ABSTRACT
While women married to ministers are blessed by God in many ways through
their role as pastor’s wife, the role also presents many particular stressors. These stressors
impact the systems of self, family, and church. A majority of clergy wives struggle to
some degree with interpersonal loneliness, with finding confidants, and creating spiritual
community wherein they can be authentically vulnerable. These struggles negatively
impact the spiritual, physical, and psycho-emotional health of the women in this role. In
order for them to deepen their spirituality and thrive holistically as they navigate the
challenges of this role, a tailored spiritual formation model is needed which includes:
individual spiritual practices; cross-affinity, small group spiritual community; and
continued exploration of their embodied roles as a clergy wife.
In chapter one, the unique needs and stressors of pastors’ wives are reviewed, as
they are an under-researched and underserved demographic whose holistic health is vital
to the Church. Chapter two reviews the history of the role and offers insight to the current
trends, which is important for women as they explore thinking deeply about how to
follow God’s lead in their role. The way women seek to fulfill the role may vary based on
giftings, call, and season of life. Chapter three unpacks some of the foundations of
spiritual theology and spiritual formation, providing a basis for the proposed spiritual
formation model. Particularly, this chapter looks at the life of Jesus as an example to be
followed in the practice of both solitude and small group spiritual community. Chapter
four stresses both the need and difficulty for women married to ministers to cultivate
small group community. It also unpacks some necessary components of effective cross
affinity small groups for pastors’ wives. Chapter five provides a vision for the application
of the proposed model as conducted by Journey Partner Ministries.
CHAPTER ONE:
THE COMPLEX CHALLENGES AND NEGATIVE IMPACTS
ASSOCIATED WITH THE ROLE OF A PASTOR’S WIFE
Introduction
Isolated and virtually friendless.1 Stressed.2 Stagnating spiritually, resulting in
feeling farther away from the heart of God. Second-guessing God’s vocational call while
deeply and seriously considering leaving their church.3 Feeling so physically exhausted
that perhaps even if they want to stay, they doubt they are able.4 This doubt precipitates
deep guilt and personal judgement, “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this after all.”5
The above, either in part or in full, describes almost half of all pastors in the
United States of America.6 This author has spent a good deal of time researching pastoral life, the original focus of my doctoral work.7 (Additionally, I lived it first-hand as a pastor
myself.) The breadth of material is generous. The non-profit organizations serving
pastors are well documented and forthcoming with information and resources. It was this
in-depth journey into pastoral research that brought this author to a shift in doctoral
focus.
While the description from the first paragraph describes almost half of all pastors,
it also describes almost half of all the women who are married to pastors. For example,
roughly half of both pastors and pastors’ wives report not having one close friend.8 Here
is a representative story: Eve has always loved the Lord, at least for as long as she can
remember. Lately, however, it is getting harder. She is thirty-five with two young kids
and endless laundry. Sometimes she stares into the washing machine and watches the
water swirl, back and forth. That is how her life feels: kids, clean, cook, work, church,
sleep, repeat. Her college degree didn’t prepare her for this. Her husband seems to be
rarely home. When he is home in body, he is often not in mind. He has just started his
second pastorate, and the demands are high.9 He gives so much physically and emotionally to the church that he feels empty by the time he gets home.10 Who can blame
him, and how is she supposed to compete with a calling from God?11
As the new pastor’s wife on the block, she was asked to lead VBS this coming
summer. Panic swept over her body, her gut tightened, and her mouth got dry. She knew
it would not be her gifting, but those looming expectations from the church and those she
had of herself… They were haunting and daunting. Who could she talk to? Who would
understand?
Indeed, who would understand? One cannot understand the complexities and
implications of being married to a pastor without understanding the complexities of
performing in a pastorate. Regardless of the independent nature or independent desires of
the spouse, the spillover of being married to a pastor is unique and undeniable.12 With this
in mind, the author’s previous research on pastors is invaluable to the focus on pastors’
wives.
