From Sharon O'Neill
“Pastor’s Wife!” Now there’s a phrase I’ve fought and hated for 25 years.
Name one other profession where the partner has this automatic tag line with a bucket load of expectation?
I can’t think of one other profession.
Nor can I think of one other profession where there is an expectation that the partner will give up their career, their interests, their spark to “follow,” “support” and enable a two for one deal.
There are couples who make decisions to work in the one business and where the business might lean more towards one partner’s wiring and interest.
Likewise, there are couples who facilitate or enable one another’s careers.
But in each of these instances they are decisions made between the couple for the couple’s interest.
In church world “pastor’s wife” is an expectation often placed on a woman by church culture and history.
I have fought to be a pastor in my own right for 25 years. I remember about 6 years after we church planted I applied to do my Masters and asked a very well known Christian leader if there was any way I could have my Social Work Degree and my experience as a church planter credited as part of the process. I was told, “I couldn’t ride on the coat tails of my husband. My husband had church planted not me. I was simply his helper…the pastor’s wife.”
Some may go well that was over 20 years ago things have changed.
I sat at a breakfast two years ago and every pastor at my table was acknowledged as being present and welcomed except for me. Now I don't’ think I’m such an awful person that I’m not worth acknowledging and anyway Christians are meant to be warm, welcoming and caring, so the only reason I can think for the lack of acknowledgement was a refusal to see my role and position and to simply see me as a “pastor’s wife.”
I could go on…
I know in time and tradition it was once a highly respected title.
But as I look down through the corridor of time, I’m not sure that it is the best we can do.
There are women who are pastors in their own right. Their husband may be a pastor but so are they. They are both equal, able to pastor in their own skill set and gift mix.
Then there are the job sharers. Women who, like their counterparts in business want to job share the ever broadening and demanding role of pastor.
Limited funds often mean the church can only employ one not both.
Rather than acknowledging the shared role fearing the financial implications we relegate the woman to “pastor’s wife.” She’s not really working, she doesn’t really have a role but if she doesn’t perform or live up to the unspoken expectations of her job description then we will need to call an all-night prayer meeting for revival so she learns to be a good supportive wife.” Expectations become blurred, unrealistic and often confusing for all.
Then there are women who know their role is not to job share or to be a pastor.
God has positioned them in other roles in other sacred spaces in our world.
These women have vital contributions to make to the world, to the church, to humanity in those spaces.
Unfortunately, many of these woman have felt no alternative but to give up on their own dreams and gifts, to follow their husband and to take up the role of pastor’s wife. A role they are neither equipped for or gifted in.
So what do I want to see happen across A2A?
I also want to acknowledge the women who gave up their dream, their gift, their career, their talent to serve the church and husband and who in doing so felt a bit of who they were died for the sake of everyone else. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Give appropriate titles and freedom. You don’t necessarily want an income but you want to help the church but you’re not a pastor. You might be an administrator, or an accounts, or …. Whatever it is name it up for what it is. But don’t just stick the label “Pastor’s wife” over it because we’re too lazy to come up with an appropriate name. believe me no man would settle for “Pastor’s husband.”
Release women into the market place. If women want to be in the marketplace because that is where God has called them then this is the best space for them to be in for everyone. Celebrate what they do. Acknowledge it. Don't expect them to pick up an extra bucket load of work.
It’s not us being our best. Let’s give an amazing gift to the next generation of women coming up. Let’s see who they are, what they are. Let’s acknowledge the God given call on their life.
4. We drop the never clearly defined expectations which go with the label ‘Pastor’s wife.’
Let’s define the role.
Is she a pastor in her own right who needs employing?
Is she job sharing with her husband?
Does she have a career all of her own which needs to be released and respected?