Not the Joy Luck Club or “Eat, Pray, Love”, but the Pastors’ Wives Club (a meeting of pastors’ wives, both seasoned and new, to fellowship together in the spirit of sharing and accountability)! We’ve asked Susan Kim (wife of Korean-speaking congregation head pastor Paul Kim) and some of our newest pastors’ wives to give us the inside word.
When a pastor comes to a church his role is clearly defined. These roles may include preaching, teaching, shepherding, small group leading, mentoring, counseling, and praying for members. However, a pastor’s wife’s position is a very ambiguous role. Ask ten people what they expect of a pastor’s wife and you will probably get ten different answers. The only definite description is that she is the wife of a pastor. The pastor’s wife’s role is also very unique because I know of no other position except perhaps the First Lady whose position is defined by her husband’s occupation. If someone dared to address any other wife in such a way, people would chortle. Can you imagine being called a chef’s wife, engineer’s wife, lawyer’s wife, accountant’s wife or doctor’s wife? Or better yet, addressing a husband by his wife’s occupation? My husband has never been called a teacher’s husband.
One of the purposes of our pastors’ wives gatherings is to help pastors’ wives find their calling as a child of God in her unique position. This may seem easy and obvious, but when there are hundreds of voices telling you what you “should do” or how you “should be” it is easy to get caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent” or be a “people pleaser.” It is not uncommon to be misplaced in a role in which you are not gifted and try to become the person whom God did not create you to be. This will cause enormous suffering for the pastor’s wife and constant grief for the members. For example, you absolutely would not want me to be singing on the praise team even though there was a gaping hole in the ministry. I believe your calling should intersect with one of the needs of the church. However, this is not the same as your place of ministry being dictated by the needs of the church. At the heart of most pastors’ wives, her desire is to fill the needs of the church, but thinking she is the only one who can and must do it is dangerous and unhealthy.
This “calling” concept was clarified for me as I read Os Guinness’ book, The Call. In it he distinguishes the difference between the primary call (vocation) and the secondary call (occupation): “We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God Himself.” Our secondary calling is to use our gifts for His Kingdom and His glory. The constant challenge is to keep the vocation of the primary call and the occupation of our secondary call in its exact and precise order. Interchanging the two will bring much confusion and chaos.
As pastors’ wives get together, one aspect of our meetings is to remind each other of our primary calling as a child of God. As we are reminded of our powerful position in Him as a daughter of the King, our hearts are hopefully filled and overflowing so that we may pursue our secondary calling in whatever occupation that may be. Another aspect of our gatherings is to share and pray for each other as we encounter various situations, emotions, and circumstances surrounding being a wife of a pastor.
For any group of people, building an authentic sense of community takes time and effort. As women with husbands in full-time ministry, we share this common affinity, and it has brought us together to experience community by celebrating life together and walking with each other in prayer. One of the ways in which we have sought to build community is through hosting each other in our homes and preparing meals for one another. There is something to be said about the powerful impact of food and sitting around a table because it seems to generously create a sense of belonging. However, sharing food is more than about eating, it provides a space for sharing life together.
We also celebrate life together through a simple, yet profound way of knowing each other through remembering birthdays. We were often celebrated as children, by cheer-filled birthday parties and gifts. Acknowledging the gift of life and one more year of God’s faithfulness is an opportunity to love and celebrate each person in his or her adult self, once a year. It is a small yet significant challenge to think about the people in your small groups or larger church community and the ways in which a child-like celebration of love may be used to display affection and grace towards each other.
Finally, we have experienced community through years of coming together to intentionally pray for each other. No amount of food or birthday celebrations can replace the gift of praying for someone. I know that I am thoroughly blessed when someone offers me a meal, and I certainly enjoy a gesture of love on my birthday. However, there is something so incredibly priceless when a friend prays for me. There is no way we can accomplish life on our own. The prayers we pour over one another provide us with the anchor in which our ships do not fall to shipwreck in the storm. Prayer is also the sail that allows us to glide in the waters of joy when the waves are calm. As a church community, the opportunity and call we have to pray for one another should not be missed, and it is a bold reminder that it is a prerequisite for walking alongside each other.
Hanna Sohn Chang
Our exclusive pastors’ wives gatherings are a chance for pastors’ wives to share life together. While our husbands have their own mentorship programs and accountability groups, we get to also mentor and keep each other accountable by meeting and keeping in touch. There is definitely a need for a space where we can just share our burdens and joys of supporting a spouse in full-time ministry that only others in that role can understand.
We talk about EVERYTHING from new recipes to weird habits to our struggles and everything in between. We really feel safe in sharing with one another. We even keep what we share from our husbands (because, let’s be honest, sometimes we talk about them). We’ve built a trust with one another and it has grown as we spend more time together.
I walk out of every gathering with heart and soul full and fed. We laugh and cry together, and plead to God on behalf of one another together. These gatherings truly are life-giving and life-changing as we learn from one another how to be a woman of God, wife, and mom.
The different ages and life stages make our gatherings so seasoned and fun. The older ones help the younger ones with great advice on a range of topics and the younger ones help the older ones, well…stay young.
The very first encounter I had with Open Door Presbyterian Church (ODPC) was at a house with a group of women, sharing their lives honestly over a home-cooked meal. I had never heard of ODPC before, and my husband and I had just uprooted our very new family of three to serve and grow at a church in Virginia. That one meal really planted a seed in my heart that continues to be watered through droughts and showers.
It has been a joy and blessing in my life to walk alongside other women at our church who share a similar experience. I had never been at a church with so many pastors, let alone pastors’ wives. My husband and I had only been married for two years when we first came, so this was about the two year mark of being a pastor’s wife. I was a pastor’s girlfriend for about two years before; which is a totally different experience (we can talk). A lot of people ask if I was called to be a pastor’s wife. My natural and unfiltered response is that, “no one wants to be a pastor’s wife,” — although I found this not to be true after meeting with other pastors’ wives. That being said, learning what it means to be married to a man who is married to ministry is quite a steep learning curve. One thing that has really helped me to navigate and understand this position are other pastors’ wives.
When we meet together, we talk about our husbands and all of their secrets. I wish I knew all of Pastor _______’s secrets! But really, when we meet, we share our lives openly and honestly with one another. Many of us have full-time jobs and all of us are full-time mothers. We are also full-time pastors’ wives, full-time sisters and daughters, full-time “regular” wives, and full-time sinners. We meet together to share in fellowship and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). It is an accountability group. Through this group, I realize that in every aspect of life, God has a different plan and purpose for each one of his children. Even as pastors’ wives, we all have different gifts and burdens and a different ministry role to play in God’s infinite orchestra. There is no “one-size-fits-all pastor’s wife,” in the same way as there is no “one-size-fits-all mother or father.” There really is no secret to our meetings, besides the fact that we have a Holy Ghost who lingers through our dinner and conversations. And that pastors’ wives can eat.
Special thanks to Susan Kim, Chris Lee, Hanna Sohn Chang, and Lynda Lee for contributing to this article. Graphics designed by Borah Hong