What Pastors Shouldn’t Tell Their Wives

The Dangers of Too Much Transparency

Megan Hill, a Presbyterian pastor’s wife, has been writing about what pastors tell their wives and what they should tell them. I can answer that question in one word: nothing. By nothing, I mean “no confidential information.” A pastor may tell his wife what he would tell other members of the congregation but no more. Of course he may ask for prayer. Of course he may tell his wife that he had a tough counseling session or a tough session meeting but he shouldn’t say with whom or “confidential” becomes a little leaky.

I understand that we live in an age of hyper-transparency, that many live in in full view of the digital public via social media. That reality, however, is no argument for ministers giving in to the temptation to share with their wives what they learn in session (consistory) meetings or in counseling sessions. What happens in session (consistory) stays in session. What happens in the counseling room, unless it involves a criminal matter or needs to go to the session, stays in the counseling room. It certainly does not go to the pastor’s wife.

This is not sexism. It’s mercy and wisdom. The pastor’s wife is not called to the pastoral ministry. She is not an unofficial co-pastor. She isn’t ordained (or shouldn’t be). Her vocation relative to the visible church is to be faithful to the due use of ordinary means, to love her husband and family. That’s it.

There are five reasons why the pastor’s wife does not need to know what the pastor knows.

1) Few things are as difficult in ministry as knowing what pastors (and elders) know. I have seen the burden add lines to the faces of pastors and ruling elders. Watch a newly elected ruling elder’s face the day before he takes office for the first time and the days after. There is often a discernible change. Pastors are called to carry this burden and to lay it before the Lord and to trust him with it. Those who learn to file it somewhere survive and those who do not, for whom it remains in the forefront of their consciousness, they will not likely survive pastoral ministry. The pastor’s wife is not a ruling elder or a minister. She’s not called to carry that burden.

2) It’s better for the pastor that his wife not know. When a pastor comes home from a difficult house visit (huisbezoek in Nederlands) it’s a great relief to see his wife, who is blissfully unaware of what just transpired. If she knows then he never really leaves it behind. There is no refuge. The session meeting just changed locations. That doesn’t help him. He needs her, sola gratia, to be free to love him and the rest of the congregation in the freedom of not knowing. He needs that more than he needs an ally against that obstreperous session member or that seemingly intractable counseling case.

3) It’s not good for the pastor’s family to know everything that is going on. One leak may lead to others. If the pastor’s wife is not called to know and carry this certainly the children are not equipped to deal with it. Leave them out of it. There is a reason that pastor’s kids can grow up bitter toward the church. Pastor’s need to resist the temptation to find vindication for themselves by unloading their burdens on their children.

4) Her view of the congregation isn’t trained or freighted or weighted down with the knowledge of what is happening in each family behind the pleasant facade. That’s as it should be. She shouldn’t know. She should be free to go on as if nothing happened. That’s important. There is grace. People do repent and move forward. Sure, everyone in the congregation can see the turbulent waters but they can’t all see what’s beneath. She’s free to be a prayer partner a and friend in a way that perhaps the pastor cannot be. Knowing what the pastor knows does not enable her to be unfettered in her life as a member of the congregation.

5) It’s not good for the congregation. Trust is a difficult thing to foster and it is easily damaged. It may take years for a congregation to trust the minister enough to confide in him and to seek from him the help they need. A careless word to his wife may destroy all that in a moment and that trust may never be restored. The members of the congregation should not look at her and wonder what she knows about them.

Please don’t misunderstand. The pastor is not a priest. He must keep the confidences that he may but when it comes to criminal matters or those things that must go to the session then he his bound to do it. Nevertheless, most things should be kept in confidence and those right between the minister’s ears. The good news is that, as the years pass, many of them just sort of slip away into the ether. I know that I’ve heard many things but right now, as I write, I can’t remember many of them. I can see faces and tears but no particulars come to mind. It’s a mercy.

By the Christ’s undeserved favor, with the Spirit’s help, and in the Father’s love it can be done. It must be done. It’s a matter of divine vocation. It’s a matter of integrity. God has called his ministers to hear confessions, to offer reminders of forgiveness, and counsel but the same is not true of every member of the congregation and that is what the pastor’s wife is: another member of the congregation. Perhaps this is a practical argument against every member ministry (and this)?

Part 2: Of Office and Person

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  1. Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for this most excellent article. Read Megan’s piece at Aquilla, and think her a fine and godly woman, but wrong on the issue. Your answer is, if you’ll excuse me for saying it, a good illustration of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty. In addition, it is good and wise counsel for peace in the home, in the church, and in the life of the pastor. Just excellent brother. Hope you and your family and co-laborers are well.

    • RC,

      Thanks for this. FWIW, I’m a fan of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty! No need to apologize here. My criticisms have been aimed at some neo-Kuyperian divergences from Kuyper rather than at Kuyper himself. There is not a square inch over which Christ has not said, “This is mine.” Amen. I’m happy, BTW, to speak of one kingdom with two spheres and have done many times. VanDrunen that part of what he’s about is getting back to Kuyper (v. the neo-Kuyperians).

      Grace and peace to you and to your family.

    • I guess sphere sovereignty could be useful here. Having said that, non-religious, non-philosophic people have seen these issues pretty well without it. Secular counselors, lawyers, and doctors all see these issues pretty clearly whatever their divergent points of view may be. Just something to ponder.

    • We don’t have “the confessional” but Reformed pastors do hear confessions in office as a part of their pastoral duties. Even Rome has given up the confessional for two chairs in the mall.

  2. Yes, excellent. And ditto for elders If I may add:
    6) Transparency with the wife can lead to the wife having an invisible but powerful seat with the Session. I’ve seen an elder vote to please his wife (if Momma ain’t happy no one’s happy) and even try to reverse a previous vote under spousal pressure.

    • The Dutch have a derisive but unfortunately all-too-true phrase: the “Monday morning elders” or “Monday morning consistory.”

      Those phrases refer to coffee groups or other social groups of women, often including wives of current and former officebearers, whose conversations often turn to church issues. I think it’s less of an issue now that many younger women work outside the home and are less involved in women’s church groups, ladies aid societies, and informal daytime meetings of friends, but meetings of women that met after their husbands went to work and ended up discussing the sermon and what happened in church on Sunday used to be a big issue.

      Obviously church members cannot and should not be prevented from discussing what happened in church on Sunday. Women are people too, and at least in churches which allow women to vote in congregational meetings, they have every right to speak up and voice their views as full members of the local church.

      But very bad things can happen during informal meetings that include a number of wives of elders, especially when they have the de facto ability to override consistory votes.

      I told a friend of mine in the RCA (back when the CRC still banned women elders) that at least the RCA was honest by finally putting the real elders on the consistory so they could make their case and vote rather than just telling their husbands how they should vote.

      This is a bigger problem in traditional and conservative churches than is often realized. I think it’s less of a problem in churches which are composed mostly of people who are new to the Reformed faith and are learning for the first time about office, ordination, and the role of the eldership — good teaching in new churches can stop problems before they start — but it can be a very major problem in churches which are confessional, conservative, and composed mostly of people who take the Reformed faith and a certain way of doing things for granted.

      The bottom line is this is not just an issue in Dutch churches but also an issue in churches composed mostly of multi-generational families which have known each other for many years and have been Reformed for longer than even the oldest living grandparents in the extended family have been alive. That probably describes the a sizeable number of conservative rural Reformed and Presbyterian churches regardless of their ethnic background.

  3. Great post! Do you have wisdom about counseling women? I know a pastor who has his wife present when he counsels women. That doesn’t seem right to me for the reasons you mention above. What do you think?

