Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks gave thanks for the prayer life of his wife, Martha. Even when poor health demanded she be in bed, Martha instead collapsed into a corner of her home to pray. One biographer concluded the success of Brooks’s ministry was due to the faithfulness of his wife. I know many pastors, including myself, who would say the same thing.
Elders’ wives are the unsung heroes of the local church.
Husbands depend on their prayers, and congregations depend on their labor. They may teach children, lead women’s ministries, organize neighborhood Bible studies, practice hospitality, write books, or counsel the downhearted. Their ministries differ depending on their desires, their gifts, and the church’s needs. But they all support a man who has been called to shepherd a local church.
Having served on the elder body of three different congregations, I know firsthand the temptations elders face, but I’ve also seen how the wives of elders can struggle. Many of the following temptations are common to all Christians, but I’ve written them with elders’ wives in mind. My purpose is to encourage these women to persevere and to inform the prayers of the congregations who love them.
1. Forgetting God is pleased with you.
If you believe you’ve let your husband down, you may also conclude you’ve let the church or even God down. The weight of this disappointment can be crushing, and it can wrongly lead you to wonder if God has stopped delighting in you.
Go back to the basics of the gospel. Salvation is fundamentally from the Lord, not the result of your performance. At the root, God is pleased with us because of Christ’s work, not ours.
2. No longer trying to please the Lord.
As time goes on you may grow comfortable in your role as an elder’s wife. Spiritual pride might erupt as you become accustomed to people knowing your name, complimenting you on your kids, and thanking you for your ministry.
The pleasure of ministry can blind us to patterns of sin, especially if no one is speaking truth to our hearts. Be careful. Don’t cease to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10).
3. Thinking no one understands.
Leadership can be isolating. You may have knowledge you can’t share or feelings you don’t want anyone to know about. You see eyebrows raised when your kids misbehave, and it hurts. You tire of having to explain for the tenth time where you were last Sunday. It’s easy to preach to yourself, Nobody gets it. As a result, you may isolate yourself from the community God has given to help you grow in grace.
At times like this, press into the church; the body of Christ may surprise you.
4. Never appearing weak.
Some of us know intellectually that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), but we’re still waiting for this truth to penetrate our heart. You may feel pressure to “have it all together.” (Spoiler alert: nobody does.)
By hiding your weakness, not only are you giving others a false picture of who you really are, but you’re also denying the body of Christ the opportunity to see the power of God at work in you.
5. Harboring bitterness.
You know better than anyone the late-night meetings and phone calls that interrupt your husband’s life. When disagreeable church members take a bite out of his joy, you’re the one to remind him of the gospel. You have a front row seat to much sin and sadness. As a result, you may resent the ministry, the church, or even your husband.
If God has called your husband to be an elder, not only can you trust God will sustain him, you can also be sure God will use the church to sanctify him. Instead of growing bitter, be thankful God loves your husband (and you) enough to put you where you are.
Few people see the needs of the church more acutely than you do. Your husband may know what his next sermon or lesson is, but you know who needs a visit and who’s about to drop out of the nursery rotation. You may even be the first in line to meet these unmet needs.
Be careful. Your desire to help the church is commendable, but not if it comes at the cost of your family. Please consider the possibility that there are others eager to step up but not wanting to step on your overcommitted toes.
It’s possible you resigned yourself long ago to the reality there will always be more work to do than people to do it. But have you withdrawn from service too much? Though your primary ministry is loving and caring for your family, it need not be your only avenue of service.
You may be in a season where serving your husband and kids is all you can do. Praise God you can do that much! But when the time comes, be open to cheerfully serve where needs arise.
8. Finding your identity in your family.
You may be an excellent wife, mother, or grandmother. In a local church, the families of leaders tend to live in glass houses. As a result, there’s a temptation not only to ensure the family is perfect (see temptation #4) but to find encouragement, affirmation, joy, and ultimately your identity in that family.
It’s not supposed to be that way. Your identity should be found in Jesus Christ alone. He’s enough.
9. Finding your identity in ministry.
We’ve heard of elders who professionalize the ministry, using it to further their own name. An elder’s wife can face the same temptation. It’s good to love being at the heart of a church’s ministry. It’s bad to feed off the encouragement that faithful service can bring.
Be thankful for every good word you hear, but be fed by the love of Christ displayed on a bloody cross.
10. Taking your role for granted.
You may be in a particularly sweet season. There might be a great deal of unity at your church, with your husband fruitfully laboring as an undershepherd. The congregation you serve may be seeing people saved, leaders raised, and churches planted.
What a joy! Take time to rejoice in what God is doing, and to thank him for letting you play even a small part in such a great work. And even if things aren’t going so well, what a privilege you have to lift up your husband in prayer and to joyfully encourage your brothers and sisters to persevere.
We Need You
As I write these words, I’m so thankful for a wife of 20 years who has prayed for, instructed, encouraged, and rebuked me. Recently, as I worked through a commentary on Leviticus, she cheerfully and helpfully asked if I’d been in the Word as well. She knows the congregation needs a pastor who doesn’t just preach Christ but feels his own need for Christ. She means everything to me. If you’re an elder’s wife, your husband probably feels the same way.
Ministry can be hard. Satan is devious, and he’ll do everything he can to torpedo an elder’s family. He wants to keep you from fruitful work. So what should you do? First, consider this list of temptations and discern where you’re most tempted. Second, if the temptation has given birth to sin, confess it and repent. If you don’t know where to begin, talk and pray with your husband. Draw near to other godly women in your church. Human counsel isn’t infallible, but it is a gift from God. Third, have confidence in the gospel. The cross of Christ crushed Satan’s agenda. Draw near to God with the assurance he will draw near to you.
Our churches need more elders who stand up for Christ with truth and grace. This means we are in need of godly wives, too, who will stand firm with us in the days ahead.