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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pastor's Wife

Pastors wives are all uniquely different as flowers are to a bouquet. Some have careers. Some are just a quiet member of the church. Some have a calling in different parts of the ministry. Some love women's ministry. Some love children's ministry. Praise God! I feel blessed to be in the ministry and love being a pastors wife. What may come natural for me may not come natural for others. I feel a deep pain for those pastors wives who are hurting. ( taken from 219 care for the Pastors Wife copied from Ministry Health)I know it is lengthy in size but if the first few sections grip you. You will need to read on.This may bring healing and restoration to you and your family. Many congregations have a preset role-prescription for their pastor’s wife. Often these prescriptions arrive from a handed-down tradition that has long been outdated. She has to cope with baggage that has been the norm in churches since early ages. For instance: • The pastor’s wife is expected to be in charge of women’s affairs. • She must know everything about the Bible. • Her house must be open to every member of the congregation, and it must be tidy • She has to put an example) twenty-four hours of every day, with little or no regard to her own privacy, • She must be on 24 hour "on call" duty for telephone service. • She may not work outside her house, as this makes her an unfit Christian mother and "undedicated" pastors’ wife. • She must be "well-dressed" and well-groomed even if it is still early in the morning. • In many churches the idea that women are sub-ordinate and men are the head of the households and must be in charge of church affairs. This listing of expectations merely touches the tip of the iceberg. Yet it does illustrate some of the basic issues facing the pastor's wife.
Prescribed Role Expectations Pastor's wives who strive to fulfill the types of expectations listed above begin assimilating an identity which reflect and aspires to the congregational role-expectation about who she should be, what she should do, when she should do it, where she should (and shouldn't) do what she is supposed to do, and why she should do what she does. Though others may expect her to derive her sense of self from the role-prescription her husband, the congregation, and society at large have for her, she may become dissatisfied, frustrated, anxious and even angry as she becomes more of what everyone wants her to be and less of what she really is. Typically, this estrangement from her sense of self may arise from the fact that she... • probably did not study theology so that she can teach others with confidence, • may not have a background in psychology and other related disciplines so that she can handle people well, and • may be a post-modern enlightened Christian who is a unique and sparkling person in her own right, but do not fit into the role-prescription, and • may have a profession of her own and not be immediately available for congregational ministry at their every beckoning. With one or more of these factors present, conflict often develops between who she is on the one hand, and who she should be according to the role-prescription of the congregation together with her own role-expectation, on the other hand. The Results: Guilt...Or Worse! Often the results of this conflict is guilt. The pastor's wife may harbor intense feelings of guilt when she cannot meet all of these expectations by so many, many people. As her sense of guilt entrapment increases, she may try to deal with her guilt by increased efforts to become the person she is expected to be. Unfortunately, these efforts are doomed to a cyclical heightening of the cycle of guilt. This usually leads to severe depression; and all she did to deserve this was to love the guy so much that she married him "for better or for worse" - in many cases unaware of what lies ahead for her.
Typical Stressors No emotional outlet. Suppression of own identity. Being neglected by her husband. She feels (and in most cases is) neglected by her husband’s sense of responsibility which takes him away from her. Often times this sense of responsibility is misplaced. Surrounded by so many Christians with who she cannot communicate because they do not even have the vaguest idea of the position, or in whom she may not confide as a result of the confidential nature of her unique position, the pastor’s wife is often the most lonely person in the whole congregation. Lack of privacy. Members of a congregation often think of the parsonage as their property and regard the pastor’s time as belonging to them. After all, it is their offerings that pays the pastor’s salary. And in South Africa the manse usually belongs to the congregation as well. Social life is inhibited. Friendship within the congregation can pose problems. Double standards prevailing in the pastor’s life. "Pastor Perfect" comes home from a successful but stressful meeting and house calls, just to take it all out on his undeserving family. His spouse has to put up with a "Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" syndrome. Finances. Much can be said about this. Frustration, stress and poor health that is a direct result of being a pastor’s wife. Lack of pastoral, spiritual and emotional care for the pastoral family. Unfavorable congregational criticism deriving from misconceptions regarding the pastoral family. Time for leisure almost non-existent and mostly only on an irregular basis. The pastor usually works every evening of the secular week and during weekends. Sexual problems deriving from the pastoral lifestyle. Conflict between Colleagues or congregations. Beggars ( "bergies") Live in the shadow of a former minister and/or his wife. Three Reactions To Stressors For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For each anxiety, there's a corresponding reaction to deal with each anxiety. The Pastor's wife who is caught up in the "well-intentioned" predicament of being everything to everybody but nothing to herself is prone to at least three major categories of reactions.