    • Hey Steve,

      This is difficult and becoming more so. I have counseled females in a public setting, e.g., in a restaurant. It depends on the circumstances but I would never meet a female counselee alone in an office. Two words suffice: Patrick Eduard. Look it up. It’s not pretty. Perhaps there’s a mature woman in the congregation who can meet with her? Perhaps another session member could be present? Maybe Skype could be used to connect a female counselee with someone or even the pastor? How’s that for a creative, high-tech solution? (Of course, there are genuine dangers in online counseling. I know of a case where it led to the pastor’s deposition from ministry so it needs to be controlled carefully and accountable to the session).

  4. I am somewhat confused. I think there is much wisdom in your post and I think that perhaps Megan’s hasn’t articulated all of the dangers as well as you have, but the benefits of sharing are also not contained in your post. Perhaps this is because you do not find any, but I do not know that with any degree of certainty. May I raise some questions for discussion?

    You wrote: “The pastor’s wife is not a ruling elder or a minister. She’s not called to carry that burden.” I don’t think an elder (RE or TE) is transferring the burden. Rather, he may be trying to carry the burden wisely, while not becoming dangerously weighed down by to the detriment of his spiritual duties. Perhaps Megan has in mind some application of Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens wherein she is helping/loving her husband.

    You wrote: “When a pastor comes home from a difficult house visit … it’s a great relief to see his wife, who is blissfully unaware of what just transpired. If she knows then he never really leaves it behind. There is no refuge.” Does the pastor conceive of his leaving the situation as trying to escape the problems he encountered? I doubt this is the case. His wife is not to help him forget the issues, but rather to aid him respectfully in dealing with them. I am not arguing that this is done through his explication of those issues–only that I am not sure this is a good reason for him to avoid sharing. I suspect his blissful joy in seeing his wife deals more with his unity with her, and less with his trying to leave “work” at work mentality.

    For example, when I have a difficult day at work and at class, it’s nice to see my wife when I get home (and to enjoy a respite from the situation), but when I tell her about difficult deadlines, I do not think I am virtually back in the environment and encountering the problem again.

    You wrote: “It’s not good for the pastor’s family to know everything that is going on. One leak may lead to others.” Dr. Clark, you much wiser than I am in logic (as well as many other matters), but I am not sure the slippery slope argument works here. It still may not be right or wise to share, but this isn’t the line I would take.

    You wrote: “She shouldn’t know. She should be free to go on as if nothing happened.” Should I know about situations she encounters in the life the church? What happens if she needs assistance on dealing with a matter that arises from a ladies Bible study? Should I know. Do these rules only apply to male ministers? What about deacons who encounter taxing financial questions? Would they be permitted to tell their wives?

    Do the Scriptures speak to this issue more clearly? If it’s up to me ultimately, then I would say, “Husbands, know your wives and be careful. Are they able to handle the information responsibly? Session or Consistory meetings aren’t secret clubs. It may imprudent for a pastor to disclose matters, but it seems to be a matter of Christian prudent in the end, unless I am missing something more significant.

    • Ryan,

      Some responses:

      I don’t think an elder (RE or TE) is transferring the burden. Rather, he may be trying to carry the burden wisely, while not becoming dangerously weighed down by to the detriment of his spiritual duties. Perhaps Megan has in mind some application of Galatians 6:2 to bear one another’s burdens wherein she is helping/loving her husband.

      This may sound harsh but here it is: If a man cannot keep secret what should be kept secret as a matter of integrity, as a matter of duty, as a matter of obligation before God then he should resign the ministry. There’s no shame in that. The ministry is not for everyone. It just isn’t. I don’t know an honest pastor who doesn’t say to himself daily, “Am I really called?”

      The best way a pastor’s wife can help her husband carry burdens is simply to know that he IS burdened and to pray for him, to love him, to correct him when needed [which is not constantly btw! 🙂 – that’s a joke] but it is not to know everything he knows.

      Does the pastor conceive of his leaving the situation as trying to escape the problems he encountered? I doubt this is the case. His wife is not to help him forget the issues, but rather to aid him respectfully in dealing with them.

      I’m speaking in psychological terms. After a tough counseling case it is a great relief to come home to some normality. If the pastor’s wife becomes a de facto, unelected member of session, the pastor is simply coming home to an on-going session meeting. That’s a practical mistake. Leave it in the counseling room or the session room. It doesn’t belong at home.

      Ryan, we’re not talking about a paper deadline. Fine. Tell her that. We’re talking about adultery, theft, murder, slander, gossip, etc.

      I am not sure the slippery slope argument works here. It still may not be right or wise to share, but this isn’t the line I would take.

      It’s not logic, it’s human nature and experience. I’ve seen it.

      Should I know about situations she encounters in the life the church? What happens if she needs assistance on dealing with a matter that arises from a ladies Bible study? Should I know. Do these rules only apply to male ministers? What about deacons who encounter taxing financial questions? Would they be permitted to tell their wives?

      Yes, you are your wife’s pastor. You should know what’s happening. The pastor’s wife frequently knows things that the pastor doesn’t. Re: deacons, it would depend on the situation. Some diaconal questions require confidentiality and some do not.

      Do the Scriptures speak to this issue more clearly? If it’s up to me ultimately, then I would say, “Husbands, know your wives and be careful. Are they able to handle the information responsibly? Session or Consistory meetings aren’t secret clubs. It may imprudent for a pastor to disclose matters, but it seems to be a matter of Christian prudent in the end, unless I am missing something more significant.

      Yes, you’re missing the matter of office. Being married to a minister doesn’t make one a co-pastor. It makes one a pastor’s wife. It is difficult enough to be a pastor’s wife without having to bear ALL the burdens the pastor does.

      You’re young. I’m old(er). I say this after 25 years of ministry. Don’t do it young man. You and your wife will both come to regret it.

    • Ryan,

      You are right to have some concerns. It is troubling that NO scripture was used in the original post, or in his reply to your comment. I don’t think he is wrong in all that he says, but he needs to be using scriptural precepts or principles to back up his points.


      • I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1Tim 2:8-15; ESV).

        Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of adouble honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching (1Tim 5:17).

        …if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent uor greedy for gain… (Titus 1:6-7).

        …I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2Tim 4:1-4).

        Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24).

        Wives, submit to your husbands, as vis fitting in the Lord (Col 3:18)

        Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with ma clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things (1Tim 3:8-11).

        Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1Pet 3:1-6).

        Where does the NT envision that wives will share in the ministry of their husbands? Isn’t the strongest theme that wives (and women generally in the context of the church) should be quiet and receptive. There are other passages that help balance the picture (e.g., Acts 18:26) but in that case we have to speculate, i.e., try to extrapolate from what is said, in order to guess Priscilla’s role. Nevertheless, the explicit picture we’re given in the pastorals and in the catholic epistles does not lead one to imagine that pastor’s wives were active involved in their husbands’ ministries in the way that some seem to envision it now.

        When I wrote the original posts I was assuming general knowledge of these sorts of passages.

    • Dr. Clark, thank you for the response to JEC.

      I am increasingly coming to the conviction that in conservative Reformed circles, we are presuming familiarity with the biblical basis of elder rule when that we actually need to be teaching it all over again. Being traditional and being conservative are not always the same thing — and this is a case in which “being traditional” could lead us back into a view of the role of pastor’s wives which is at serious variance with Scripture, with the confessions, and with most if not all of Reformed church history prior to the 1800s.

      I understand the broad evangelical view of “ministry marriages.” It has definite pragmatic benefits, and apart from a biblical view of office and ordination, it makes a lot of sense.

