When my husband took his first youth pastor position the senior pastor’s wife gave me some advice I never forgot, “Just be you.” Those three words were a relief to my twenty-three year old self. They gave me freedom to find my way in this new life of ministry.
Everything changed when I became a mother. No longer did I have time, desire, or energy to go to every youth event. I was now responsible for a little person who relied on me for everything day and night. I decided then that my children would come before any ministry or church related activity. As I continued on this path I observed other ministry families lose their children to the world because mom and dad were consumed with the work of the church. My biggest fear was that my children would be sacrificed for the opinions and expectations of others. We’ve ministered in five separate churches over the past twenty-four years and I’m sure some of the people in the congregations wouldn’t even remember us.
Things were different at the second church we served. “It’s time to stop nursing your baby and get to work being more involved in ministry,” were words uttered to me by a full-time paid staff member. Her words hurt but I realized that I wouldn’t always have this baby at my breast, and there would be time later to lead a small group or women’s ministry.
I think it’s time to ditch the mindset that has pastor’s wives included in the package that pays one salary especially if she is a mother. Many ministry wives are forced to work outside the home and bring in income just to make ends meet.
We only have our children for a short time. They are growing up everyday and will be on their own in a few short years. Their lives and hearts are yours to mold for this time. Yes, I want the people in our congregations to know God, but my kids were and will always be my priority. Their relationship with the Lord is more important to me than those of adults who have been in the church for decades. If adults can’t flourish in their walk with the Lord then they have deeper issues than whether or not the pastor’s wife is leading a small group.
When I strayed from my decision and took on ministry roles because it was expected of me I failed miserably. My heart wasn’t in it and God hadn’t been the one to tell me to do it. I had to learn to do what God was telling me to do, nothing more and nothing less. If it didn’t get done because I wasn’t involved then it probably wasn’t a great need.
You don’t have to do it all. There is always time later for ministry. I’m not giving you a pass to drop everything and walk away, I’m giving you the permission to say no. It’s okay to say no. The Bible study will still be there. The retreat will go on. The annual Christmas event will still happen. Don’t be bound by the rules of people. The expectations put on us by well meaning people can be crippling. Pleasing God should be our only goal.
While I never did win Mother of the Year at the annual Mother-Daughter banquet because I didn’t do enough in their eyes I knew my work at home was more important than any work in the church. Even when my name was brought up one January evening during the dreaded Annual Church Business Meeting,
“What does our pastor’s wife do? We need to see her doing more around the church.” Her question turned the eyes of the attendees toward me and I slunk down in my seat but I still kept my priorities in this order:
My personal relationship with Christ came first.
My relationship with my husband came second.
My relationship with my kids came third.
Church came after that.
If I was talking with someone at church and my son or daughter needed me I excused myself from the conversation to turn my attention to my child. I never wanted them to feel that the church was more important than they were or to take a back seat to the ministry.
While my children witnessed some horrible things at church by people who called themselves Christians, they knew that mom and dad were safe and that they were our priority. Our nineteen and twenty-two year olds are both still in love with Jesus, and our oldest is now a youth pastor himself.
I found a note in my journal the other day. I unfolded the decade-old paper to reveal an invitation scribbled in different colored markers:
“Your invited too a party!” it read, misspelled words and all.
“To mom, from?
Place: my room
Time 7 to 7:30
Tell me if coming pleace
Hope you have fun!
This is what’s important. The opinion of someone who has already raised her children does not matter in the scheme of life. What is important is that my children were free to have a childhood full of love and laughter, knowing that mom and dad were always there for them.
I wish I could turn back time and go to that little girl’s party again.