Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Ministry of a Pastor's Wife

Catherine J Stewart, ed., Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2013. 286pp. Paperback

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Contrary to the attitude of some, being a pastor’s wife is not an official position in the church. I have always told my wife that she is not a pastor’s wife, but the wife of a man who happens to be a pastor. Her calling, as with that of all “pastor’s wives,” is to trust in the Spirit’s help, to serve the Father, where He has placed her in Christ’s church. She is to be no more, and no less, than a faithful Christian woman.

Although the “pastor’s wife” is not a church officer, women who are married to pastors face trials that result from their husband’s callings. The authors of Letter’s to Pastors’ Wives address eighteen areas that affect such women. This book presents excellent counsel in relation to all areas of ministry. It is a must-read not only for pastor’s wives, but for pastors, other members of the family, and, especially, church members, who need to realize that the unbiblical expectations they often place on these women sometimes result from a failure to practice many of the principles of godliness treated in this volume.

The book is divided into issues related to personal piety, practical counsel, and various circumstances in ministry. The resources included here are so insightful that it is difficult to summarize them effectively. The authors press readers to make the right priorities in life with humility and guarded speech. They address improper self-imposed expectations, hospitality, friendship, respect, conflict, mothering, the Lord’s Day and many other areas of practical responsibility. The last three chapters address special circumstances in life, including addressing a husband who is living in sin, ministering in a foreign culture, and life in campus ministry.

There is a subjective element to which chapters will stand out to which readers. There are flaws in some chapters, such as Betty Jane Adams suggesting that women should cut off all former friendships when their husbands take a new call. This hardly matches Paul’s description of his relationship with church members in the New Testament. However, such flaws are few. Some of the chapters that my wife and I found most helpful were those on setting our priorities straight, humility, hospitality, handling criticism, dealing with conflict in the church, and ministering to a different culture. It will be tempting for some readers to skip those chapters that do not seem to be immediately applicable to them, but this is a mistake. For example, while we have never labored in ministry in another country, the chapter treating ministry on the mission field gave us some of the best advice that we received in order to help us settle into a new pastoral charge in this country.

Reviewer Ryan McGraw and his
wife Krista
While this reviewer cannot commend this book too strongly, my wife and I have been surprised by how some others have responded to it. Some have called the practical chapters, such as those on making priorities, hospitality, and the Lord’s Day “legalistic.” How we use this term often reveals more about ourselves than it does the views that we are describing. Many of these chapters are specific and suggestive. They are specific because most of us fail to understand how to implement biblical principles without concrete examples. They are suggestive because they properly distinguish between biblical principles and a wide array of possible ways to implement these principles. Being “legalistic” does not mean specific or strict. Jesus Christ was more specific and strict in his application of the law than the Scribes and Pharisees were, yet he was not “legalistic” while they were. Do not Christ’s free grace and the Father’s great love to us demand that we should never be content with a general piety?

We should desire to bring every thought captive in obedience to Christ. This book includes wise counsel from eighteen godly women who will help you do this, both in light of Scripture and the from the suggestive wisdom that comes only through the experience of godly living under great trials.

This review was previously published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, July 2014