I first read One With a Shepherd: The Tears and Triumphs of a Ministry Marriage, by Mary Somerville, in the summer of 2005. It was a gift from my then youth pastor fiancé, Derek, with a personal note written inside the front cover. His note and my first read through was full of hopes and dreams of the life God had laid before us in full-time vocational ministry.
My second reading of this book was while living in Louisville, Kentucky and the fiancé had become my husband and was now a full-time seminary student pursuing more training for what God had called him, and therefore us, to. The reading of the book the second time was full of reminders of what the calling of full-time ministry demanded and required, yet, as I dreamed into the future, the lenses of my heart were still a bit rose colored.
As I read this book for a third time for this review—a writing assignment from my husband (to which I happily agreed!)—the contents laid out by Somerville were received more somberly. Having now experienced seven years of lay person ministry and six years of vocational ministry side-by-side, we have experienced much of what is included in Somerville’s book. A marriage called to full-time vocational ministry really does include what Somerville’s subtitle explains: tears and triumphs.
Somerville begins her book by defining the role of a pastor’s wife and the qualities such a woman is expected to demonstrate. “Some churches may be surprised to hear this, but the Bible does not teach that a pastor’s wife must play the piano, run the women’s ministry, and host all social functions. Actually, Scripture does not give a job description for the wife of a man in ministry.” Somerville goes on to explain in the first chapter of her book, “Scripture makes it plain that our calling is exactly the same as that of every other woman in the church—to be a godly woman, wife, mother, and faithful member of the body of Christ.”
In the following five chapters she discusses the demands and challenges a minister’s wife will face physically, emotionally and spiritually. She lays out what it is like to feel the pressure to succeed in the eyes of your husband’s congregation, how to deal with the hurt people may inflict through their words and actions, and coping with the loneliness of being isolated due to the role your husband holds.
I found it encouraging to read how Somerville and her husband endured, persevered, and navigated the “tears” of ministry. The wisdom she shared from the Word and clarity she gave on what is biblical in these areas was a help to me. A pastor/elder and his wife carry a unique role with stresses different than those of the greater church body.
The remaining ten chapters focused on specific areas of how a wife of a minister should intentionally live. It covered topics of being a wife, being a mother, handling rebellious children, exercising hospitality, managing money, discipling women and counseling women.
These chapters were both inspiring and convicting as Somerville set a high standard. At times in my reading it seemed she was writing as if a pastor’s wife is a separate category of Christian. Then pulling back from the book at its conclusion to write this review I was reminded that this was not Somerville’s intention. As laid out in her first chapter,
…the ministry of younger women is to focus on their home. So even as a wife of a man in ministry, your main role is to love your husband and children, to guard your purity, to be a worker—a kind worker—at home, and to be subject to your own husband so that the Word of God may not be dishonored. Any other ministry that you pursue in the church must not interfere with these priorities….The greatest ministry that you can have to your church is the provision of a home for their pastor where he can receive the rest and rejuvenation he needs to be able to serve effectively as their spiritual shepherd.One with a Shepherd, 7.
Having been in the church all my life and sitting under the teaching of countless minister wives during our seven years of seminary, and having many friends whose husbands are currently in full-time ministry, I can say with confidence that no two minister wives are the same. Each has her own strengths, passions, and giftings to complement her husband’s ministry. Her number one priority is to support and, by her hard work at home, free up her husband to do his work with excellence. This will look different in each minister’s home as God has made each ministry marriage unique.
As I read this book, I was reminded that the biblical standard for being a pastor’s wife is not too different than being a Christian wife of a Christian man. “There is actually wonderful freedom that comes from understanding your biblical role. When you ‘limit’ yourself to pleasing God, you are freed from the pressure of fulfilling unattainable expectations…You have discovered that the role of a wife of a man in ministry is no different than any other exemplary woman in the church. You are freed to focus in on your own character, your husband, your home and then your specific areas of spiritual giftedness” (11).
When I first read Somerville’s book, I was excited to start applying all of what she said in ministry! But as the years have progressed, I see that my being one with a shepherd is not serving alongside Derek in every facet of his ministry or every area of the church at large; being one with a shepherd is most importantly about my marriage and being the wife Derek needs me to be for him to be the man God has called him to be.
I am thankful for Somerville’s book. It has shaped my view of being a pastor’s wife and put real boots to my young dreams. I am also thankful to my church body who has graciously and generously supported me in my role as Derek’s wife. The elders have been wonderful at reminding me how my first priority of service to the church body is in ministering support, peace, refuge and love for my husband.