In the Lord’s church, there are many workers who toil in obscurity, never getting the recognition they deserve for their efforts and faithfulness. Of them all, though, the wives of preachers may well be the most neglected and overlooked.
This begins with the higher standard to which preachers’ wives are held. In theory, they are no different from any other sister in the congregation. In practice, there are as many expectations for their conduct as there are for the conduct of their husbands.
These expectations first appear during the preacher-interview process. I’ve never had a discussion with a congregation in which my wife didn’t come up. In the secular world, questions about a prospective employee’s spouse are irrelevant and possibly illegal. In the church, they’re central to a congregation’s assessment of a man.
Additionally, an eldership or men’s meeting may well want to interview the preacher’s wife before they make a decision (the elders at Jackson Heights certainly interviewed Lauren before hiring me). At the least, the women of the congregation will want to get to know her before the church brings her husband on.
During a preacher’s tenure with a congregation, the relationship between the church and the preacher’s wife is as much employer-employee as it is familial. Other women can get away with not teaching Bible classes and otherwise being active in the work. Just let the preacher’s wife try that! The other members of the congregation often feel at liberty to comment on the way the preacher’s wife spends her money, styles her hair, and trains her children. What’s she going to do, get mad and leave?
Outside the assembly, she is expected to be warm, hospitable, and everybody’s best friend on demand. Woe betide the preacher whose wife gets the reputation of being stuck up! Frankly, in a lot of ways, the work of the evangelist’s wife is more difficult than the work of the evangelist.
Some women have the right blend of gifts and determination to meet the demands of this quasi-job with cheerfulness and grace. Both Shawn and I are blessed with wives who fit naturally into this challenging situation. We freely acknowledge that Genesia and Lauren make us twice as effective as we would otherwise be.
Other women, though, find that they have married into a position that they neither desired nor are suited for. Some of them become embittered by the expectations. I can think of more than a few preachers’ wives who, as the saying goes, look like they were weaned on a sour pickle. Though I don’t think that bitterness is appropriate for any Christian, I can certainly understand how they got there.
Perhaps more common are the preachers’ wives who gamely soldier on, who play the part of the bubbly extrovert at tremendous emotional cost. They love their husbands and love the Lord, but each passing week adds to their burden of psychological stress. In many instances, this stress eventually manifests itself in serious illness. Such women deserve our sympathies and prayers.
Indeed, all preachers’ wives deserve our consideration. It certainly would help if we remembered to treat them as sisters rather than employees. If we wouldn’t make a comment to another woman in the congregation, we probably shouldn’t make it to her either. What’s more, we don’t have the right to expect more from her than we do from anyone else. If she’s an employee, give her a job description and put her on the payroll. If not, don’t treat her like one!
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of optimism on this score. I think the double standard for preachers’ wives in the church is so deeply rooted that a stick of dynamite wouldn’t blast it out. However, it will help if we at least acknowledge the double standard and extend grace to women who don’t live up to it.
Let’s hear it for preachers’ wives, then, who bear up nobly under the burdens of a thankless and demanding work! Whether they excel or struggle, we ought to pray for them. For that matter, we ought to pause to encourage and thank them. They’re human beings too, and they universally appreciate a kind word. I’m certain that on the day of judgment, their sacrifices will be remembered and honored. The least we can do is to remember and honor them too.
We live in a world that seems to get busier every year. Houses are more expensive. Commutes are longer. Jobs are more demanding. Children’s activities are more time-consuming. As a result, there are tens of millions of Americans who have every minute of every day scheduled for something.
Lots of important things suffer as a result of this lifestyle, and children are at the top of the list. For years “quality time” has been the parenting buzzword. Maybe you only ever talk with your kid for 10 minutes a day on the way to soccer practice, but with enough wisdom and effort, you can make that conversation Meaningful.
However, quality time doesn’t seem to yield the results that a lot of parents want, particularly when it comes to religion. It’s no secret that young people have been leaving the Lord’s church in droves. They might be headed to a great college and a great career, but they don’t seem to be headed to heaven. Sometimes, this happens despite everything that parents can do. More of the time, it happens because of what parents didn’t do.
In this increasingly perilous environment, parents are increasingly looking to outsource religious instruction to the church. This is, after all, consonant with modern parental strategy. You don’t teach your son to play soccer. You pay to put him on a soccer team, and the coach does that. You don’t teach your daughter to play the clarinet. You pay for music lessons, and the music teacher does that.
