Growing In Grace
I sat in a tiny kitchen half way around the world on a cold Saturday afternoon. The team leader’s wife was cutting up vegetables to make a tantalizing Indian meal–an echo of her early childhood as an MK. The onions brought tears, but some of the tears were poignant reminders that she was in a hard place, doing a hard job.
“I am not sure I know my job,” Wendy said. “In everything we’ve done before, we were chosen as a couple. My qualifications were considered as important as my husband’s. But when he was chosen as team leader, expectations for me were not defined. Do I simply serve my husband, or do I take an active lead with the women of the team?”
Wendy is not alone in her questions. As I’ve visited global workers around the world, several team leaders’ wives have asked. “What is my role? How do I balance taking good care of my husband when he is in a strenuous, stressful job, and how do I continue to serve God in the ministries where He has gifted me?”
Through email I convened a panel of wives–some married to a ministry team leader and some to a field leader/director. I asked all the women, “Were you included in the selection of your husband?” Lori says, “My husband’s name was the one on the ballot, but I felt we were considered as a couple.” Elizabeth counters, “I don’t think I was included in the selection process. It’s my husband’s job, but I feel a greater sense of need to support him, to listen to his frustrations, to encourage him when he feels inadequate or overloaded.”
“My husband and I were considered as a team and assigned the leadership responsibility as a team,” Mary says. “I was definitely a factor in my husband being qualified for the job because our gifts and abilities were distinctively different.”
Pam said “I wasn’t included, but I wanted my husband to lead the team into this new country. I looked forward to working with him and under his leadership.” Gwen also left one country for another, noting, “We were active in ministry together until my husband was chosen to lead this new team. I wasn’t asked but he creatively makes it our job. He discusses concerns of the women on the team with me and we pray about the decisions he has to make.”
Hanna’s husband has also been a team leader in two different countries. “I was very much included in our first country—my opinion of whether or not my husband could do the job, and how much I supported him. We made the decision for this new assignment together, knowing we needed to take a step of obedience.”
Once into the position as a team leader’s wife, new realities become a way of life. Hanna continues, “I don’t think I had any idea of what my role as the wife of a team leader would be!” Gwen puts in, “I share my husband a lot, but it’s a privilege to share him. We knew when we married that our lives were first and foremost for the Lord.”
“I was frustrated at first because there was no job description for me and I work best within a framework,” Lori says. “But this has proven rather freeing because I’ve developed my own job description based on my gifts and interests.”
I asked the wives if their husbands were gone a lot. How do they balance family and ministry? Though it’s difficult, most wives responded that this wasn’t a huge issue. Several are married to men who came to the field from the corporate world. Fran said, “My husband is gone much less than he was when he was a biz exec!” Helen echoes with, “Much less than in the secular world.” Lori says, “Yes, he travels but this really isn’t an issue with us.”
Elizabeth notes, “We miss him most on Sundays. He visits multiple churches, so we try to worship together once a month.” Hanna says, “I was concerned about the amount of time he would be away from home. How would the family handle his ‘popping’ in and out. It’s a challenge to make it work.” Wendy notes, “This part of his job affects everyone. I end up picking up a lot of pieces with the kids, but really, is this any different than if he weren’t team leader?”
“What’s most difficult?” I asked. The resounding answer was coping with criticism of one’s husband. “I have a hard time. I know it happens but many times he doesn’t tell me.” Brenda says. Mary adds, “My reactions vacillate from defending my husband and wanting to protect him, to understanding the criticism and wanting to help him change.” Gwen comments, “I try to be objective and see it as unresolved issues in the heart of the one criticizing, but that doesn’t take away the sting of their words.”
How do others deal with criticism? Wendy says, “I tend to carry the emotions of the criticism longer than my husband. He needs someone to talk to, and we’re pretty isolated, so I’m the listener.” “I do it poorly,” admits Fran, “but I am learning. It’s important for me to listen well, even if I disagree.”
“This is the hardest for me,” Pam says. “I remember a seminary prof’s wife saying ‘don’t take offenses for your husband. Allow God to work and He will receive the glory.’ I try to remember this although it’s frustrating when I see him doing what is right and then suddenly someone decides to criticize him for it.” “It’s harder on me than him,” adds Hanna. “I know how hard he has worked. No one else appreciates the time, thought, prayer, looking at all angles that he’s done. Maybe I’m more weathered now because I handle it better.”
Criticism of one’s spouse is never, ever easy. Hanna continues, “Often it is just a matter of misunderstanding and miscommunication and things have to be worked out. I’ve really had to learn to pray.” Elizabeth adds, “It’s tough. I want to set people straight. It’s a lesson in learning what Jesus teaches us–Vengeance is mine, I will repay. I’m learning it’s more important to pray than to try to justify.”
Lori concludes, “Our team has been most gracious, but I need to guard against being defensive. My first instinct is to defend my husband, but I realize now more than ever how much I need to pray for him in his role, knowing he will make mistakes. I ask the Lord to give him wisdom for each relationship, each situation, each decision.”
