How do you introduce yourself? (by PW)

Here is a good conversation starter; something I think should be asked of every ministry spouse. 

How do you [as a ministry spouse] introduce yourself? When you are at church, do you introduce yourself as, “the pastor’s wife” or  as “your name”? How do you identify yourself, and how do you settle into other people’s expectations for your identity?

 Recently, I was with several people visiting and socializing in the church foyer after services. I was aware that there was someone new that people were introducing themselves to. I also extended my hand to introduce myself. When it was my turn, I said “Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Barb. My name is Shirley.” Pleasantries and welcome passed between all the individuals nearby. Later, one person came up to me and said: I noticed how you introduced yourself as Shirley.  I wondered why you did that. Why didn’t you tell her you were the “Pastor’s Wife” ?

 I could see in an instant that this person saw me as a “role” that I fulfill. The role was glamorized and sensational. Even slightly sensational is indeed sensational. I have always found that there are moments each Sunday where I could be who I am, or I could choose to settle into some other person’s expectation for my identity. In my view, however, that identity changes from one person to the next. So, how would I know who I am.

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  • RJS

    This is a thought-provoking post, not just for a ministry spouse but for all. Settling into a role is part of it – in some places and situations the role is in fact important. But don’t we often introduce ourselves and either subtly or directly use a “role” to bring respect and honor our way – the response we think that we “deserve”?

  • Jim

    Good question…My wife is very shy and quiet, so much so that folks who are new to our church must work a little to find out who and where she is. One couple, who recently became a part of our church, finally decided that the most visible, outgoing, (dare I say “intrusive”?) person in our church was my wife. They continued with that assumption for some time. So…there is value in introducing oneself as someone’s spouse.
    I wonder if introducing yourself by first and last name would help. That would provide a cue as to your “tribe” without you getting subsumed under a role.
    However, I also wonder whether part of the problem is that we have so “individualized” ourselves that we have lost the art of claiming our identity in terms of our relationships rather than in something like our “personality”.
    If I introduce myself only as “Jim” is there not a sense in which I am introducing myself as a “blank slate.” After all, what’s a “Jim”? Or to put it another way: how would I distinguish/identify myself such that I am not just “no Jim in particular”?
    If not a “blank slate” maybe a Rorschach upon which people can project whatever they bring to the encounter?
    Fun post…Now the wheels are turning!

  • Jan Chapman

    I’m a member of the FPW Club. Yes, we have one. We are the Failed Pastor’s Wives. I remember, when my husband was a pastor, standing by quietly while he engaged in lively conversation with people who had him on the Pastor Pedestal. My husband often forgot to introduce me, not out of rudeness, but out of the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep the vibe going with the congregant or visitor.
    In reality, we are all blank slates with one another for a very long time. Until we are known for who we are as individuals: our own story, strengths, weaknesses, gifts… we are strangers to one another. I also believe that it’s good for members of a congregation to witness a real relationship between husband and wife, although that involves risk. Pastors are fragile. They are dudes with degrees: MRE or MDIV behind their names. They have a lot on their shoulders and don’t need the cloak of superhuman added by people that are looking for a hero to idolize.
    My mother was a pastor’s wife and I never heard anyone call her Sarah until my father died. She never had a close friend until the role was dropped. How sad is that?!

  • Ed Gentry

    Very interesting questions. What about the fact that you might be the pastor’s husband?
    But controversy aside for a moment in my church experience I’ve seen several different minister/spouse role configurations:
    1) Minister + spouse as congregant.
    In this configuration, the spouse does not have a special role in the church (formal or otherwise). The spouse is simply another member of the congregation who has particular gifts and talents. He or she does not have pride of place.
    2) Minister + spouse as first member.
    This is the traditional church configuration Pastor + wife who plays the organ/piano. The spouse in this case does have a special supporting and possibly exemplary role in the church.
    3) Minister + spouse as team.
    Both minister and spouse are considered pastors of the church.
    I would suggest that they way you introduce yourself depends in large part on which model you have chosen – and thus what your role is. I’m not sure that this needs to require the larger question of identity. I may play lots of different roles: professor, dad, coach, pastor etc. My introduction will be dependent on context. I would not introduce myself as a professor or pastor to the players or parents on my sons little league ball to them I’m the coach.
    These different roles I play contribute to my identity but certainly do not determine it.