The role of pastor’s wife often involves a wide range of responsibilities, such as
emotionally supporting her pastor-husband, conforming to certain congregational
expectations of appearance and/or participation (often influenced by the previous pastor’s
wife), setting an example both personally and within her family and marriage, and remaining silent to keep from making waves.13 Research reveals the myriad of challenges
and negative impacts that often accompany the role of clergy wife. Women married to
pastors frequently and consistently suffer from isolation, emotional pain, and stress and
anxiety that negatively impact their spirituality and quality of life. These negative
impacts may be found across multiple life systems, as will be unpacked shortly. The
trying situation of ministers’ wives prompted the research question, “How can women
married to ministers deepen their spirituality and thrive as they navigate the challenges of
the role?” The primary resulting answer is a spiritual formation model (SFM) that creates
an optimal environment for spiritual growth and leads to an increased quality of life for
pastors’ wives. The proposed SFM includes three major anchors: individual spiritual
practices, cross-affinity spiritual formation small groups, and continued exploration of
women’s embodied role as a pastor’s wife. Women married to pastors who engage in this
SFM develop a deeper spirituality, a social support system, better psycho-emotional wellbeing,
and build immunity to stress. The focus of this paper is women married to male pastors in the U.S.; these
women thereby function in the role of pastor’s wife.14 These women, as they function in
this role, are here equally referenced as any of the following: pastors’ wives, ministers’
wives, clergy wives. The research surveyed spans multiple Christian faith traditions,
which is significant considering that similar challenges and impacts were seen across
such a wide variety of Protestant faiths.15 The experiences of a woman married to a male
pastor vs. a man married to a female pastor are very different, due to the gender
expectations and cultural norms still strongly at play in the U.S. and most American
churches. Thus, her needs are unique and require a gender focus. As a pastor’s spouse,
men are “significantly more likely to be nontraditional than their female counterparts.”16
Here is the point-of-view from one non-clergy pastor’s husband who participated in a
study with thirty-nine pastor’s wives: “I don’t have those stereotypic expectations of the
[female] pastor’s spouse. Are there expectations? Sure, but they are dramatically
different, it feels like. And so, I am blessed Compared to the research on clergy, there is a small amount of research focused
directly on spouses of clergy in the U.S. and even less in areas outside of the U.S. such as
South Africa.18 In the small amount of research that exists, the responses from men
married to pastors is statistically insignificant due to the still very small number of female
pastors.19 Therefore, limiting the focus to women married to pastors “is common” in
research.20 While there are many reported intrinsic rewards for women married to clergy,
this paper is not about those.21 This paper is about isolating some of the major difficulties and furthering understanding with an eye toward spiritually directed approaches to ease
them.
With such diversity in how modern women live-out the role of pastor’s wife, it is
important to understand some of the major influencing factors for these women. The
greatest influencing factors are the church context and faith tradition (denomination,
association, etc.).104 These factors will often automatically place boundaries on the role.
Most churches have clergy wife role expectations about the overall appearance of the
wife, behaviors exhibited (“always graceful, loving, and kind without having a strong
opinion about something”), and the level of participation the woman will have among the
congregation in active ministry, service attendance and special event participation.105
Churches expect the minister’s wife role to be executed with outstanding spirituality, often create expectations in light of the previous pastor’s wife, and expect the wife to be
an example to other women.106 When wives, for whatever reason, choose to step outside
of these role expectations, many feel the need to justify their actions.107 Because a church
is such a role influencer, a wife’s experience from a previous church will often continue
to carry influence into their role response in the next church.108
The churches themselves are influenced by their faith tradition. For example,
evangelical churches have higher role expectations than do mainline traditions.109
Evangelical churches display more of Johnson’s partnership model while generally
having more ministry restrictions for the wives, since a faith tradition’s view on
egalitarianism shades the wife’s role.110 Only 23 percent of evangelical pastors’ wives
believe their role is not different from a layperson.111 Mainline churches have more
examples of Johnson’s independent model, with most of them being wives who
themselves are pastors of a church separate from their husband; however, there are more
rare evangelical examples.112 Other congregational influencers are socioeconomic status
and geographic location. On a wife’s personal level, internal expectations and stage of life greatly influence
the model a woman embraces.113 A woman may indeed place strong expectations on
herself, which the congregation may not drive.114 Since a great many minister’s wives
grew up in pastoral families, these internal expectations may be generational.115 A woman
may also have strong or weak boundaries between church and home; this influences how
the woman allocates time between family roles and ministry roles.116 If the woman has
young children at home, elderly parents to care for, or is in the prime of her own personal
career, this may limit her ministry availability within the role. However, if she is an
empty-nester or closer to retirement age, she may desire to commit more time to church
affairs.
The way in which a woman’s pastor-husband embraces his role as a minister
impacts the role for his wife, as both of their coping and time management patterns
inform and influence one another.117 For example, if the husband entered ministry as a
second career, the wife may lean toward the independent model and choose to remain
steady within her home church.118 The same may be true of a pastor who is employed in a
series of shorter pastorates in a relatively small geographic area or of a pastor who engages in full-time interim work.119 Even in more typical pastorate settings, the pastor’s
approach to ministry drastically impacts both the wife’s role and his family at large.
Based on his research, John Cattich has created three primary models of how pastors
embrace their role, as seen in Table 2.3 below.
Table 2.3. Cattich’s three models of pastoral role engagement
Model Description
Living Sacrifice emphasizes service to the congregation at the expense of personal and familial
needs
Faithful Spouse
and Parent
focuses on family needs over the congregation and practices several
disciplines to maintain such a focus
Peacemaker seeks as much as possible to satisfy their congregation and their family by
intentionally juggling their demands
Source: Cattich, “Three Models of Clergy Systems,” 179.
As the pastor-husband navigates his role, the wife responds in kind, particularly in the
area of time management; the pastor-husband’s time management between church and
family may prompt various wifely responses: wives “may be accommodating and helpful,
resentful, or they may choose to be defiant and challenge their spouses to be more
considerate of their needs and their children’s needs.”120 In light of this interaction,
Cattich has created three models of pastor’s wives based on their responses and not based
on their proactive embodiment of the pastor’s wife role. The first, martyrs, is very similar
to Sweet’s sacrificer; Cattich explains that they often feel guilty or selfish for asking too
much from their pastor-husband.121 Enforcers seek to help the pastor-husband enforce healthy boundaries between church and family.122 Managers do resemble Sweet’s
companion model; they accept a greater responsibility to navigate boundaries through
“proactively planning, scheduling and rescheduling their calendars to accommodate
congregational demands.”123 While no two women may have the same exact approach to
fulfilling their role as a clergy wife, each one must address each of the above factors,
either consciously or by default.
