A little over ten years ago I was at a MI District Ladies Retreat. I cannot remember who the speaker was or what the theme of the retreat was, but I do remember the spiritual experience I had at the altar call. At the time, I was single and working part time for my local church as an outreach and guest coordinator, and picking up substitute teaching shifts to pay the bills. I was teaching Bible Studies, active in teaching Sunday school, leading worship, and was one of the youth leaders/pastors at the time. I was involved in leadership and other efforts of the church. For years I had wanted one thing: to be a “pastor’s wife, a minister, a servant of God.”
In the context I grew up in, I never saw female “preachers” or “pastors” per say, with those specific “titles.” I did see a lot of women who were doing the work of ministry, but did not claim those titles for themselves. They provided counseling, pastoral care, teaching, encouragement, oversaw the worship, organized events, led small groups, were department heads, were involved on the church board and monthly council, contributed to the business side of the church, and ultimately served the people in many areas of pastoral ministry and care. It was no surprise to me when I was entering into my twenties, having been around these types of women, that I too would one day want to serve in this capacity.
So here I am, at the altar of a Ladies Retreat in the early 2000’s, crying out to God in prayer, and waiting for some type of response or answer. God never spoke to me in an audible voice, yet I remember hearing words after I complained to God about my situation and demanded an answer. Like the woman who came to the judge pleading her case over and over again, I too came in prayer over and over again, asking God to fulfill this desire of my heart. And then I heard these words, “Okay, I’ve called you to be a pastor’s wife, now start acting like it.” There wasn’t anything magical or necessarily beautiful about the words I heard. And no prince charming walked up afterwards and declared their love for me. Actually, nothing seemed to change. Everything pretty much stayed the same, and I continued to work in ministry until I felt God’s call to go to seminary and move to MO. As I look back on this experience I realize, I too like the Israelites was trying to put God’s call on my life into a box, into an earthly temple. God told the Israelites he didn’t want to dwell in a temple, yet they wanted to make a temple so they could go to God at times of their convenience. How do we do the same thing at times?
The down to earth truth about ministry and leadership is, you do not need a title to work for The Kingdom. A title is something humans give, but what you do need is a call from God. In many ways I think God could care less about titles, because God does not need to work in our boxes and human traditions. God is beyond our human limitations. However, what God does care about, is all of creation being able to accept and walk into their calling. So if a title will help a person walk into their God given calling, then give them the title, not because they necessarily need it, but because if they did not have it, then it could become a stumbling block for them in pursuing their calling from God. When God calls you to ministry, its not about being able to say “I’m a preacher or I’m a pastor.” It is about serving and doing the work of ministry. The truth, God has always called women to Kingdom work and serving in the Kingdom of God. Society and tradition may not have given these women titles, but women have always been called and given the gifts of ministry and service.
Honestly, I know a lot of Pastor’s and preacher’s wives who would not want to be called a preacher or a pastor. In their mind that title is given to their husband. Yet, if you sat down with these women and had a conversation over a cup of coffee, I promise they would share with you their heart and desire to serve in the Kingdom. They would tell you about how they bake goods to raise money for Mother’s Memorial, so missionaries can carry the Gospel all around the world. They would tell you about the expectations that are sometimes placed on their family, and how it often feels too heavy and burdensome. If you were really close friends, they might even share with you that sometimes they feel like throwing in the towel because people can be so mean, petty, and demeaning. Working with people takes great tenacity and patience. They would share with you that they pray during the week for these same church members, praying God will continue to work in their lives. They would share with you about the casual and sometimes serious conversations they have with church members, conversations which might also be called pastoral encounters. They would tell you about how they organize and clean the church, and how they make sure the church looks nice for visitors so they feel welcomed and at home. They might even tell you about the deals they found on decorations, and the creative ways they use their gifts and talents even though they often feel the limitations of the title “pastor’s wife.” But most likely, you wouldn’t hear them use terms like “pastor or preacher” for themselves, but you probably would hear about how they teach Bible studies, how they lead worship, and how they teach. You would hear about how they live a life of ministry and church leadership.
In a effort to encourage women to fulfill their God-given calling and ministry, there has been a focus on creating spaces for women in leadership and extending these “titles” back to women (preacher and pastor) which in some traditions have been limited to men. This has been great and very empowering for many. However, from the very beginning of Pentecostalism, women have been known as pastors and preachers, even if those titles grew less between the 1960s-1990’s. In this effort to encourage women, I feel there has been a shift which has been helpful but has also created a bit of division. In prayer a few weeks ago, I realized that not only do we need to encourage women to step into leadership and ministry, we need to encourage those who are already in ministry as “pastors wives.” We need to support pastor’s wives and encourage them to re-examine their calling and maybe even add some of these titles to their ministry. I write this blog as a open apology to these women who might have felt slighted or even like their calling was being diminished. Your calling as a Pastor’s Wife is Important! I believe Pastor’s wives are truly ministers, and that you fulfill a special and important place in the Church body. However, sometimes I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for the work and service you do in the Kingdom of God.
One of my greatest desires is to help bring these “worlds” and views together, not to separate and build walls between pastor’s wives and female ministers. They are not separate. Pastor’s wives are female ministers. Pastor’s wives do the work of ministry and serve the people. However, in some church traditions and cultures the title “pastor’s wife” has been purposely given to limit the voice and participation of a woman. However, as I look to scripture and see the many examples of women in ministry and leadership, I am encouraged, because God does not place these same traditions and limits on women. God says for all to come to the table, and for all to serve in the Kingdom. So work in your calling, and if somehow the title of preacher or pastor might help you live into that, embrace it. Don’t reject it. Let God work, even if it feels uncomfortable.
So, as you continue to read the blog, you might notice a shift in the tone and language of the blog. I want to include Pastor’s Wives in this blog, more intentionally, because of the great ministry and service they provide to the church. They are not a lesser calling, but are equally female ministers and leaders in the church and Kingdom of God. So, thank you. Thank you for everything you do for the Church. Thank you for serving without titles and without recognition. Thank you for walking in the way of ministry, even in the times when it has not been easy. Thank you.
Copyright 2017 Crystal Schmalz Ministries and Women of Vision Leadership