Instruction is the province of experts, so parents want to leave religious instruction to religious experts. It’s the church’s job to have really good, really thorough Sunday-morning Bible classes. It’s the church’s job to organize activities, so that your kids can make good friends instead of the trash friends they’re likely to make at school.
There are two problems with this. The first is time. Even if you also take your kid to Wednesday-night Bible classes _and_ the monthly teen devotion, 2.25 hours a week is not enough to bring up a child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In fact, only a parent (two parents if we’re following God’s plan) can possibly devote the time to do the job right. This can’t be an activity. It has to be a way of life. If you don’t have the time, parents, you need to make the time. God doesn’t expect you to live in that house, drive that car, or chauffeur your kid around to 57 different activities. He does expect you to teach them about Him.
Second, when it comes to a child’s spirituality, parents are (or at least should be) the experts. Nobody knows my kid like I do. Because of shared DNA and shared lives, I know them. I know the way they think. As a result, nobody is better equipped than I am to give them spiritual guidance. No Sunday-school teacher or youth minister, no matter how willing, can step into my place.
It’s very convenient to make the church responsible for the way our kids turn out. That way, we don’t have to invest much effort ourselves, and if they turn out badly, we can blame the church. However, no matter how much we might want to transfer the burden of parenting, it remains solidly on our shoulders. No matter how much we squint, the word “church” will not magically appear in Ephesians 6:4. The work of training our children is ours. Either we do it, or we don’t.
Most Christians are familiar with the twin descriptions of disciples in Matthew 5:13-16. There, Jesus tells us that we are to be both the salt of the earth and the light of the world. However, we’re not as quick to recognize that these two commandments are in tension. The problem is that being salty has a tendency to make us less bright, and being bright tends to make us less salty.
The key attribute of saltiness is distinctiveness. Christians are supposed to have a different savor than the people of the world do. If we are adulterated so that we become like the people of the world, we have lost our savor, and we are useless for God’s purposes.
Universally, dedicated Christians are aware of this danger. They see that exposure to worldliness will make them more worldly, so they avoid worldliness as much as they can. Even outside of the assembly, their best friends are other strong Christians. If they can, they will take jobs that allow them to work with brethren instead of worldly people. They home-school their children or send them to private Christian schools, with the goal or at least the result that those children are insulated from worldliness as well. By the time I was eight, I had already heard every cuss word in the book. I don’t think my home-schooled eight-year-old daughter has.
In many ways, all of these are wise decisions, and I think brethren make them with the best of motives. In fact, every one of those things is something I’ve done. However, we have to recognize that all this protected saltiness can come at the cost of being a light.
Jesus says, after all, that we are supposed to be the light of the world, and it is precisely the world from which many Christians have isolated themselves. In the midst of my Christian friends, Christian co-workers, and educational environment in which all the adults are Christians, I have no trouble going through an entire day without saying a single word to someone who is lost. As a result, there are high-school kids with a bunch of friends in the world who bring 10 times as many lost people to our assemblies as I do.
The point here is not that we should avoid having Christian friends and Christian co-workers and Christian-friendly educational choices. I think it’s hard to go to heaven without the first, and the second and third are at least beneficial. However, we must admit that all that insulation from the world comes at a cost, and if we want to save the lost, we first must encounter the lost. Salt that has lost its savor is useless, but so too is a light that spends all its time huddling under a basket with other lights.
Usually, the story of the Old Testament is a story of spiritual failure. However, there are times when God’s people get it right. One of these rare occasions appears in Nehemiah 8. Immediately before this, Nehemiah has led the people to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, and now they have all assembled in a square before the Water Gate to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets. In their conduct, we see three things that we ought to imitate.
They Were Attentive to the Law
This chapter is filled with evidence that the Jews of this day cared about the Law. In Nehemiah 8:1, they tell Ezra that now that they’re assembled, they want to hear him read the Law. According to 8:3, they listen attentively to the reading of the Law from early morning to midday. In 8:5, they stand when the scroll of the Law is opened and bow low in worship. Finally, in 8:8, they listen to those who are explaining the Law until they all understand it.
At this point in Jewish history, most of the people are probably illiterate. Additionally, they likely couldn’t afford to purchase a scroll of the Law even if they could read it. They didn’t have a building in which to assemble to hear the Law; they just stood on the pavement. In every one of these ways, our situation is better than theirs. Our access to God’s word is so much easier. Is our zeal for that word equal to theirs?