      It is not Reformed.

    • Ryan, you’re making a fair request, but I hesitate to get into the issue too far because this is Dr. Clark’s blog and he sets the rules, not me.

      Dr. Clark and I have had some pretty major disagreements over the years, and while I think we’re in agreement on this issue, I would not want to engage in extended debate with another person on this blog without letting him explain his own exegesis of the relevant texts.

  5. I think most of this is true, but a wife needs to know if her husband is not cheating as of all the husband can come home and be quite and she can get up set that he won’t talk at all during dinner or after wards. So a wife will suspect he is messing around on her and that can cause problems in their marriage. Hope you can understand this.

    • Merle Sue,

      I’m not sure which scenario you have in mind, the pastor coming home after counseling or the counselee coming home after admitting sin? Let’s assume the latter. In that case, depending on the circumstances, the minister may well have to take such a case to the session. That would probably involve a house visit and a difficult conversation with the offending husband and his wife and probably many other such visits afterward. I don’t assume that confession in the study is the end of the process. It may be just the beginning.

      If you’re thinking about what the pastor says at home, that’s a different matter. I doubt that it would be wise for a pastor, on his own, to call a wife and say, “Your husband just admitted adultery.” Rather, he would ordinarily go through the session. See above.

      If the pastor himself is committing adultery, then that needs to go the session and beyond.

      Am I close to addressing your question?

  6. This is excellent. My wife and I have had an understanding, since when I became a ruling elder, that I keep what I know and hear about others in the church to myself.

    As to the question about biblical teaching on this: the 9th commandment, which among other things compels us to protect the reputation of our neighbor.

    As to where to go to “share” this burden of knowledge? To the other elders in the church. We shepherd the sheep together and support and care for one another in that task.

    • Martin, since I had asked for some biblical help thinking through this issue, I thought I might respond to your answer.

      You answered that the ninth commandment compels us to protect the reputation of our neighbor. The ninth commandment, in my view, would regulate how we characterize the issue to our spouses, so that we preserve and promote truth and the good name of our neighbor. So, in this case, it would speak to the means by which we communicate this information, not the lawfulness of communicating the information.

      As to the share part, are we prohibited from sharing information with nonelders? Again, it seems like a matter of Christian prudence to me? Any help or response would be appreciated.

    • Ryan, I wonder if an analogy might be helpful. Let’s say you see a counselor outside the church – do you want it to be up to that counselor’s “prudence” as to whom he shares infomation about you? Or you have a medical treatment that you would just like to keep private? Same question – shall the doctor make a “prudent” decision as to whom he tells? The secular folks understand this issue pretty well.

  7. Martin, I apologize. I meant to have written the following: “So, in this case, it would speak to the manner (not means) by which we communicate this information, not the lawfulness of communicating the information.

  8. A feminine perspective, for what it’s worth: I wonder if the dynamic does not work differently in different marriages and different churches/situations. Some men do not have the benefit of wise support from other elders and deacons who understand the actualities of a situation (missionaries often do not) and some wives are gifted to help their husbands in different ways than others. Certainly a church can be negatively affected where a woman (never called to the ministry) has too much influence/knowledge, especially where the husband has misjudged her strengths and his own weaknesses (and this I think is perhaps the genuine problem wherever this dynamic malfunctions). There is certainly something to be said for the lightening of load that comes to a husband when he sees his wife not being crushed down by the same sorrows — and surely this is the wisest help a woman can be in many situations (I personally knew very little when my husband was working in a missions context). But I have seen a church be just as negatively affected because the wife, who was gifted to help her husband with a more practical ability to relate to and understand people and keep relationships in an eternal perspective (while the husband was a truly marvelous preacher and theologian but struggled more with relating and with taking things very personally), was given no information whatsoever about situations that eventually drove him out of the church (along with several other families). In this case the man did not understand his own weaknesses and the strengths of his wife wisely enough to avail himself of the best help he might have had in that situation (not to say he should have told her *everything* but there is an arena between that and the *nothing* she knew). But the policy he had been taught was to leave wives in the dark absolutely. Surely this is one of those areas (as with so many other things in life that a married couple approaches trying to be the best help to each other that they can) where wisdom must be practised, and wisdom is rarely a set of simplistic rules that apply regardless of individuals and situations? And sadly it is often something that is learned with some degree of trial and error. I would hope that dear minister I mentioned is relying on his wife’s perspective a bit more now — while at the same time hoping that another minister I know might learn to consult a lovely wife (who has different strengths than this lady, and who is being more crushed by these burdens than he is being helped by her bearing them) a bit less. (I hope that does not come across poorly of either minister/wife. We are all perhaps always learning more wisdom in our marriages and every other aspect of life, myself so very much included.)

  9. Dr. Clark, I appreciate the counsel. Personally, I don’t think I would do it because it would put my wife in a difficult position and compromise the trust. I am simply trying to navigate the issues, biblically.

    But I am having an issue saying that letting my wife know that I met with X and we ought to labor in prayer on his behalf as we ought to do for every member is wrong. It’s a question of how much to relay to her. I am on the very, very little side. But not as far as nothing.

    • Ryan,

      I’m not saying that you can’t tell your wife that you met with so and so. You can tell your wife anything you would tell another member but there is confidential information and that should stay between your ears and in session.

      Of course we can ask for prayer!

      I assumed that, in the course of the post, it would be clear that “nothing” is not absolute. It means, “no confidential information.”

  10. This was a thought-provoking post, and helpful on a lot of points. It’s something Eric and I discussed a lot in our pre-marital counseling and something I’m still thinking about four years later. I do resonate with a few things in Megan’s article as well though. I’d love to hear your response to the comments she brings up on the fact that ministry is not a profession, it’s life, and on modern congregants’ tendencies to feel like they deserve utmost privacy because “Like social media, the church is an arena where my image ought to be tightly controlled. By me.” (and maybe the comment section isn’t the best way to do this.)

    I’m also curious what you’d say on this regarding women counselors in the church (they should share their counseling with the pastors, but not their husband?) and/or pastors and their wives doing counseling together (pre-marital and marriage counseling).

    • Hey Katie!

      When it comes to life in the church I’m old side and old school. I formed my view and practice of confidentiality long before the internet and HIPPA laws. For me, this is a matter of principal. It’s not about “image.” It is, as Martin suggested, about the 9th commandment and about office.

      Yes, the existence and use of the web raises issues about image etc but the web has also has radically egalitarian effect (which has benefits and costs and, in this instance, I’m more concerned about the costs) and it’s a great place for gossip and those effects of the web have changed our perception (probably for the worse) about what should be said and to whom.

      Yes, ministry is a relationship but it’s also an office and a vocation. When she says,

      Pastoring is a long-term commitment to a comprehensive relationship. A pastor tells his wife because what happens to the church happens to him. And what happens to him, happens to her. (That’s the way marriage works.)

      This is only partly true. What happens to him has consequences for her but it doesn’t happen to her. This is why I write that the pastor’s wife is not the pastor. She’s the pastor’s wife, his helpmeet but she’s not a co-office bearer. She wasn’t ordained. He was. In this analogy, then, the pastor is married to the congregation and his wife is married to him.

      I think mature women should counsel with younger women. Here I’m thinking of 1Tim 5:1. I’m uncertain about the whole business of formal, quasi-ecclesiastical counseling enterprises. I started out via the nouthetic model, which I think is still helpful, but as I’ve re-considered the whole business of every-member ministry, I’ve re-thought what the laity should be doing. If someone has a strong desire to counsel professionally, they should get the necessary preparation (including a good biblical and theological education at, ahem, a certain seminary in Escondido!) and offer their services to the community. I’m not sure it should be a function of the church as an institution. I could be wrong on that but I’m sure that the church has two vocations: ministry of the Word (preaching and sacraments) and discipline. Historically, we’ve had a very difficult time doing these things without distraction.

