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The Unfairness of Should + Shouldn't

Sometimes, when I'm walking into the (public) grocery store, I still have an internal mental wrestling match if I'm wearing, gasp, athletic leggings. Yes, I have a top on that is covering my nether regions. Yes, most likely the top matches the leggings. And yes, my hair is washed and I have makeup on.

Why an internal wrestling match*? Because I am a preacher's wife (in the South).

Now, to all of our friends who are called and on assignment in the coastal regions of the good ol' US of A, you may not weather this specific trauma in the same way as we who are workin' for Jesus in the south central region. But you've got your own "should's" and "shouldn't's" (and I'd love to hear what some of those are, btw). These are unwritten rules that you may not find clearly defined in Scripture, but they hold equal weight in the minds of many you've given your life to love, serve, and shepherd.

I'm not knocking the should's or shouldn't's, although some of them can become downright silly. But I remember the training that began to flow my way from my own momma, a preacher's wife of now 50 years, seemingly moments after I managed to get the words "I think I'm called to full-time ministry" out of my 14-year-old lips. She began to pump her own lessons learned into my growing psyche--lessons hard-learned from her early years as a youth pastor's wife. Gratefully, over the past few decades we've shaken off some of the glass-house mentality that once imprisoned the parsonage. However, depending on where you live, you may still find some of those impossible additions to the Ten Commandments.

It's not fair, right?

It's not fair, right? Shouldn't your kids be able to dress like the other kids from church? Does your home have to be in the rougher part of town so you don't look like you're better than others or that the church is paying you too much? Do you really have to peck around on the piano and sing a little to prove you're truly a pastor's wife?

It's not fair. But in the sea of unfairness, we may have swung a little too far to be more relevant to those we are attempting to reach and lead. I once heard a statement that has stuck with me for the many years since:

What a leader does in moderation, her followers will do in excess. Choose wisely.

You may have accepted, but God did the choosing of you and your spouse for spiritual leadership. Therefore, God Himself has a lot to say about the should's and shouldn't's of leadership lifestyle. In fact, these expectations are so high that the apostle Paul made it a point to discourage many from aspiring spiritual leadership roles. My guess is that a majority of our up-and-coming ministry wives may not have anyone in their lives who are daring enough to cross the dividing line of intolerance to total tolerance and bring these incredible women up to speed on how to effectively lead spiritually. We are hearing a lot of criticism of today’s generation of ministers and their means of reaching the lost, discipling the found, and empowering and equipping the believer. But aren’t this generation’s leaders a product of my generation’s training, or lack thereof?

Girls, whether you’re rocking the menopausal life like me or trailing behind me in your 30s or even your 20s, listen up. Because I want to help you find a happy medium between “you can’t wear your shirt right” and “don’t bother wearing one”, in every area of your life. As they tell my daughters at their local school, “if you see something, say something”. I’m seeing a lack of spiritual leadership at large, and so I have to say something.

Paul wrote to his young prodigy, Pastor Timothy, in his first letter, chapter three, about the qualifications for those in ministerial leadership. He wrote as the Holy Spirit prompted. He scolded when the Holy Spirit prompted. He encouraged, cheered on, and praised when the Holy Spirit prompted. But make no mistake, Paul wanted Timothy to succeed. Timothy was undoubtedly a rookie whose own father had taken no interest in raising him up to serve the Lord, much less lead His people. So Paul stepped in, entrusting his own laborious efforts to Timothy’s budding skills as a spiritual leader. Timothy was young and inexperienced, but passionate and hungry to win souls. Paul knew, if this guy was going to make it count, Timothy needed his instruction. And Paul spoke plainly.

What were those qualifications? Let’s talk about that for a moment, girls, in today's vernacular and with more gender-specific directives.

  • She must be above reproach (no one can find anything to criticize about her).

  • She must be faithful to her spouse.

  • She must exercise self-control (with her money, her food, her words, her lifestyle).

  • She must live wisely and have a good reputation (does this mean it does matter what people think?).

  • She must enjoy having guests in her home.

  • She must be able to teach (whether that is formally or in her day-to-day).

  • She should steer clear of alcohol or addictive substances.

  • She must control her temper.

  • She should be gentle, not prone to arguing.

  • She should manage her household well. (Yes, those kids should respect their mother and father.)

  • She needs to have spiritual maturity.

  • The community should speak well of her.

Bridgette, that’s pretty straight. And it’s not fair. No, it’s not. But I didn’t make it up. God has determined that, for those who are leading out in front, we can’t look like everybody else. We can’t act like everybody else. Why? Because there should always be something in us that those following us should aspire to. Will you be perfect? Not likely. But should you be visibly striving for more? Most certainly.

If you and I were sitting across the coffee shop table, sipping slowly on your favorite hot beverage, I would want to get to know you intimately. I would answer your specific questions, if you wanted. Questions like, “Do you think it’s okay for me to wear athletic leggings to the grocery store?*” But since I’m on my side of the screen and you’re on yours, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to be the convictor, companion, and coach in all the things. Take a moment and read the 12 guidelines I listed above from 1 Timothy 3. As you read, ask the Holy Spirit to hover over the ones that seem to be a stumbling block for you. Perhaps you’ve been pushing back, rebelling like a 14-year-old with the school’s dress code. Maybe you’ve even said, “Lord, I don’t get it. Why can the other women in our church pop off on social media and I can’t?” Or “why do I have to model modesty when she wears whatever she finds fun and sexy?” Ask the Holy Spirit to do a work in that area. Lay it down before Him. Recognize that He who called you to this work can empower and equip you to meet its demands.

No, it may not be fair. But isn’t His Cause worth it? So what if it doesn’t please all the enforcers of the unwritten should’s and shouldn’t’s. If it pleases Him, as Paul says, it is honorable. It is a good work. It is noble. And girls, we are in this together.

*Murphy's Law indicates that you only run into people you are leading if you are in your least flattering attire and loaded up with dry shampoo.


Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married and in full-time ministry for 25 years. 24 of the 25 years have been spent in evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. The couple has two beautiful blonde babies--ages 18 and 13--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives Bridgette often feels like a 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.


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