 
CHAPTER FOUR:
EFFECTIVE SMALL SPIRITUAL FORMATION COMMUNITIES AND
THEIR POSITIVE IMPACT FOR CLERGY WIVES
Introduction
“Have you ever felt alone in a crowd?”1 Do you long to “abandon the superficial
conversations and share your authentic self and your feelings without fear of being
judged?”2 According to the research, many Americans have experienced these feelings.
“We want to be open and vulnerable, but who can we rely on to have our best interest at
heart and maintain our confidentiality?”3 To address these desires, many organizations
have created more opportunities for small group community, from Harvard Business
School to churches across the U.S. and the world.4 These small groups positively affect
several areas of human health and growth.
As described in the previous chapter, Jesus himself modeled intimate small group
community. He also demonstrated spiritual practices of solitude, about which an
abundance of materials exist. This paper’s proposed spiritual formation model (SFM)
includes creating guarded time alone with the triune God, through such practices as
meditation, contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, self-examination, etc. These tools and this time are critical to spiritual formation. However, because of the generous amount of
material on this topic and due to the scope of this paper, they will not be here addressed.
An abbreviated list of resources in this area may be found in Appendix B.
This chapter will, instead, focus on one of the other necessary tools of spirituality
which Jesus modeled and desires for us: intimate small group community.5 When it
comes to the health and growth of the human soul, small group community is essential
for continued and holistic spiritual development. This includes the needs of women
married to pastors. However, these women often fail to find such authentic and intimate
communities within their congregations due to the complications of the role of pastor’s
wife. This precipitates the need for these women to develop what this author has termed
cross-affinity groups (role affinity, cross-denominational diversity) outside of their
churches in order to complete a healthy SFM and create an environment for holistic
spiritual well-being.
The Struggle for Indispensable Spiritual Formation Small Groups
While Jesus certainly spent time in solitude with his Father, just as we are called
to do, complications arise when believers become myopically focused on themselves as
individuals apart from their Christian community.6 While solitude allows the Holy Spirit
to accomplish much through spiritual practices, there are areas of spirituality and expressions of the fruit of the Spirit that can only be accessed in a small group: “spiritual
growth is best nurtured and promoted in small groups” where “authentic, Christian
community” may be lived.7 Small groups consultant Maureen Swan explains: “The
notion that you can develop yourself alone is false. We need the intimacy of a small
group and the feedback to create a mirror to reflect where we’re at.”8 A larger worship
community provides many spiritual assets such as corporate worship, a pool of resources
for personal help and for serving the community, and helping worshippers learn to live
with differences and conflict. However, there is an intimate knowing and authentic
transparency, a seal of confidentiality and limbic resonance that can only occur within a
small group.9
For small spiritual groups to foster optimum formation, they are to be
intentionally focused on the spiritual formation of each of their members. While social
functions, such as book clubs, and faithful functions, such as Bible studies, have their
rightful places, they usually do not offer the opportunity to share one’s deep spiritual
journey and to have others listen lovingly.10 These other social and faithful activities “do
not lead to deep, trusting relationships.”11 Small spiritual communities allow members to discover and reflect on what is deep within them, especially if they undertake Dr. Dallas
Willard’s good counsel of intentionally developing a process of thinking deeply about
their own and one another’s spiritual formation and human souls.12 Alice Fryling explains
that authenticity must be included in the process: “Authenticity is required for spiritually
formative groups, a space where members look at the truth of their current experiences
and ask, ‘What is happening in my life?’ Instead of asking, ‘What should be?’”13
The first and greatest commandment addresses our relationship with the triune
God. The second, our relationships with everyone else: “love your neighbor as
yourself.”14 All other commandments flow out of these two. God places the importance of
our relationships with each other second only to our relationship with God.15 This priority
is true of our spiritual formation. It is to be conducted firstly with God himself and
secondly in loving, intimate relationship with others. Dr. Eugene Peterson explains:
I didn’t come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it:
there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience and following Jesus, no
wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion and embrace of
community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted
individualism of our culture, is the setting in which Christ is at play.16 Most of the fruits of the Spirit are qualities which may only be displayed, enjoyed, tested,
and refined in small community.17 For we cannot express patience, until our patience is
tested. Kindness is not pressed into sacrificial growth until we are spiritually formed to
extend kindness in the midst of frustration, misunderstanding, or offense.18 The fruit of
joy for and over another cannot be experienced without authentic vulnerability as fostered
in an intimate small spiritual group.19 The examples could continue, yet these will suffice.