      That said, there is certainly plenty of evidence in the NT for informal “one-anothering” and mutual encouragement and edification and we should all certainly be engaged in these things.

      There may be wisdom in bringing in an experienced wife to help in pre-marital counseling, as as I mentioned to Steve, we need to think creatively about how to handle pastors counseling women (see above).

  11. Mikelmann,

    I do not wish to be contentious on this point. I do, however, disagree with the analogy. It does not hold up. Firstly, I do not take my cues from secular counseling and medical practices. Secondly, I think that you are referring to a legal concept, which differs depending on jurisdications. If there was a legal (read: lawful) principle in the Scriptures, then I would be more than happy to give full consent and teach others to do the same.

    When I say “Christian prudence” I am referring to a confessional phrase, outlined in the WCF 1.6. For example, “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” This is the sense in which I mean “Christian prudence.”

    • Right, I don’t say we must take cues from secular practices. What I say is that in this case, the secularists have used well the “light of nature” that you mention. I know of two attorneys married to one another – she was a prosecutor and he a criminal defense attorney – who embraced the legal ethic of keeping client confidences to oneself. Psychiatrists and counselors also “get” that it’s a bad thing to go home and tell the spouse about their clients. And I do think there is strong analogy between these and the kind of things that pastors and elders should keep to themselves.

      So maybe they use the light of nature better than many Christians?

      The Christian, of course, has more. We can look to the 9th and 6th commandments as described by the Westminster divines and see prohibitions on gossip and slander, along with the proactive side to protect reputations. We can see that pastors and elders hold office, but their wives do not. And we can deduce that if a church member is offended by their confidences or embarassments coming back to them as gossip, there will be damage to the ministry and problems in the church that we are called to minimize as much as it is in our power.

      So we have multiple sources, both of which say the same thing. And we can learn from unbelievers because they are made in God’s image with a conscience and can often properly understand by natural light.

  12. All the above is written very strongly – I dont think the matter is nearly so black and white. Most people who talk to me about pastoral matters assume that when they talk with me they are talking to a married church minister, and in a sense they assume that they are talking to me and my wife. I clarify this by checking, ‘do you mind i I share this with my wife?’ I have never had anybody challenge that – and
    Most say they assumed I would. For the record – my subsequent advice to people is almos always a lot better for talking it over with my wife! Marry wisely and you won’t have problems with a wife spreading confidential information – she will help you help others.

  13. R: another reason for an elder not to share unnecessarily with his wife is for HER sake and protection. Then, when she is asked by another church member, “Oh did you know about…..,” she can honestly say, “No.” The comfort factor for all goes up a notch or two; the elder; the spouse; the inquisitive member, and above all, the one about whom the question was asked.

  14. When your followers read #3, I hope they are clear that Megan did not say that “a pastor’s family should know everything that is going on.” In addition, her blog posting didn’t mention children. Most people who grew up in a pastor’s family, like Megan has, want pastors to shield their children from heavy ministry burdens.

    Cases of pastors’ children becoming bitter toward the church have complex causes. There’s an idea for your next posting. It would take years to settle that one unless you want to say that it is part of the permissive will of God.

  15. As a females parishioner I appreciated this and believe it to be very wise.
    Just to chime in on pastors counseling females – I agree that for the sake of reputation much care must be taken in this manner. Furthermore I understand the vital importance-ahem-dare I say command that the older women should be instructing and teaching the younger women. In every day situations and indeed even through the more difficult times there is much guidance and wisdom that can be found and shared among those heeding these instructions.
    But if possible, I hope that the pastor would evaluate each situation as it arises instead of a hard fast rule of no counseling for women (btw, I agree there should be more than one person present but maybe this could be in the way of more than one ordained or one pastor and one elder or the like) for some of the. Very same reasons you gave in your article. In certain spiritual questions a trained minister is needed.
    Just as an example, I’m married to an unbeliever. Now, biblical counseling (from trained non-pastors) in general may be wise and beneficial. And there is no doubt that a Titus 2 relationship would be very helpful indeed, but there are not many but a few questions relating to obedience and scripture that I prefer my pastor/elder (authority) answer and direct me in- from there I would take that and use that with the day to day Titus 2 and or any Biblical counseling as the main source. Maybe then I can relate the instruction given to those who would mentor me or work with me on a more frequent basis.
    I can’t imagine the job you have and I agree you must be wise.

  16. This is absolutely true and very well put. Thank you.

    I find myself amazed that it is not more generally accepted. My wife, who is herself the daughter of an elder and accustomed to the confidentiality drill, takes what you are saying for granted. She does not know confidential information, nor does she expect to or even want to. Yet it seems that my congregation assumes that I tell my wife everything. It happens with great regularity that someone will tell me something that ought to be confidential, and then in a week or two they speak to my wife about it as though “we” already know. They are surprised, and rather grateful, to discover that I don’t run home and tell all. I have come to suspect that most Christians don’t want their pastor’s wife in all of their family business, but coming out of evangelicalism, they consider it a necessary evil. It makes me wonder how many people are hesitant to speak with the elders because they assume that what they say will go to their wives as well?

    It would be helpful to see some discussion of how to handle the reality that sometimes the wives of pastors and elders will know more than they were intended to know. This happens for a number of reasons. Some church members may speak to the wives as though they were on the ministry team. At other times a perceptive wife may pick up on the fact that there is trouble and figure out what her husband is dealing with. Even when we share commitments of confidentiality, pastors and elders can give away what they are thinking. (More than once my wife knew that I was dealing with some stress and my facial reaction to some innocent comment of hers tipped her off. She did not know for certain and was too kind to say anything, but she was suddenly in the know.) Once pastors and elders are committed to the principle you address here, we also need to think through what we do when the system breaks down.

  17. I am a pastor’s daughter, and went through a very strong period of adolescent rebellion (even wound up pregnant at 17), in large part due to all of the hyposcrisies that I was aware of in our church. My dad did not handle the stresses well, and often vented to my mother about the conflicts and issues within the church. As I became a teenager, I overheard enough of those conversations to conclude that the faith I was raised with was a facade. All those people that outwardly seemed to be saying all these wonderful things about Christ had their own little sins, and in my immaturity I could not comprehend the discrepancy.

    I do want to add that after I was pregnant, it was the grace and love of the church that brought me back to my faith. My dad offered to step down from his position, but the church not only embraced my dad, but also me. Their outpouring of love in my circumstance helped me see the sincerity of their faith, and I ultimately chose to place my son for adoption and recommit my life to Christ.

    Being a pastor’s daughter is a unique position, and I do regret that I knew so much about the inner workings of the church, and that it became such a stumbling block to me. My mother also struggled with bitterness towards some church members based on what she knew about them, but my dad ultimately had a severe bought with depression and due to his mental breakdown had to retire early. (Our church had a nasty split over theological issues, which was ultimately what made my dad have his mental breakdown.)

    I see a lot of wisdom in this article. Thanks for your insight!

    • Thanks for sharing that,it is very important for pastor and his wife to keep church matters private from their kids.

