Dear Pastor’s Wife: On Laying Down Your Life

Dear Pastor’s Wife,

My life has given me much to meditate on lately, and that means it’s time for a new letter. After talking with a friend recently about discipleship in the church context, I started ruminating about John 10:11, where Jesus names Himself as the Good Shepherd. He goes a step farther and says that He gives His life for the sheep. He laid it down, sacrificed it for us. And He calls His pastors and wives to follow in His steps. Those are sometimes steps of suffering, for the good of the sheep we care for.

This suffering comes in many forms, which most pastors’ wives are familiar with. Those who serve with pure motives (not hirelings) know that laying down our lives is part of the calling. We answer midnight emergency phone calls, sit by bedsides of sick and dying, listen to criticism, sit through tough meetings, absorb false accusations, keep giving when we are empty, and a myriad other sacrifices both large and small.

But another aspect of laying down our lives is one that we do well to stop and ponder every so often. We not only live a life of sacrifice for our people in our actions and words. We also commit to a lifetime of patient discipleship, compassion, and of staying with our people for as long as we both shall live (and as long as God leaves us in that place.)

In short, we give our tenure to our people. We grow in understanding that sanctification, in both our lives and those of others, takes a lifetime. God spends people’s entire lifetime slowly and patiently shaping them to be like Him. We as pastors’ wives are tools in His hands, and responsible to also spend a lifetime loving our people.

My husband and I have never looked at our ministries as stepping stones to something else. Each church, even the first one where my husband was the youth pastor, was a permanent move in our minds. Unexpectedly, he went on to become the interim pastor and then the senior pastor; and I remember that he would state from time to time how much he hoped we would be there for 35 years. By that he meant he hoped we would spend our lives there. And he meant it. (Perhaps this is why God made it rather impossible for us to stay when He was moving us on. We had made a commitment and we planned to stick it out.)

Whether or not you serve the same people for 35 years or you spend 2 or 5 or 10 years and then move on by God’s leading…the point is that you continue laying down your life, your time- the hours and days and months and years- for your people. When you approach ministry with this mindset, you can relax and know that people’s growth doesn’t depend on you. Their journey is being guided by God, and you are there to support and teach and love and edify…as long as it takes.

We know that growth is incremental and we often only glimpse minute change in others. But that is also why we sometimes wonder if our labor is in vain, if what we are doing is worth it or accomplishing anything.

If only we could see with the eyes of faith. If only our definition of success matched God’s heart. If only we believed that our faithfulness over a lifetime matters greatly- both to God and to others. If only we could see the heavenly deposits we have piled up through our small but faithful ministry.

Sometimes I think that our faithfulness is what makes the greatest impact on others. They know you have always been there, are there now, and always will be there….patiently loving and encouraging and pointing them to Christ….

Laying down your life. Being available. Saying ‘yes’ to interruptions. Living like your time doesn’t belong to you, but to God. Resting in this lifetime work, knowing that God is the One doing the work in others and in us. (Sometimes it is more about what He is doing in us!)

It’s very human to want out of this “laying down your life” kind of life from time to time. But Christ’s example on the cross is our motivation which continually resurrects our desire and strength to go on loving and laying down our lives for others.

This is how the Gospel is reality in our everyday, enabling us to redeem our time.

This is why we can spend our lives in calm, slow, quiet, consistent discipleship of our immediate family and our church family, and know/believe that we’ve laid down our lives for the most worthy cause there is.


A Kindred Spirit