Several years ago, I attended a retreat for pastors’ wives where we talked about a question commonly discussed in these types of circles: How do we balance family time and ministry? I think at the heart of this question, women are asking this: How do I guard time with my family well while also being supportive and involved in my husband’s calling as a pastor? And that’s an important question to ask.
At this same retreat, I was advised to set boundaries with my husband. A well-meaning older woman told me, “You should think of the church like your husband’s mistress. She will always be vying for his time, and you need to set boundaries so you don’t lose him. You need to be the gatekeeper of your home and make sure your marriage and your children aren’t neglected.”
Christ Loves His Bride
While I’m sure the advice was well-intended, to be frank, I think it’s an absolutely terrible way to think about the church! First of all, the church isn’t like your husband’s mistress or another lover. Ephesians 5:25-27 describes the church as the bride of Christ, the very one for whom Christ gave His life, and He says He nourishes and cherishes her as His own body!
When speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul says in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The church is that which Christ obtained with His own blood. In addition, if your husband is a pastor, God has called him to the high and noble task of overseeing and caring for the flock of God. What a privilege!
Sisters, we should strive to communicate a high view of the church and the importance of those men whom God calls to be her pastors.
Susannah Spurgeon’s Example
Susannah Spurgeon talks about a challenging lesson she learned during her engagement with her famous husband, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Charles was invited to preach at an afternoon service that she attended with him. She recalls,
“We went together, happily enough, in a cab; and I well remember trying to keep close by his side as we mingled with the mass of people thronging up the staircase. But, by the time we had reached the landing, he had forgotten my existence; the burden of the message he had to proclaim to that crowd of immortal souls was upon him, and he turned into the small side door where the officials were awaiting him, without for a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could with the rough and eager throng around me. At first, I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry.”
When Susannah returned home, she recounted the story to her mother, who reminded her that Charles was no ordinary man–that his whole life must be dedicated to God and the service of the Lord. She said that Susannah “must never, never hinder him by trying to put [herself] first in his heart.” Susannah quickly realized that she had been “foolish.” Shortly thereafter, Charles came back searching for her, and when he realized what had happened, his mother-in-law had to soothe him as well because he was completely unaware that he had offended Susie.
From that day forward, Susannah resolved,
“It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him in his work for the Lord, never try to keep him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me. I thank God, now, that He enabled me to carry out this determination, and rejoice that I have no cause to reproach myself with being a drag on the swift wheels of his consecrated life. I do not take any credit to myself for this; it was the Lord’s will concerning me.”
I remember reading that story when I was engaged to my husband, and honestly, it terrified me! I was scared of my husband “choosing” ministry over me or neglecting our future children. I was afraid of becoming bitter or of our children growing resentful because of their dad’s calling. But the longer I’ve been a pastor’s wife, and the more I’ve grown in my love for my husband and the church, the more I’ve come to appreciate Susannah’s story. While it is a sacrifice to give of your husband and his time, it is also a privilege. You get to be a part of what God is doing in His church! It may not seem glamorous. Many times, the work to which you’re called will leave you doing the dishes or putting the kids to bed while your husband is at a meeting, but your labor is not in vain. When you keep the end goal in mind–the glory of God through the ministry of the church–the sacrifices seem much smaller.
The Church And The Family Are Not At Odds
Beyond making our husbands available for ministry themselves, I have also heard pastors’ wives complain about ministry opportunities that their husbands bring home with them. The problem is sometimes framed as a concern for balancing family time and ministry, as though those two things are at odds. Why do we view opportunities for ministry as obstacles to family time? Why aren’t they instead viewed as vital and necessary contributors to a healthy family life? I can’t think of many more profitable ways to spend our family time than by visiting a needy widow, showing hospitality in our home as a family, or praying together with brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’m not saying we don’t ever need time alone with our families–of course, we need that time together! But it’s much better to view family and ministry as interconnected and mutually reinforcing one another. It is far healthier to view ministry opportunities not as unwelcome intrusions into family time but as a happy part of what it means to be a healthy Christian family.
The fear that our families can burn out in ministry is a legitimate concern. I also think it’s possible for pastors to neglect their families in the pursuit of ministry. However, we shouldn’t accept the dichotomy that says ministry and family are fundamentally at odds with one another. Instead, we should pursue a pleasant harmony between the two. To have a husband so closely engaged with the work of God’s kingdom is a wonderful blessing! Furthermore, to have shared opportunities to minister together as a family does not need to detract from the health and happiness of our families. Rather, opportunities to minister together can enhance and sweeten our family life.
Sisters, let us purpose to convey a sense of thankfulness and joy that we get to be married to Christ’s under-shepherds. Further, let us esteem highly the opportunities we have in our families to participate alongside our husbands in ministry. This life is a wonderful life to live, and the privilege is all ours!
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 C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. II, 15-16
 C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. II, 15-16