  18. I am seeing a glaring absents of the biblical principles and purpose of marriage in this debate. These principles apply to the marriage of a pastor as well as to anyone else. Genesis is very clear about the “oneness” of marriage . It also defines very clearly the purpose for which God created woman. It says that it was not good for a man to be alone so He created a “helpmate suitable for him”. So, in this debate we must always understand that the wife of a pastor is his helpmate, his partner. She completes him not only as a man but as a pastor. If we believe Genesis still applies to today’s marriages than we should see each couple not as two but as one. Now, let me assure you I am not saying she is a co-pastor. The NT is very clear on the roles of women in the church, however, she is his partner. Therefore, the idea that he comes home and there is no interaction about his work or his ministry is so unbiblical for how can someone be a helpmate/partner without any knowledge of that persons life. It would be as if he had two separate lives. The second point on this subject has to do with calling. We are so adamant about the calling of ministers, however, how can God call a man to ministry and not also call his partner. The pastor’s wife is also called to ministry. Not the ministry of pastor but ministry of pastor’s wife. What that looks like will be different for everyone just like everyone’s marriage relationship is unique. Last point, I think there is obvious wisdom that needs to be applied when it comes to sharing personal information about other people. We should never share personal information without their permission. This applies to every kind of interaction we have and goes both ways. When women share with me I don’t necesarily share that information with my husband unless I specifically ask her if that would be okay. Personal information is just that “personal” . I wonder if the problem may arise from a lack of understanding of the role of “helpmate” . Perhaps the next article needs to be about the importance of being a trustworthy and helpful wife; one that he feels is a partner suitable for his calling and life.

    • Jamie,

      Take a look at the follow on post linked above. My brief reply is that the wife is married to the husband in his person not to the office. A couple is one flesh but not one office. I address the question of sharing information a little more in that post. One of the burden’s of the pastor’s wife is that she must be a help without knowing confidential information. It quite simply doesn’t belong her. She’s called to love her husband not to do his job (i.e., fulfill his office) for or with him.

    • I’ve stayed quiet in this discussion until now even though I believe it’s one of the most interesting and most important things I’ve read from Dr. Clark’s pen.

      Jamie wrote: “The pastor’s wife is also called to ministry. Not the ministry of pastor but ministry of pastor’s wife.”

      I believe this is the crux of the whole issue. Is the role of “pastor’s wife” a ministry of some sort? If so, how? If not, why not?

      This may actually be more of a problem in conservative churches where pastor’s wives often do not work outside the home. A pastor’s wife who has her own career cannot realistically be expected to do the huge amounts of volunteer church work that pastor’s wives traditionally did prior to the 1960s in both conservative and liberal churches.

      Megan Hill, the author of the original article, said she tried but failed to find even **ONE** pastor’s wife who did not discuss the sort of issues with her husband which are being addressed here. I believe it is obvious that in many circles — even quite conservative and traditional circles — there are significant numbers of women whose goal in life is to be a pastor’s wife. Significant numbers of churches have made the pastor’s wife into a de facto office, even churches which would never even consider allowing women in their pastorates or on their church council.

      Of course, there **ARE** biblical requirements for the pastor’s wife. Nobody in conservative circles thinks a pastor with an unbelieving or wildly disobedient wife should be in ministry. I Timothy and Titus clearly have relevance here.

      However, many churches have expectations for what the pastor’s wife will do, often unwritten expectations, that go considerably beyond the requirements of I Timothy and Titus.

      Dr. Clark clearly has a very different conception than Megan Hill of the role of the pastor’s wife. More importantly, Megan Hill, although she is a PCA pastor’s wife and the daughter of a pastor, apparently considers her views to be so obvious and normal that few people would disagree.

      I’ve fought the women-in-office battle for a long time and it doesn’t take much to know that I believe we need to be confessional and biblical, not traditional. There is a difference. And the role of “pastor’s wife” is part of traditional conservative church life that probably needs to be seriously evaluated in light of Scripture.

      This isn’t just an issue in liberal feminist churches. It’s been an issue in conservative churches for at least a century, and probably much longer. It needs to be addressed based on Scripture.

    • Jamie, there’s probably a lot to discuss about what the role of a pastor’s wife is, but I’m going to have to strongly disagree with the idea the a wife’s “helpmating” necessarily extends to her husband’s vocation.

      Say I go in for surgery and the surgeon announces that his wife will be handling my anesthesia. I reply “Oh, did you two meet at med-school?” If he responds “No, in fact my wife has zero medical knowledge, experience, education, training, certifications or qualifications whatsover, but scripture says ‘we are one’ so I figured I’d put her on the happy-gas station today,” then I can only say that I hope his wife isn’t offended at the sight of a grown man attempting to escape an operating theater in a gown.

      An obvious response to this might be that pastoring isn’t exactly brain surgery; in which case I’ll make two comments:
      1. I think you grossly missunderestimate what it is to be a pastor (n.b. I’m not one; not in a million years)
      2. I think you need to consider what actually does qualify a person to be pastor and whether or not a pastor’s wife can actually meet those qualifications…

  19. Thank you for this. My husband and I have been in ministry for twenty years. If something is confidential, he does not tell me. It protects both of us, and the individual seeking his counsel. I struggled with Megan’s opinion on this and completely disagree. All I can say is that she is young in the ministry and will learn.

  20. As a wife of an elder I must say that I have extreme difficulty with the idea that a pastor or elder “counseling a women in a public place” is acceptable. I expect that the only woman my husband will take out for “coffee” will be me. While it may be difficult to arrange, I believe the best option is 2 elders in the church office or the home. Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

    • AL,

      I share your concerns but not for the same reasons. If two colleagues, male and female, have lunch together is there a “hint of sexual immorality” in that? The truth is, in our culture and circumstances, even two elders visiting in the home of a single female is complicated. It’s arguably safer to meet in a public place (arriving and departing separately) than in some place where no one else can see, where there are no other witnesses. I’m thinking of a restaurant rather than a smoky (smokey?) lounge.

  21. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. But as a ministry wife, I agree with Jamie — there is a glaring absence of any discussion of the definition, purpose, and practical functioning of the God-ordained institution of marriage and how that relates to this issue. As the two become one, their lives are melded into one. The Lord sees us as one (Dr. Keller has did an excellent sermon series on marriage in the 1990s that speaks to this). We cannot possibly fulfill this oneness and have a healthy marriage if my husband completely compartmentalizes and walls off this part of his life (no matter what his vocation is) — and let’s face it, unlike a most jobs, ministry is not a 9-5, leave-your-work-at-the-job-site kind-of-thing: it is your life!

    Thus, my husband’s office necessarily affects and becomes part of my life. In other words, the pastor’s wife is most certainly not just another member of the church. It seems odd (and unrealistic) to me to suggest that the pastor’s/elder’s wife wouldn’t know any more about the goings-on of the church than any Joe or Sally congregant. If my husband is called to ministry, and I am called to be his wife, then I am called to ministry — not to be in the same role but to be in a partnering role as his help-mate.

    This is reflected, for example, in the fact that Westminster seminary encourages wives to obtain the same degrees as their husbands when possible; they are offered, among others, counseling courses free of charge. There is also a ministerial formation class to which spouses are invited, during which they have a panel discussion with ministry couples including this very issue — no one on the panel counseled that husbands should share extremely little with their wives. (And it should be noted here that with regard to this issues, wives and children are apples and oranges.)

    As for the issue of this being for the wife’s protection, I would just gently add that the Lord does not call me to a grief and stress-free life — rather, he calls me to support my husband and to carry related griefs and stresses (whether they be related to ministry or to anything else) to Him. And as a believer in a God who brings grace and growth through suffering and trials, the life burdens I share with my husband are ultimately sanctifying blessings, times in which the Lord teaches me more about my own heart and more about the riches of Christ.

