I have been a pastor’s wife since I married. I signed up for it. I was the daughter of a bi-vocational pastor, and my husband was a preacher when I met him. As a nineteen-year-old college student, I didn’t understand the fish bowl we would live in as a pastor’s family, but I learned fast.
If I was not at church, or if our children were not there, people were usually buzzing with questions. We thought of church as our second home and people expected to see us there.
When pulpit committees interviewed my husband for the position of pastor, the question was usually asked, “What does your wife do?” They were anxious to get “two for the price of one.” I taught Sunday School classes, led children’s music groups, played the piano, and did whatever else was necessary, in addition to taking care of my family and working as a schoolteacher. I changed my hats often and quickly as the need demanded. I was a multi-tasker before the word was coined!
Another pastor’s wife once told me that her husband was not hired by a church because she could not play the piano. They needed both a pastor and a pianist, and they wanted both in the same family, for the same salary. That was common in the fifties and sixties, among our churches.
It is easier for pastors’ wives today. Now, if the question is asked, “What does your wife do?” the pastor usually says, “You are hiring me, not my wife.” Pastors’ wives are not scrutinized as severely as we were in the past. In addition, pastors’ children are regular kids and they feel resentful when they realize how closely church members are watching them. My own children have told me that they were aware of people watching them, waiting for them to mess up. And, to a degree, that probably still happens today in some of our churches. However, I hope the legalism is lessening, especially for impressionable children.
A matriarch of the church in the 1970’s surprised me with an audacious question shortly after we went to her church for my husband to serve as pastor. She said, “Do you work because you want to or because you have to?” What a question! I can still see that woman’s face and I remember standing speechless for a moment, as I contemplated my answer.
Really, that was not her business, but I was not brave enough to tell her that. What I felt like saying was, “If the church would pay my husband what he is worth, I wouldn’t have to work.” However, I bit my tongue and said something about helping to supplement the family income. I had finished my college degree shortly before we moved to that church, and I was excited about beginning my career as a teacher, but she took some of the excitement away with her question. That same woman told me she didn’t want me in her Sunday school class because, as the pastor’s wife, I should be teaching somewhere.
I don’t think that would happen in churches today.
After my husband’s retirement from the active ministry, we moved our membership to another church in town. We arrived at that church on a Sunday night to find that the pastor and his family were not there. They had a family crisis with one of their children, so they stayed at home to talk it out and get it fixed. The pastor put his family first at a time when they needed to be first, and I applaud him for doing that. The family worked out the problem, all the children in that family are now in full-time Christian service, and we were just fine in the worship service with a deacon leading in the absence of the pastor. This would have been unheard in the days when my husband was a pastor. The deacons might have fired him if he had done that!
Change has come into our churches in many ways since my debut as a minister’s wife. In those days, people didn’t clap their hands or raise them in church. Now, we realize clapping or raising hands is a way to worship. It’s hard to believe, but I have seen people walk out of church because the congregation clapped in appreciation of a song. Now we clap for baptisms, which is as it should be. Praise the Lord, another soul comes into the kingdom!
Another difference is in the way some people view divorce. Divorce in a preacher’s household used to mean the end of his ministry. There are times, however, when a man becomes a preacher after his marriage and his wife says, “I didn’t marry a preacher and I won’t be a preacher’s wife.” She cannot handle the pressure. We know preachers today who are still actively serving in churches, after their wives have walked away. We also know preachers who are married to their second wives, after a divorce. Divorce is no longer viewed as the “unpardonable sin” as it once was. We know some wonderful women who became preacher’s wives after their marriage, and are faithfully serving God and loving their husbands. My mother was one of them and she is still a witness for the Lord in the retirement home where she lives at age 91. We are also aware that some places are not as accepting of this as others are. Each church body is different.
Change has come, too, in methods used today. Our music is different. Our youth are different in the way they dress and the things they do. (Who could have imagined paintball or teen rock bands back in the 1950’s or ‘60’s?) In the early days of our ministry, guitars were not considered instruments for use in church. They were played in dance halls and saloons. But today guitars have been sanitized and sanctified, set apart for use in worship. We attended a church recently that had thirteen string instruments and singers on the platform, and nobody was playing the piano.
Change comes to every generation. We have to do what is necessary in order to reach people for Jesus. But praise God, He remains the same, our all-knowing, all loving heavenly Father. We still worship and praise that same awesome and holy God. We still bow our heads and talk to Him in prayer, and call upon Him in times of need and stress. We still lead people to faith in Jesus, the only way to salvation. We still see people coming down the aisle to accept him as Savior and follow Him in believer’s baptism. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
We did it our way, now church leaders are doing it their way. It is difficult for us, as older adults, to accept a lot of new things. But change is here. It is a part of our churches and our leadership. Let’s try to embrace and accept change, as people continue to come to our loving Father.