Jesus, knowing his followers would need these intimate spiritual relationships, modeled
this small community so that his followers would imitate his ways Cross-Affinity Spiritual Formation Groups Outside of the Congregation
Since women married to clergy are rarely able to develop a spiritual formation
group within their congregation, they will need to look outside of their home churches for
a solution. Due to their unique role which brings unique stressors, finding understanding
and safe spiritual space is difficult. To account for this, these wives are able to turn to
other clergy wives to find affinity. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of women married to
ministers participate in a “ministers’ spouse support group (online, in person, etc.)” and
20 percent report counting on other clergy wives “very much” or “a great deal,” with 53 percent reporting counting on them only “slightly” or “not at all.”32 (Only 36 percent
report engagement in a Bible study or small group with their spouse, and only 34 percent
report the same engagement without their spouse.)33 Most wives are missing out on a
valuable source of social support from fellow wives, which is a psycho-emotional
disadvantage since research has shown social support to be important in “countering
stress and improving life satisfaction.”34 Additionally, social support can work to increase
compassion satisfaction and mitigate compassion fatigue.35
Some research studies and surveys focusing on clergy wives have been
conducted; some studies focus on a particular Protestant tradition, while others are crossdenominational.
One thing remains consistent across these studies and across the various
faith traditions: to varying degrees, these women struggle with finding intimacy,
confidentiality, and spiritual friendships. By intentionally seeking out small groups of
other clergy wives, women can discover spiritual friendship and experience its love and
grace.36 Women who have participated in an affinity-type support group with other
clergy wives report feeling “a sense of cohesion with other women who are going though
similar issues” and describe how the groups “also created an environment of mutual encouragement that was helpful.”37 Through the groups, they created relationships with
“shared peer mentoring, emotional support, useful information, and creative solutions”
specific to the role of pastor’s wife and they reported another surprising benefit—greater
marriage satisfaction. 38 Research has shown that people are more likely to interact with
others who are similar to them in psychological state and for those whom they feel an
affinity, especially in groups of twenty or less.39 So the affinity of the role of clergy wife
is a foundational component for small group spiritual community.
The other important element for creating fruitful spiritual small groups is an
element of diversity. There is evidence that some clergy have reservations about making
their denomination aware of any failings, shortcomings, or areas of vulnerability.40
Because the role of pastor and pastor’s wife are so closely conjoined, many wives are
also leery to share faith struggles or marriage struggles within an affinity group from the
same denomination. Some women fear that their sharing may negatively influence their
husband’s career in respect to which churches may hire him or what denominational
positions he may hold. “Clergy and spouses need anonymity to feel safe in sharing their
concerns and will do so more readily across denominations than within denominations
because of political/hierarchy issues.”41 Thus, a cross-denominational group, where women are gathered from varying faith traditions, is advantageous in building trust and
encouraging confidentiality. Dr. David Baker’s 1989 research, which focused on peer
intervention for ministers’ wives, specifically recommends this type of small group.
Baker explains:
Peer social support across denominations seems to make a significant contribution
to the well-being of ministers’ wives. It is hoped that this pilot study will
encourage church administrative leaders, pastoral counseling centers, and other
helping agencies to develop similar cross-denominational support programs for
the wives of parish ministers in their communities.42
Unfortunately, dramatically few organizations have answered Baker’s clarion call to
facilitate cross-affinity groups for clergy wives, even though these groups serve women
best by providing affinity within their role but diversity with the cross-faith tradition
composition. One woman shares her testimony:
Well fortunately I belong to a pastors’ wives —I guess you would call it a support
group. Everyone involved is a pastor’s wife and we meet once a week and just
share our concerns, our praise, our trials, whatever is on our mind from that week,
we share that with one another. It is totally a confidential group where we can
trust each other — that it’s not going to go outside that room. And since we are all
going through the same basic issues, you know, it’s a common thing (even though
it’s non-denominational, we don’t even know which denomination or church the
other ladies are in) which is great.43
Many wives experience similar struggles and stressors through their role and “can offer
great support to each other.”44 As women listen to the experiences of other wives and understand the similarity of the struggles, not only are they able to share the individual
load they carry but they are also able to see their experiences as normalized across the
role.45 This normalization can provide comradery, security, and encouragement. Drs.
Cloud and Townsend explain this dynamic as follows: “A dynamic occurs in a group that
is absent in one-on-one relationships. Members realize the universality of ‘pain and
suffering,’ and they are not as tempted to condemn themselves.”46 Through the dynamics
of cross-affinity groups, members will develop in ways that will bolster their lived
experience in the role of clergy wife. These groups strengthen “emotional intelligence
which includes the set of competencies that drives leadership formants such as selfawareness,
self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.”47
This author is discovering an interesting phenomenon among women married to
ministers, a trend observed through bibliographic material and field research for this
paper.48 Many women married to pastors view themselves as being different from other
pastors’ wives. They often labor under the view that the other clergy wives somehow fit
the quintessential mold of a clergy wife better than they do. Yet the view is often a false one. Some wives engage in a mild facade during denominational gatherings, each trying
to fit in with the other by somehow displaying the qualities they believe will be broadly
deemed and accepted as appropriate for a pastor’s wife. This leaves many wives feeling
that the others’ mild facades are true, when they are only a shadow of the truth. The
wives often feel they are, deep down, different from the other wives. This can leave them
feeling even more isolated.