    Lastly, Session or Presbytery meetings are not always meant to be cloaked in secrecy — much of the proceedings of each are technically public knowledge. Again, I really do respect the perspective shared, and I believe it is well-intentioned — but I do not believe the issue is nearly as simple nor black-and-white as it is presented here. I know many godly, wise, and experienced pastors who would counsel in nearly the opposite direction and who have shared that they share, discuss, and pray much with their wives. There was, for example, a PCA discipleship conference where elders were advised to keep their wives in the loop as much as possible (which, of course, does not mean sharing “everything”). Of course, there have been times where this has led to “leaks” or problems (as can of course be the case with any marriage, whether or not the husband is in church leadership), but the fact that sin sometimes occurs is not a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    In short, I think this is a complex issues that requires a great deal of prayer, wisdom, and discernment — and praise God that he delights to give wisdom to those who seek it! Grace and peace to you all.

    • Diane,

      Take a look at the follow on post re office and person. I tried to address some of your concerns there.

      I agree with some of what you say. We at Westminster Seminary California encourage wives to study with their husbands as they are able.

      My reply re marriage is that marriage is certainly a vital intimate relationship but that relationship is not an office. Being married to the pastor doesn’t make a pastor’s wife a co-pastor or pastoral assistant. She is his wife.

      Yes, it’s difficult for a wife to love and help her husband when there are things he cannot share but that’s part of the ministry. The president can’t tell his wife state secrets. He just can’t. It’s none of her business. It’s not her office. She wasn’t elected, he was. It puts her in jeopardy. It could make her a target. I think there are some analogies with the pastor and his wife.

      We agree that not everything that happens in session is confidential but some things ARE confidential and those things should not be shared with the pastor’s wife.

    • I don’t get it. How is fulfilling the oneness of marriage contingent upon understanding or knowing all the goings-on of the pastor-husbands work?

      Isn’t this the same as saying, in order to fully fulfill my role as a wife, I must: know, have, understand, be given, etc ?

      Is it not possible to fully support, fully pray, fully be the intended help-meet of your husband without sharing the confidentiality of his work? I assume, that not all things are off-limits here, but that there are some that are – shouldn’t negate or cause in any way a rift between the pastor and wife on their becoming one or having a healthy marriage.

      Indeed, it seems to me that understanding and respecting that office and what confidentiality may need be present in it would indeed cause more closeness. I would think it’s true that not everyone can be a pastor’s wife for this very reason. There seems to me, it would require much more trust, much more patience, much more understanding, time and effort to fully support, pray for and be the help-meet a wife is called to be while also understanding there are some things that are not necessary for her to know though they may weigh heavily on your husband.

      Certainly it is possible to be all that God called you to be without having all the details. I imagine this is very hard if we are honest, as women.

      Again, it requires much faith and trust and whole dependence on the Lord and I would think not all – ok, I’d be one, I’m sure – who probably would fail at this hefty task.

      I don’t agree, that being called to be a pastors’ wife by it’s very nature calls her into ministry. I think it calls her to be, a wife.

      Again, I think it’s a harder job. I don’t believe it should be taken lightly. Not because of the ministry involved but rather because of the very nature of the relationship. I think especially in our society where we feel we must know in order to obey, we must know in order to comply, we must know in order to submit, we must know in order to pray – it takes a much stronger women, with a much stronger walk to fulfill the role of being pastors’ wife.

      Are we not really just speaking of the role of women in general here? If we are to look at the nature of a husband wife relationship outside of the ministry – are our duties not the same? Are we to understand and know all before we can rightly become one, or pray fervently, or be all that God has called us to be in the relationship? Indeed, when we are not able to know all, or understand – it thrust us as Christian women directly into our relationship with God, depending fully on Him and His word to know how to help, how to pray, indeed – how to obey when we aren’t even sure what the issue is.

      Because we are able, if we are honest, to carry burdens, suffering and trials through the Lord without knowing the details.

      I’m going to honest – they suzie congregant line threw me off. It really did. I’m sure that if I look deep, there’s something in me that must be addressed here. I’m willing for that. I, more than ever, understand, accept and am thankful for accountability, and different roles, and offices of the church. I realize that I need a shepherd. I realize that I am not to be my own shepherd but that there are those who are called to lead and guide me. I pray often for those mens’ families. I’m not opposed to – different statures within the church. Yet, I find that comment bothers me. If the pastor’s wife doesn’t feel she can possibly fulfill her role as a wife without having certain things, how can she show me to fulfill my role as a wife being totally dependent on the Lord and nothing else? And, why would she want to stoop down to the level of suzie congregant anyway, now that she’s obtained the call to ministry via her husband? If that comes across as somewhat snarky….let me also repeat, I have no idea the challenge a pastors’ wife has. I can only imagine how difficult it is. In my eyes, you would have to be a giant in the faith to truly fulfill that role; so it is because of that – that I count it a special role and it garners my respect to those who are called.

  22. Yes, I also think it inappropriate to have lunch with one collegue of the opposite sex. Say one of my neighbours or familes from VBS see my husband at a restaurant with another woman, then what? I think there are myriads of office scandals, and maybe they start with “just lunch between two collegues”.
    Perhaps the woman needs a personal witness as well at a home or in an office? For sure “Titus 2 Women” need to be stepping up to the plate in an informal way. So often sin in the church or among friends is left unattended because “that’s the pastor/elders job to confront”.

  23. Darrell Todd Maurina,

    I would like to respectfully disagree with you on the nature of the question.

    You said, “I believe this is the crux of the whole issue. Is the role of “pastor’s wife” a ministry of some sort? If so, how? If not, why not?”

    I think that that is an important question, which Dr. Clark (or Clarke, if we are referencing his Canadian counterpart) has partly addressed (see http://heidelblog.net/2013/01/of-office-and-person/). For my money, however, the issue is on whether the Scriptures necessarily bind all ministers to silence when encountering a situation involving private confession of sin or official (read: Sessional or Consistorial)church business, which was alluded to in the post. So, the crux is, for me, then, Is the minster or ordained elder bound by duty of office to keep silent (with specific persons) concerning (specific) matters relating to his office, which he is otherwise permitted to share freely but wisely with other persons, namely elders?

    Is the minister failing to perform the duties with which he has been entrusted by God and godly neighbors, if he should share a matter? I have already suggested that I think the answer is no. It is prudent to avoid sharing matters freely with specific persons for specific reasons, some of which Dr. Clark has mentioned, but it is not commanded or necessarily tied to the ministry to which he has been called. I have stated that I am open to Biblical correction, but the types of arguments being made here do not resolve this central question.

    The ninth commandment does not, in my opinion, bind the minister to selective confidentiality, which appears as an arbitrary category to me as an aside. For example, May a pastor consult with a pastor-friend in a differing denomination concerning how to best counsel a member dealing with specific sins? May he only speak to the Session? What if he only has one RE and the RE is the person with the sin? With whom should he speak? His wife may not be the person, but with whom is permitted, by virtue of his office, to speak?

  24. Anon,

    You said: “‘No, in fact my wife has zero medical knowledge, experience, education, training, certifications or qualifications whatsover, but scripture says ‘we are one’ so I figured I’d put her on the happy-gas station today….’.”

    The problem with your analogy is manifold. First, many of the categories you offered overlap. The pastor is not privy to special knowledge. The wife may in fact have equal or more knowledge, experience, education, training, and certifications.” So, she may not have the Biblical qualifications, but she may be just as capable of offering (or performing, if you’d like) the “task.”

