On Being a Pastor’s Wife…

When I married Ben, I knew that, marrying a pastor, we wouldn’t necessarily live in one area for all of our lives. I knew my “calling” was that of teaching, something I could “take” with me wherever we went. With any partnership in marriage there has to be some give and take on both sides, but in the end I knew my husband was meant to be in full time vocational ministry and that as his wife, a “pastor’s wife,” I needed to partner in whatever ministry he took on.

During our first 5 years in ministry, it took me some time to figure out who I was as a minister’s wife and not to compare myself with my sister whom I respect and look up too. If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve handled certain situations differently – but life is about experience. As a pastor’s wife, I was critiqued on everything from my hair, weight, and why I chose not to lead worship on certain Sundays. When I was unable to get pregnant, I decided to focus my energies on my education and focus on my career. It wasn’t long thereafter that God opened the doors for me to have a full time teaching contract. Had we stayed there, I would’ve been set to retirement. I loved my job, and I loved living near my sister and investing in her kids. Yet Ben was restless. He was always trying to figure out what his “niche” was. He was a great youth pastor, and people in the church told him he’d make a great senior pastor, but he didn’t have a passion or a drive for that. When he resigned, we had no idea where we were going. We “stepped out in faith” and were praying about becoming overseas missionaries. Sussex was nowhere on the radar.

At one point during that season of uncertainty, Ben looked at me and said, “You know, we don’t have to move. I could just find work somewhere nearby so you could keep your job. You don’t have to give that up.” He knew how much I loved my career and took pride in what I did within the community.

That was a pivotal moment in my life as a pastor’s wife.

I could have said, “Yes. Let’s stay. I don’t want to give up my job and my teaching contract.” But I didn’t. I knew my husband was meant to be in vocational ministry. So I looked at my husband and said, “Ben, you’re meant to be in vocational ministry of some kind. God provided teaching for me here. He will provide teaching for me elsewhere.” Had I decided to keep my job, I would’ve missed out on the adventure of Sussex including new teaching opportunities and furthering my education, and I would’ve missed out on the adventure of James. I would’ve kept my job, but I would’ve missed the experience of a lifetime.

Fast forward to where we are now, where Ben has had 8 years of ministry at Kingswood. When he moved here he had pastor friends who said, “Why would you want to go there?” Without realizing it, it was as though they were telling him he wasn’t in ministry. But he was. For 5 years he put his heart into recruiting future ministers and teachers, and then when his position was changed to part time hours and turned into event coordinating, through a series of difficult circumstances, God led him to his passion – his “niche” – camping ministry. In fact, once again I was faced with another decision as a pastor’s wife. In a moment of frustration when we were praying about whether or not to stay at Kingswood due to the change in his position, I looked at him and said, “What do you want to do with your life?” When he replied with, “Caton’s,” I probably looked like a deer in the headlights. Caton’s didn’t make any sense to me. He wasn’t getting paid any money at the time and was volunteering. It didn’t seem like a viable option.

That was a pivotal moment in my life as a pastor’s wife.

I could have said, “Why would you give your time to an organization that can’t offer you any income right now? How are you going to provide for our family?” Instead, I looked at him and said, “Well, if Caton’s is what you want to do, then do it. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but if you’re passionate about it and feel that’s where you need to be, I’ll support you.” Had I decided to discourage his dreams, I would’ve missed out on seeing him develop more as a leader, but not just any leader, someone with the courage and confidence to take on camping ministry full time. I would’ve missed out on the adventure that was Caton’s. I would’ve been more “comfortable” with Ben having a more “stable” job, but I would’ve missed out on three of the best summers of my family’s life.

I never imagined we would leave Caton’s so soon, but last summer a few things had occurred in which I found myself saying to Ben, “Maybe you’re not suppose to be at Caton’s as long as we thought. Maybe you’re meant to go to another camp.” After a couple of camp director positions became available, Ben felt led to apply. We visited one camp in another province. I confess I wasn’t crazy about the thought of moving further away, but had Ben looked at me and said, “I have a passion and a vision for this camp” I would’ve packed my bags and followed him – because I am a pastor’s wife. After much prayer, we decided together that we didn’t feel God was leading us in that direction, so he took his name out of the running. The other camp – Camp Tulakadik – was our “fleece.”

When Ben was offered the Director’s position at Tulakadik, the change in camp didn’t mean that I would have to give up my teaching opportunities in Sussex, but it did mean that I would have to give up summers on an island that has meant ever so much to me over the years. When he told me he was offered the job, I began crying, and once again I was faced with a decision. Ben looked at me and said, “Sarah, I don’t have to leave Caton’s. I can stay there.”

That was a pivotal moment in my life as a pastor’s wife.

