If there were a job description for a minister’s wife, it would say the expectations are somewhat vague but limitless.
Yet when she or her husband or children get sick or have other problems, the congregation’s expressions of love and support can be amazing.
In a roundtable discussion, Andi McWilliams, Julie Stadler, Ann Doyle and Alice Salzwedel said the scrutiny is often intense, especially where the preacher’s kids are concerned, but God’s expectations of the wives are no greater than they are for any Christian.
And they indicated there is no such thing as a typical minister’s wife.
McWilliams, wife of First Baptist Church Pastor Byron McWilliams, recalled an occasion at a small church when she was taken to task for working in the nursery “instead of being out front with Byron” when the service ended.
On the other hand, she said, “I got sick last September with a a root canal and massive infection and was in the hospital for five days, and my church family gathered around me, prayed for me and was so concerned about me that honestly, I couldn’t get over the outpouring of love.
“They brought two weeks of meals to us.”
McWilliams didn’t countenance being a pastor’s wife until her husband, working as an accountant for Shell Oil in Houston, decided to change careers. “I couldn’t tell Byron, ‘You can’t do this thing God has called you to do because I want to stay in Houston, have my friends and play tennis at the club,’ ” she said.
“I’ve given my testimony about growing up in an alcoholic home, and for the past year and a half I have taken care of the women’s ministry. I think people want to see Christ in us.”
Stadler, whose husband is Redeemer Lutheran Church Pastor Erik Stadler, traveled nationally as a project manager for ExxonMobil and was only home half the time till taking a medical retirement last year. “I say, ‘You don’t want me teaching your kids because I don’t like my own kid sometimes,” she said.
“ ‘Can I shake them till they see Jesus?’ The radio in my car is not on the Christian channel. It’s probably on The Beatles.”
Stadler discourages her husband’s parishioners’ tendency to put him on a pedestal, saying, “He puts his pants on the same way you do and is just as sinful as the rest of us.”
Citing instances in places she’d heard about, Stadler said a pastor criticized his associate’s wife for having an expensive purse and that the elders at another church told the pastor the church had no money when there was more than $10,000 in a secret account. “There are some of the most unchristian people in church sometimes,” she said.
Doyle, wife of West University Church of Christ Preacher Doug Doyle, said hers “is a very public and spiritual role where he is minister to everybody else, but who ministers to the minister?
“There are two opposite sides of it that sometimes conflict,” she said. “It’s like being a doctor’s wife except that the doctor’s wife doesn’t know all his patients.”
However, Doyle said the demands are more reasonable now than they once were. “Twenty years ago, there was a fixed set of unrealistic expectations,” she said.
“You had to be a great teacher, a super cook and organize everything at every activity for everybody in the church. They’d tell you what you were going to do rather than ask you. You have to know who you are with Christ and what God has called you to do, and it is a great privilege to get to know people on the level we do.”
Doyle, daughter of Abilene Christian University Distinguished Scholar in Residence Everett Ferguson, “had expected to be in some form of ministry long before I met my husband,” she said.
Salzwedel said it is distressing, for example, when the family is on its way to a movie and the pastor is called to an emergency. “My role is to support my husband and help him be the best minister he can be by keeping our family on track,” she said.
“When plans get changed, my job is to help my kids and myself understand that Dad has got to go help somebody. You have to be flexible.”
As the wife of First United Methodist Church Pastor Todd Salzwedel, she said, “I’ve been lucky.
“We’ve served six churches, and for the most part they never expected anything out of me in particular. It has always been my choice.”
The exception, she said, was at a small church in Oklahoma when her husband was away and she was unexpectedly called on to preach. “It was the only sermon I have ever given,” Salzwedel said.
“I was very stressed, but God got me through it. Since then I say, ‘There is only one preacher in our family. He is over there.’ ”
As a singer, she is able to teach children music and she is her church’s webmaster. “Sometimes the days are hard, but we have become close to a lot of people at every church,” Salzwedel said.
“I don’t have a direct line to God just because I was crazy enough to marry a pastor.”