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My husband and I recently joined a new church plant that we absolutely love. As we’ve settled in, I’m realizing that as the wife of a man in full-time ministry, I am often either overlooked (in terms of leadership), or merely seen as “his wife” rather than my own person. My husband was quickly asked to preach and join the exec team; whereas I find I have to initiate more and “prove myself” in service.
I don’t believe it’s just this church, since I’m often viewed as “the helper” in Christian circles. I love and respect my husband and his leadership gifts, but I also believe in empowering women in ministry. How do I become more entrusted and empowered in a church where my husband is often sought out first?
– Ready to Serve
Joining a new church always calls for flexibility and relational risk from us, and I think it’s brilliant that you and your husband arrived with a “what can we give?” mindset, rather than a “what will we get?” one.
That being said, your new church seems readier to receive your husband’s leadership gifts than yours. I think there are potentially two reasons for this: Firstly, because he’s in vocational ministry, and secondly (depending on your ministry context), because he’s a man.
People who are in vocational ministry have two things going for them: they have already been identified as being both gifted and willing to serve, and what church is not looking for able and willing partners in Kingdom work?
However, we seldom presume on lay people in that way, with the result that the gifted and able lay person may feel very overlooked. This was true in my own marriage: because I have been officially “on staff” at a church, people are often more aware of my gifts than they are of my husband’s (significant, but less public) spiritual gifts. I think some of this also has to do with the priority we place on the public preaching/teaching gifts in almost every community.
As an official “minister’s wife,” you may have another factor at play. Many churches have (rightly) realized that they have had unfair expectations on the minister’s wife to be part of a “package deal” (perhaps with special gifts of hospitality and, quite possibly, the ability to lead the next mother’s day tea talk—probably with some cute theme like “blooming where you’re planted”).
I think people are realizing that wives may have significantly different interests and gifts from their husbands, and that they shouldn’t presume on the free labor of a minister’s wife to serve in stereotyped ways. Many churches have thus backed off on assuming that couples are a “ministry team.” If that’s a role you are willing and wanting to play alongside your husband, your expressed interest and manifest gifting will open those doors in due course, but it probably wouldn’t be right for any new church to just assume that the non-minister (officially) spouse wants to do the same level or type of ministry as the spouse who wears the label.
There is also the possibility that your gifts are being overlooked because you are a woman, and the Christian community has historically not been great at stewarding women’s God-given gifts. If this is an area in which your new church needs growth, then prayerfully consider how you and your husband can be part of the change toward spurring that particular community toward robust and healthy male and female partnerships for the Kingdom.
However, that kind of change is best made from within, in a position of service, rather than by coming in with “you need to recognize women more!” banners at the beginning. Try to be discerning and loving in this.
So what to do, while your husband has the mic and you are in the pews?
My advice to you is similar to that of every believer joining a church: serve according to your gifting, as you are able, whether that is within your community, vocation or local church. Find the ministries you are interested in, and plug in according to your gift mix and desires.
But also (and this one is the doozy), let me gently remind you that we do not serve so that we will be recognized by people. We serve as ones serving God, and whether that means public recognition or the thankless tasks of serving the least of these, faithfulness is what’s important. For people in vocational ministry, there is so much encouragement that comes from people who are grateful for your ministry and are eager to affirm your gifts and contribution, that it can be really hard to continually remind yourself that we work not to please men, but God.
Encouragement is good, but it can be dangerously tempting to drift into an area where you find yourself craving people’s affirmation as a validation that your ministry is worthwhile. If we are not in a paid-and-praised ministry role, we might find ourselves coveting some of that public validation, too. It’s a deadly snare: run when you see it.
What if we serve all our lives and our gifting is overlooked by others? That shouldn’t matter if we have served according to our God-given gifts.
What if we serve and never get asked to join a leadership team?
What if those around us get much praise, and we don’t?
I am reminded of Jesus’ words to John and Peter after His resurrection: “What is it to you what happens to him? You: follow me” (John 21:22).
There is a difference between a leadership platform and pedestal. As Christian leaders, we need to use our platform—opportunities for a wide influence—for the sake of the Gospel. But we must not be on a pedestal, no matter how much other Christians may want to put us on one.
Let’s seek platform if we have opportunity for the sake of the Gospel, but run from pedestal-climbing.
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Bronwyn Lea loves Jesus, writing, ice-cream and the sound of children laughing. She writes about the holy and hilarious things in life at bronlea.com, where she also hosts a faith and relationship advice column. Find her there, or say hi on Facebook or Twitter @bronleatweets.