Nehemiah and the Pastor’s Wife
Kara Barnette | Pastor’s Wife
Faith Baptist Church, Faith, NC
Centuries before American Presidential candidates promised in stump speeches to “build a wall,” Nehemiah actually did it. He built a wall. A really good wall. He even finished construction in an astonishingly short period of time.
Invaders had ransacked Jerusalem’s wall and destroyed the temple, and without a wall of protection the Holy City and its people were susceptible to further destruction. Rebuilding the wall around that vulnerable city in 444 B.C. was important and Godly work. But two wicked characters named Sanballat and Tobiah were furious about the construction. So they slandered, attempted a riot, and even plotted murder to get Nehemiah to cease his project.
If your husband is a pastor like mine is, then just like Nehemiah he has important and Godly work to do, too. But every day Satan is working a plan to drive our husbands out of their churches and ultimately out of ministry.
Too many times Satan’s evil plan is succeeding. The numbers are grave.
According to the North American Mission Board, the typical tenure of a pastor is now a mere four years[i]. Short tenures can be unhealthy for churches and for the spread of the Gospel. In his book Effective Evangelist Churches, Thom Rainer states, “A long tenure at one church does not guarantee evangelistic growth, but it is almost a prerequisite for sustained evangelistic growth.”[ii]
And beyond the numbers, we all know too many pastors who have quit ministry or burned-out long before retirement.
It has been my experience as an almost two-decade bride of a pastor that behind every pastor with potential stands a wife who can be his greatest encourager and help-mate… or who can become disheartened, defeated, and the driving force that pulls her husband out of the pulpit.
One particular verse explains why Sanballat and Tobiah’s evil schemes failed. Nehemiah said, But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat (Nehemiah 4:9). Let those of us who are married to pastors use Nehemiah’s incredible strategy of praying and posting a guard to help ward-off the Enemy.
Pray. Fervently pray for and with your husband. Pray for your husband’s walk with the Lord. Pray for him to feel joy, peace, and strength as he serves. Pray for the success of his ministry and for you both to experience faithfulness and contentment in your marriage. And recruit others to pray for those things, too.
Post A Guard. Just as Satan went through Eve to tempt Adam in Genesis 3, today he targets pastors’ wives to defeat pastors. The pastor’s wife is often forced to post a guard against her own Sanballat and Tobiah, who by wearing her down lure her to throw her hands in the air and declare, “I can’t take any more! Get me out of this church (or ministry itself)!” Consider these common culprits who can deflate a pastor’s wife:
- The Discourager likes to remind you of your shortcomings and tries to prove that you are inadequate. The Discourager might even seem supportive of your family in public; but privately – when others aren’t listening – stifles your spirit.
- The Hothead can be sweet much of the time, but watch-out because she has a wicked temper! The Hothead yells or leaves angry messages on your answering machine or in your inbox. The Hothead’s outbursts can leave a pastor’s wife feeling too tense to effectively worship and serve.
- The Slave-Driver pressures a pastor’s wife to ceaselessly add to her workload. One afternoon when my husband was pastoring in Ohio, I was taking my little girl for a wagon ride on the parking lot between our church and the parsonage in which we lived. A group of Trustees arrived at the church to work on a drywall project, so I wheeled over to say hello to them. My greeting was met with the disdain of one Trustee who verbally chastened me because I wasn’t coming to help drywall. I was already serving in countless church ministries, I knew nothing about drywall, and at the moment I was caring for my young daughter…but The Slave-Driver never allows you to rest.
- The Historian harkens back to “the good old days” before your husband was the pastor. The Historian frequently brings-up people and activities which preceded you, and compares you and your husband to former pastors and pastors’ wives in a demeaning fashion. (Note: the Historian doesn’t necessarily have to be an older person who has been at the church a long time, but can be a younger person who has only been there slightly longer than you.)
- The Bone-Picker wants to send messages home through you to your husband about what displeases her. This label comes from a lady in a former church who used say to me, “I have a bone to pick with your husband…”
- The Equalizer believes that regardless of your husband’s experience or education, because he is in ministry your family should live at a standard-of-living lower than the rest of the congregation. The Equalizer scrutinizes your family’s clothes, vacations, cars, house, and activities.
- The Boss believes your family is “at work” anytime you are at church, and that at out-of-church activities you can only discuss church-related issues. Interestingly, The Boss sometimes even resents the pastor’s family sharing prayer requests or discussing personal issues with the congregation, because he sees a pastoral relationship to laypeople as one solely of employment.
- The Dreamer believes your church can and should offer as much as bigger churches do. The Dreamer often seems disappointed by the pastor and pastor’s wife’s output and frequently updates everyone on the ‘wonderful’ things much larger churches are doing.
- The Buddy: A pastor’s wife is certainly blessed who has friends within her congregation! But she can be left heartbroken when she realizes that “The Buddy” was an individual who was only befriending her to gain influence over the pastor’s decisions at church.
I am fortunate because I would be hard-pressed to find these individuals in my current church. But what if you are serving in a more challenging congregation and are struggling with one of these toxic characters?
First and foremost, pray for the individual. A Discourager once burdened me for several years. After my husband and I began praying for the Lord to remove her discouragement from my life, The Discourager fell under conviction, asked us to meet with us, tearfully apologized for her behavior and promised to change her ways. She kept her word. From that meeting on, I never had problems with her again!
If the individual’s ways are not changing, however, lovingly confront her about what is bothering you. And then if she is still a problem, circumvent her. Avoid private conversations. Ask to be removed from the committee where you two have to work closely together. Graciously turn-down offers to socialize outside of church.
If that sounds harsh, remember that this person is being used to remove you – and ultimately your husband – from your effectiveness in that church…and possibly from ministry itself. Remember that Satan seeks to beat-down pastors’ wives, ruin pastors’ marriages, and leave churches pastor-less. So just like Nehemiah refused to waste his time listening to Sanballat and Tobiah (Nehemiah 6:3-4), minimizing one or two difficult individuals in the congregation who are trying to damage you might be the most loving thing you can do for the hundreds of other innocent and wonderful church members who depend on your husband.
And finally, just as Nehemiah was an encouragement to and was encouraged by many Jewish priests, nobles, and officials who wanted to join-in the building of the wall (Nehemiah 2:16-18), cleave to the noble characters in your congregation: The Prayer Warrior, The True Friend, The Generous Gifter, and The Godly Servant. But even more than that, Pastor’s Wife, cleave to and love your husband with all your heart.
Sanballat and Tobiah were no match for the divine blueprints of a Holy God. So with enough prayer and a capable defense, neither are The Hothead, the Discourager or their menacing counterparts. Ladies, now is the time to help our husbands build that wall.