January 30, 2023

Life in the Fishbowl

fishbowl.jpgYes, life in a fishbowl, a phrase often used when describing life in a pastor’s family. Displayed to be admired or found wanting, high expectations can drain even the most eager of God’s servants.

Actually, times have changed. Used to be, a congregation expected the pastor’s wife to fulfill most of the roles now covered by the education and hospitality committees. In many cases, she taught Sunday school, organized VBS, played the piano at all the services and was expected to entertain company at the drop of a hat. Oh, and her children’s attitudes/behaviors directly reflected her level of spirituality. Many pastor’s wives have decided that’s not such a great side job.

When candidating, they answer the famous ‘What role will you play as Pastor’s wife?’ question with aplomb. Proudly they might announce that they’ll support their husband in his career but they have a career of their own which keeps their schedule packed. Or they gulp and stammer that they’ll serve wherever needed, while on the inside they wonder how they’ll ever ‘do it all’.

Should we be surprised that pastor’s wives burn out, or that preacher’s kids have such bad reputations? After all, they’re a part of the congregation themselves, one of the flock. Their priorities should be the same as ours: God, spouse, children, ministry/job, self. Being a helpmeet, raising Godly children, and simply being available to volunteer or mentor is a full-time job!

My mother, veteran PW of almost 50 years, managed to graciously leave her heartmark on all the churches my father pastored. Gracious, being the key word. Loved by all, my mom had the kind of personality most PW’s covet. Non-confrontational, yet unafraid to gently guide, her unconditional kindness invited hearts to unburden themselves fearlessly. And since she lived her faith, her wise counsel was heeded.

A godly pastor’s wife follows God’s injunction to take care of her family. Her husband relies on her intuition and discernment, and she protects him from stress. God is her best friend, her comfort from almost certain loneliness, her lifeline to sanity, and her escape from the daily cesspools.

Her public persona is fed by her private relationship with God. Her quiet time, hidden from prying eyes, gives her the strength she needs to do God’s work, in a way that glorifies Him.

An iceberg evokes awe and respect not only for its majesty–but for its unseen width and depth. Did you know that only one-seventh of an iceberg is visible above the surface? That ‘beneath-the-surface’ faith needs to be nurtured for great effectiveness in ministry.

Ask not what your pastor’s wife can do for you; ask what you can do for your pastor’s wife.

Pray for this woman. While you’re at it, tell God the negatives and later, encourage her with the positives. If you’re older, take her under your wing. The fish that aren’t cared for fade into the murky water. And it’s no picnic always being on the inside looking out.

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6 thoughts on “Life in the Fishbowl

  1. I find that it’s amazing just how much is expected of a pastor’s wife. In some ways it is more than what is expected of the pastor! While he can get away with coming out publically and addressing sin, she is supposed to care and nuture. While he’s paid to be involved in ministry, she’s expected to go beyond with other stay-at-home-moms do and be over involved in the church just because the pastor is her husband.

    When signing members up to do things, she’s the “obvious” choice since she’s always there and she won’t say no– she’s the pastor’s wife, right? And we expect her to be open to every woman and not to have best friends.

    Simply amazing– and I agree, Mary, we need to reset our expectations and pray hard!

  2. I agree too, and I would like to point out that the pastor himself deserves a break too. I mean, he is told to “feed the sheep” not do everything for them. The pastor should delegate and say no when he is unavailable sue to family issues. we as the congregation ought to support him in his ministry, by not putting so much pressure on him to perform. Oh Im not saying that the pastor, his wife and his kids shouldn’t be held to the same standard as us all, but that they should’t be held to a higher one by us. God mentions clearly that He holds them higher, but we have to be sure we are extending grace where grace is needed, instead of chirping “feed me” “no me” “no no! me!” and tearing the man and his family apart.

  3. Yes, MIn, it’s a two for one deal seems like. Personally, I like the PW not to be spread so thin. If she hosts a ladies Bible study in her home, that’s plenty for me! As long as she’s not purposefully stand-offish. I know of two separate pastor-families (not in our church) that were up front about not entertaining for fear of causing some to accuse them of favoritism. Sad, huh.

    It’s interesting, Meg, that you bring up the Pastor and it’s very true. There’s always going to be the critical members who find fault, that’s why we all have to make up the difference. Some pastors are more gifted in evangelism than “pastor-teaching”…some are more comfortable visiting the sick and shut-ins while others are great at hospitality. They can’t “be all to all”. They’re very prone to discouragement. Very.

    My dad still says one of the hardest things for him is that when “chit-chatting” with people, no one asks him how his job is going. All men want to talk about their careers, but they shy away from asking him about his. The intimidation element, I guess. Pastor’s need friends who aren’t always sucking them dry…for counsel or whatever.

    Thanks for your comments! :O)

  4. I could definitely see where the pastor could be used rather than made a friend. The other day the deacons of my church were talking about what was going on in our different groups, and another deacon had called to ask the Pastor how things were going and what we could pray about via a phone call. I could see that it was appreciated.

    Our pastor is very careful in what he lets his wife do. I believe that in their previous ministry she got burnt out.

  5. Good post Mary. We had the same pastor all through my teenage years and I was good friends with his teenage daughter. I spent a lot of time in their home. First off it amazed me that they were human. I had always put our pastors and their families on a different level-kind of super human. Our last pastor that just left us a couple monthes ago the PW and I had become good friends. I got to see first hand how difficult a PW’s life is sometimes.

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