My husband and I have enjoyed the privilege of ministering to seminary students for the past 12 years at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. It's an honor to watch the Lord train up church leaders and to be involved in their lives for this special season. In particular, my heart is always concerned for the wives, knowing the sacrifices they bear and the quiet yet powerful service they give behind the scenes as they support their husbands. Of course, many women attend seminary as well, and that's a wonderful thing! But if you're a seminary wife who isn't a student, here are some words of the encouragement as you partner with your husband in the seminary journey.
1. Be in the Word and prayer every day.
There is no greater gift you can give to your husband or to the kingdom than to continually seek to know the Lord. Be a prayerful wife. Take your burdens to the Lord before you take them to your husband. Drink deeply from the sweet waters of time spent in fellowship with Jesus. Come to him and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. This is true for any wife, but especially true for wives called into the spiritual battle that accompanies life in full-time ministry.
2. Encourage your husband in his studies.
It's easy to view seminary simply as something to endure until “real” ministry begins. What exactly do all those strange-sounding theological terms and Greek vocab words have to do with ministry? Your husband's knowledge and understanding of the Bible will be the foundation for the practical wisdom he will give as a pastor. Most likely, he'll never again have such an opportunity to learn. So encourage him in his studies, realizing it's just the beginning of his education, not the end. A minister who knows and delights in God's Word is a blessing to those he pastors. Understanding the heresies and spiritual battles that have plagued the church in the past will help him spot these same assaults on the church in our day.
3. Take a seminary class (or at least sit in on one).
Many wives at RTS take classes at some point during their husbands' years in seminary. While the courses can intimidate at times, getting introduced to the theological concepts he's learning is a practical way to enter into the journey with him. It also affords you the opportunity to get to know his fellow students and professors in a way that will allow you to understand his world in a more meaningful way.
4. Build friendships with other seminary wives.
I encourage every wife I meet with at RTS to build a strong friendship with at least one other seminary wife. Ministry is a long road, full of twists and turns. Prayerfully seek for one trusted woman in your life with whom you can speak frankly. If she's also a member of your church, that's even better. Whether you're bearing the burdens or sharing the blessings, this kind of relationship is invaluable.
5. Trust God is working in your life during this season.
It's tempting to believe seminary is all about your husband's career. When I moved overseas for my husband's PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I selfishly thought my life had been put on hold for his education. However, as I remember our time there and consider the lessons the Lord taught me, I realize that while my husband earned the degree, our move to Scotland was perhaps chiefly for my education. The Lord worked on my heart in new and profound ways that may have been missed if not for my husband's degree. It was just as much a time for my spiritual growth as for his intellectual growth. This, of course, should come as no surprise: wherever the Lord has called your husband, he's also called you. Go joyfully. Go expectantly. Go faithfully. God will be with you.
6. Encourage his friendships with other students.
Your husband will need friends who share his ministry calling. He needs accountability with other men whom he trusts to confront him. Encourage these friendships in every way you can. They will be a blessing and support for your husband in the years to come.
7. Understand your importance.
Here's the reality: you affect your husband's ministry. He needs you. You will counsel him, support him, rebuke him, and encourage him in ways no one else can. ByFaith magazine recently reported on the topic of resilient ministry. One finding stated: “In general the most significant human factor in the sustainability of pastors in ministry is their spouses. A pastor's wife can be the only confidante a pastor has.” Use seminary as a time to seek out and meet with ministry wives whom you respect. Ask for advice, encouragement, and prayer as you support your husband.
8. Expect and embrace the struggles.
Seminary will bring struggles. These may be financial burdens, illnesses, spiritual attacks, familial discord, loneliness, or other unforeseen trials. But rather than viewing these circumstances as sufferings to endure, see them as God-ordained preparations for ministry. As adversity beckons you and your husband to depend on Christ in new ways, you will be forced to blend theological understanding with active experience of walking with Jesus. The resulting wisdom will bless those you minister to in future years.
9. Consider yourself blessed.
It's easy as a seminary wife to compare your life to other women and feel like you're missing out. The comparison game is never helpful, but it can be especially damaging in ministry. Choose what you set your mind on each day. As Paul exhorts, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). The battle for the joyful heart often begins with a thankful mind. Having a believing husband who wants to spend his life in ministry is a gift. You will both have opportunities for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship that will deepen your relationship with the Lord and bless your family. Rejoice in these blessings and meditate on them often.
10. Your labor is not in vain.
Seminary and vocational ministry may not have been your original plan. You may have to take a different job or live in a city you wouldn't have chosen. You may have to work outside the home when you'd have preferred to be home full-time. You may attend a church that isn't the best fit for your family, but gives your husband the opportunity for an internship. These are realities for the seminary wife.
However, just as Paul reminded the Corinthians, there's a deeper reality we must remember during our labors: Christ was raised from the dead. The resurrection is true! This changes everything. Our gospel-grounded security allows us to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
In short, sister, your labors matter. Your often unseen and unrecognized service for Christ is never worthless. There are many ways to waste a life, but laboring in gospel ministry with your husband isn't one of them.