AIthough the "excellent wife" or "virtuous woman" described in Proverbs 31:10-31 is often used as a model for how all godly women should live, it also can have a more specific application, as shown in verse 23:
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders.
The reference to husband being "known in the gates" and sitting "among the elders" is an indication commonly used in the Old Testament to describe a man of authority, a leader in the community. We can see then that the Proverbs 31 woman, in addition to the great responsibilities that any woman with a husband and children faces, must deal with an additional dimension—she is a leader's wife.
Being the wife of man in leadership is a tremendous privilege and can bring many joys, opportunities, and blessings. But it also involves special challenges not often faced or understood by other women. Things for which other women depend on their husbands, she must often seek directly from God and from her own labor. For her husband is frequently required to attend to leadership outside the home, to "sit among the elders."
The husband's leadership responsibilities not only bring increased pressures to bear upon the wife's role in the home, but she also is often expected to take on a variety of other ministries because of her husband's position:
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue (Prov. 31:26).
She extends her hand to the poor; and she stretches out her hands to the needy (Prov. 31:20).
Sometimes this ministry of teaching and taking care of the needy is enjoyable and fulfilling, but at other times it can seem to be based more on obligation to people than on the will of God. The expectations we have of the wife of a pastor or other leader are not necessarily valid! She has her own unique gifts, ministries and limitations, and can't always fit the "pastor's wife" mold we put her in.
As C. M. Ward has well said, "The role of the preacher's wife is tough. She can't win! If she has talent, she's showing off. And if she lacks talent, why did he marry her? If she dresses well, she's spending her husband's money. If she doesn't dress well, she's hindering his ministry. What woman in her right mind would want to marry a preacher? A congregation does well to remember she's the pastor's wife, not the church's wife."
A congregation's expectations on a pastor's wife are frequently even more unfair when the pastor is financially supported by the church. "With all we pay Pastor Jones, you would think his wife would be more involved in the ministry," the line goes. But some leaders' wives have all they can do caring for their husband and children—particularly when they have three or four children under the age of five!
Aside from her relationship with the Lord, nothing is more needed, or more difficult, for a pastor's wife than having friendships with other women. There are several reasons this tends to be so difficult:
* The pastor's wife is often seen on a pedestal as some sort of "professional" Christian that cannot be related to as a normal person.
* Many people subconsciously have the idea that neither the pastor nor his wife have any real problems.
* It is hard for a leader's wife to be fully honest with people about her needs because she is afraid they won't respect her anymore.
* Even when she tries to share her needs, the pastor's wife isn't always understood by those who haven't been in her position.
Despite these obstacles to close relationships, it is of the utmost importance that a pastor's wife have at least one other woman with whom she can share her heart. If this doesn't happen, it is almost inevitable that she will dry up spiritually and emotionally in time—or else she will look to her husband to meet all her needs so that she is a constant drain on him instead of a helpmate. And, no matter how sensitive her husband is, there are some needs and feelings that only another woman can understand!
The Marriage and the Church
I once counseled a pastor and his wife who were on the brink of divorce. The ironic thing was that each of them was seen by those in the church as very loving and caring people. In fact, the trouble was precisely that—both of them poured themselves out so completely in serving their parishioners that they had nothing left for each other!
The pastor came home after a hard day of fighting the powers of darkness and really needed someone to just love him, support him, and encourage him. But his wife had been taking care of the children all day—in between handling phone calls from needy church members—and she too felt drained and in need of affection.
The pastor and wife gradually had become resentful toward each other for not meeting their needs. The wife was also getting a bad attitude toward the church for taking away their family life and sapping her husband of love that she felt was rightfully hers. Fortunately, God intervened in the nick of time. When they saw what was happening, they were able to adjust their priorities and are now more in love than ever before.
If there ever is someone who needs a special tribute from time to time, it is the wife of a man of God. The pastor has great burdens, but he also gets the glory and positive reinforcement of being in the limelight and hearing things such as, "Good sermon, pastor." She is likely to experience many of the same burdens as her husband but usually receives little of the applause or appreciation.
Is there hope for the wife of the pastor? Yes! Proverbs 31 is not the picture of a burned out and defeated woman who stews bitterly at home while her husband sits with the elders at the church leadership meetings. Rather, an example is portrayed of one who has learned to joyfully draw strength from God even when her husband isn't around to meet her needs. Yes, there are ways that an understanding husband can help shield her from some of the perils of the ministry—but ultimately it will be her relationship with the Lord that will see her through.
As one precious saint said to me several years ago, "It's not an easy job!" That's for sure. But Proverbs 31 concludes with a message of encouragement and hope for the valiant women who are called to this challenging assignment:
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her saying:
"Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all."
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. —Prov. 31:28-31
Thank you Lord for these noble women!
P.S. If you are not a pastor's wife but happen to be reading this article, why not make a commitment that sometime in the next few days you will find a pastor's wife that you can show your appreciation to and encourage.