  • Steve

    I guess I see this only as an issue when the Church has failed to be the community God intends…
    If people really are never going deeper than surface level conversations where they will never actually discover who another person is, what they are passionate about, what they struggle with, etc. then the question is pertinent; ‘Do I want people to see me as a blank slate ‘Steve,’ or as a person fulfilling a specific role/task ‘Pastor Steve.’
    If however, we are a people who are intimately connected to each other, then I will be neither a blank slate, or a role, but rather myself connected to a web of other individuals…
    If this is true, then how I introduce myself is of much less importance to new relationships, what is important is that people are entering into the process of being knit together in community with me and others…

  • Ed Gentry

    Beautiful thought. I do agree. But most if not all groups develop different roles, which may be helpful for newcomers to know.
    How one understands the functional of a particular roles is context dependent. And certainly the roles people play in given settings have often received too much emphasis.
    For example, if you brought your daughter to play on my little league team it would be odd for me not introduce myself as the coach. Likewise it is perfectly natural when standing in the foyer of a church to introduce myself in terms of my role in this community.
    For ministry spouses who have a special role in the church (my #2 or #3 above) it would be helpful to identify myself in terms of my role to the newcomer.

  • Don

    I’ve been reading through Denise George’s ‘What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew: Helping People Understand and Appreciate Their Leaders’, and thinking over part of this problem. I’m coming to that think that surely part of the problem that we have put people into positions they were never meant to be in. The idea of a having a Pastor/Minister of a church emerged long after the New Testament corpus was written. There is little scriptural guidance on this topic because, quite simply, we have churches that are structured outside of the New Testament.
    James Dunn commented on this problem that:
    What is so astonishing is the complete absence from its pages [New Testament] of a distinction between ‘priest’ and ‘laity’….it has never failed to astonish me that a principle so clearly formulated could be so blatantly ignored or side-stepped….Could it be that this is one of the most important underlying reasons why the issue of church order has prove so impracticable? Because the major authority by all Christians (The New Testament) has been effectively discounted and ignored? [James Dunn and MacKey, New Testament Theology in Dialogue, 1987, pp,122,127]
    To me, James Dunn hits this problem right on the head. W. E. Vine (of Vine’s Dictionary of Greek and Hebrew words) also observed that:
    The New Testament is clear that under apostolic teaching no single minister was appointed to conduct the worship of God’s people, or to administer the sacraments. Such things are conspicuous by their absence….The teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 shows how a gathering should be opened for one and another to lead in praise or to edify the company….to this the ministerial system is definitely opposed and constitutes a quenching of the Spirit. Many gifts which might edify the Church are rendered inactive. Numbers of believers are shut up in their pews week by week listening to sermons, and are like paralyzed members of a body. [Church Doctrine and Practice, 1970, p. 48]

  • Chris

    My wife is a pastor so often times to keep people on their toes I introduce myself as “the Pastor’s wife”, most people giggle but I think it helps people break down the image they have in their mind of what a pastor’s wife should look like.

  • Ed Gentry

    I agree with Dunn on this point (and on many others), and I am a very firm believer the priesthood of all believers.
    But it seems to me that the NT is general and Paul in particular do recognize different roles or gifts within the assembly. For example, Paul calls Phoebe a deacon of the church in Cenchrae (Rom 16:1). Paul, (or the author of the pastorials) defines some criteria for various kinds of leaders. This is not to define a class system within the assembly, nor is it suggest that some members may not administer the sacraments. It is only to recognize different gifts or roles with in the community (which I think is part of the point in 1 Cor 12,14).
    For newcomers it is at times helpful to articulate what role I may play in the community. I would never want to be defined by such at title, nor ever use it as a badge of privilege.

