Leadership of a congregation is a role of high visibility no matter how hard you may try to share the responsibilities with others. You cannot fly below the church’s radar.
Expectations of the pastoral couple (as an easy description) have changed over the years. There was a time when the pastor’s wife was automatically the President of the BWF, the chief cook and bottle washer at church dinners and various other activities. These were the traditional roles of the pastor’s wife. Times have changed – churches have mostly set aside the ‘up front’ roles for the pastor’s spouse (increasingly husband or wife) but do not be tricked. There are some other less obvious expectations there.
It may seem to be intrusive, maybe at times unfair, but churches do observe how their pastoral couple function. And don’t think that because the partner may have their own profession or other work commitments, this interest is not active. It surely is. A congregation expects that the pastor’s spouse will be supportive of the pastor and that this support will be demonstrated even if the spouse is actively engaged in other responsibilities.
This is the area where the unspoken congregational expectations are alive and well – they like to see their pastoral couple getting along in good heart, being mutually supportive, affirming each other’s roles however these may be understood. But there is no communal demand for studied perfection or always being on top of every situation. Thankfully most people respond with warmth and understanding when they hear the pastor expressing the need for prayerful support in times of family distress or difficulty.
In a larger congregation, the pastoral couple or couples will not have a close relationship with all in the fellowship (the numbers work against that) but the capacity for observation remains. In a smaller setting, the pastoral couple are known much more intimately and are usually on first name terms with everyone around the place.
So, how does a pastoral couple cope with the ongoing reality of these less than obvious expectations and continuing visibility? A few quick suggestions:
- Be real. People love pastoral couples who are genuinely human. The occasional story about a mix up in your own family will always hit a target. Most of us have a fund of calamities (many humorous) which are well able to make a point.
- And it is not just the fun stuff of life. While it is not wise to wear your heart on your sleeve, it is helpful to lift the curtain on some of your struggles. Be sure that there are many who are doing it tough who need to know that you walk through the valleys of life too.
- Avoid being overcome by the critics. Every church has the baptized-in-prune-juice brigade whose calling is to find fault with the pastor. These are painful people – and the danger is that pastor or spouse (usually the latter) may be spoiling for a fight to set the record straight on a given issue. That kind of collision is unhelpful and only creates further stress.
- Know your priorities. A healthy marriage requires time and effort. There is no point trying to care for a congregation if you are not caring for each other. Make time. Don’t beat around the bush with the church – they need to know that you need your space and that you will protect it. Sadly, there are many in our churches who are not giving their marriages regular space. Show them how to do it and don’t make the ‘I’m too busy excuse. As a pastoral couple (and as a family if you have offspring) you should not be in a hard fought competition with the church for space and time.
A happy, caring, pastoral couple are a gift to any congregation. No, it is not about walking on water or raising the dead. It’s about living in the real world and letting the life of Jesus flow through you both into the lives of those with whom you share your lives. May your lives be grace-filled, brimming with love and patience and with both feet (make that four as a couple!) firmly on the ground!