Pastors and planters -wives and families

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Mez McConnell has written an article for prospective planters where their wives are less keen on the prospect of urban/estate church planting.  What should they do.  Mez’s essential point is that there needs to be complete unity in sharing the calling between husband and wife. I agree with this. In fact, I remember one planter making the comment that in a sense, the potential planter’s wife needs to almost be ahead of him on this particular thing. It certainly isn’t going to be enough for her to say “Yes, I’m ready to go with you wherever you go, if you feel called to this.” You see, the task is going to be tough and lonely and you don’t want the extra question in your mind later of “did I drag my poor wife into this?”

So, I think there is a central and true point in the article.  I also think that there is something to be said in terms of understanding what we can and should expect of the wives and families of those involved in gospel ministry and church leadership.  I’m going to come back to those thoughts later. However, first of all, I want to respond to some aspects of the article that I think were unhelpful and in fact distract from Mez’s point.

I want to be clear at this stage that  I’m purely dealing with the article here and my comments should not be treated as an assessment of 20 Schemes ministry reality on the ground. I believe there has been some helpful and justifiable pushback against the article but also there have been some pretty unpleasant, personal attacks and smears in response and that is not on.

First, Mez is right that we need to be careful about seeing jobs/roles as below us in the church but there seem to be a lot of assumptions about that which are gender specific.  To be sure, people can be “sniffy” about particular tasks but that’s true of men and women. It is my view for example that elders are responsible for the whole church and so, I think it is great to see elders down on the floor playing with the 2 year olds and talking to them simply about how Jesus loves them.  And I guess it could be characterised as “sniffy” for the senior pastor to see helping in creche as beneath him.  However, if his point is that he isn’t so gifted in that area and there are other things he needs to prioritise, then that’s a fair point.

This applies across to things like being “chief bottle washer”, “cook” and counsellor.  I know plenty of wonderful elders’ wives who would say “I’m not called to one to one counselling”.  It’s not sniffy for them to recognise this.  My mum, who was an excellent cook and given to much hospitality in many ways did not, to my memory get involved in the church catering teams wherever she was a member and my dad and her involved in leadership. It’s possibly because she found herself in churches where there already was an established team.  Yet mum was deeply servant hearted both in her care for others and her support for dad’s ministry.  Meanwhile my busy working wife happily ensured a full meal was provided for about 40 people every Sunday night for about a decade because that was what was needed and it was something she could do.

Now here’s the thing.  I have frequently seen people talk about the importance of hospitality when it comes to the qualifications for elders and then look to the elder’s wife.  I remember one particular interview for a pastoral post when I was quizzed on whether Sarah’s allergies would hinder her ability to offer hospitality.  I don’t see how they would have (see above) but the bigger point is that it is in fact the elder himself, not his wife who is called to have that particular gift.

Mez talks about gossip/slander and says “the curse of the female species, particularly in ministry.”  I have to say that this is a rather unpleasant way of talking about women in general.  Further, whether or not there is a specific weakness there (and if there was, I suspect it would reflect a counter strength), in my experience, men can be just as prone to gossip and slander.  It’s just we call it “tweeting” and “blogging”.  We might say something similar about being a nag.

On that point, I was rather concerned by the reference to all the people who have been let go by 20 Schemes over the past decade and how this was often because of the worker’s wife.  Those people will be easily identifiable and in effect the health of their marriage and the character of their wife has been put under suspicion. 

Mez talks about the danger of making your family an idol.  I think it’s less about prioritising family time and more about prioritising “me time” but using “family” as the excuse.  In reality, I think it’s impossible for a pastor/planter/elder to over-prioritise his family given that the scriptural qualifications for eldership focus on the life of the elder’s family.  There’s probably a lot more to say about this specific issue than I have time/space for here.

Now, at this point, it is tempting for us to close down the question.  Why are we asking it at all?   Does it really matter.  Surely the pastor/planter is employed by the church and his wife/family are pretty much irrelevant to that?  We have hopefully moved away from the idea that the church gets a two for one employment deal when the pastor is married. 

There is no Biblical basis for a kind of pseudo-formal “ministry wife” role in the church.  The only possible reference to anything comparable in Scripture is Paul’s instructions to “the women” in 1 Timothy 3.  These have sometimes been taken to refer to “wives of deacons”. Whilst a deacon is a “minister” or “servant”, this is a different role to that of elder/pastor.  In any case, I believe the instructions are for women deacons rather than deacons’ wives.

So, we shouldn’t be looking at the requirements for a particular role.  However, we still need to think about wives and families.  This is because whilst there is a particular role that the husband may be called to and whilst there are specific paid jobs, I do believe that the wife and any believing children are called to be part of that church plant and to play their part in its life.

However, the specific roles they are required to play are no different to what should be required of any church member.  They are not to be put onto a pedestal to be worshipped, nor to be attacked for the purpose of bringing the pastor down.  They should get involved and serve in body ministry, just like all the other members should.  This means that whilst they may teach Sunday School, play music, counsel, cook, they do so because that’s the need and those are their gifts not because they are the planter’s wife.  Furthermore, just because their husband has the gift of leadership does not mean that they also have that gift.  She may happily help by bringing a dish to the b ring and share but she may be completely the wrong person to lead the catering team. She may well be a gifted musician but that doesn’t mean she must organise the music group rehearsals. She may have a deep love of Scripture and be able to advise others but that does not mean she has to lead/be the main speaker at the ladies meeting.

I think that what this shows is that we should be asking questions, not so much about the roles and responsibilities of leaders’ families bur of the whole church.  Perhaps our temptation at times has been to focus on the roles of one or two hero leaders and we need to give more attention to the ordinary ministry of the whole church family.

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