However, this paper, per chapter two, asserts that there is no quintessential mold
of the clergy wife. The common ideal is a false one that has usually been perpetuated by
the common role of wives from the nineteenth century. When wives have bravely
ventured into cross-affinity groups, they discover this truth: although unique, each wife is
more similar to the other women than she is different. Indeed, the majority of women
married to ministers suffer from many of the same systemic stressors and spiritual binds.
This commonality, this affinity, is reported as a strong bond by women who have
experienced the healing and support of small spiritual cross-affinity groups.
Cross-affinity groups work to combat the above-mentioned phenomenon and
cultivate social support for these women. Social support “is often defined in psychology
as the perception or experience that one is esteemed, valued, loved, and cared for by
others, that one is a part of a network of people who are mutually obligated to help one
another, and that one can count on others if needed.”49 The psychological research has demonstrated the importance of social support, noting that it improves both physical and
emotional health, a sense of well-being, life satisfaction and even helps us cope with
chronic stress.50 For pastors’ wives, a higher sense of well-being is vitally important.
Wives with higher well-being scores, and better outside activities and support, reported
the pastor-husband’s work as having less negative impact on their family; wives with
lower well-being scores, and less outside activity and support, reported greater pastorate
demands on the family with more loneliness and depression.51 Additionally, research has
shown that for pastors’ wives, social support has the strongest influence over positive
well-being scores – physiological, emotional, and spiritual – and fosters a positive
attitude toward the stresses of pastorate life.52 Therefore, without a vital source of social
support, women married to pastors are in a weakened position to lead a healthy psychoemotional
life.
Cross-affinity groups support a solution by broadening the wife’s network of
social support for her emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual needs.53 One
psychological study demonstrated that women have greater well-being and “benefit more when they receive support, particularly emotional support, from multiple sources as
opposed to just one source.”54
Effective Cross-Affinity Spiritual Formation Groups
Some of the most common stressors reported by clergy wives include “an acute
sense of loneliness,” “lack of social support,” “a loss of personal identity,” pressure to
fulfill an “idealized role,” “lack of spiritual care,” “lack of parallel growth between
husband and wife,” and “adjustment to frequent moves.”55 The most recurrent and
significant felt need of pastors’ wives is “for friendship and community.”56 These specific
stressors can be mitigated through effective cross-affinity spiritual formation small group
community. There are three components of focus for effective groups: environment,
structure, and practices.
Environment
To be effective, groups must hold a welcoming space marked by hospitality with
a primary goal of being present to one another as members build relationships with one
another and the Lord.57 The entire ethos of the group must be one of love and trust; it will
simply take some emotional risk to invest in a spiritual formation group and trustworthy individuals will be required to work towards creating a trustworthy environment.58 “After
all, trustworthy, supportive relationships are essential to everyone’s growth and
development as healthy human beings.”59 Additionally, trust that God will indeed use the
group to speak to individual members through the Holy Spirit is important. However, the
group is a necessary component of the members’ ability to perceive the Holy Spirit’s
direction; the members can help provide perspective and clarity, increasing awareness,
through their faithful listening and asking of clarifying questions.60 Most people yearn for
trusting friendships where they can safely “discuss their issues, their hopes, and their
dreams”; “they hunger for that kind of intimacy but don’t know where to find it.”61 Many
pastors’ wives express a desire for space where they can step out of their role and express
authentic vulnerability. One woman explains:
Even though we had social events to attend at the church on a constant basis, I felt
lonely and isolated. During some church events I felt that my autonomy and
identity melted away as soon as I walked through the church doors. While I tried
to find myself in the midst of the new pressures, I desperately needed a friend
who would allow me to be myself.62
Another woman describes how having “real relationships” with other clergy wives
increased her “ability to be more authentic in other relationships.”63 Effective groups dismiss condemnation, judgment, blaming, or fixing.64 “A useful
assumption to make is that people can eventually reach a resolution to their situation with
the assistance of gentle, supportive listening and open-ended and clarifying questions.”65
These questions help the group member hear the Spirit and reflect on a response. When
group members, spiritual friends, listen and empathize, it offers others “a chance to
explore feelings, and legitimizes those feelings – these are forms of emotional support.”66
These listening experiences and understanding relationships create emotional intimacy
which is at the heart of social support networks, which most clergy wives lack.67 Women
who have cultivated confidential social support refer to its benefits more than any other
form of coping.68 Healthy and effective groups lead to healthy and effective social
support, leading to “less anxiety and depressive symptoms,” “more positive emotions and
greater life satisfaction,” and “less strain between the demands of various roles,” such as
the congregational pastor’s wife, professional, daughter, mother, wife, etc.69 “This point
regarding the importance of having a confidant can’t be emphasized strongly enough.
