From One Ministry Wife to Another: Honest Conversations about Ministry Connections

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My purpose is to identify some of these changes and explore how they currently relate to the life of the ministry wife. Kay Warren has made this observation: "I think pastors' wives today see themselves more as part of an active team. Instead of the husband ahead and the wife behind, I think they see themselves more as side by side. It is important also to remember that these models are blurry and very general.

There are many factors that make up a church's expectations of a minister and his wife, such as local culture, ethnic differences and practices, theological systems, geographical influences, and denominational traditions. Nevertheless, there are some commonalities that can be identified. In order to understand where we have been as ministry wives in the history of the church, it is helpful to see these models from the panorama of a historical perspective.

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Through 2, years of Christian history, the role of the minister's mate has changed often, and it continues to change rapidly. Even in a single ten- or fifteen-year period, variations have often moved from caring companion to hearth keeper to resident sacrificer to spiritual sustainer to ministry partner to energetic helpmeet to institutional church leader to deputy pastor.

But whatever direction the minister's wife's role tilts at any moment of human history, it always involves a position of trusted support for the work of ministry. And it is always an invaluable asset in the service of the kingdom. There is not a specific model for ministry wives in the New Testament, despite what many church members may think. No, playing the piano and directing vacation Bible school are not requirements found in the Bible for the preacher's wife.

While there are many biblical examples of gifted and wise women, there is no specific description or requirements listed for the wife of a pastor, outside of a few distinguishing, although general, character traits. However, while the church met in their home and they actively taught the Word of God together, the Scripture does not specifically identify them in the role of pastor and wife. In Paul's pastoral epistle to Timothy instructing him on church ministry, he lists the requirements for a pastor 1 Timothy —7 , followed by similar traits to be exhibited in the life of a deacon vv.

He then describes the wives of these leaders, listing characteristics which should be found in her: "Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things" v. This is the closest thing we have to a list of requirements for the wife of a "bishop" or "overseer. Of course these qualities are desired in every Christian woman, not just the wives of ministers. However, the fact that Paul mentions the Christian character and spiritual maturity of the wife in this passage indicates that her relationship to Christ is significant in how it relates to her husband's calling.

This "good work," as Paul describes it in 1 Timothy , includes the spiritual commitment and character of the wife as she serves Christ and His church alongside her husband. We can conclude that there is not a detailed model for ministry wives in the New Testament, as there is for pastors and elders.

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The only definitive model is that of a Spirit-filled woman, seeking to follow Jesus with all her heart, developing Christlike characteristics, and walking in wisdom. The image of the ministry wife in the early church is shadowy, at best. Most of the information on Christian women from this era relates to the martyrs or the desert ascetics, not pastors' wives.

However, it would be logical to assume that pastors and their wives ministered together. Tertullian — CE , an early church theologian and apologist, beautifully described the married couple serving Christ together:. How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice Nothing divides them, either in flesh or spirit They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.

Side by side they visit God's church and partake of God's banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. To such as these [God] gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present. We can conclude that a husband and wife serving together as partners in the gospel, in spiritual and marital unity, was not unusual in the early church.

In fact, Tertullian praises this image and mutual commitment, using it as an example of Christ's presence in the world. The marriage union in a Christian context gave a strong witness for the cause of Christ in the early centuries of the church. Celibacy for men and women devoted to ministry was practiced in various regions and encouraged by some church leadership with the beginning of the monastic movement around the beginning of the fourth century. Some chose this way of life, believing that celibacy was evidence of one's true separation from the world and physical desires.

Others considered celibacy a spiritual gift or practice loosely based on 1 Corinthians 7. That's one spiritual gift I have never heard anyone request. While celibacy of the priesthood had been decreed for many years in various regions of the Western church, it wasn't until the twelfth century that ecclesiastical law was ratified, formally requiring celibacy of the clergy.

From One Ministry Wife to Another: Honest Conversations about Ministry Connections by Susie Hawkins

Once the church began to rigidly enforce this doctrine, priests and monks were required to put their wives in convents or leave them. As a result, until the time of the sixteenth century, the small amount of information on women is primarily related to the medieval mystics and other women serving within the boundaries of the established church.

But with the onset of the cataclysmic events of the Reformation, the picture of ministry wives began to take shape and become a great deal more interesting. When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church in Germany, he had no idea that he was starting a monumental religious and cultural shift in Europe that would have aftershocks for years to come.

His vehement objections to the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church hit a nerve, and his writings spread like wildfire. One of Luther's many objections to church law and practice was the requirement of celibacy for the priesthood. Soon hundreds, if not thousands, of priests and monks were leaving their posts for areas in Europe that were not under strict Catholic domination.

Even nuns in European convents were smuggling in Luther's material and reading it avidly. Earnestly believing in Luther's teachings, one such group, led by Katharina von Bora, escaped the convent at night by way of a cart carrying empty fish barrels. These women landed literally on the doorstep of the church at Wittenburg, requesting to be married. Luther agreed to this proposal and matched each woman with one of his colleagues, since they also were former priests and monks.

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Finally, Katharina, who was quite stubborn and picky, proposed that Luther marry her, and after thinking it over, he agreed. The account of their vibrant relationship and deep love and respect for one another is one of the great stories of Christian history.

The fascinating aspect of this story is that Katie, as Luther called her, and this motley group of women changed ministry in their culture. They literally and figuratively threw open the door of the parsonage and ministered not only to their husbands and families, but also to church members and the community.

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