1. Anger: For pastor's wives in the younger group age (20 - 30 years of age), the anger feelings may be very strong. Many of them are furious and feel like blaming God and everybody else, but they are brought up not to be blamers or to shift their blame. Though they would like to blame God, for some blaming God would be a severe sin which is severely punishable. So they end up blaming themselves. They become depressed and harvest thoughts of "bringing everything to an end". This may mean divorce or......? For pastor's wives in the middle-age group (30 - 50 years of age), anger and apathy may prevail. Pastors wives may act untouched and put on masks that will please and pacify those who wants them to fit into preset patterns. They become like ducks that let water run from their backs, acting against their real nature. As pastors wives mature toward their 50th birthday, apathy may replace the anger. Pastor's wives of those who are in their mature years of ministry or about to retire (50-?? years of age) seem to respond in such a way that if the anger surfaces again, but since they still are unable to face it or deal with it they resort to all kinds of blame shifting tricks. Whatever their age or length of experience as a pastor's wife, unless pastor's wives can break free of the "identity-conformation" crisis, these anger-related reactions will continue to be evident. 2. Identity Crisis: Pastor's wives in the younger age group (20-30 years of age) generally begin their tenure as pastor's wife by an initial yielding to the pressure. They try to please everybody... including God. This results in their impression that God is the "big boss" who has very stringent rules, especially for Pastor's wives. The results is an all-too-common identity crises. In the middle-age group (30-50 years of age) most pastor's wives can no longer bear the strain and start fighting for who they are. They are more mature than their younger counterparts. But their youthful zest sometimes gives them a certain boldness or audacious courage courage to spit it all out aloud. Some may perceive this as blatant arrogance. At this stage many a pastor’s marriage cracks. Many of them leave the ministry because their wives can no longer cope with their crippling identity crisis.
Fortunately, by the time the long-term pastor's wives mature they finally develop a sense of self. They have changed remarkably from who they were at first. Unfortunately, this may come at a great price. They may become emotionally independent from their pastor-spouse and "go their own way." As a result of their painful growth and discovery of "self," they know that they cannot blame God or anybody else for their past. The wiser pastor's wife may grieve their "wasted youth." Yet, they grow out of their grief by re-calling their basic personality their "idle youth." Deep down, however, they still long for their happy, joyful, spontaneous and secure "self" which they once were. For many, this may cause much loneliness and the painful experience of the "dark night of the soul.". 3. Family Dysfunction. Family dysfunction, contrary to the expectations of many, is as common in families of the congregation as it is in the manse. Unfortunately, pastor's wives who adopt the dysfunctional role mirroring the expectations of the congregation may incite other family dysfunctions. Family Systems Theory posits that the power of the family system is such that whenever one member of the system starts in dysfunction, others in the family will respond in such a manner as to bring the family to "equilibrium." Such equilibrium is established in mainly two ways. First, equilibrium can be achieved by somehow altering the dysfunctional behavior in such a way that it become a healthy, functional response. Second, equilibrium can be achieved as others in the family system respond, change and adapt their own respective dysfunctional responses. Often professional family therapy is needed in either of the above scenarios. In the first case, it may take the encouragement of a professional therapist to finally give the pastor's wife the "permission" to be her self. In the second case, the therapist may be needed to deal with a larger problem of a dysfunctional system. Indeed, perhaps some of the erratic behavior of "preacher's kids" may be due, in part, to having been raised in a "Christian" family which is hostile to the development of the "self." 1. The pastors wives should form a "care-for-one-another" (pastor pastorum) groups of their own.
