In Praise Of The Forgotten Member: The Preacher’s Wife

By Harland R. Huntoon

It is Sunday night in early January about ten p.m. Services have long been over and the auditorium is empty except for four women talking softly on the back rows. Two young children sit sleepily a few rows up. Presently, a side door opens and four men come out of a classroom. Goodbyes are said, the building is locked, and the four families get into their respective cars for the drive home. Another “business meeting” of the elders and the preacher has ended.

“How did it go?” the preacher’s wife asks, almost not wanting to get an answer, judging from her husband’s face. Quietly, so the children wouldn’t hear, he tells her the elders “couldn’t” give him a cost-of-living raise this year.

“But they’ve got the money,” she protests, remembering the $40,000 balance of the financial statement in the foyer.

“I know,” her husband replies, “but they may have to pave the parking lot again, and maybe install some more carpet in the building. Maybe next year.”

With that sadly familiar news, the preacher’s wife rides home in silence. Once again he has to plan how to cut back somewhere and see her family do with less, while the people who support her husband enjoy so much more of this world’s goods. But, like her husband, her problem is not one of envy; she doesn’t begrudge those brethren a thing they have. The problem is one of justice and fairness, to support her husband “liberally” like the Bible teaches. And now he has to live and associate with these brethren, and feed and clothe her family on a terribly limited budget, and yet, she still must accept this and other injustices without becoming bitter or cynical and must try to teach her children to love and respect the stingy men who won’t support her husband like they could and should.

While this introduction is, of course, hypothetical, I have no doubt that there isn’t a preacher’s wife alive who hasn’t at some time been in a “such like” case, and some in situations so very, very much worse. In a day when commitment, duty, honesty, and loyalty mean nothing to men and women everywhere, including some of our brethren, it is entirely fitting, and, at least in my case, long overdue, to pay public tribute to the greatest, single blessing of the hard-working, faithful gospel preacher, his hard-working, home-making, penny-pinching, God-honoring wife.

Like the preachers to whom they are married, the preacher’s wife is burdened with many stereotypes. To some brethren, the perfect preacher’s wife is a figment right out of fantasy land: she must always say the right thing, but always be quiet; she must always dress well, but spend less money than the poorest member; she must spend hours visiting the sick and afflicted, but always be at home; she’s been in town only six months, but she must know every street, every store, and especially every member’s name, address, phone number and aches and pains. If Walt Disney were still alive, even he couldn’t fabricate such a character, yet, it seems that some brethren are expecting such a “wonder.” If she tries to live up to their fantasies, the preacher’s wife as well as the brethren will be destined for great disappointment.

It’s a very unique situation. She is a member of the local church with all the rights and privileges thereof, and yet, like her husband, in some churches, she’ll not be considered a part. The attitude most often will show up at social gatherings; she’ll be invited to the baby or wedding shower by her other “sisters,” but she will be treated like a visitor; she’ll always be kept just a little separate. In subtle ways, and sometimes not so subtle, she’ll be reminded that she doesn’t live here, she’s the preacher’s wife and will be moving some time. It’s another lonely hurt she’ll live with through the years, just so her husband can keep on preaching the Gospel of Christ.

It’s a very vulnerable situation. She is the one closest to the man who tells brethren those “hard sayings,” like smoking is sinful, immodesty, gossip, social drinking, cursing, loving money will take them to hell, even if they have been baptized scripturally years ago, and other brethren tolerate their sins in their local church. When brethren openly rebel against his preaching and determine to “move” him, one of the quickest ways to motivate him will be to attack his wife or his children. And usually it’s not that difficult to cast reflection on her either, because she’s so gullible, she’ll always try to give others the benefit of the doubt (she believes her husband’s preaching). So when the gossip starts, she’ll try to rise above it, and, with her husband, she’ll go and talk with the guilty one, only to find herself lied about again, and where there is no or poor leadership, things will deteriorate very fast from there. Preachers can tolerate lots of personal abuse from mean and ignorant brethren, but I’ve not met one who could long stand for the tears on his wife or children’s faces caused by the lying and hateful tongues of brethren who wouldn’t repent of the sins he preached against. Oh, those are terribly unhappy days! Some preachers never recover either, and enter secular work to relieve them and protect their families. Some preacher’s wives have left their husbands and gone to live with their children or by themselves, when their husbands wouldn’t quit preaching. I’ve known two such preachers, and both were strong, faithful, godly men, and they justwouldn’t quit when the going got so nasty, but they lived their last years alone. Some have found it easy to criticize and condemn the preacher’s wife for deserting under such circumstances, and I find it difficult to see how such a separation could be scriptural, but I reach such a point of heartache and despair where such a separation would seem the only way to preserve her sanity.

