When Your Husband Is Your Pastor

Counsel to Wives in Ministry

I wish someone had told me. I wish an older pastor’s wife had helped me navigate my idealistic plans and fanciful dreams for my future as a ministry wife. I wish she had coached me in how best to serve our King and love my husband well as we ministered together.

Who knows? Maybe I would have listened; maybe not. But now it’s my opportunity. Now it’s my sacred privilege to turn around and give. Are you married to a seminary student and preparing to serve together? Or perhaps you and your husband are already serving Christ together in a church you both love? After almost fifty years in a ministry marriage, here is a piece of advice I wish I had understood from the early days of marriage to my beloved pastor: be willing to risk your reputation.

Power of the Tongue

Leaders are always talked about. I found that hard to live with, because many times I disagreed with the current conversation. I wish someone had mentored me in what it looks like to release my reputation to the one who lovingly made himself of no reputation for us (Philippians 2:7–9).

“Let God’s love for you cover over those offenses against you and your pastor.”

Because of your husband’s position and visibility, he — and his family — will be the subject of many conversations. And some of that talk will make its way back to you. Your pain and indignation might overwhelm you at times, almost killing your motivation for ministry. It certainly almost did for me. As Solomon observed, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

Now looking back over the past five decades, I earnestly advise you to beware of self-defense. It can become the epicenter of self-absorption, where bitterness easily grows as you meditate on the unfairness and falsehood of people’s words about you and your man.

In one of our pastorates, during a very difficult time, a staff member resigned of his own accord. He then came back a few months later and asked my husband, Ray, to forgive him because he had spread lies about him in our church and community. Of course, Ray did forgive him, but the damage had already been done. And to my knowledge, the man made no effort to retrieve the slander he had spread throughout our city.

I was overwhelmed with anger and bitterness. Even now, it’s hard to write this without feeling the injury afresh. My human resources were (and remain) limited, and yet I wasted valuable emotional and spiritual energy over the loss of a good reputation in some people’s sight. I needed to release our reputation to Christ.

Release Your Reputation to Christ

Through the years, Christ has patiently guided me in how to bear with those who hurt our reputation as his servants (Colossians 3:12–13). He has taught me two things about releasing my reputation to him.

First, he turned my eyes to others who survived slander in their life mission of serving Jesus Christ. Go to those who have endured grievous criticism, cruel gossip, and savage slander — saints like Susannah Wesley and Sarah Edwards and Amy Carmichael. I try to read one Christian biography each year to be shaped by the example of a mature saint. My faith is always stimulated as I consider their more difficult trials and the God who sustained and rewarded them.

Second, instead of wasting emotional and spiritual energy fussing over the evil of their gossip and its impact on our ministry, Christ helped me become a ministry wife who turned to him and his word for calm and strength. Young ministry wife, let God’s love for you cover over those offenses against you and your pastor (Proverbs 17:9). Every one of us in ministry will at some point be called to love those who have offended us.

Humility Will Win

As God fulfills his gracious promises to us, we will feel so humbled in his saving love that slander and gossip will have less power to derail us emotionally and spiritually. Humility teaches us to be less shocked at what others say about us, because if they knew us better, they would have even more to talk about.

Not only will God’s grace deepen us in humility, but it will also help us to become so deeply secure in Christ that his love and care for us, our husbands, and our families will overrule our need for human praise in this world. We’ll be able to withstand relentless scrutiny, or unfair criticism, or even slanderous reports because our souls have learned to find their rest in God alone (Psalm 62:1). God’s grace will enable us to embrace his call to us in 1 Peter 3:9: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

“God will have the last word about you, about your family, about your husband and his ministry.”

And what is God’s blessing? When God’s purposes are all fulfilled, and all wrongs are finally righted, God will bear a true witness about his servants. When friends or students or family or church members abandon you, you are in good company. Think of Jeremiah, Paul, other saints — and Jesus himself. Remember that God will have the last word about you, about your family, about your husband and his ministry. He will bear a true witness about your humble heart and your true worth in Christ Jesus.

Where Do We Go from Here?

My advice to you? Ask God to help you control your own tongue and to bear up under false accusations as the apostle Paul did: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13).

Jesus did the same. In fact, it was false witnesses whose testimony sentenced him to death (Matthew 26:57–62). Even during his agony on the cross, he did not lash out, but instead entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). You can too. God in eternity past chose you to be a brave soldier in his mighty rescue operation for this needy world. Part of that plan is that you serve alongside your earthly husband in wholehearted devotion to Christ, come what may (Colossians 3:23).

Sooner than you think, it will be your turn to call back to the rising generations of ministry wives coming after you. Like Jesus, don’t waste your energy on how others perceive you or talk about you. Love Christ with such a striking radiance that all who come near you will easily see him more clearly. Then come join me in heaven, where the truth of our service will be told and we will serve our kind King together forever.