Bethany Miller, Megan Johnson, and Carly Nicodemus talk about the ups and downs of being wives of pastors. Visit buildmomentum.org/digital-labs to find out more…
Joy and Challenges of Being a Pastor’s Wife
Megan serves alongside her husband, Adam, at Journey Church in Warrington, Pennsylvania. They’ve been at Journey Church for five years. Prior to this, Adam was a youth/young adult pastor for nine years. Megan’s role and ministry has changed depending on the season. She’s passionate about teaching.
Carly has been involved with youth ministry in some capacity for 20 years. She’s been married to David for 16 years. David is student’s pastor at Grace Polaris Church, Columbus, Ohio.
Bethany is the wife of Eric Miller, CE National’s director of ministry operations. Bethany met and married Eric during his pastoral tenure at Grace Community Church in Frederick, Maryland. During their time in Maryland they welcomed two children and worked to balance ministry, family, and Bethany’s full-time career in nonprofit fundraising.
Being the spouse of someone in ministry has a lot of challenges and a lot of difficult seasons. There’s a lot to process. But there’s also great joy and blessing.
Was there a desire to be in ministry before you got married?
Carly wanted to go into ministry after a mission trip to Urban Hope Training Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was single at the time.
Megan went to Brethren National Youth Conference (now Momentum Youth Conference) and heard a speaker ask students if they wanted to go into full-time ministry. She was dating her husband, Adam, at the time and he wasn’t interested in ministry either. But Megan felt like God was wanting her to be in some type of ministry. When her husband, Adam, was ready to go into ministry, she was as well.
Megan went into ministry over-confident. After 14 years in vocational ministry, she’s more confident in her calling and the way God’s gifted her, but less confident in her own sufficiency and more dependent upon Christ’s work.
Bethany can get stubborn about what she wants to do and work her own plan. In a challenging, but gentle way God moves her into His plan. Bethany knows that God has a plan and wants her to look toward Him, walk with Him, and follow His plan.
Have you wrestled with expectations from others?
Carly says that most expectations are put on by herself to fit a persona. A doctor’s wife is not expected to be there at each surgery, but a pastor’s wife is expected to be at every event. Her husband, Dave, took a break from direct ministry for a few years. When he went back to being a youth pastor, Carly got the question, ‘Now that your husband is in church ministry again, how will you handle being in everything?” The expectations are real.
[bctt tweet="The expectation for a pastor's wife should be that they pursue Christ-like character."]
Megan says the expectations shouldn’t be any different for a pastor’s wife than any woman who is in Christ and following Jesus. The expectation should be that they pursue Christ-like character. When there are other expectations, those are unfair because all women don’t have the same gifts and personalities. Megan realizes that she needs to be firmly rooted in the gospel. Her identity isn’t in being a pastor’s wife, or even being a mom. Her identity, worth, and value are found in being a child of God.
Bethany says the expectation is that we love Jesus and love people. How that plays out depends on the individual. She learned a good lesson when she was asked to be on a committee shortly after their first child was born and she was going back to work full-time. Bethany was excited for the opportunity to be involved in the committee, but soon realized that it was just too much with everything else going on in her life at the time. She had to humbly decline.
How do you carry the weight of knowing private information?
Carly’s image of church was shattered when they stepped into a ministry role. She had an idealistic view of church. When David talked with Carly about individuals in the church, she quickly realized that she couldn’t talk to anyone else about it. She didn’t want to run into anyone at church who had said something horrible to her husband and she had to serve alongside the person. This got better when David reached out to a good friend to talk with who was the pastor of another church. Now David is much more guarded in what he tells Carly.
Megan says it requires wisdom in Adam to know what to share with her. Personal problems shared with Adam during counseling are never shared with Megan. But there’s a balance because if Adam doesn’t share anything about the church with Megan, but she can still tell that he’s carrying a load, then that affects their marriage. It’s tricky finding the correct balance. It’s good to have someone other than a spouse to share and process difficulties in the church.