Romans 15:14 (William’s) reads: As far as I am concerned about you , my brothers [sisters?], I am convinced that you especially are abounding in the highest goodness, richly supplied with perfect knowledge and competent to counsel one another. It is becoming a more common practice for pastors to form what is called a "pastor pastorum" group. These groups are characterized by a mutually caring for one another and enriching their "Coram Deo", i.e. their life before God. Too many times, the pastor's wives stay at home and take care of the household while the pastors meet in supportive clusters of other pastors. Is it not time that the pastors' wives are also included in this picture? 2. Congregations should be made aware of the problem. Once the congregation has been made aware of the unique pressures and needs of the pastor, the pastor's wife, and his family, it is necessary for congregational leaders to act on these pressures. Concerned parishioners need not necessarily "probe" into the details and personal pressures of the pastor's home. The pressures exist in many congregations. One of the best strategies to make use of a well-trained facilitator. Such a person should visit a certain congregation maybe for a week or at least a weekend. It is preferable that this should be a woman, because for too long has men been in charge of what they think women need. After the week or weekend, a special care group may be started to establish on-going follow up in whatever appropriate way is determined. This care group should be initiated by the facilitator. It will depend on the congregation on how they will go about the continuing care of their pastoral families. 3. Offer Personal Caring For The Pastor's Wife. Often, virtually everybody in the congregation, except the pastor's wife, has a pastor to turn to when in need or even when lonesome. Therefore it is very important that a pastoral counselor be set aside to visit pastors’ spouses in their homes and caring for them. How this can be achieved will vary from denomination to domination and country to country. The fact that this support can be offered in many ways should be a greater encouragement to find a way to fill this important need. As demonstrated in the case of Angela (above) often pastor's widows end up having a whole set of baggage of unfinished business. Their pastors are usually young and not experienced enough to really care for, and counsel these women. Can the church really forget them after so many years? These women of God need to be included in the caring strategy. Perhaps some of them may be effective mentors, supporting,, teaching and encouraging pastor's wives to live healthy, wholesome true-to-their-own-selves lives. 4. Healing of the memories. Whether it be something along the line of the Truth and Reconciliation program that is currently running in South Africa, healing efforts must include the wives of active, retired or sainted pastors. Memories, like grief, sometimes die hard. The bitter memories sometimes die hardest. Offering the loving, Christian support to pastor's wives of all ages and circumstances is one of the best ways to facilitate a healing that only God can give. 5. To Thine Own Self Be True No one, let alone a pastor or his wife, can offer their very best behind a facade. If driven by guilt or fear of rejection, failure or need to conform, pastor's wives can, at best, help "plug" up holes of ministry. In so doing, they will open up other "holes" in themselves. When starting a new ministry, be sure the pastor-husband clearly indicates to the congregation that his wife has unique strengths, weaknesses, interests and ministry desires. The pastor should publicly indicate--and uphold throughout their ministry together--that her ministry is determined by God's giftedness to her and her freedom to choose to what degree and in what capacity to use it. This foundation of actual, public support for the pastor's spouse--if maintained--sets up and upholds a fundamental strengthening of the pastor's marriage. It can model what a healthy, Christian marriage is in that it shows two people supporting and encouraging each other's uniqueness. Finally, it establishes healthy boundaries and expectations for both the congregation and the clergy family of how they will respond to God...true to self. A congregation or Pastor who refused to celebrate the uniqueness of his own spouse and family members will likely be unable to celebrate the unique of God's people. Isn't that interesting: the healthiest way to support the ministry of the Pastor's wife may also be the most healthy way to support and celebrate the specific God-given ministry of each individual member.