The search committee finally found him.
After perusing dozens of applications and interviewing a handful of candidates, the potential pastor that checks off all the attributes you were looking for is now interested in the position. His interview was spot-on for what you and your church are needing.
Then Sunday comes and he has a “trial sermon” for the congregation and a time of getting to meet him. Later that afternoon the wives take the new potential pastor’s wife out for coffee while the men get together to boat on the lake. At the end of the day one of the elders asks his wife how her time with the candidate’s wife went and she hesitates.
“She’s interesting,” she says but not enthusiastically. “I guess she’s pleasant enough. Honestly I just don’t know her well so I can’t say for sure.”
The next Wednesday at elder’s meeting the leaders gather together about making a formal invitation for the pastor to come be their lead pastor to their congregation. All the elders are enthusiastic about inviting this man, and for a moment no one dares mention the wife. But then one of the elders speaks up as tactfully as he can.
“My wife did express some concerns about his wife.”
Another elder spoke up. “My wife had some issues too, but we’re not hiring her as our pastor, we’re hiring him.”
Everyone is uncomfortably silent.
After awhile they take a vote to go forward to endorse him as their lead pastor. For awhile things go well. The church is growing, the people are happy, the preaching is what they need.
But then a crack in the foundation starts to occur. The wife talks a little more freely about others’ personal issues than people are comfortable with. While she does serve helping with the children’s ministries, she seems to do so begrudgingly. And then when the elders have made a decision she disagrees with she mentions it to her friends in the church.
Problems grow. Relationships cool. People are torn. Their pastor isn’t perfect but he’s doing a decent job. They actually kind of like her, too. Sometimes. But her maturity is problematic. Efforts to gently address the issues come up empty. The pastor stands with his wife. The wife feels judged, hurt and angry. And a rift in the church is forming. How does the church handle it?
“In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain…In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” 1 Tim 3:8.11
Clearly this is not the first time this has been an issue or Paul wouldn’t have written about it. When the Scriptures say that the two have become one, this is true in ministry as well. A church may hire the man as the lead pastor or a congregation may choose an elder, but his wife, no matter what she does or doesn’t do, has a role of shared authority. You cannot disconnect the two.
The best way to stop problems is to work to prevent them from the beginning. How?
1) Interview the husband, but also the wife
This is a basic form of respect to the wife. When you interview the wife it also gives her a chance to ask questions, voice concerns and be included in this life-changing decision. She is an important part of the ministry and when she is left in the dark on some issues that are on her heart, it is not honoring to her. When you include her in the interview process, she begins the journey with feeling the value you have rightfully placed upon her.
It’s also a time to make sure this is a good fit to the church. An interview is about sensing if the man is a good man “worthy of respect,” making sure he is an honest man, not indulgent in wine and has good character. But that she also is a woman “worthy of respect,” not a malicious talker, temperate, and trustworthy in everything.
Some additional questions could include
- Does she feel called to the ministry, and if not, how does she see her role in her husband’s work?
- What does she feel her husband’s ministry is to look like and her role in it?
- How does her husband see her role in the church and are they in agreement on that?
2) Interview them about their interaction with one another
Marriages are an important part of anyone in leadership ministry. A good marriage is going to bless and inspire others. But in ministry there are many commitments that can cause high levels of strain. Seeing how a couple interacts with one another is important.
- How have they handled stressful church situations in the past?
- Do they share all sensitive information between each other or is the wife Ok with not knowing some issues?
- What do they expect from the church or how do they feel the church should respect them as a couple and them as a family?
Also observe their interaction in the interview as that may provide some (but definitely not all) clues.
- Do they honor one another as they are talking?
- Does one overly dominate the conversation to the silent resignation of the other?
- Does their tone of voice share a mutual love for one another and an excitement for the opportunities ahead?
Pastor’s are people too and their marriages are no different than anyone other marriage with its ups and downs, heartaches and joys, triumphs and trials. Yet ministry can be the lightning bolt of challenges.
While no marriage is ever perfect, making sure there are some healthy patterns in their marriage can be an important factor in choosing your next leaders. The best place to learn what their marriage is like and how they interact with one another is by interviewing them both together.
3) Interview yourselves
One key factor is to have realistic expectations. Not just among the eldership but the whole congregation. What do they hope she will do? Are they willing to offer grace and kindness and space for different ways of doing things? Are they willing to commit to praying for and encouraging them as a family?
No wife comes in perfect. She will make mistakes. She will have issues. She will get hurt. She will say wrong things. But is there grace for her too? Sometimes wives are oftentimes judged more harshly.
Additionally many churches assume when they hire a pastor that his wife will be the piano player, the children’s teacher, the kitchen manager, the one who prepares communion, etc… This isn’t necessarily the case and any expectation needs to be made clear in the interview.
Many years ago women were expected to be alongside their ministering husbands at most functions as a good and helpful wife. But times have changed in her ability to share all these things. Woman are not able to stay at home as easily to be wives and mothers and homemakers. They often need to be in the workforce to help make up for the financial shortfall of a typical pastor’s salary in an increasingly expensive world. Expectations to fill the gaps in church work can cause a high level of pressure on the wife. It can cause her to become frazzled and resentful because of the sheer weight of expectations.
A healthy church will pray, support, mentor and encourage the wife, while at the same time giving her room to be her own person (and giving space for the children to be normal kids as well). Setting reasonable expectations, not just from the elders, but from the church body as well is a must.
4) Find ways to include the women’s perspective prior to making decisions.
Let’s face it. Women and men see things differently. When an elder or pastor goes home from a meeting, oftentimes he will inform his wife of discussions and decisions. If this decision is contrary to what his wife may believe as the better course of action, she may disagree. This can cause him to doubt his former decision and even cause problems when he returns to future meetings. A better way is to include the voice of the wives in some of the discussions.
Our church has open elder meetings for anyone who wants to attend. But when an important decision is made, the elders are the ones who make the decisions and at times, even meet privately to further discuss their decision. But the perspective of women is included and valued.
Giving her a voice is helpful in mitigating problems. Just as in the home she has a desire for her thoughts to be heard when decisions are being made, so in the church there is a desire for the women’s thoughts to be heard. Listening to these perspectives shows respect for a congregation that is filled with both men and women.
5) If there are red flags in either of them, heed Paul’s wisdom.
When choosing a new elder or a new pastor and the wife he is married to, it is important to approach that choice with prayer and wisdom. If there are red flags showing in either of them, then an eldership and a congregation must be wise and take that into consideration.
There is a reason that Paul wrote these words to Timothy, exhorting him clearly that ministry is always joined with a spouse. If either of them is not trustworthy it is going to cause issues. Both need to be followers of Christ that are “worthy of respect.” As we see with Timothy this can be found in both young leaders and older leaders. There is grace to grow. But too many concessions on this issue has caused many a congregation unnecessary heartache.
A husband and wife can make a great power team for the church, blessing many. Their contribution is each unique. When you hire a pastor or choose an elder, he and his wife come as a package deal. It’s just the way God intended it when he said the two become one. It’s a great blessing. But when there are character issues and concerns in either one of them, ignoring Paul’s admonition will more often than not will come with a hefty price tag.