I could have said, “Yes. Stay at Caton’s. I don’t want to leave. We all love it there.” But I knew in my heart he was meant to go. He is a visionary and passionate about camping, and I knew that our fleece was laid out. Ben was a Wesleyan pastor being offered a position at a Baptist camp. The camp board would’ve been praying about who to hire, and they chose Ben. It was very clear this was to be our next adventure. So I looked at him and said, “No. You have to leave Caton’s. God has opened this door. You’re meant to take this on.” Had I decided to say, “Stay,” I would’ve allowed my husband to stay at a camp he loved but in a position where he was limited in what he could do with regards to his vision for camping ministry. I would’ve kept the familiar, but I would’ve missed out on seeing my husband grow more as a leader and the experience and adventure that is to come: Camp Tulakadik.

Ben’s position at Camp Tulakadik has part time hours throughout most of the year and full time hours during the camping season. Since accepting the position, he has been working 2 days per week at Kingswood. Although Ben had been praying about whether or not to stay on at Kingswood, we thought he would stay on as it seemed to work with his hours from Tulakadik. However, his position was cut for the coming year. Evidently, God has closed the door at Kingswood but already went before us by providing Ben with one job that provides the income the previous two jobs had.  Just more evidence of how stepping into the “unknown” allows God to further make His faithfulness known.

I am still a pastor’s wife. I don’t have to deal with the stress that comes with being in the church as a pastor’s wife, but I have other stresses pertaining to Ben’s job and still take my role as his wife seriously when it comes to his ministry as a camp director. The decisions Ben and I both make in our careers affects each other. When the camping season comes, despite the closeness of the camp, we will move there as we did with Caton’s. Now that I won’t have summer studies, I’ll be able to invest more in the staff, and I look forward to getting to know the various people who are connected to this camp. I don’t have to do this. It is not an expected requirement for me, but I am a pastor’s wife, we are a team, and I am proud to support my husband in such a way. Changing camps has also meant changing denominational churches, and for someone who has attended Wesleyan church all her life and is “known” in the “Wesleyan world” it has been an adjustment. I believe that just as God blessed us in our obedience when we came to Sussex, and when we went to Caton’s, He will bless us in our obedience to change camps, which leaves me wondering what new adventures lie ahead.

I realize that when you are married, your spouse’s career can affect yours and vice versa, but there is something different when it comes to being a pastor’s wife. When Ben was in church ministry, we ate, breathed and slept church activities. I was “married” to the church. Vacation only came during certain times of the year – particularly not holidays – and even then could be interrupted by a death or some other life circumstances. When Ben was in full time ministry at Kingswood, we ate, breathed, and slept Kingswood activities. I was “married” to Kingswood. Vacation only came during certain times of year and even then could be interrupted by certain responsibilities he had. Now that Ben is in camping ministry, we eat, breath and sleep camping ministry. I am “married” to camping ministry. Vacation only comes during certain times of year – and seeing as I am a teacher, it is not like Ben can pick up and leave during summer time. This has thrown an added twist in the mix of our vocations and our time “unplugging” as a family.

I do not begrudge this position. Although it has not always been easy, I am happy to support my husband and be involved in his work endeavors, because I knew when I married a minister, that it wasn’t about his job and my job, but that it was about being a team and working together wherever God lead us in this adventure called life.

Unfortunately, marriages today do not have great stats on lasting, even for professing Christians. To anyone about to enter marriage, you really need to think long and hard about what your personal dreams are and ensure that whatever they are, you and your spouse can complement and encourage each other in those pursuits. To anyone about to enter marriage to a minister I challenge you to think long and hard about what you are about to do. You may think that your actions will not affect your spouse’s ministry, but you are wrong.

Are you prepared to willingly move to wherever, be critiqued by others, and have expectations placed upon you and your children based on your spouse’s position? Will you be able to handle people critiquing your spouse’s sermons, decisions for change when others do not want change, and work through the bitterness when you see him work countless hours for a Christian organization only to have certain people say or do things to wound his inner being? Being a minister’s wife, or even spouse (as I know there are men who marry women in ministerial positions) is a high responsibility and a calling in and of itself. In fact, I broke up with Ben during our college years for a season because I was wrestling with what it meant to marry a minister. I knew it wasn’t a 9-5 job with regular uninterrupted vacations. I knew that I would have to make some sacrifices along the way but trust that God would bless us in return. This is not to say Ben hasn’t made sacrifices for me – he certainly has – particularly in my pursuit of furthering my education, but because he’s also been willing to help me pursue my dreams in amongst his, we are both able to do what we feel called to do.

I am not trying to discourage but encourage. You need to decide now what you are willing to shoulder, because when you find yourself in those pivotal moments where you can either encourage or discourage your spouse’s dreams, you will be able to put aside what seems “logical” and “comfortable” and step out in faith.

I am proud to be a pastor’s wife. The storms we have weathered throughout our years of ministry together have made us stronger. This is not to say that we have not had dark seasons or that we are immune to divorce, but it is to say that we know that seasons of change can serve to define us or destroy us. When life circumstances have threatened to “destroy,” it has taken the two of us to communicate honestly with each other, continue to seek God in prayer, and allow God to define us as individuals and as a couple. Marrying a pastor, and for that matter, marrying Ben was a pivotal decision in my life, and I have never regretted it.  Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to “do life” with anyone else.

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