Why is My Husband Being Asked to Help in the Church and Not Me?

How to find opportunities to serve.

[Editor’s note: To participate in our weekly advice column, submit your questions here and watch this space each Wednesday.]

My husband and I recently joined a new church plant that we absolutely love. As we’ve settled in, I’m realizing that as the wife of a man in full-time ministry, I am often either overlooked (in terms of leadership), or merely seen as “his wife” rather than my own person. My husband was quickly asked to preach and join the exec team; whereas I find I have to initiate more and “prove myself” in service.

I don't believe it’s just this church, since I’m often viewed as “the helper” in Christian circles. I love and respect my husband and his leadership gifts, but I also believe in empowering women in ministry. How do I become more entrusted and empowered in a church where my husband is often sought out first?

- Ready to Serve

Dear Ready,

Joining a new church always calls for flexibility and relational risk from us, and I think it’s brilliant that you and your husband arrived with a “what can we give?” mindset, rather than a “what will we get?” one.

That being said, your new church seems readier to receive your husband’s leadership gifts than yours. I think there are potentially two reasons for this: Firstly, because he’s in vocational ministry, and secondly (depending on your ministry context), because he’s a man.

People who are in vocational ministry have two things going for them: they have already been identified as being both gifted and willing to serve, and what church is not looking for able and willing partners in Kingdom work?

However, we seldom presume on lay people in that way, with the result that the gifted and able lay person may feel very overlooked. This was true in my own marriage: because I have been officially "on staff" at a church, people are often more aware of my gifts than they are of my husband’s (significant, but less public) spiritual gifts. I think some of this also has to do with the priority we place on the public preaching/teaching gifts in almost every community.

The Christian community has historically not been great at stewarding women’s God-given gifts. If this is an area in which your new church needs growth, then prayerfully consider how you can be part of the change. Try to be discerning and loving in this.

As an official “minister’s wife,” you may have another factor at play. Many churches have (rightly) realized that they have had unfair expectations on the minister's wife to be part of a "package deal" (perhaps with special gifts of hospitality and, quite possibly, the ability to lead the next mother's day tea talk—probably with some cute theme like "blooming where you're planted").

I think people are realizing that wives may have significantly different interests and gifts from their husbands, and that they shouldn’t presume on the free labor of a minister's wife to serve in stereotyped ways. Many churches have thus backed off on assuming that couples are a "ministry team.” If that's a role you are willing and wanting to play alongside your husband, your expressed interest and manifest gifting will open those doors in due course, but it probably wouldn't be right for any new church to just assume that the non-minister (officially) spouse wants to do the same level or type of ministry as the spouse who wears the label.

There is also the possibility that your gifts are being overlooked because you are a woman, and the Christian community has historically not been great at stewarding women’s God-given gifts. If this is an area in which your new church needs growth, then prayerfully consider how you and your husband can be part of the change toward spurring that particular community toward robust and healthy male and female partnerships for the Kingdom.

However, that kind of change is best made from within, in a position of service, rather than by coming in with “you need to recognize women more!” banners at the beginning. Try to be discerning and loving in this.

So what to do, while your husband has the mic and you are in the pews?

My advice to you is similar to that of every believer joining a church: serve according to your gifting, as you are able, whether that is within your community, vocation or local church. Find the ministries you are interested in, and plug in according to your gift mix and desires.

What if we serve all our lives and our gifting is overlooked by others? That shouldn't matter if we have served according to our God-given gifts. 

But also (and this one is the doozy), let me gently remind you that we do not serve so that we will be recognized by people. We serve as ones serving God, and whether that means public recognition or the thankless tasks of serving the least of these, faithfulness is what's important. For people in vocational ministry, there is so much encouragement that comes from people who are grateful for your ministry and are eager to affirm your gifts and contribution, that it can be really hard to continually remind yourself that we work not to please men, but God.

Encouragement is good, but it can be dangerously tempting to drift into an area where you find yourself craving people's affirmation as a validation that your ministry is worthwhile. If we are not in a paid-and-praised ministry role, we might find ourselves coveting some of that public validation, too. It’s a deadly snare: run when you see it. 

