Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Minister's Wife Finds a Job Description and Regrets It

Maybe the biggest lesson from this is that it's dangerous to clean off your desk.

This afternoon I took a nice Sunday-afternoon nap and then went in the office and checked Facebook.

Pretty soon Jenny came wandering in, holding a little black book.  She began to giggle.

"The sister whose husband is in the ministry has a very important role in the work of the church."

She stopped beside me and read further.  "'The faithful wife is clothed with meekness and quietness.'  Hahahahahaha!!!  'She is of a submissive spirit, obedient to her husband.  Her life will enhance his acceptability and usefulness.'"

More laughter.  "Oh, Mom, this is so not you."

"Jenny, what in the world?"

She waved the little black book.  "It's called a Ministers Manual.  Emily found it after Dad cleaned off his desk.  I guess it was down in under stuff."

"Wow," I said.  I may have rolled my eyes.

"It says it was given to Dad when he was ordained.  And there's this section in the back called 'The Minister's Wife.'"

She read on, howling.

"She is an example for all women in all things.  As a rare jewel, she ornaments the work of her husband."

Then, such gales of laughter as to render her hardly able to stand up: "Her house is in such order so as to enable the family to accomodate visitors and guests at any time."

This continued on for two more pages.

I just sighed.

Paul, from the recliner, wondered what was so funny.

Jenny read him some choice passages between spasms of giggles.

Paul didn't see what was so funny.  "What, you don't think Mom is an example for other women?"

As mentioned, I just sighed.

Is it any wonder no woman aspires to be a Mennonite minister's wife?

Seriously, I don't think there's been a Mennonite girl in recorded history who said, "Ooooh, wouldn't that be nice to be a minister's wife?"

In fact, I think it's more likely that girls look at their boyfriends with a critical eye, wondering how much chance there is that they'll be ordained someday*, and consider running for the hills if any signs point in that direction.

*Since we choose ministers out of the laity, as the need arises.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that one of my gripes with this role is that it doesn't come with a job description, only a few Scripture verses and a long list of unspoken expectations, largely from yourself and also from people in your church.  So you never feel that you're doing all you should.

So I really ought to be gratified to find a job description, written down.

But as we can see it is so far from my reality as to make my irreverent daughter stagger all over the office in shrieks of laughter.

Here's what I think the job description of a minister's wife should be:
1. Be there for your husband and support him like crazy.
2. Tell him the hard stuff that no one else will tell him.

I've often resented that last item and told Paul that I wish someone else would tell him this stuff.  But somehow the Mennonite church structure does not lend itself to anyone taking the minister aside and saying, "That is a really bad idea.  Don't do that."

Or: "Do you know that you hurt Jim and Grace very badly?"

Or, "You don't want Charles for that position.  He has an agenda and he's mean to his wife."

This is stuff you wish your husband would just KNOW.  But usually he doesn't.  And you wish someone, anyone, else would tell him.  But they don't.

So you have to, and it's not easy.

And you can quit hoping that those submission verses make it ok to just be quiet.  They don't.

I found it intriguing, watching my friend Rachel's funeral online, that in her husband's tribute to her he said something like, "Rachel, now that you're gone, who will talk straight to me?"

I thought: even you, Rachel, sweet and kind and fitting that Minister's Manual description a hundred times better than the rest of us, even you talked straight to your husband about the hard stuff he needed to hear.

It's a complicated thing, being a wife, and an even more complicated thing, being married to someone in leadership.

But if we have to be married to someone in the ministry, may we all be so fortunate as to be married to someone who loses the Minister's Manual in the piles on his desk and never tries to hold us up to the standards of that intimidating section in the back of the book.

And who listens to us even when it's hard.


  1. AMEN!!! :) I agree wholeheartedly to your thoughts there at the end! And I laugh at your daughter who is ever so much like some other children I know and love! :) -Renita

  2. Ahh! to be able to laugh at ourselves, knowing we will never be perfect ministers wives, is the only way to find joy in serving alongside our husbands.

  3. Hey hey! I thought you said no. :)

    I love this, Dorcas. Great job with humor, integrity, and an open hand... The mental images in this piece are hysterical.

    I wish I had a daughter old enough to laugh at me. I think it would help me to laugh at myself. :)

  4. This is it!

  5. :)
    I have met a few minister's wives that meet a few of those things listed in the description, but let me tell you, that ain't me your talking about.
    I know of one woman that said, just prior to ordination, that she and her husband were trying to think of something they could do that wasn't bad enough to get them in big trouble with the church, but bad enough no one would want to ordain them!!! I understand her point, but in a way it is sad.
    Why do we expect our ministers and spouses to be SO PERFECT???

  6. OK, this resonated with me hugely, Thanks. I think that successfully affirming and talking straight at the same time is based on having a good man.

  7. Likity-like! Excellent post, Dorcas. Both thumbs up.

  8. I may or may not have laughed and shed a few tears when I read this.

  9. Thanks so much Dorcas. As a newbie in this whole role of minister's wife, I have actually looked at you and said, "there is one minister's wife who hasn't lost her personality and who doesn't pretend to be perfect." You have given me hope that I can actually fulfill this role. I loved your two points. I think (maybe) those are two things that I can do.

    With the help of God.

  10. O my! I have to admit I had to snicker at the "As a rare jewel, she ornaments the work of her husband." Not that there is anything wrong with it, it's just so ... so ... ummm, not even sure what. :) :)

    I like your description of the job much better. And no, I'm not a minister's wife. Just a realistic single whose own house doesn't stay "in order" at all times.

  11. Talk about writing what you know! Loved this post.

  12. Finding your blog tonite (thru Gina's blog) is a gift from God. My husband is going to be ordained (in a Mennonite church in Pa) in a few weeks, and, well, my feelings are just all over the place. You reallllly encouraged me. Thank you.

  13. I can just "see" the men that write this !! Be glad they didn't make you wear black tie "grandma" shoes like my niece when her husband was ordained early in their marriage.....

  14. Thanks for the "hope"...I get embarrassed about my house more often than not, but try to show Jesus' love to those who come thru my door! Barb

  15. Thank you, everyone, for reading this and for all your kind words.

  16. Janelle Glick1/04/2013 1:34 PM

    THank you, Dorcas! I would love to meet your daughter and you! I laughed at your descriptions of you both - so much life, so much joy in the crazy! I am wife to a deacon, and we both often wonder why we are doing the things we are doing - we are so "not good" at most of it. I've reached the conclusion that mostly - what churches need is leaders (and leaders' wives) who know how to love in mercy and in truth. These are the requirements I hold myself to.