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. He preaches the Word, he has a genuine love for people, he works hard and has a good sense of humor–he’s perfect for your congregation. 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. The congregation loves him. And later that afternoon the wives take the new potential pastor’s wife out for afternoon tea while the men get together to boat on the lake.
At the end of the day Elder 1 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 Ok.”
Elder 2 asks the same of his wife. She offers a little more.
“We didn’t exactly connect. I felt she was already a little critical. She’s nice and all…just a little…I don’t know.”
Elder 3 asked his wife.
“I don’t like her,” was the reply.
“But what about the candidate? Do you like him as a potential pastor?”
“Oh yes! He seems to be a good fit!”
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 Elder 3 speaks up as tactfully as he can.
“My wife did express some concerns about the wife of this potential pastor. This could pose some issues.”
“My wife had some concerns as well,” said Elder 1. “But we’re not hiring her as our pastor, we’re hiring him.”
“But what do the Scriptures say?” asks Elder 2. “The character of the wife matters also.”
Elder 1 speaks up. “But do we really want to hire a less ambitious preacher whose wife is a good woman, or do we want to hire someone who can really grow the church and take us where we need to be, but whose wife needs room to grow? Maybe with time, love and discipleship from the other women this wife too could grow and mature.”
Everyone is silent.
An uncomfortable discussion ensues. After awhile they take a vote and while it’s not unanimous, they decide to proceed. He is presented to the congregation and they take a vote. With the majority in favor the pastor is called and endorsed as their lead pastor. Not everyone is in agreement but they move forward anyway, eager for a powerful pastor who can really bring change.
For awhile things go well. The church is growing, the people are happy, the preaching is what they want and need. Some like the wife and some don’t.
But then a crack in the foundation starts to occur. The wife talks a little more freely about personal issues than people are comfortable with. And when the elders have made decision she disagrees with she mentions it to her friends in the church. Several people sense a simmering resentment in her. After awhile they begin to lose trust in her. They still trust him. But anything they take to him also goes to her.
It soon causes problems. Not just in the church but in the marriage of this pastor and his wife. Relationships begin to cool. People are torn. They love their pastor. The kind of like her, too. Sometimes. But her character and maturity are problematic. Efforts to resolve and deal with the problems come up empty. The pastor stands with his wife. The wife feels hurt and angry. A rift in the church is forming and even increasing. Things are not looking good.
Do they let them stay?
Do they let them go?
“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
Let’s face it. There are some Scriptures we would really like a little bit more wiggle room on. This gets touchy. Not that it it’s a legalistic principle or that a wife has to be the next Mother Theresa, but this scenario has oft been repeated in history. After a man has been tested and approved for good character, what if his wife still has a lot of room for growth? (We might note here that oftentimes it’s the opposite scenario as well.)
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 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.
So how do we handle this touchy situation?
Many of the foundations are laid when a new minister and new elders are chosen. 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 her to make sure this is a good fit. An interview is indeed the time to find out if the man is a good man “worthy of respect,” but that she also is a good woman “worthy of respect.”
- Does she have good and noble character?
- Is she trustworthy?
- Is she temperate?
In addition to looking at her character, some other 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?
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.
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 frequent strains such as the calls in the middle of the night, a job that is never 9-5, sensitive matters that need discretion. 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 their interaction in the interview may provide some (but definitely not all) clues as well.
- 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 conflicts. 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 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? While at the same time stopping gossip and slander against leaders and also their wives?
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. She was to be there for any and every function as the 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. Yet when her husband is hired and she is still expected to be at all the functions “because that’s what pastor’s wives are supposed to do,” it’s as if she was also unexpectedly “hired” to a non-paying, part-time evening and weekend job. This creates a high level of pressure on the wife as she is also raising kids, holding a daytime job, etc… 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. A spouse that is not trustworthy is going to cause issues. There are many places in the kingdom for this couple to serve, it just may mean that leadership ministry might not be best at this time. There is always grace and room to grow, but the season may not be right. Making compromises 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.