    Second, and perhaps more problematically, your analogy implies that the qualified doctor is deferring the performance of a duty to his wife. This is simply not the case in most of our conceptions of the situation. The pastor does not say, “Wife, would you perform the duties I am called to perform for me?” In most our understandings of what would happen, the pastor-husband is saying, “Wife, … is a very difficult matter that the we are trying to address, for the edification of the church and the glory of God. What do you think?” Notice the difference, Anon?

    She is not performing the duty, she is offering her informed thoughts, careful reading of the Scriptures, and/or informed prayers as a help to the pastor, who will perfom his duty with the aid and encouragement of his wife.

    Perhaps, this is not such a far-fetched response as leaping off an operating table and running out of a hospital in gown.

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for your reply. My example wasn’t really so much of an analogy as it was an illustration.

      Specifically I was responding to Jamie’s argument that while wives are not co-pastors they do “complete him… as a pastor” and a number of ideas about oneness and co-calling. Essentially Jamie was asserting that not only is discussing confidential pastoral matters acceptable, it’s actually required of a good marriage. My example was intentionally absurd, but to illustrate the following point: That a marriage can be spiritually healthy, with both partners doing a fantastic job fulfilling their roles, and yet one partner have little (if any) practical knowledge of, or involvement in, the other’s vocation. It wasn’t meant to prove that wives are incapable of helping their husbands vocationally, it was meant to prove there’s nothing wrong with a wife not helping her husband vocationally.

      And I don’t think it’s about ability; take again the example of the surgeon. If his wife doesn’t have any serious medical knowledge, does that make her a bad wife? Should she take some night classes or something? Did he make a foolish choice in marrying an unsuitable helpmate? I’d say no to all three. It’s that in some things husbands and wives complement each other, not mirror each other, and vocation (even the entirety of a vocation) may be one of those things depending on the couple.

      Regarding the rest of your post:
      I submit that given the responsibilities of a pastor and especially, especially, especially the authority of a pastor (and elders) and concomitant submission of the congretion, that the decision-making and handling of confidential issues of counseling, discipline and church administration/politicing very much ARE specific vocational duties of pastoring/eldering, different than in the case of a laymen.

      When you suggest a pastor says “What do you think?” to his wife, that sounds suspiciously like “How should this be handled?” At that point the pastor actually has (partially) delegated his duties to one who, despite her wisdom and maturity, is Biblically unqualified to handle them.

  25. I think that when we remember the simplest definition of minster is to serve, then yes, the pastor’s wife most assuredly has a ministry; to her husband, and a very special one at that!

    It takes quite a woman to be wife to a pastor, and she must give up the expectations that the average woman may (reasonably) place on her husband. As he serves (ministers to) her and the church, she serves (minsters to) him as a man called by God to be undershepherd and even when giving the burden to The Lord faithfully still carries quite a weight.

    If they have children, the difficulty of her role is increased because she must now relate in a different way than the mother whose husband is not called to ministry.

  26. I don’t think any one has commented about the reverse situation. I.E. when one’s wife in her involvement with church members learns confidential information on her own. My wife is very careful about what she shares with me. Some times she will ask a friend if she may share information with me. Gossip of any sort can really hurt people.

  27. I feel I need to make a follow up statement and maybe clarify my point. Let me begin by saying that I am a pastor’s wife of 29 years now and a daughter of a pastor. I do have a working knowledge of the issue being dicussed in this article. First let me say, I have a hard time seeing how a man called to ministry can separate himself from his calling or “the office” as mentioned earlier. He is a pastor 24/7 so being his helpmate in all areas of his life except the most profound life changing area seems unrealistic . Again, to what degree he shares or what specifics he shares takes a great deal of wisdom. Again, never personal confidential matters discussed in counseling without permission from that person. My initial response was to the statement or idea that he shares nothing. If I may use Anon’s illustration; that would be like a surgeon encountering difficulty in surgery and upon coming home not even mentioning the fact that he struggled in surgery that day. Of course, he would never let her do his job that would be absurd but he would allow her to be a part by referencing that event in his life. My second point addresses the idea of wives also being called into ministry. We would insist upon every missionary to have a wife who was also called to missions. Why is that so different from the life of a pastor? I am not saying that we insist the wife officially recognize this calling but I am saying that God has providentially called her whether she officially recognizes it or not. Last point, I never meant to say that the role of a minister’s wife is an office of the church. She is to follow and pursue her gifts just as every other woman of the church. She is however, a wonderful sounding board, encourager and helpmate to her husband the pastor.

    • Jamie, I appreciate your comment. Three decades in the parsonage means you have a level of experience that needs to be respected.

      I also believe that you and Dr. Clark are working with radically different underlying views of the role of the pastor’s wife. Those underlying views need to be addressed.

      As I said above, “I believe this is the crux of the whole issue. Is the role of ‘pastor’s wife’ a ministry of some sort? If so, how? If not, why not?”

      There are significantly different views in the church world about this issue — including the **CONSERVATIVE AND REFORMED** church world. I’ve seen comments elsewhere that people coming into Reformed churches from broad evangelicalism thought that the quasi-office of “pastor’s wife” was simply something they had to tolerate as a necessary evil. That indicates two things: 1) the “pastor’s wife” does function as some sort of ministry role in typical American evangelicalism, and 2) there are some Reformed churches which do not like that at all.

      This is not a minor question and it needs to be addressed by looking at what is said in Scripture and the confessions.

      My personal view, for whatever it’s worth, is that churches which make the pastor’s wife into a de facto office tend to have either 1) a low view of office and ordination, failing to realize that elders are supposed to meet the same biblical standards as the pastor and should be the primary helpers of the pastor in ministry rather than just being an elected board of laymen to do administrative tasks, or 2) an egalitarian view of church membership which encourages laymen and laywomen to do many things in the church which are properly done only by officebearers who have been tested, called and ordained according to the biblical standards.

      That is not universal, of course. Several generations ago, pastor’s wives were quite powerful in many conservative churches in America, not because of underlying egalitarian assumptions or a low view of office and ordination, but because it was culturally expected. Especially in rural America, I believe there are many churches which are simply perpetuating cultural assumptions from the late 1800s and early 1900s without examining them biblically, and which truly believe they are being conservative in affirming a “traditional” view of the pastor’s wife (i.e., “we want a pastor’s wife who shares her husband’s ministry, not a liberal woman who works outside the home.”)

      I hope we can all agree that this question needs to be settled by asking what is said by Scripture and the confessions. The answer we get may very well be a different answer than what would have been given by the typical conservative Reformed or Presbyterian pastor in 1890 or 1920.

  28. Since I don’t want to cause any further unnecessary angst, let me please just clarify a couple of things before signing off of this thread (seeing the ease of misunderstanding and heat here will make me think twice about commenting on blogs in the future) :-). I really didn’t say that wives are pastors or co-pastors, nor did I say that wives should know all the details of everything. I also meant no offense and was not suggesting any type of superior stature for pastor’s wives; rather, I was just mentioning that ministry wives generally know some things that are not known to everyone in the congregation — I think this is just a pretty generally accepted reality, perhaps related to the common sense mentioned above (and also in part due to the fact that many people in a church view the wife as a ministry helper and a good source of prayer and counsel as well).

    I was just hoping to add the perspective that it doesn’t seem wild or unorthodox to think that wives are called to serve alongside their husbands in ministry, as I think most people recognize ministry to be broader than the official duties of ordained men. It may be helpful to remember that, as the gentleman above mentioned, we actually are given qualifications for elders’ wives: they must be “reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 3:11). The NIV puts it this way: “their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” These qualifications seem to infer that wives will at times be privy to sensitive information.

