On August 23 this year Julie and I will have been married 44 years. Thirty-eight of those years I have been in pastoral ministry except for two years of teaching at Moody Bible Institute. The first six years of our marriage Julie worked as I completed my seminary education. Reflecting on our time together, I marvel at Julie’s personal stamina, steadfast faithfulness, commendable flexibility, and solid companionship. Here, in her own words, are some observations about being a pastor’s wife.
As our daughters have shared, there are both positive and negative aspects of living in a pastor’s family. As John’s wife, the expectations from the church could be challenging. For example, since I am the pastor’s wife I must have the same spirituality and biblical knowledge as my husband. I wanted to and did develop my own spirituality with pathways meaningful to me. I do recall a very positive conversation, however. An elder of our church answered my question, “Where do you see me fitting in?” His answer was, “Wherever you feel you want to serve.” There was freedom in that answer for me.
It was difficult having our children compared with some of the other children of the church and being held to other parents’ standards. Yet, our girls built strong friendships with others inside and outside of the church. My calling was to my girls primarily and I never felt compromised in that. We had paid vacations, but I felt bad that we did not have money to go to the popular places like Disney World or the Caribbean. Many of our daughters’ friends were able to do those things. I don’t want sympathy; I am just saying that financial issues are a real part of the ministry family’s challenge. Even though some things were beyond us, we made up for it by having great vacations to see the grandparents or taking trips to Cedar Point or Great America.
I felt my calling was to John, too, and the hardest thing was sharing my husband with others when I needed him the most. Sometimes it seemed John was in endless evening church meetings of one kind or another. One time he spent a whole month in Trinidad on a mission trip. Yikes! One of my daughters echoed this by writing “I see now how much of our lives Dad had to miss because he was part of other people’s lives.” I felt a sense of isolation sometimes. Who do you call when you are hurting? John here: I must confess, too, that many times I was not sensitive to Julie’s needs, but felt burdened to try to be sensitive to the parishioners’ needs. This was not healthy.
Being in a big church, it was difficult for me to get to know everyone. This was frustrating and I sought out friendships in order to be connected. I gained many friends who have remained good friends through the years. One of my friends now whom I did not befriend as her pastor’s wife is a loyal, kind person. She told me recently that she always elevated me and didn’t think she could be my friend. Now she says she should have made the effort to get to know me. Also, I enjoyed being involved in small groups at various levels of connection. With some we went to the beach as families; we went to restaurants and danced. With deeper level groups, we shared Scripture, worshipped, grew in Christ, and prayed and prayed. This level of sharing our lives was deeply meaningful to me. The church on Belding Road was unique. We felt loved the moment we stepped foot on the soil. We laughed, we cried, we ate together and traveled together. When we left that church after 24 years, we cried over the loss of many good friends.”
In our formative years at Moody Bible Institute as Julie and I began to date and dream about life together, we were infected with an unexplainable vision of ministry that—no matter what it was: missions, teaching, pastoring—gripped us for the long haul. We knew that people didn’t go into Christian ministry to make huge salaries. We knew that Yahweh-Jireh (“The LORD provides”) was not just a name for God in a praise song, but a necessary reality for vocational Christian ministry. We felt many times the anxiety of too much month and too little money. Yet, we wouldn’t trade our lives for anyone else’s. Julie, I love you.