I’ll never forget one woman in my class on the calling to be a ministry wife. I always ask students what excites and concerns them most. Here’s what she said:
I am most concerned that I will become like my mother. She is a bitter ministry wife. She and my dad have been through some rough times. She is doing a little better but has a long way to go. She has been miserable for as long as I can remember.
What a tragic statement for a daughter to make. Thankfully, she recognized bitterness for what it is and was resolved to avoid it. If only more ministry wives resolved to avoid resentment. But sadly, Satan is cunning. He knows if he can get bitterness to take root and sprout like a tenacious weed, it won’t be long before it’s in full bloom and choking out good plants that would otherwise thrive.
These weeds must be pulled out and killed. Let’s consider how they got there, what the Bible says about them, and how we can defeat resentment and prevent it from being a perennial threat.
Resentment Can Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Resentment can build in an number of ways.
Sometimes, young wives are naïve about the demands of ministry. They expect conflict in the world—but not in the church. They expect other pastors to have problems—but not theirs. Then they enter the ministry and suffer years of bad experiences, and they become more and more bitter. This isn’t what I signed up for, they think.
Other ministry wives weren’t naïve but were never really excited about this whole ministry endeavor in the first place. They see the church as their husband’s vocation, not theirs. When his time is in high demand, they’re resentful because ministry always seems to interfere with the family’s plans. This doesn’t go well.
Still others are so thin-skinned that any criticism is considered a call to arms. They become suspicious of church members who are friendly to those who have raised issues. They’re reluctant to develop friendships in the church due to their fear of being betrayed. They’ve been used before, and the resulting bitterness is alive and well.
All these scenarios spell disaster for the pastor’s wife. All are great ways for Satan to gain access as he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). All must be dealt with honestly using the straight edge of God’s Word.
Put Away Bitterness
Pastors’ wives can reduce resentment when they have realistic expectations. We must remember that the church is full of redeemed sinners, and we’ll continue to fall short until we’re together with Christ in glory. It serves no purpose to be filled with resentment about the bad behavior of others. Every pastor’s wife should memorize this:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:31–32)
These verses are clear. It doesn’t say let most bitterness be put away. It says all. I realize this is easier said than done. But the second verse is what motivates us. God in Christ has forgiven us. What profound gratitude we have to God for forgiving us and restoring us to a right relationship with him. This gratitude should always be in the forefront of our minds, and it should make us want to show Christ’s love. It looks like this:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. (1 Cor. 13:4)
When someone questions our husbands’ decisions, or says unkind things about us behind our backs, or misrepresents what we said, we aren’t supposed to insist on our own way, or to be irritable or resentful. This doesn’t mean we don’t stand for truth of the gospel. Let’s be clear that if the issue is a first-order doctrinal matter, we’ll be unable to continue fellowship in the same church or ministry. But many times, it’s over issues like the color of the carpet. With time, many of the wounds created from these encounters can heal, and we can learn from them.
I’ve seen ministries ruined by wives of leaders who refuse to crawl out the shroud of bitterness.
But we must always be mindful of the potential of resentment and bitterness to destroy. Prayerfully resolve to banish them from your heart. Seek trusted friends who will hold you accountable and candidly tell you if they see the root of bitterness sprouting and springing. If it has already sprouted, pray fervently for the Lord to do whatever it takes to free you from the hold it has on you. This is serious business. I’ve seen ministries ruined by wives of leaders who refuse to crawl out the shroud of bitterness.
Pray for Your People
It’s vital for you to pray for your husband, the leader. You know him better than anyone. He’s sometimes in a difficult position as sensitive situations arise that he can’t publicly discuss. People then rush to judgment and assume they know the whole story when they clearly don’t. I’ve seen this play out dozens of times in my decades as a ministry wife. Trust your husband to give you the details you need to know about a given conflict. Be sure to keep confidences even when you would love to set people straight. That’s not your job.
Instead, pray for people. Pray hard. Pray for them by name—the supportive ones and the difficult ones. Then trust our sovereign Lord to handle all things. That same passage that warns about Satan prowling has a glorious conclusion:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:10–11)