What if we serve all our lives and our gifting is overlooked by others? That shouldn't matter if we have served according to our God-given gifts. 

What if we serve and never get asked to join a leadership team?

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What if those around us get much praise, and we don't?

I am reminded of Jesus' words to John and Peter after His resurrection: "What is it to you what happens to him? You: follow me" (John 21:22).

There is a difference between a leadership platform and pedestal. As Christian leaders, we need to use our platform—opportunities for a wide influence—for the sake of the Gospel. But we must not be on a pedestal, no matter how much other Christians may want to put us on one.

Let's seek platform if we have opportunity for the sake of the Gospel, but run from pedestal-climbing.

Have a question? Good! Send an email to AskRELEVANT@relevantmagazine.com. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.

Top Comments

Jessica

2

Jessica commented…

Yes... And no. Follow your gifts, don't let people force you into organizing the bouquets for the Mother's Day tea, etc.... But, let yourself be seen. There are other women (presumably) in the church, and those women are going to look around and think "who in leadership looks like me?" Part of ministry is not just doing the work of leading a bible study, but of mentoring. That 20 yr old woman who is wondering where she fits in the church (other than dutifully in the pew next to her husband) will thank you.

Will

23

Will commented…

My wife has a degree in theology and six years experience in full-time ministry. I have no church-y qualifications other than regularly showing up to worship on Sunday. Yet our church routinely asks me to head volunteer efforts, and asks my wife to provide child care.

7 Comments

Leonard Martinez

49

Leonard Martinez commented…

You sound pushy and over-educated. The statement "...but I also believe in empowering women in ministry" is a turn-off. You want to be empowered? Then go climb a mountain by yourself. Church is not the place for your becoming "empowered." Jesus held within himself all the fullness of the godhead bodily, and yet he came to serve. You don't sound very much like a servant, but that's the mentality Jesus wants within us. Maybe a long look in the mirror will have some telling results. It's human to think the problem is outside ourselves. "How come they didn't ask me? What's their problem?" Sometimes when we meet the problem, it turns out to be us.

Kathleen D Howard

1

Kathleen D Howard commented…

Start by getting involved with the ministries that the church has for women. Is there a women's group, Bible study, nursery care, etc. If these don't exist, prayerfully consider which ministry would be the most useful for the church community and the best fit for you or even be a good challenge for you. (You sound like the challenge kind of person). You will bless the other women in the church with your leadership. Discuss ministry with your husband, because he is the one who will be supporting your work and help get the ground work laid with the rest of the leadership if it is something new. Be a leadership role model for the other women. Prove yourself in women's ministry and you may find your place. It might even lead to other leadership positions, if that is what God has for you. Could you and your husband lead a Bible study together?

Leonard Martinez

49

Leonard Martinez replied to Kathleen D Howard's comment

Your comment is excellent. You sound like a godly woman who puts the Lord's needs and desires before her own. And that's partly why you've gotten a negative score here. One commenter said, "I think a woman ought not be barred from leadership in a church, Paul's admonition to keep silent notwithstanding." No wonder the church has become so weak. The parts of the body that used to work together as a unity, some of them are rebelling. But Paul used that analogy, so I guess we can ignore it.

You are too conventional, and probably too Biblical for the female readers of Relevant, particularly when you say something like, "Start by getting involved with the ministries that the church has for women." Oh no. That's not what today's women want to hear. They want a job a little more muscular, or dare I say "masculine." Too bad more women AND men can't have your servant's attitude. God bless you for your atypical, non-self-aggrandizing comment.

Sara Piali

1

Sara Piali commented…

*PREFACE: I think every comment in response to this Letter to the Editor deserves to be seen - being wrong or right is not the end all be all of discussion. And yes, I've read them.

BUT LET'S CHALLENGE REALITY HERE: I don't think the woman originally writing to the editors really made her expectations of her family in Christ, and the reason she has them, as clear as necessary. And I also think Relevant Mag's Editor response (Which I liked because it affirmed her leadership potential, in examining her situation seriously), "held back."