Despite the need for privacy and the desire for image management, pastors’ wives need a
secure relationship in which they can disclose their concerns.” Without a social support network, women married to ministers report leaning
more heavily upon their marriage to fulfill their emotional needs and to find spiritual
support.70 The woman may only have her husband as an outlet for expressing and
processing deep emotions, which places undue stress on the marriage; compounding the
stress is the fact that the demands of the pastorate often inhibit a devotion of time to the
marriage relationship.71 If the pastor-husband is virtually the sole source of emotional
support, this may leave the wife with no source of interpersonal support during troubling
times of marital conflict or times when the pastor-husband is inaccessible.72 With pastorhusbands
reporting that their wives are often their sole confidant, this can create fertile
ground for a flailing marriage.73 This insular support leaves little margin for the marriage,
and the framework can be readily overloaded. For example, if one partner experiences
any type of emotional, psychological or physical struggle, then the other partner’s
position is less tenable because their primary source of social and emotional support has
been weakened.74 The healthy dependence upon relationships outside of the marriage are
critical for a healthy marriage, healthy individuals, and a healthy pastorate. Indeed,
psychological studies suggest that when women maintain varied and multiple sources of social support, they experience a stronger insulation from stress and higher well-being
scores, recommending at least “two high-quality relationships” outside of marriage.75
Structure
As noted earlier, the cross-affinity group consists of women married to pastors
from varying Protestant faith traditions. This provides commonality in the shared role and
yet enough diversity to encourage safety. A strict definition of a group consists of two or
more people who are connected in some way through social relationships.76 The target
size for a therapeutic group is eight to twelve people.77 The most effective number for a
small group is lower than a therapeutic group, requiring a minimum of three with a target
of five to seven or six to eight, depending on the source.78 The time allotment the group
assigns its gatherings will drive the number in the group. For example, for a group of five
or six women, each gathering would take much longer than one hour to fully engage each
of the group practices, while a gathering for a group of three may conclude in sixty to
seventy-five minutes.
Optimally, groups meet twice a month or every three weeks for approximately
seventy-five minutes. According to one source, it takes about four or more hours per
month to develop a deep social support network, regardless of the frequency and time agreement of the group.79 However, some groups have reported deep relationships with
less than four hours a month over a three-year period.80 Whatever the frequency,
consistency is foundational for effectiveness.
In the Baker study cited above, the wives in the cross-affinity group reported a
lower risk of burnout and higher marital satisfaction after four weeks of group
interaction.81 This data was collected immediately after the final group gathering of the
study; these scores were statistically significant in comparison to the control group of
wives who elected to join a group but were told they were on a waiting list.82 However,
when the group participants were evaluated three months later in a follow-up study, there
was no statistical significance between the responses of the participating group and those
of the control group.83 The positive benefits of the cross-affinity group interaction did not
work like an inoculation. It proved to function more like a vitamin supplement; if one
does not take it, one does not receive the benefit. Indeed, the women were so cognizant of
the benefits of the small group that on the last official gathering of the study the women
expressed desire to continue the group meetings. Unfortunately, the author could find no
longitudinal study on this group. However, since the three-month follow up indicated
overall higher well-being scores for the participant group but no longer indicated a
statistically significant difference between the participant and control group in the areas of burnout and marriage satisfaction, one may deduce that the women ceased their small
group activity.84 Perhaps this can be explained by a lack of an organizing principle or
group; the women no longer had the researchers influencing them and creating some
level of accountability. This may indicate the need for a non-profit ministry to provide
structure for cross-affinity groups. Nevertheless, at the end of the study, the group
members “rated the program as a ‘very positive’ experience and indicated that they
would recommend the support group to another minister’s wife.”85
The location of group gatherings should be private, allowing open discussions
and expressions of emotions without anyone interrupting, hearing, or watching.86 Venues
such as restaurants or coffee shops are great for fellowship outings but not for spiritual
formation. Cross-affinity group members, as they reveal deep movements within
themselves, may need to cry or have silence or have their hand held. None of these
actions are comfortable in a public setting. Even on video conferencing calls, it is
important that no one else surrounding a member can overhear the conversations. Privacy
and confidentiality are crucial.
Since effective cross-affinity spiritual formation groups must provide safety,
confidentiality, and accountability, creating a group covenant is foundational to
promoting these group traits.87 Group covenants are most effective when reviewed, updated, and renewed at least annually.88 Additionally, the covenant may be employed as
a tool for addressing conflict or for disruptions in the group’s environment, because the
covenant describes the promised behaviors and boundaries of the group. Covenanting, or
promise making/keeping, is one of Christine Pohl’s four essential practices that sustain
community: making and keeping promises, embracing gratitude, living truthfully, and
practicing hospitality.89
Each time the cross-affinity group meets and abides by the covenant, they are
keeping a promise to themselves and to each other. This promise keeping is “at the root
of our ability to trust one another, and without some measure of trust, it is difficult to do
much of anything.”90 Each time the covenant is renewed, either every six or twelve
months, it is an opportunity for a celebration bearing witness to the trust and fidelity of
the group.91 This is also a celebration and recognition of the members’ own frailty and
dependence upon God to maintain such a covenant.92 In this way, the promise and the
mutual accountability are seated in the larger narrative of God’s people as the body of
Christ.93 Confidentiality and trust are crucial for group members to feel safe enough to
share their personal selves: “Feeling safe in a group invites being known, and being
known creates a safe place – the mysterious reciprocity of community that only God’s
Spirit can achieve.”94 However, sin does occur. In the event that an aspect of the covenant
is broken, it is important that the Christian practices of confession and forgiveness be
implemented.95 It is possible that a breach of covenant, such as a breach of
confidentiality, may be painful and disruptive enough that a member may be asked to
leave the group – at which point it is important that confession and forgiveness be
embraced.96 Members may be tempted to avoid, escape, shut down, or shut out, but it is
important for the group members to stay engaged with the relationships in order to seek
understanding.97 Even if there is not enough of a release of the incident to allow the erring
member to remain without jeopardizing the cohesion of the whole group, it is important
for the group to walk the road of confession and forgiveness to promote the future health
of both the member and the group.98 Practices
There are three practices that occur again and again in effective spiritual
formation groups: transformational Scripture engagement, sincere prayer, and the sharing
and receiving of members’ personal selves.
