I do like a good BBQ. I’m partial to beef ribs and brisket, but a carefully smoked rack of spare ribs will get me going too.
So, when my lovely and brilliant wife was candidating for a pastoral position in the Midwest, someone was delegated to “show us around.” This gentleman (heart of gold, by the way) inquired about where we might want to eat lunch. I terminated the ensuing “silence of indecision,” by offering up, “Well, I know there’s got to be some good BBQ around here; I wouldn’t mind that.”
Off we were, then, to a passable BBQ spot, where my wife was “wined and dined” (well, actually, “diet coked and dined”) and I sat by, employing my “extrovert on demand” setting so that I could be supportive and interesting…ok…maybe not interesting, but certainly supportive.
But…and here’s the thing…in that kindly gentleman’s mind…I was, forever after, the “BBQ guy.” I am not making this up. Now, not for nothing, but while my wife was on the pastoral staff at that church, I wound up leading worship, preaching several times in their crosstown mission church, leading some Bible study and Sunday School classes, and plugging in where needed with other things (I also run a mean concession stand). But…again…in this guy’s mind…I was the BBQ guy.
At my wife’s farewell dinner, this gentleman stood up and said, “And…uh…Howard…uh…well, he likes BBQ!” I am not making this up.
Ministry spouses have experienced this from the time of Katharina von Bora…you know…the former cloistered nun who escaped the nunnery and proposed to Martin Luther.
And, by “this,” I mean being mostly defined as an appendage to their spouse. I don’t know of any other vocation (except, perhaps, from my days in the military) where spouses are often so completely identified by who their husband or wife is and what their spouse does. And, it’s still the case that, in most churches, ministry “spouse” is the pastor’s “wife” because most pastors are still men.
Whatever the gifts, talents, or foibles of the spouses, they are often seen as ancillary to those of their pastor marital partner…somehow, less than…unless they can play piano or tend to the wee (in both senses) ones in the nursery.
Now, to my enduring shame, this never really bothered me when I was the pastor. Sure, I tried hard (ok…maybe “hard” is overstating it) for the folks in the various churches I served to have them see my wife as a person in her own right–with her own gifting for particular forms of ministry and her own sense of who she was.
But, somehow, the “pastor’s wife” moniker (and all that comes with it) is hard to shake. A lovely group of church members, in a great church, once said, to my doctorate of ministry holding wife, that she was “the perfect pastor’s wife.” I know it was meant as a genuine compliment. But, I’m not sure what they actually did mean by it and I know that “pastor’s wife” is just one tiny fraction of all that my wife did and does.
This (to my chagrin) burst into my consciousness when the shoe was on the other foot…my foot.
I know that many things have changed…as pastors’ spouses now often work outside the home and aren’t “on call” to play the piano or serve coffee or meet other stereotypical expectations. And, gratifyingly so, many spouses are full partners with their husbands or wives in shared pastoral ministry.
But, we still have a long way to go. We have a long way to go to honor and cherish everyone in the Body of Christ as uniquely gifted and called by God to be “faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10). And we have an especially long way to go in valuing the service of those who are married to our pastors. More than a “Pastors Wives Appreciation Month”–with cards and plaques and flower bouquets, we need an ongoing appreciation for pastors’ spouses that affirms them as partners in Christian life and in ministry…as the Lord has called and gifted and equipped them.
Now…I think I need some ribs…and tea…sweet tea…hold the ice. After all, I am the BBQ guy.
© 2017, All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.