One bit of humor I have enjoyed at the expense of my wife, which she now enjoys too, is when I introduce her I say, “This is my wife, Isabel, she is married to a preacher.” The expressions on the faces of those to whom I introduce her are always interesting; sometimes for a moment with a puzzled look. It would be an understatement to say this is the most folly from me she has had to put up with in our 50-plus years of full-time ministry.
King Solomon was right when he wrote, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Whoever coined, “Behind every good man is a great women” was right. Whatever I have been able to do in the ministry is because of the support, encouragement, and help of my wife. During all these ministry years together, “she had stood beside her man.” She has never flinched in the good or bad times.
My wife didn’t marry a preacher; she married a sailor in the US Navy, who later became a machinist and was a policeman when we obeyed the Gospel together. As we studied the Bible my burden and desire to share God’s word grew and grew. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word. My mind was on the Word constantly. The thoughts of learning more about the Bible started to include studying to preach the Word. I knew absolutely zero about what being a preacher involved other than preaching.
I remember the evening I shared my desire to preach with Isabel. She listened, asked a few questions, and we prayed. Almost every day I would bring up the subject, until finally she encouraged me to stop talking about it and do something about it. I did. I went and shared my desire with the preacher who had baptized us into Christ. I didn’t know it at the time but in his wisdom he tried to “discourage” me by assuring me I could learn the Bible and share in in the church. It was a spiritual litmus test, i.e. the “new convert zeal” that usually passed in time.
I couldn’t be deterred from my desire. I resigned as a Detective; we sold our furniture and moved to Texas to study to become a preacher. From that day to this, I haven’t looked back or had any regrets. My wife also grew in Bible knowledge as she attended special classes and college; her burden, along with mine, grew with the desire to share the Good News.
During these 50-plus years my wife has been just outside the spotlight. As I have been on the stage receiving the compliments, awards, accolades, etc. she has smiled, rejoiced and understood the role that has been assigned to the preacher’s wife. During those times, and there have been those times, when I was discouraged, feeling like Jeremiah, she has always been there to pray and encourage; believing “This too shall pass.” And it did and still does.
We have spent 30-plus years of our ministry training preachers, teachers, and missionaries. Isabel, my wife, has taught future preachers wives; served as Dean of women, and made major contributions to the lives of young women, some reluctant, so excited, in becoming preachers wives.
During all these years of ministry we have been a team; each doing his or her part to glorify God though being faithful to the “calling of the Gospel” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). My wife has sacrificed the most, without complaining, as she stayed at home as I travelled the world preaching and teaching. While I was out late at night helping others with problems, she was at home helping our children with their problems. While I was eating in a restaurant with brethren, she was at home making ends meet; serving a casserole. While I had the latest suits, she wore dated dresses; even made her own clothes. I can honestly say she is the Proverbs 31 women—my wife.
Sadly, during our 50-plus years of ministry we have witnessed scores of preachers leaving the ministry because their wives didn’t support them. In her book, Private Lives of Pastor’s Wives, Ruth A. Tucker, wrote this about the challenges faced by some minister’s wives: “Pastors’ wives in every generation have had widely varying views of their station in life. Some have resented the intrusion of the parishioners into their lives and have been exasperated by the long hours required of their husbands. This position was expressed by an Anglican vicar’s wife: ‘Clergy ought to be celibate … because no decent, right-minded man ought to have the effrontery to ask any woman to take on such a lousy job! It is thoroughly unchristian….I myself am happy, basically, because I love my husband—but I am afraid it is often in spite of the church’”. (p. 10, 1988, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich.).
I believe many of the negative attitudes preacher’s wives develop is because of their husbands. I have known of cases where preachers made demands of their wives that were not only unreasonable but sinful. These range from never being able to express their opinion to demanding they be involved in every activity of the congregations. Some wives resent being made to feel like they have “been hired too”, as congregations expect more from them than they do the other women in the church. This is commonly referred to as the “Glasshouse Syndrome.”
My wife has helped me in more ways than I could every express. She has had the nerve and love to challenge me on some point or attitude I had in a sermon. After I tried to justify my action, because of male ego, I had to admit she was right. She has made leadership suggestions that were so very wise. Asked questions that I’d never thought about. She has had insights into problems that only a woman can have. She has supported me when others complained about something I did or didn’t do. No, I am not perfect and she knows it too.
I believe my wife, as a preacher’s wife, is described by the Psalmist in these words, “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house” (Psalm 128:3). This is true because she is an extension of Christ; He is the vine and she is a branch (cf. John 15:1-8). What flows through Him flows through her. First and foremost as a Christian women, she is committed to “Bearing the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26).
I have no doubt that if I had chosen to be a ditch digger, my wife would have been loving and supportive of me, encouraging me to be the best ditch digger I could be. Isabel is a gift from God: “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14).
It is a blessing and privilege to honor all wives of preachers by asking them to step out of the shadows and let the spotlight of love, appreciation, and thanksgiving shine on them. As you hold your husband’s hand remember, “The best is yet to be.”