love, and friendship. These are women with whom I linked arms to spread the gospel message. We sang praises to our Lord hand-in-hand. We cried together, fasted together, and walked through difficult times together. How could deep friendships not form in these situations?
I also saw much wisdom in investing in friendships outside of the local church body. There are certain situations about which I need advice that are best discussed outside of my church friends. There is also something to be said for having friends who don’t know your local church body and the ins and outs of your church. My encouragement for pastors’ wives is to find 2-3 really good friends inside the church and 2-3 really good friends outside of the church. This has proven to be an enjoyable and spiritually beneficial balance for me.
I’m confident that I will continue making mistakes as a pastor’s wife until the day I die. However, there is great comfort in knowing that while I am on this rocky road of sanctification, the perfect and holy God reigns supreme over any and all hardships and friendships in life. He provides His strength through my weaknesses, which far outweighs any pastor’s-wife-concocted perfection or friendship scheme that I can devise.
Ministry wives, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll do dumb things sometimes. You may struggle through the hardships of ministry or be burned by a friend in the church, but know that the Lord is using these situations for good. Don’t be afraid to be a desperate-for-Jesus ministry wife. Those are the best kind anyway.
Nikki Daniel is a pastor’s wife from Augusta, Georgia. Nikki and her husband, Bert, have two sons (Noah, 8 and Isaiah, 6) and one daughter (Tatom, 2). She enjoys homeschooling, writing, and playing intense games of Settlers of Catan. Nikki graduated with a BA in advertising from the University of Houston and a MATS degree from Southern Seminary.