THERE'S A PIPELINE FOR MEN in this woman's church culture (even in its church-planting infancy) to be part of ministry and be influential. SO I THINK...

- EITHER they expect her to be an extension of his influence (if they see her as having the same gifts), AKA "Pastor's wife" or "Not on Staff" but SO REALLY on staff as far as the work goes.

- OR they don't think it's biblical for her to have a position of leadership that's similar to his because of how they interpret what the Bible says is a woman's God-Ordained place of influence-NOT in ministry "pastoral" or "elder" or "recognized-as-preaching." Basically, they see Christ's representation of "headship" in the church to be male according to the Bible, and they can't get around that no matter how hard they squint at Paul or Peter's epistles.

- OR they're scared to try it because making a woman individual (as opposed to a "Husband-wife team", dodged THAT bullet, whew) a leader-leader has never been done before, in any church they've experienced and they don't know how to do this "Right" instead of A LA "American PC." Plus there's a whole lot of Biblical and "Godly teaching" conviction telling them its wrong, and no spiritual revelation from the Word encouraging them to do something counter-Christian cultural. So now what?

- OR they expect (as we all do, I think - myself included) that women will be the faithful and men will be the Shepherds (AKA Leaders AKA Official Ministers Accountable to God for the Flock). Because that's how it's panned out. How it seems to pan out (In America) over and over again no matter which denomination you're in. In our churches we have, we are more female than male.

-OR/AND Godly, zealous men of talent are rare in church and yet are given first place in the Bible's description of how a church's leadership structure should function (Hey-it's not written with female pronouns so let's admit that). And the men in ministry snatch up the faithful men to mentor them for ministry training or "executive serving".

- OR frankly, they've never seen a woman preach and been convicted by the Holy Spirit by the Word she brought. Or they've never seen a women use gifts of miracles to bring many to Christ. Or they've never seen a woman be a visionary leading a Christian movement in which men followed and still remained "Men." Or they've never seen a woman plant a church successfully in which the Bible was guarded, the church grew, and the Holy Spirit and Word of scriptural revelation flourished. If they've never seen it, never been impacted by it, they don't know what to look for or what to hope for, when a woman enters their church and they are praying for future pastors, leaders and executive team members. They can only look for what they know.

Which in my opinion, is why women (seem to, to me) become church leaders (even in heavily patriarchal cultures), when times are desperate and I mean DESPERATE. Which requires a willingness to abandon all pretense and go with what's risky or unpredictable and there's nothing to grasp that's familiar or comfortable.

- Unless the Holy Spirit wakes someone up. (Guess we should pray for this lady and her church)

Maybe her vulnerable/weak situation and meek challenge will be used to bring blessing and fruit to the church. Because ya know, leaders are always the sacrifice for the body of Christ. But only SHE can discern what is TRULY meek on the part of her conduct.

There will probably be alot of meekness in the face of leaders she leans on "Not getting it". Which involves her heart - always the hardest thing to get help holding accountable. Good thing she has such a great husband :D!

May she truly retain her servant's heart, no matter what God has called her to sacrifice or to be for the good of the church. May she be affirmed in her calling before GOD, may HE bestow and confirm her TItle, so that she never needs to let pride satiate her sense of inadequacy. So that she can lead and serve those who deny her without falling into sin, if she's called to be there.

Best of Luck, Woman

Carolyn Robe

9

Carolyn Robe commented…

Women can serve in the basement cooking, teaching Sunday School and upstairs in music. With a few exceptions. Maybe Christian counselling or giving a testimony or some kind of Women's Ministry. It could be a long long time before the Pope is a woman, but some Protestant churches have more openings in leadership even though women in leadership is not the norm.... UK had Margaret Thatcher, Israel had Golda Meir, India had Indira Ghandi. I think a woman ought not be barred from leadership in a church. Paul's admonition to keep silent notwithstanding.

Will

23

Will commented…

My wife has a degree in theology and six years experience in full-time ministry. I have no church-y qualifications other than regularly showing up to worship on Sunday. Yet our church routinely asks me to head volunteer efforts, and asks my wife to provide child care.

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