Tracy Walsh often felt terrified as a young mother and minister’s wife. Not growing up in the church, she worried constantly about committing a sin that might be a stumbling block for someone.
During a recent TAB Amplify podcast, Walsh — whose husband currently serves as pastor of Ariton Baptist Church in Alabama — said she first ran from her husband’s call to ministry and from her own calling to serve alongside him.
“[We started out] very uncertain and very rocky,” she admitted. “Once I understood that God called Dave, I understood that God called both of us. It took a lot of time for me to say, ‘Okay, I accept that calling with you. I accept whatever that means, with you.’”
As Walsh began studying the Bible, she learned to trust God and surrender to His will for her family.
“It’s super important to be able to focus on what God called you to do, not what you think,” Walsh said. “When I realized that God [was] speaking to me through [His] Word … that was a turning point for me. I had to learn to trust God’s Word. And you know, it sounds easy, but it’s not.”
Isolation and loneliness
Kathy Litton, director of planting spouse development for the North American Mission Board, has seen some of the demands ministry can place on church planting couples and their families. Many of them sacrifice proximity to family, and incur financial risk while perpetually opening their homes and engaging their communities through serving and volunteering.
Ministers’ wives can feel isolated, Litton noted, and some struggle with finding friends within the local church community. Some don’t see the value of supporting relationships.
“Pastors’ wives often recount their loneliness. Some experience it profoundly,” Litton lamented.
“She may have been hurt in the past, she may have experienced deep wounds. She may have mishandled a friendship and brought some pain on herself,” Litton explained. “Pastors’ wives are prone to think these types of friendships are just not available to her. They are available, yet they require intentionality, character, emotional maturity and grace.”
‘I knew God called us’
Page Hughes, who serves with her husband Les at First Baptist Church Pleasant Grove, near Birmingham, Alabama, mentioned the pain of leaving behind beloved friends to follow God’s calling.
“I knew God called us,” Hughes reflected, “and I knew He was going to be everything I needed. I tell those precious people that I love so dearly: ‘pray for me; pray for me to have friends; pray for the boys to have friends.’
“[Leaving loved ones] has been hard. But when you walk with the Father, and you know He is calling you somewhere, though it breaks your heart, you know you’ve got to go.”
Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union provides ways for women to connect and be encouraged through ministries like Minister’s Wives Connections zoom gatherings and luncheons.
“Ministry wives deal with many expectations,” said Candace McIntosh, Alabama WMU executive director. “They face balancing family life and ministry as well as supporting their ministry spouse as he leads and serves. [Minister’s wives fellowship events] provide a place of community with likeminded sisters where they can laugh and share their hearts.”
Shawna Hall serves with her husband, Brad, associate pastor to students/missions at Southside Baptist Church in Andalusia. Balancing marriage and motherhood with ministry can be challenging, she admitted, and keeping the proper biblical order can be helpful: time with God, then husband, family, church and work.
“It is important to allow your husband to lead your family and the ministry, to be there as a helpmate and to be there to listen to him,” Hall explained. “You have to remember that attacks are spiritual in nature, and not to take to heart when people aren’t always nice.”
For some wives, the spiritual battle is felt most acutely through motherhood.
As a young mother, Tina* allowed her own expectations and those of church members to influence how she parented her children. She recalled often placing unnecessary pressure on them to meet those expectations rather than letting God move in their hearts and lives.
“I neglected to make their hearts tender toward the Lord’s leadership because I didn’t have that balance in my life,” Tina recalled. “I didn’t foster that love for the Lord in them because I felt like God was big enough to do that in their life, when He thought it was important.”
Tina knows she made mistakes as a mother. She struggled with jealousy over other ministers’ children who surrendered to full-time ministry.
But through the years she learned to be the leader God designed her to be and now is a mentor to her grown children — the one they come to for biblical advice and moral support.
“Not all children, no matter how you raise them in a ministry family, make wise decisions to follow the Lord,” Tina said. “Every child has to make the decision to follow the Lord [for] themselves. They [may] choose to go the wrong way. But that’s their choice and you can’t let their choice affect the ministry that you have in the long run.”
For more information or assistance in beginning or strengthening a ministers’ wives fellowship, visit alabamawmu.org/ministerswives.