They Took the Law to Heart
Nehemiah 8:9-12 reports the reaction of the people to the reading. They weep because they understand how far short they have fallen of God’s expectations. However, a few verses later, we find them rejoicing, taking their strength from their joy in God. For them, hearing God’s word is both a meaningful and an extremely emotional experience.
By contrast, all too many Christians today declare (either openly or by their behavior) that the word of God is borrring. Frankly, that says a lot more about them than it does about the word. We can’t truly have a heart for God unless we also have a heart for His revelation. We too should be moved when we hear or read it. It is no less beautiful, meaningful, and powerful today than it was in Nehemiah’s time. However, if we want to find beauty, meaning, and power in it, we first must invest ourselves in its study.
They Restored the Practice of the Law
In Nehemiah 8:13-18, the people learn from the Law that they’re supposed to be celebrating the Feast of Booths (as set out in Leviticus 23:33-44), so they cut branches, construct booths of them, and live in them through the time of the feast. Nehemiah notes that this festival had not been celebrated correctly since the days of Joshua, nearly a thousand years before.
We too should be zealous to obey every commandment of God, especially those commandments that long have been neglected. We must beware of the danger of accumulating our set of “Church of Christ traditions”, things that we do because we have always done them, not because we are seeking to obey God’s will. Like the Jews of Nehemiah’s time, we must compare our practice to God’s law and unflinchingly obey Him no matter what that demands of us.
Even though I’m out of the Bible-review business, the form of the word of God still fascinates me almost as much as its contents. As a result, it was with great interest that I read a post about Bibles from my friend and brother Ryan Boyer. Ryan argued that just as a police officer or other firearm-wielder ought to rely on one weapon, so that they can become completely familiar with all its characteristics and quirks, so too Christians ought to rely on one Bible.
There’s a lot that I like about Ryan’s argument. First of all, it’s emotionally powerful. Lots of Bible collectors are Bible collectors because they’ve spent decades searching for that one perfect Bible that does everything they want it to. Something inside us believes that we ought to have a one-and-only Bible, and I think it’s a mistake to ignore that voice.
Second, there’s much to be said for familiarity with a particular physical format. Barring some unusual circumstance, I do think it’s wise to make our primary Bible the Bible that we use for daily reading. An increasing number of studies have found that we better remember what we have read from a physical book as opposed to a screen. We are physical creatures, and reading out of a paper Bible is a physical act. The sensation of holding the Bible and manipulating the pages, plus seeing layout in a non-virtual space, helps us remember where passages are.
After having used dozens of Bibles during my Bible-reviewing days, I’ve settled on a primary Bible (a top-grain cowhide Crossway Large-Print Thinline Reference, not that I’m particular about covers or anything) and enjoy having a primary Bible. However, there are still circumstances in which I turn to a different Bible:
- I rarely-to-never bring my primary Bible home from the church building because I am absent-minded and will end up leaving it at home, which is unhelpful.
- When I'm studying with somebody who is a Biblical novice but wants to use a paper Bible, I will use a Bible with the same layout and page numbering as our giveaway Bibles (the Crossway Large-Print Value Thinline). That way, I can tell them, "Turn to Page 1152,” even if they don't know Genesis from Revelation. However, this Bible isn't a wonderful reading Bible for me (the lines are too short), and it doesn't have a lot of the helps I look for in a desk Bible.
- When I'm preparing a textual study of a book, my first step is to read the book out of my six-volume Crossway Reader's Bible. This Bible is optimized for reading and doesn't have chapter or verse numbers, so that I have an easier time following the flow of argument through the book. However, it's tough to preach out of a Bible with no chapter or verse numbers! Lack of chapter numbers also makes it difficult to use this Bible to keep either of my two reading schedules.
Ultimately, I believe (and I know Ryan would agree) that the word of God that matters most isn’t the word of God in our hands. It’s the word of God in our hearts. So far as I know, not one first-century Christian possessed a complete copy of the New Testament, but they managed just fine without it.
That same word still saves us today, and whatever method will best get it inside us, be it a top-grain cowhide Crossway Large-Print Thinline Reference, a different translation for each day of the week, or even an e-Bible on a smart phone, that’s the method we should use. What we are reading or studying can make a difference. That we are reading and studying makes all the difference in the world.