By Joyce Thomas
I recently came across a book entitled, “The Identification of Essential Components for Equipping Pastors’ Wives for Ministry,” by Tara Rawls Jenkins. The title was an eye opener for me because it was the first time I had seen in writing the idea that the role of a pastor’s spouse could be more successful if training were available alongside their clergy spouse. Though not all pastors go to seminary or have formal training, there are many who choose to complete a full educational program. How wonderful it would be to offer the gift of training to their spouses. Jenkins believes this training could be a life changing event because few spouses know in advance how stressful the church environment can be.
Jenkins is clear that not all pastor’s spouses choose to work in the ministry with their clergy spouse. Many are choosing 1) to devote themselves to their own careers and their own skill base or 2) to work on their number one ministry, which is their family. They want to make their children’s lives as normal as possible with boundaries that will allow them to have childhood experiences without interference from others, whether in the church or community. They make sure that the family does not have undue pressure just because they are the son or daughter of the pastor. Lastly, some pastor’s spouses choose 3) to have their own ministry where they can control the amount of time and energy they want to invest without criticism or involvement of others. These pastors’ spouses have managed to reduce the amount of stress from doing ministry by having their own ministry.
However, there are pastors’ spouses who wish to join their clergy spouse in ministry, and though they have not received any training, they learn what to do by trial and error with on the job training. In my experience, pastors’ spouses do fairly well with this kind of training, but the learning curve is steep and stressful. I believe that if spouses had some form training for ministry prior to taking on their role, it could alleviate a lot of confusion and stress.
Jenkins explains that many pastors’ spouses experience the same difficulties in ministry over and over because they have not been trained to understand what the role entails. No one tells them about the unrealistic expectations that may be placed upon them by the congregation, the unrelenting gossiping that often goes on, the rigorous schedule of the pastor that excludes family and spousal time, that they may be consider at times the unpaid helper to the pastor. Or even knowing that sometimes extra precaution may be needed to teach children not to be a source of information about the pastor’s home life, that their life is an open book to the community, and the list could go on.
Jenkins’ main point is that the pastor’s spouse’s role is difficult and plays out from church to church. Spouses continue to live in stressful situations without resources to help them work through solutions. She claims that it is time for a change and believes training in seminary or bible college courses, or from an older spouse who has experience, should become an option before entering the role as a pastor’s spouse. Until pastor’s spouses are equipped and given information about what life is like in ministry, it is a possibility that the difficulties of ministry for pastor’s spouses will continue to be a challenge. The Bible says in Titus 2, how important it is to instruct men and women about standards of behavior, and I believe that includes those things that are helpful for maintaining life in ministry. Jenkins also comments that one of the spouse’s main tools should be their spirituality. She believes that a close personal relationship with God prepares the spouse to meet the various kinds of challenges without excessive anxiety. It is important that personal devotion time is a main practice. When information and previous practice from other spouses in ministry are coupled together, there is a winning combination for success in ministry for spouses of the clergy.
I think Jenkins has made a good case for training new spouses of clergy. I know in my previous church, the Deacons and Elders were given a two year program before they were ordained; the ushers were went through a training program before they were put on the floor of the church; the Trustees had training; and the Board Members had to meet certain requirements before becoming a part of the team. However, for the spouse of the pastor there was nothing. There was no training, no classes, and no established experienced pastor’s spouse to talk with. It was all trial and error.
I am in agreement with the author about the classes, training or experienced spouse to give advice before entering the role of pastor spouse. What do you think? I’d like to hear your opinion.
Dr. Joyce Scott Thomas is the Associate Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration.
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