  • Terry

    Interesting conversation. I have never been a pastor’s wife (for which my wife is glad), but as a pastor, when I introduce myself, it is exceptionally rare that I identity myself as a pastor. I welcome people, tell them I’m glad they’ve joined us, and I tell them who I am — rather than what I do. “Hi, I’m Terry.” Because of the lack of vestments, and the fact that I wear Levis like most everyone else, it works. My wife on the other hand who serves as a Barista in our coffeehouse during many of our gatherings, usually identifies herself by asking “can I get a drink started for you?”

  • Steve

    I guess part of the problem also flows from the definition of Church…
    If Church is what we do on Sunday, then there is a large and obvious distinction between those who preach and offer sacraments and those who do not…
    If however, Church is Christ’s people on Christ’s mission, then (while roles and distinctions may still be present) those roles are no longer primary but rather auxiliary…

  • LOL…sorry that this struck me as funny, but let me explain….
    I am the daughter of a church planing man and organ/piano playing mother — a first couple scenario. I am also the youngest of six children. Which means that my mother played the organ/piano on Sundays and Wednesdays (until sister #3 got old enough to play for church) and spent the rest of her life caring for children and being a homemaker.
    I am also an ordained minister — and my awesome husband was one of three “pastor’s husbands” at the church where I served as one of 9 associate pastors. He was the “pied piper” for our three young boys along with his full time engineering job.
    The other women pastors frequently said in staff meetings how much we wish we had “pastor’s wives” to take on so many of the “hospitality” and other “value added” tasks….
    Yeah … so I’ve lived this conversation from many angles. And my husband was and is exactly who he is and didn’t play any mind or role games. I, by the way, always introduced myself as “Peggy Brown” to folks I didn’t know … and left it at that. They’d find out who I was if they chose to hang around and take the involvement and assimilation classes….
    And we have moved out of “institutional” manifestations of church and begun to engage with more “organic” church — ala Neil Cole and Alan Hirsch and lots of others over at Missional Tribe.
    …we must be Eikons first and brothers and sisters second — and love and honor each other as such.

  • Don and Ed, just have to add my agreement to the two of you that the real issue is our failure to recognize the priesthood of all believers. Part of the reason for the power plays and identity issues in the church, I am certain, is our consolidation of most of the roles that count in the body, into one or two men (usually men) to the exclusion of the gifts and callings of the broader congregation. The role of “Pastor’s Wife” takes on most of its significance–for good or ill–when the role “Pastor” has also been invested with too much unilateral authority, responsibility, and mystique. Except to the extent all faithful believers are “priests” to each other, we should have no priest but Jesus. . .

  • Diane

    Dan, Don, Peggy, and Ed,
    Amen to all of you!

  • IL<3veGod

    Hello, I read this and i just wanted to give you my opinion on it. I totally agree with you guys. I think that the church has this idea of what all PWs should be. But not all PWs are the same. And they all have diffrent gifts that they can use in the church. I dont think PWs need to introduce themselfs as a PW. They should just be who they are, do what God called them to do, and go from there. Not be someone the church wants them to be. Because thats not who they truely are. 🙂

  • Brian

    I’m a pastor and when I read the question I thought about times when I’ve introduced myself in relation to my wife’s role. My wife is a piano player and gets hired to play at various venues (plays, concerts etc.) and it’s not uncommon for me to introduce myself as “Brian…I’m the piano player’s (or music director’s or whatever role Katie is at that place) husband.” In my mind, I’m not limiting or defining myself in any way. I’m simply saying, “we go together.” If anything, “I’m the pastor’s spouse” limits the pastor because they, in this way of introduction, have no name…they are only their role.
    Really though, I think the real problem is the expectation, real or imagined, that the “pastor’s spouse” fit into a particular box or role. If we aren’t concerned about that, then I don’t think we’d hesitate to identify ourselves as the pastor’s spouse any more than I hesitate to introduce myself as the piano player’s spouse.
    Am I being insensitive? Missing the point? Set me straight…