On January 3, 1998, I married my husband, Chresten, between the final two semesters of our college careers. At the ripe age of 21, we launched into our new life with a love for one another, a call to evangelism, and 18+ hours each of college credit, plus senior projects, to complete during our first four-and-a-half months of marriage. As brilliant (and gutsy) young adults tend to be, we had already determined during our engagement: we aren't going to have time for real jobs. Let's go ahead and book some services to launch our evangelistic ministry and pay our bills, all at the same time!
Can I tell you that it never truly dawned on us that pastors wouldn't be chomping at the bit to schedule us. And it wasn't because we were overly confident in what we had to offer! Stink, we didn't really know what we had to offer, except our abilities to sing and my husband's burning desire to preach. Remarkably, each month we were able to schedule enough services to keep ourselves afloat, albeit we had to drive back to our home state of Oklahoma every weekend, from Missouri. But we were booked 48 out of those first 52 weeks of marriage and ministry. Miracle? Um, yes!
I'll never forget our first weekend of ministry together...the weekend after our wedding! Of all places, Chresten scheduled us to minister in his hometown at a little country church just outside of town. During the three-hour or so road trip, we discussed who would do what and giggled about how awkward it would be to stay the night for the first time together in his parents' home. That Sunday morning we arrived at the church early enough to get a sound check, set up Chresten's music cassettes (yea, it was 20 years ago, friends) and attend the Sunday School class that the Pastor's wife was teaching.
Despite her heartfelt delivery, I found myself daydreaming a bit, envisioning how this first day of ministry was going to go, when I heard a voice through the fog of my thoughts: "What do you think the writer was trying to say through these verses of Scripture, Sister Tomlin?"
Honest to sweet Jesus, I turned around to see if Chresten's grandmother had slipped into the back of the classroom. It felt like forever before I finally rallied myself and realized: she's calling ME Sister Tomlin! I was not even accustomed to being called a 'Misses', but was completely ill-prepared for the 'Sister'!
I've got to be honest that, for me personally, I'm thrilled that, in most cases, we have dropped the "Brother" and "Sister" when referencing our pastors and ministers, although you may hear it now and again [if that suits you, no offense intended, I assure you!]. Perhaps other titles have been added in their places. But however you are verbally addressed, you are most likely still wearing the title of "Ministry Wife".
"How can I give to these people when I am all tapped out myself?"
"Why can't we just be a 'normal' family that shows up to church and then goes home?"
"I know it's a "high calling" but today I'm feeling pretty low."
"I'm sure they need you, but so do I."
"I think God will understand if you spend a little more time with your family, away from the ministry."
"He's there for everyone else. When is it my turn?"
These are just a few of the statements spoken every day by a ministry wife somewhere. All too often ministers get together, give one another the token "how's it going?" shtick, quote their recent ministry stats through their plastered smile, and move onto the next conversation, never stopping to truly connect and bare their souls. You know how I know this? Because I'm a ministry wife. And I'm guilty of doing it myself.
Much like it seems wrong that a health professional would be excessively obese or addicted to substance or that a financial adviser would be buried beneath mountains of debt, we perceive ourselves as failures if we as ministers admit to, gasp, needing ministry ourselves. We promote prayer but perhaps find it difficult to commit to daily prayer habits that don't involve ministering to others. We promote the freedom that the Gospel provides, but find our own hearts bound up with pain, resentment, un-forgiveness, or anger.
Granted, this may not be your daily M.O. and if you aren't facing a mountain in your way, that's amazingly wonderful! But it doesn't hurt to be prepared, right? Let me tell you this: you better be prepared. We are in a war, now like never before. When it comes to the army of saints that is marching to Zion, the enemy is targeting the man and woman out front first. If he can take you, your husband, your marriage, your children, or your family out first, he weakens the stamina of those following your lead.
Let me tell you this: you better be prepared.
After many, many conversations with ministry wives just like you, I can tell you I am vigilant in looking out for you, girls. And because of my passion for this cause, the enemy has targeted my own home, my family, my girls, my husband, and most assuredly, my thoughts. The way I see it, if you weren't such a prize to be won by Satan himself, he wouldn't be trying to combat those trying to pull you out of hiding.
Pulling you out of hiding. Yes, that's about the size of it. For many ministry wives, that's the safest place to dwell. Outside of the hidey hole are people who bear Christ's name but talk about you behind closed doors. They're the ones who may have tried to come between you and your husband a time or two or have determined to take their tithe to the other church in town because you wouldn't let them manipulate and control the other sheep in your fold. When you seek connection, you just might be told by even another ministry wife that you're "off", that you shouldn't feel that way. "That's not normal to think or feel like that."
But can I just say this? Coming out of hiding is actually where the battle is won. Standing confidently when you say "I've been hurt, but I'll still remain vulnerable beneath His wings" garners more and more strength when you expose the enemy's tactics. Stepping up and speaking out when you are self-aware enough to verbalize, "I need someone to agree with me in prayer" or "I need to vent in a safe way and with a trustworthy person" is the mark of bravery, strength, and courage...even though at the time it feels wrong.
Sanctuary is that place. Sanctuary has been a place of haven, safety, and healing where ministry wives who are facing the insurmountable connect with others who have "been there and done that" and can offer some sound lessons learned from their own experiences.
Why is this so important?
Statistics* show that:
80% of ministry wives wish their husbands would select another profession.
50% of ministry marriages end in divorce.
50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living.
80% of ministry wives feel their husbands are overworked.
80% of ministry wives feel unappreciated by the congregation or people group they serve.
80% of pastors’ wives feel pressured to be someone they are not and do things they are not called to do in the church.
Over 50% of ministry wives feel that their husbands entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.
You aren't just a nameless face behind a title.
Dear Sister So-and-So, it seems almost beyond words the relentless drive I sense in my heart daily to encourage, tend to, love on, alert, and protect you. There are plenty of other voices combating you, but through Sanctuary we want you to hear words of wisdom and words of Truth, all wrapped in the love our team has for you, a woman of God. You aren't just a nameless face behind a title. You aren't the measure of the number in the congregation or ministry where you serve. You are a woman, loved by God, first, and called by God, second.
Let's be on the offensive, rather than the defensive. Let's bear one another's burdens. Let's be aware of the enemy's plan. And let's redefine Sanctuary, together.
Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married for 19 years and have been in the ministry together for every single one of those years! (whew!) 18 of the 19 years have been spent in full-time evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. They have two beautiful blonde babies--ages 12 and 7--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives she often feels like the red flag on the tug-of-war rope with the children on one end and her husband and the ministry on the other end! When she finds time for personal hobbies, Bridgette enjoys entertaining, blogging, singing, browsing the local antique shops, and sipping on a cup of hot tea for a few precious quiet moments. Her heart is to lead others to the authentic presence of God--through worship, through Word, and through one-on-one connection.
*According to Shiloh Place Ministries (shilohplace.org), which drew its information from Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, and other respected groups.