Transformational Scripture Engagement. A transformational instead of an
informational engagement with Scripture is a cornerstone, utilizing such avenues as
Lectio Divina.99 The transformational methods emphasize the Word’s transformation of
the heart and soul as opposed to emphasizing the acquisition of knowledge. It is the
subtle difference between readers seeking to master the text and readers allowing the text
to master them.100 In this posture, readers view the text with the power in itself to not only
connect readers to God but to invite readers into the activity of God; in God’s activity
readers’ self-understanding is mediated, formed, and transformed toward the intention of
God’s text.101 When readers make the world of the text their world, through their spiritual
imaginations, the text can transform the readers’ moral reality.102 Dr. Viljoen explains the
process as follows:
In this way a fusion between the world of the text and the world of the reader is
initiated and the reader is invited to inhabit this symbolic-textual world as his or
her own world. When this world is inhabited as his or her own world, that is,
when the text is appropriated by the reader, the reader comes to a new self- understanding through the text and the text succeeds in its aim of forming and
transforming the self of the reader.103
When conducted in the group community, the members engage and experience
transformation together, creating synergy, providing witness to the growth, and
deepening intimacy among the members.
Prayer. The second practice, prayer, is the cornerstone of a Christian life both in
solitude and in community. The Bible directs Christians to pray for other believers and to
ask other believers to pray for them. Prayers are offered for other believers by the biblical
writers, and Paul explains how the Holy Spirit prays for Christians. Jesus instructs his
disciples to both pray for themselves and to pray collectively as a community. Table 4.1
below provides the biblical texts. Additionally, in Acts 2:42, it is noted that the Christian community is marked by a
dedication to prayer. Indeed, it is prayer that sustains community, including cross-affinity
spiritual formation groups. Dr. Eugene Peterson explains:
If the Holy Spirit – God’s way of being with us, working through us, and
speaking to us – is the way in which continuity is maintained between the life of
Jesus and the life of Jesus’ community, prayer is the primary way in which the
community actively receives and participates in that presence and working and
speaking. Prayer is our way of being attentively present to God who is present to
us in the Holy Spirit.104
No spiritual community can be effective, regardless of the size, without a foundation of
consistent prayer.
Prayer additionally serves to moderate the distribution of power within a group.
All members are welcome at prayer’s table; all are equally heard by God. Therefore, all
members have equal footing before God and each other.105 Giving space for each member
to voice prayers reinforces this equal footing. That being said, any exalted language of the prayer gives no special status to the prayer. “Quite the opposite: prayer is the natural,
unselfconscious language of the community.”106
With God’s emphasis on prayer combined with God’s desire for believers to have
good lives, it is no surprise that research has, once again, demonstrated the effectiveness
of biblical teachings as also noted in chapter three. Research has shown that those with
positive prayer lives demonstrate higher levels of human functioning by having lower
levels of compassion fatigue, “lower levels of emotional exhaustion, lower levels of
depersonalization, and higher levels of personal accomplishment.”107
Sharing and Receiving of Members’ Personal Selves. The third practice of
effective spiritual formation groups is the sharing and receiving of members’ personal
selves. “It is the small group community where healthy relationships grow, where life
stories are shared, and where spiritual growth influences the journey through future life
experiences.”108 Sharing life stories is not only how members build relationship with
others, it is how members build relationship with themselves; the shared story is a
platform for the exploration of the great questions about one’s self and about life.109 When
members share the story of their past and the unfolding story of their present day-to-day,
they are encouraged by the community to ask, “What is happening in my life?” or “Where is God moving in all of this?”110 In cross-affinity groups, women married to
ministers find a safe place to admit bitterness, acknowledge terror, confess their longing
for God when God feels far away, and have spiritual friends comfort them and help them
seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.111 The experience of members sharing their personal
stories of pain, rejection, or trauma from congregational experiences can work to heal
them and build resilience for the future.112
When members share deeply about all areas of their life, it combats loneliness in
all areas of their life.113 One pastor’s wife explains some of her past loneliness: “When the
children were home, my husband didn’t have enough time for us and I couldn’t share
serious problems about our children with anyone.”114 While many women cannot share in
their congregations, they can share in a cross-affinity group which can “provide a means
of developing, enhancing and confirming a person’s sense of identity and self-esteem.”115
Sharing stories, both within and without of Christian communities, is at the heart
of the gospel. Jesus left no fingerprints but those on his followers’ souls. He left no
manuscript but that written by his followers as they were carried by the Holy Spirit. The
reason any contemporary Christian is a Christian is because of personal life stories. We also receive stories of entire Christian communities, both through the Scriptures and as
handed down through church history. Paul used stories of one community to influence
