Navigating the Demands: Encouragement for Ministry Wives
By Carolyn Riddick
Navigating is defined as “planning and directing the route or course of a ship or other form of transportation, especially using instruments or maps.” This often implies traveling with care or with difficulty. We are all on different “courses” as ministry wives—young, middle-aged, or older
with varying gifts, backgrounds and needs. Each course has its unique difficulties and challenges.
One pastor’s wife described her role as getting a job for which she never applied.
Then she wrote a funny script to illustrate:
Husband: Honey, I got you a job today.
Wife: Really? Okay, but I wasn’t looking for a job. I have plenty to do here running the household and raising the kids. That was our plan, right? For me to stay home with the kids so you could fully dedicate yourself to the ministry.
Husband: Yeah, yeah. But I really need you to take this job for me.
Wife: Well, okay, just tell me what to do and when it needs to be done by, and I will do everything I can to make it happen.
Husband: Well, right now there are no specific responsibilities. Basically, it’s just doing anything at church that no one else steps up to do or wants to do.
Wife: Oh, my, that is a tall order. Okay, I’ll do it. I guess we could use the extra money anyway. Things are always tight around here on a pastor’s salary.
Husband: Well...actually, honey, there is no salary! 
Thom Rainer recently posted results of an informal survey with open-ended questions for ministry wives at Thomrainer.com. As I read, I couldn’t help but identify with several of the things these pastors’ wives wished they had been told about ministry:
I wish someone had told me to just be myself. I must realize my limitations and gifts. I can’t be someone else. I must be who God made me to be. Trying to make everyone happy was a heavy burden as a young pastor’s wife. I am a “fixer,” and it took me a long time to learn I could not “fix” many things about people and the church. I had to learn to trust the only One who truly can fix everything.
I also had to realize emotional ups and downs are normal. We are all energetic and happy sometimes and irritable or upset at others. I thought I had to have everything all together and be positive. I thought I should never yell at my kids or cry myself to sleep. But, the truth is, I am human, and I am broken. Amazingly, God uses me anyway. Doubts and dry spells come, and it’s okay. Elijah, Moses, and David all experienced such times.
I wish someone had prepared me to deal with the criticism. I had to learn to stop internalizing negative experiences, conflicts, or criticisms—especially those in relation to my husband, family, and ministry. I had to be careful not to harbor resentment. Sometimes, dealing with the church’s expectations was difficult, but in time, I also learned that many of those expectations were self-inflicted, my perception of what the church wanted me to be.
I wish someone had reminded me that my husband is human, and that he needs me. My husband may be the pastor, but he is human…just like me. I was and continue to be careful to guard his reputation. Sure, he has faults, but no one hears them from me. I pray for him daily, and I am his number one cheerleader. He needs to hear that I respect him now more than ever. I am his confidant, his safe place to vent. I am invaluable to him. Having me “in his corner” bolsters him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am his safe place.
I wish someone had told me how to live in a glass house. Through the years, we learned that even though the congregation was watching our lives, we did not have to be controlled by their expectations. Rather than striving for perfect children, a perfect marriage, perfect finances, and so on, we simply made it our goal to make our home a place of peace, rest, and order. It is easy to become lonely in a glass house, and sometimes, it becomes necessary to set boundaries (while being careful not to build walls).
I wish someone had told me the church has some really mean people. As Marshall Shelley noted in his familiar book Well-Intentioned Dragons: “All of us in ministry have met a few dragons—some well intentioned and some whose intentions were highly suspect.” He suggests biblical ways to deal with the dragons.
First, be sure we are not creating “imaginary dragons” out of paranoia. If the dragon is real, however, we must go to that person in love and listen with an open ear, mind, and heart. Pray with her. If attempts at reconciliation are rejected, continue to pray. And, when you have done your best to restore broken fellowship, square your shoulders, hold your head high, keep serving the Lord, and trust Him to bring you through the fire.
At some time, every ministry wife will encounter assaults that stun and bewilder—betrayal by close friends, false accusations, personal attacks, and so on. At times, we may want to run away, but we must pray, give it to the Lord, and let Him fight the battle for us. Claim Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
I wish someone had told me my
schedule would never be normal. Ministry lives are very busy. Expect that. Work with your husband in the areas of time management and organization. Learn to expect the unexpected, and understand that busyness is a way of life today more than ever, and not just for the pastor’s family.
As a pastor’s wife for nearly 50 years, I have a straightforward piece of advice for every ministry wife: no one is going to take care of you but yourself. You cannot effectively navigate the demands of being a pastor’s wife if you don’t take time to care for yourself. You cannot play the blame game. Accept responsibility and live out Romans 12:1-2.
Physically, your body is the only vehicle with which to serve God. This concept of presenting the body as a living sacrifice will look different to each person regarding weight control, diet, fitness, and rest. Understand, it is your decision what goes into your body and how you care for the body. Strive to approach every situation with the goal of bringing honor and glory to God.
Emotionally, you are the only one who can make the decision to be healthy. Find ways to restore beauty and creativity in your life. Maybe you need some sunshine, five minutes of quiet, or time “out with the girls.” Paint a picture, listen to music, learn to play an instrument, journal, enjoy a craft project, etc. Whatever it is, find a way to restore emotional health when you find yourself becoming empty inside.
Spiritually, take responsibility for your walk with God. You need quiet time, but no one else can make you exercise this spiritual discipline. This is not time to prepare for ministry responsibilities but to strive to become more intimate with God. Ultimately, our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against Satan himself. We must clothe ourselves with the armor of God, on guard and ready to fight. You can be sure the enemy will target your weak areas with temptation, depression, and discouragement. Let God renew your strength through each moment you spend with Him.
Remember, God chose you to serve as a ministry wife. He gifted you to be a complement to your husband. You have the opportunity to touch many lives through the course of your ministry, and only eternity will reveal the impact of your willing obedience. The last thing I really wish someone had told me about this life? What a blessing it would be!
About the Writer: Carolyn Riddick is a retired high school math teacher, married to Eddie, a retired minister, for 50 years. They have served churches in New Hampshire, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. She serves as the state president for NC Women Active for Christ.