    In short, it just doesn’t seem clear to me from Scripture that the marriage relationship (i.e. the wife’s role as a complementary help-mate) can, should, or must be entirely divorced from her husband’s work as a pastor (or whatever his work may be) or that a person can be so easily separated out from his/her work; therefore, I don’t think we can bind consciences in saying that pastors/elders must never share confidential information with their wives (and vice verse).

    This seems to me to be a complex and nuanced issue requiring a great deal of maturity, discernment, and Christian prudence. Godly, seasoned pastors give different perspectives and counsel on this issue, but most agree that there is a balance to be struck. Perhaps that reflects the fact that wisdom lies somewhere in between the extremes of nothing and everything.

    Blessings to you all, take care.

  29. Diane,
    May I place my name beside yours for you have done a great job of making your point and the point(s) I was attempting to make. In all things I want to honor God and follow in the biblical mandate and roles which He has placed upong my life and my role as wife. I do feel that God has given me my place within His kingdom work as a pastor’s wife. My belief is that sharing in ministry isn’t an all or nothing kind of issue their are far too many variables for it to be that cut and dry. However, I understand that as each marriage relationship differs and is unique so goes it in the pastor’s marriage. It has been an intersting topic to contemplate and again thank you Diane you stated your point beautifully. May God be honored and glorified in the lives of His people and servants.

  30. Diane, Jamie and Megan: I want to put my name beside yours. I have been a pastor’s wife for over 30 years, and am a pastor’s mother and a pastor’s wife’s mother. You three women are trying to be biblical and reasonable.

    Dr. Clark said, “I’ve re-considered the whole business of every-member ministry, I’ve re-thought what the laity should be doing.” This presupposition will extend to the pastors’ wife. It is logical for him to think that if a non-ordained lay person (male or female) is forbidden by God to evangelize, lead, counsel, and participate in ministry, then a pastor’s wife is not allowed, either. I think this is the crux of the matter.

  31. Ryan, I’m responding now to your questions because I wanted to give Dr. Clark the opportunity to do so first if he so desired.

    You wrote:

    I have never asubscribed to, or affirmed any sympathy to, the view you have labeled as “ministry marriages.”

    Fair enough. But please read what Patsy Evans and Megan Hill wrote on their own blog:

    “The women’s ongoing focus is to be true to the Scriptures, to communicate clearly about the unique challenges for ministry women and to provide encouragement that God is in it all. After fulfilling ministry roles in evangelizing children, counseling campers and discipling college students, Patsy Evans became a pastor’s wife when her husband was ordained in 1979. Today, she happily ministers beside the same man, who is now a senior pastor in New England… In this blog, Patsy hopes to explore with ministry women how they can take up their high calling by loving one another and relying on God’s love for them.”

    When someone says she “happily ministers beside” a pastor and as a woman married to a pastor has her own “high calling,” however we’re going to define the details of how that works out, it is clearly a ministry marriage of some sort.

    That “high calling” for “ministry women” is a very different viewpoint from what I believe is taught by Scripture and the Reformed confessions. The officers of the church are elders and deacons, with pastors being a particular category of teaching elder called to specific additional duties beyond the ordinary duties of the ruling elders. While I Timothy and Titus do list things about wives that disqualify their husbands from ministry, there is no office of “pastor’s wife.”

    I do not want to go into this further, and since I think I agree with Dr. Clark, it would be better for you to direct your questions to him rather than me. This is Dr. Clark’s blog, not mine, and I do not want to usurp his proper role here on his own blog.

  32. thank you for writing on this topic. I have to say that this needs to be clearly taught in the Korean Christian community (I am korean american). I think it has to do with our culture and the fact that our culture, or Asian culture in general is community oriented, as a result people feel like they need to know about anything and everything (quite literally). I have heard elders telling church members about how this person and that person got into an argument or how these people don’t like each other or what happened at the elders meeting or what the plans are for such and such a decision or such and such about about another elder or pastor or the conflicts going on amongst the elders or between certain people. There needs to be clear teaching on how we need to place our cultures or our cultural practices under the bible. I just feel that in the korean christian community this is not taught clearly or corrected, maybe I am wrong. So what results is people going to church, even reformed korean churches, that act like others who do not go to church but with”christian dress”…..they gossip too, they spread the info too! but oh yeah, they go to church and serve diligently in church! Here’s a practical example: It’s a common cultural practice in our community for person A to tell person B something about person C and then for person A to tell person B “act like I didn’t tell you anything” or “pretend you don’t know anything”. And then person A and person B put up a front when person C comes around. It’s this kind of stuff that needs to be corrected. I love my cultural heritage but I just feel that there needs to be clear teaching on the relationship between culture, the Bible and the Christian life.

  33. I greatly disagree with this article. As an elder’s wife, my husband and I share the burden of prayer for our church members. In no means does this turn into a gossip session with others, nor do I feel “burdened”. We share the load and carry one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ. I have seen many, mainly Reformed, pastors fall into deep sin, and this secrecy (confidentiality…) is probably part of the reason. An elder or minister with a wife given to gossip ought not to be in office for he does not rule his house well. I am not co-ordained nor do I hold office in any way, but I believe that we need to model to all our church members the high calling of confidentiality. If pastor’s wives cannot be trusted, then who in the congregation can? Perhaps if husbands and wives truly reflected a Godly relationship in this, there would be less need for counselling. This article also rules out that wise counsel can be received from wives. The pastor(s) become the lone mavericks in giving counsel, while withholding all information from their wives, nor receiving counsel. I do not see how this is a healthy situation. If perhaps, the wives are viewed as those who cannot be trusted, nor are strong enough to carry confidential information, then yes, I understand your position. It’s unfortunate to have those kind of women in the Christian church, and specifically close to church leadership. No wonder the church today does not rise to a higher level than that of the level of trust the leaders place in their wives. I am thankful that I have a closer relationship with my husband than that. Does he share everything? I am sure he does not, but we definitely pray about the most desperate situations, and know that the information will only be carried upward, not outward.

    • Els,

      To be clear, for me it’s not a matter of trust in the sense that pastors do not trust their wives. It’s not personal. It’s a matter of principle. Confidential ecclesiastical business is just that. It’s confidential and it’s ecclesiastical.

      Mrs Heidelblog does not need to know what I know in order to pray for me. She prays for me because knows that, as a matter of office, there are confidences I carry that I cannot share.

      Why isn’t that sufficient?

      Must the president’s wife know national security secrets in order to pray for him?

      Must a judge’s wife know what opposing counsel disclosed in chambers in order to pray for him?

  34. And I would add that we don’t not tell our wives for fear they will spread the information to places it doesn’t belong, but because they are a place the information does not belong. That is, it is already gossip when someone who doesn’t need to know knows. That includes the wife of the pastor.

  35. I appreciate the posts here. 1.) I believe the pastor, priest, minister is a representative of Jesus, our high priest. When we confess to Jesus, the bible says that “they are remembered no more.” After the pastor counsels someone, he should immediately try to forget it as much as possible. 2.) The pastors first obligation is to Jesus, not his spouse. If there is a conflict then he may have to make a choice. 3.) True, Genesis says the wife is a help to her husband. But, Jesus said in the Kingdom of God, there is neither male or female, neither married or given in marriage. So, maybe Genesis is speaking of a purely natural condition and Jesus a spiritual. 4.) I have had a personal experience with the pastor of my church telling his wife something my husband told him in confidence and she tried to trap me into “confessing up”. I have not liked that pastor or his wife since. My advice to pastors would be “since you can not control what your spouse may do with the information, it’s best she doesn’t know everything.

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