I’ve been getting to know a former pastor’s wife, who has something to say about success.
As a ministry wife in a large church, I found myself becoming busier and busier. I was raising three children pretty much single-handedly because their father was “busy with the ministry.” I also taught piano and voice lessons in an effort to help the family economy.
On top of my duties as a wife and mother, there were certain unwritten rules in our church pertaining to staff wives. Staff wives received no salary, but we were expected to attend Sunday School, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening services, weekly visitation, and all ladies’ ministry activities.
For myself in particular, this was becoming burdensome as my husband pastored the Spanish church. I was still expected to be involved in things in the American church AND in the Spanish church.
I hurried all the time. I used to joke that I even slept fast. However, I began to notice that these rules were not evenly applied. I would drag myself to yet another ladies’ meeting only to realize that I was the only staff wife there. Or the senior pastors’ wife would be out of church for an entire month. After some years of struggling with the exhaustion and obvious unfairness, I went to the church administrator.
Yes, there was a church administrator. That way, the pastor never had to be the “bad” guy.
As I sat before his desk and related my concerns, he was quiet. I finished by saying that as a mother of young children, I felt it was appropriate to adjust some of the expectations that had been put on me.
His response still rings in my ears. He showed no empathy or concern for me. He was all about “supporting authority.” His answer to the rules as they concerned the senior pastor, who was the boss and complete authority, was, “You can’t argue with success.”
What did he mean by that?
Attendance is growing.
Offerings are good.
Obviously, this machine is working like it is.
Don’t rock the boat. Be quiet and do what you’re told.
He didn’t make these last statements. They were implied and understood. I left knowing there would be no mercy and no tolerance for slackers.
But it made me think. Who gets to define success? As I’ve grown older and I hope wiser, I’m beginning to understand that my Savior doesn’t necessarily see big church attendance and beautiful buildings as His measure of success. In fact, I remember Him calling wealthy, influential Pharisees whited sepulchers.
When “success” becomes a machine that uses people instead of ministering to them, it is no longer success. When “success” means different rules for different people, it is no longer success. And when “success” is about rules instead of the grace and love of our Savior ,we are no longer pleasing Him. It is impossible to please God by using the values of this world.
Yes, you can argue with success.
Maybe you’ve heard it in church—that real success is to be measured by our relationship with God and our love for others. But all too often in reality church leaders measure their success by the size of their congregations and their buildings and even their income. I pray for complete healing for all those who have suffered under such “ministries,” including this former ministry wife, those who have suffered in even darker and more confusing ways. There is healing available through the Lord Jesus Christ from such “successful” men and ministries.