Megan sees how helpful it is for Adam to understand the weight and responsibility he is going through and to handle that with integrity. She says her words need to be beneficial and helpful to protect Adam by pointing him back to the gospel; to love him well and point him to Truth. Adam has become very good at protecting Megan from things that would affect her ministry. It’s been helpful for Adam to talk with a couple of professional counselors to help him through church difficulties.
Bethany says it’s difficult when there’s hurt or frustrations. It’s messy but her and Eric are in it together. If too much is shared it can be lonely. Bethany feels like Eric can go back to work and do something about the problem, but she can’t do anything about it. She has also talked with a couple of pastor’s wives who are professional counselors to work through difficulties. Bethany encourages wives who can get together with other church’s ministry wives to talk.
What boundaries have you put into place?
Carly says that Dave is careful about what he shares with her. They are very careful not to talk about anything around their kids. Carly doesn’t want her kids to grow up resentful toward the church. She’s careful about dragging kids to events they don’t want to be at or aren’t ready for yet. Their kids are in junior high, so they don’t bring them to high school all-nighters. Carly wants her kids to get involved in ministry where they want to. One of their kids is on the tech team while another helps with the children’s ministry.
Megan says this was easier before they had kids, but they decided not to talk about church business at home. They would go for a walk or go out and talk about church business. She knew that when they walked back into the door they would be done. That’s more difficult now that they have kids since there’s only so many times you can have conversations.
Megan and Adam are doing better at setting up a Sabbath rest. It can’t be a Sunday, so they choose another day of the week for a Sabbath rest. Megan and Adam are constantly reminding their kids that they love them more than the church family.
[bctt tweet=”As ministry parents, it’s important to constantly remind and show your kids that they are more loved than the church family.”] Megan heard that a pastor’s wife requires tough skin, but a soft heart giving the ability to filter criticism. When criticism isn’t merited or unfair, it isn’t hers to avenge. She doesn’t even need to worry about her reputation.
Bethany says she tries to look for truth that might be in criticism and look for a chance to practice forgiveness.
What has been your biggest source of encouragement and your greatest joy?
Carly says one of her joys is how God uses imperfect people to help with radical change in students. They’ve seen pastors and church planters come from the junior high students they had during their first years of ministry. She also takes great joy in watching Dave evolve and mature in his role. She enjoys watching Dave preach when he can and it gives her joy to see him grow in his faith and to love God and love others.
Megan says she’s encouraged when people allow her and Adam to be themselves. She likes it when people pursue relationships with them just because they’re Adam and Megan, not because of the role they carry. She also enjoys people giving them the freedom to rest when they need it. She is encouraged by seeing their kids and family loved well and when people rise up and are involved in ministry with them.
Megan is a words person, so a simple card or text means a lot to her. She has the joy of getting to see God grow the church when it’s not about them in the first place. She is also encouraged by being in her family room with a group of women and studying the Word together. Megan had to learn early that it’s OK for her to be unseen, step back, and let her husband lead. It gives Megan great joy to see her husband grow.
Megan remembers being on a mission trip in college and meeting the missionary’s wife. The wife was beautiful, super capable, and had a great singing voice. Megan asked what her role was expecting her to talk about what she leads, or is in charge of. But the missionary wife said nothing, looked at her husband across the room, pointed to him and said, “He’s my primary ministry.” That really stuck with her because God has given her gifting and abilities, but she has the unique privilege of loving her husband well, making their home a safe place, of encouraging him, of speaking truth and love, and of getting to walk together.
Bethany concluded by saying that they are all part of God’s bigger story. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of that. Each story is different, but it’s all woven together in a tapestry.
Recommended reading for pastor’s wives.
The Pastor’s Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love by Gloria Furman
The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart by Christine Hoover
Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft
Sacred Privilege by Kay Warren