Looking through the window of the beach café I watched the waves roll in, curl over and land with a splash of white foam. It never ceased to amaze me how an ocean of water will stop right at the boundary line which God has set for it. (1)
The sound of voices drew me back from my pondering on the enormity of God as Josie and Tracey (2) came to join me. Both women had arranged baby sitters, freeing them from the persistent interruption of children as we talked.
Josie and Tracey were both relatively new to ministry life and were brimming over with vision, excitement and possibility of what God was going to do in their churches. I looked at their fresh young faces and thought to myself, ‘I remember when I too felt life was an unmarked beach stretched out before me, just waiting for me to place my footprint upon it.’
The purpose for our coffee together was for these young women to glean some insight from the life changing lessons I had learnt when I was, like them, new to ministry.
‘I have made note of 11 life changing lessons I learnt in my early years of pastoring,’ I began.
1. To take the risk and reach out to someone who had an understanding of my world.
Being in desperate need to talk with someone about my new life as a pastor’s wife, I opened up and shared honestly my thoughts and feelings with a friend.
I thought she would understand but she didn’t. She was shocked by some of the things I said. From my perspective I was just having a good grizzle to my friend about my husband’s new job and how it impacted upon me. Her response closed the door for me to be able talk further with her about any ministry related matters.
I initiated contact with a senior pastor’s wife whom I knew and respected and talked with her through some of my challenges. She totally understood. It was such a huge relief to know that what I was experiencing was normal for a young mother in her early ministry years as a pastor’s wife.
2. An awareness I had not been trained for that which was asked and required of me.
I felt entirely inadequate and ill equipped for the requirements placed upon me, as well as those expected of me. Many of these requests were outside of my gifting and comfort zone.
As a person who was quite happy to pick up her welcome mat, take it inside and shut the door, hospitality was a necessity for me to learn and then also learn to enjoy. I had a specific, easy to prepare menu, which was healthy and attractively presented. When we were having guests for dinner my children automatically knew what would be served!
Scriptures I often leaned into and relied upon were Ps 37:23 The steps of a good woman are ordered, established by the Lord, and He delights in her way.
Ps 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
Isaiah 50:4 The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the person who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.
3. The absolute joy which accompanies being involved in a person’s world as they surrender their life to Jesus and continue in their walk with Him.
This joy is twofold. Being a firsthand witness as you watch a life being transformed. And the inner knowing God has spoken through you, either in word or action, which has made a difference in the person’s world.
4. To be myself.
Feeling free to be myself was a continual struggle as I was caught up in the whole expectation trap. Expectation that was real and expectation which I imagined. It took me several years to discover myself and then to be comfortable being myself.
A ministry woman who impacted my life in this whole area was Iverna Tompkins. I was so impressed by how she enjoyed being herself, I copied her even to the point of wearing yellow earrings like she did.
The more comfortable I became in my own skin, the more confident I became and the less I was swayed by comparison and self-doubt.
5. To smile graciously when people said dumb things to me.
For some reason, people in our congregation at times think it is acceptable for them to say what they please to you as their pastor’s wife, with little regard to how what they say may affect you. My clothes have been criticized, my parenting has been disapproved of, the level of cleanliness of my home has been commented on, and my husband has been critiqued to me.
I assumed I was meant to just suck it up, take what people said and smile graciously. Occasionally now I will respond in an appropriate manner to the offending person, but still mostly hold my tongue and smile graciously.
6. To develop a greater level of self-sufficiency and dependence on God.
This became a reality as my husband’s all-consuming focus on church caused him to work long days and most nights. My dependency and reliance on God increased substantially as my husband was not able to see or understand ministry life from my viewpoint.
God had clearly spoken to me before we went into ministry that there would be times when my husband would not be able to be there for me, but He always would be. On many occasions, I pressed into this promise.
7. To protect my children from feeling as I did, that Jesus had stolen their dad.
As the car disappeared down the driveway my daughter banged on the window and cried, ‘Daddy, Daddy, I want my Daddy’. Meanwhile, I waved my fist at God and cried, ‘You’ve stolen my husband and I want him back’. We held one another and the tears flowed.
I had what is now known as a crucial conversation with my husband after that particular night and adjustments were made.
One way I protected my children was to keep my husband up to date with what was happening in their world. This enabled him to engage with them in these areas of their interest.
8. It was an impossibility for me to go to church on my own.
With envy, I often looked at other couples with little ones who regularly took it in turns to come to church. Their spouse was at home with the children. I longed to be able to close my eyes and be fully engaged in undistracted worship. My desire became a reality later as the children became older.
9. To have a ministry involvement which was my own.
The majority of ministry activities I was involved in were husband initiated or in a support role for him. I became the leader of a women’s small group and absolutely loved it. I found expression for my gifting and much enjoyment in accomplishing something for God which was my very own.
10. To be on the front foot to control the behaviour of other people’s children in my home.
Mothers tended to relax in my home and not correct their children’s behaviour. I was not happy with their children jumping on the couch, dropping food on the carpet, or leaving my children’s rooms in a complete mess.
I began to enforce the same level of behaviour which I required from my own children, like ensuring they sat at the kindy table while eating. The mothers were generally happy for me to supervise their children.
My children were not required to share their special toys with visiting children. Also, I had a visiting children’s toy box, which worked wonders to deter them from being in my children’s bedrooms.
11. To love people.
Ministry is all about people. Each person is a unique individual who has been created in the image of God. Some people are exceptionally lovely and some are not. Some people are a breeze to shepherd and some are a continual challenge.
I asked God to give me His love for people and as He did this I became more patient, accepting of and loving toward the people He had entrusted into our care.
‘There you are ladies, that is all eleven life-changing lessons I learnt in my early years in ministry. I trust you will find them helpful’. Josie replied for herself and Tracey, ‘Thank you so much for sharing openly and honestly with us. At times we were nodding our heads in agreement and understanding of lessons we are already learning. Also, you have made us aware of some of the challenges we may yet face. Thank you again’.
What were some of the life-changing lessons you learnt in your early years of ministry?
Jer 5:22 Should you not fear Me?” declares the Lord.Should you not tremble in My presence?I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.
The names mentioned are not actual and are not related to anyone I may know having that name.