I read everything I can find written on clergy spouses. From time to time on this blog, I will offer a book review. There are various genres including clergy spouses’ autobiographical stories, and stories they tell about others like them. Many of these books are self-published and express an intense desire to help other clergy spouses on critical issues. This is a book in that genre.
Timeko Whitaker is a new author and co-partner in ministry with her clergy husband. Hidden Identity: Untold Stories of Pastors’ Wives is a compilation of stories from ten pastors’ wives who talk about their secret lives. Whitaker notes how many wives of pastors live with hidden identities due to the many challenges they face in isolation. She says that many times their role as a leader in the church and confidant to their husbands prevents them from sharing their struggles with others for fear that the information would start rumors and gossip that could turn immature Christians away from the church. Therefore, pastors’ wives limit their conversations and are not often overly involved with their parishioners. Whitaker has given these ten women an opportunity to tell their personal stories. Anonymously, they talk about secrets they have never revealed to anyone. Their choice to share their stories is how they begin the healing process and perhaps help another struggling clergy wife.
The women share sensitive information about joys and tragedies that will make the reader excited about ministry and its wonderful opportunities to know God, as well as some of the things they have experienced in the church. There is the story of a tragic death of a daughter that came unexpectedly; this pastor’s wife had to live out her grief and faith in the public eye of the church. With everyone watching, her faith was able to usher in the presence of God through the Holy Spirit to gain comfort and peace rather than chaos and prolonged suffering. This pastor’s wife was able to trust and rejoice in God through this incident. She gives witness the promise that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” (Psalm 46:1). This pastor’s wife could have turned her back on God, but she was grounded in the Word, and she knew God would help her through. It is a good story about how effective spiritual growth and maturity can be in times of tragedy. This wife’s public grieving was a positive testimony about God’s promise found in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
However, there are other stories that highlight some of the challenges in ministry between the pastors’ wives, clergy husbands, and the people of the church. These stories are about betrayal between clergy couples and the church, clergy husbands and wives, and the hazards of working in ministry. Affairs, emotional abuse, neglect, and sometimes violence in a ministry couple’s home are the secrets that no one wants to hear about or deal with. Many people believe the clergy couple is the perfect role model who is called to display a positive life-giving marriage to the people they serve. This side of ministry is not talked about much in ministry, but the truth of the matter is that it does happen. Some of these women write very candidly about the details of these incidents. Several wives share stories about their husband’s affairs with many different women in the church and how, when they each confronted her husband, many husbands had no remorse and chose the other women over their wives. Many wives did not give in and were able to revive their relationship with their clergy spouse. They went to therapy and got their “couple call” to serve back on track. These kinds of heartbreaking stories are the ones that help the reader know and understand all that pastors’ wives go through and how much prayer and encouragement they need from their churches and friends.
One wife explains that, as in any other occupation, ministry has its risks. The moral of her story is that pastors’ wives should be careful not to let the work of ministry become just a routine. The wife states that going through the motions of attending every worship service, every event, dealing with church members’ problems, and going to meeting after meeting without rest or time to build a relationship with God will take a toll on your life. Pastors’ wives will find themselves just going through the motions of ministry, not being beneficial to the work that God has called them to do.
The main point of this book is that these wives triumphed over their difficulties because they had a spiritual connection with God. They were mature in their relationship with God and believed God’s promises for their lives, marriages, and families. I know I keep talking about spiritual growth, but until wives and spouses of the clergy learn to practice the spiritual disciplines of reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, mediation, praise, scripture memorization, and worship, then life in ministry will continue to be more chaotic than peaceful. It is developing yourself in Christ that makes ministry for you different, no matter what your role is in ministry.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what pastors’ wives go through—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also recommend this book to help wives of pastors and clergy spouses understand that they are not alone in their experiences.
Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.
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