We moved on to another question. As a team leader’s wife, do you nurture the other women of the team? Again, the wives had varied viewpoints. “I help, but I’m definitely not ‘in charge’ of the women on our team,” Fran says. Gwen notes, “You can only nurture if you have a relationship with them.” “It’s not just my responsibility,” says Helen, “but that of each member to each other. I see my role as encouraging and praying with various women on an individual basis.”
All agreed that it is part of ministry. “Nurturing the team women seems an unwritten expectation, but it is also something I have chosen to do,” says Lori. “I feel it is part of my responsibility but I can’t do it all. I have to entrust them to God and to women nearer to them.” Several said, “I could do a better job, but balancing children, nurturing my husband, working with national women–well, there’s not much of me left.”
Nurturing other women on the team may be more necessary when the team is multi-lingual than when they all speak a common language. Team leaders’ wives can also negotiate tensions that may arise among the team women that would be difficult for her husband to handle.
Team leaders’ wives have a role in their husbands’ relationships with women on the team. “I was an important facilitator in relationships between my husband and the women on our team,” Mary says. Gwen notes, “I found that I was actually able to help my husband understand our women because I knew them well. It caused him to take a deeper look at things he might not see as important and, in the end, he dealt with more wisdom and understanding.”
Work expectations are often less for married women with children than for singles, yet they may have equal voice. Single women still handle home responsibilities and may resent the “out” given to married women. A team leader’s wife may be part of the problem or part of the solution. Women struggling with any issue may be more comfortable talking to the team leader’s wife if she is approachable. She in turn can communicate the needs to her husband. The wife is definitely a factor for effective ministry by the team leader.
Some team leaders’ wives struggle with knowing that their husbands don’t like administration, but are doing it in obedience to the Lord. “God places us where He wants us,” Helen says. “If we are unhappy we need to ask Him for peace and enjoyment in this position.” Others said, “Lately I’ve complained a lot to God–NOT GOOD!” and “This isn’t the heartbeat that brought us overseas!”
Lori says, “I believe my husband has administrative gifts but this isn’t his first choice. God put him in this role. It’s stretching, but rewarding. I’m seeing him grow in areas where he might not have grown otherwise.” Elizabeth echoes that her husband would much rather be leading seekers in Bible studies, and doesn’t always feel equipped for his job, but believes that God equips. God is much bigger than our own small gifts.
Hanna admits this is a big issue with no easy answers. “My husband can DO the job of an administrator, but he has many gifts not being used because of the demands of the job. I have no question that he is where God wants him. Some responsibilities are for a ‘season.’ I need to do lots of encouragement and remind him that he doesn’t have to have an empty in-box to move on to something else.”
Wendy concludes, “God has really dealt with me in this area. I believe it was a spiritual attack where I needed to be humbled and ask people to pray for me. God used a spiritual retreat last year to face this battle. I had lots of negative thoughts about what my husband was doing. God just took it away and when those attacks come back, I deal with them spiritually. My husband has come to terms with where God has put him right now, and if he can find contentment, I need to also. It’s something of a chicken/egg scenario–does my support for my husband help me stay focused, or is God growing him and that helps me?”
In conclusion, several threads emerge as common to the wives who responded. All noted that prayer for their husband was an essential part of their responsibility and that God was growing them in their understanding of what it means for them to be obedient and pray.
Flexibility was another needed “gift” of God, and also the understanding that this was a point in life. Interestingly, women whose husbands have had experience in secular business may be better prepared to cope with the demands placed on their leader husbands than those wives who have worked up through the ranks in their global work, side by side with their husband.
Nurturing will always be a large part of the team leader’s wife’s role—their husband, their children when Dad’s at home and when he’s gone, team members and national women. A key to being effective is knowing how to give care without being a caretaker. A woman’s inclination to nurture is put to the test by needy people. Knowing her own limits is important to caring well without burning out.
Several women noted that they believe global work should commission both members of the couple into leadership positions. Another thought several expressed was that global work should include married women more in vision definition and goal setting. Single women are often included with the men, but not many married women. “I suspect we have a perspective the others don’t have,” said one mature global worker.
Finally, the bottom line is probably expectations. Helen, an older global worker said, “We must be careful not to let a ‘women’s lib’ mentality keep us from our role as help-meet to our husbands. If we are just looking for a career with significance, we can miss the significance of following Jesus’ model of servanthood as we serve our husband in his leadership. Serving is a joy which can’t be measured!”
Is there a Proverbs 31 for the team leader’s wife? One wife wrote, “An effective team leader’s wife is gracious, efficient, hospitable and wise. She manages her household well and has an open heart and home for others. She values relationships and facilitates the relational dynamics of the team. She is a good listener. She knows when to use her insights to help her husband and when to keep her mouth shut. She has spiritual discernment and protects her heart through a close walk with God.”
Like the Proverbs 31 woman, no team leader’s wife can have all these qualities, but by God’s grace, she can learn to grow in grace. God will reward her service with a joy that can’t be measured.
(All quotes are from actual team leaders’ wives. )