But, in spite of these and other negative aspects, the vast majority stay; and others will come and take their places as one by one the older ones are called home to rest. They come from all walks of life and every segment of society, each with a different personality; some, vivacious and outgoing; others, quiet and demure, and every shade in between. All drawn to this same station in life by one powerfully, self-sacrificing, common commitment: to support their husbands in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do it knowing there is no retirement program, no fringe benefits, no certain place to ever call home for their children, and sometimes few friendly faces at worship service. They all begin the same, so zealously, so innocently. Sometimes when I see the naive young ones, I cry a little inside. These women will generally come to know better than most what the word sacrifice really means. As a rule, they will become increasingly defensive and protective of their husbands whom they will see abused and taken advantage of too many times. They will know how comforting it is to have genuinely true friends in Christ, who understand and appreciate their unselfish, difficult labor of love. These brethren will stand out as refreshing oasis in the desert of life, whose company will heal their hurts and strengthen their sickened souls. They will come to thank God every day for a local church whose elders truly love and appreciate her husband for the Truth he preaches, and whose members reach out and offer them love and support. And they will go to their graves still reaching out for others. One of the dearest preachers I know laid his faithful mate to rest several years ago. He gave the preacher who would conduct the funeral the songs she had previously selected. Two seemed quite appropriate to him, but the third puzzled him a bit, until it was sung during the funeral service, and then, suddenly, he knew; it wasn’t a song for her at all; she picked it out for the dedicated gospel preacher she had loved so long and had to leave behind – “God Will Take Care Of You.” Such are the women who share the lives of the preachers of God’s saving grace.

But when we see her Sunday morning, these heartaches and deep scars will rarely show. She will smile so graciously and seek out the visitors to welcome. When you ask her how she’s doing, “things are fine,” will be a common reply. She’s not a whiner; she will put her best foot forward and keep on serving her Lord. For this reason, it is easy for inexperienced and insensitive brethren to imagine that, like the preacher, the preacher’s wife has a “pretty easy life.” He gets paid a week’s wages for two days work, and she just sits around and spends it. Even as I write this overview, I know that some brethren won’t think that I’m talking about their preacher’s wife at all. But after almost twenty years of preaching, and listening to the sad and sinful experiences of dozens of preachers and their wives, I know only too well that the conditions and problems the preacher’s wife faces are both very real and very common.

Yet, like other preacher’s wives, mine, if she knew I was writing this, would be reluctant to have me print it. They don’t want more exposure. If anything, they want less. They dislike the intense scrutiny, the vulnerability, the uncertainty of financial support. They just want to be one of the members, to come and go quietly, and raise their children to be God-fearing, sin-opposing Christians. They want to be looked upon like any other saint as those who are not perfect, and will not please all the brethren all the time, but they will try to serve God ac cording to his will, and most, of them do such a marvelous job. Their graciousness makes self-sacrifice look so natural, and, to them, it is; they have hearts bigger than most, I do believe. So while some may not think this article says much, that is all right; I wrote it primarily for a few whom I know will understand, and with great thankfulness, I hasten to add, I know there are scores of elders, deacons, and members around the country and the world who love preachers and their families and will understand and care as well.

God will bless you dear women who give such a great measure of devotion to the Christ who died for you, by listening to, crying with, moving with, and constantly building up the few men who humbly and proudly preach the pure gospel of the Savior of all mankind. Rest assured that, although we sometimes take you for granted through the pressures of our own duties, you are never forgotten by us, and most especially not by the great God whose glorious heaven your presence will one day adorn. This article, nor ten thousand better, could ever begin to describe how valuable you are to us who preach. And should we live a hundred lifetimes, we could never be more than what we are because of you precious women, who, with pride and fear, faithfully stand beside us year after year, and so honorably bear the stigma of “the preacher’s wife.” (Reprinted from Expository Review, Vol. 3, No. 9, September 1984.)

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, pp. 582-583
October 1, 1987