another, helping them to “build a community where everyone tells and enacts the story of
Christ in his/her own life and ministry and can become a representation of Christ-likeness
to each other in one way or another.”116 We become part of the story of God’s people by
finding our lives in God’s metanarrative; we become part of God’s community by sharing
that story with others.117 Dr. Gail Seidel explains:
God in his incredible mercy gives grace for the journey, comfort for the pain, and
the Spirit’s motivation for the future to embrace my story, which is really his
story in me. Offering my story to the community contributes to the spiritual
formation of the community and to my spiritual formation. Knowing and being
known is a rich by-product of the vulnerability it takes to tell my story and
promotes an awareness that contributes to corporate formation.118
In group members being present to one another, sharing their story is only one
side of the coin; the other is receiving shared stories through active listening. Effective
groups offer wives an opportunity to be “carefully and deeply” heard through “loving
listening.”119 This social support can sustain her in moments of feeling isolated or lonely,
mitigating those stressors. In a spiritual formation group, members are continually in a
posture of listening to others and to the Holy Spirit. Active listening encourages the
listener to focus on connecting for understanding and not on what to say in response. Because in the American culture “talking is valued much more than listening,”
members may need some instruction and encouragement in the area of active listening.120
For example, being present in the moment shows respect for the person and the story.
Allowing time and opportunity for the speaker to complete the story is vital; listeners
must find peace in being silent.121 If the listener suspends judgment, is patient, and
exercises empathy, this will encourage both deeper understanding for the listener and
deeper revelation by the speaker.122 Suspending judgment is another way of saying
acceptance; acceptance, “receiving what is,” is a requirement of active listening.123 Active
listening is an entire process “of receiving, attending, understanding, responding, and
remembering.”124
Once the story is complete, the listener may ask questions. Table 4.2 provides
some suggestions. “The primary goal of listening for understanding is to discover how the speaker thinks
and feels.”125 This may require some questions on the part of the listener. Active listening
by the group members will create a safe space for members to share their stories; “it isn’t
very often individuals are given the opportunity to share what’s really on their mind or
deep in their heart without being attacked, rejected, or rescued. This is the most important
reward of listening for understanding. The speaker trusts you.”126 Trust, active listening,
authentic vulnerability in sharing – all these are crucial for a cross-affinity group to be
effective in combating the loneliness experienced by so many women married to
ministers. The quality of relationships matters deeply in reducing loneliness; research
shows that the “quality of the social context matters more than the mere presence of
another person.”127 For women married to ministers, “having friends who listen well,
understand them, and at the right time provide loving feedback, seems to be at the heart
of the emotional support and the intimacy that they appreciate most.”128 Conclusion
Women married to pastors, just as all women in general, need a small spiritual
formation group wherein they may authentically and honestly share their emotions and
spiritual journey. It is a crucial aspect of continuing spiritual growth and formation.
However, most clergy wives are unable to find an intimate group within their own
congregations, due to the restrictions of their role. This leads pastors’ wives to look
outside their church to form cross-affinity groups, consisting of a cross-section of women
from varying Protestant faith traditions. These groups create spiritual friendships that
offer social support, mitigating such chronic role issues as isolation, loneliness, and
marital strain. For these groups to be effective, they must cultivate an environment of
hospitality, offering loving listening, grace, and confidentiality where women may be
authentically vulnerable. Effective groups create and abide by a group covenant and
engage in three basic practices: transformational Scripture engagement, sincere prayer,
and the sharing and receiving of members’ personal selves. In the next chapter, an
example will be provided as to how cross-affinity groups may be implemented by a parachurch
ministry within the framework of the SFM provided in chapter three.
CHAPTER FIVE:
APPLICATION OF THE SPIRITUAL FORMATION MODEL IN THE PARACHURCH
MINISTRY CONTEXT OF JOURNEY PARTNER MINISTRIES
Introduction
Chapter three noted, “There is no arrival unless there is a definite plan to go.”1
Yet, once there is a plan to go, the ways and means of the journey matter deeply, less we
arrive limping or not at all. Michael Christensen explains further:
Just as we wouldn’t set out on a long physical journey without planning for
periods of rest and refreshment and checking our maps and directions, we can’t
expect to be formed in faith without committing to living a spiritual life with
regular spiritual disciplines or practices.2
Spiritual formation models (SFMs) serve as our maps as we journey through our
spiritual formation. Deep thought and intention encourage well-rounded “practices of the
heart,” which lead to deeper spiritual enlightenment and liberation – spiritual formation.3
Chapter three also unpacked biblical and theological foundations for this SFM.
With so much biblical teaching concerning spiritual formation, it should come as no
surprise that research has demonstrated the effectiveness of Scripture, as also noted in
chapters three and four. Research shows spiritual resources to have the greatest total
impact on the quality of lives for clergy wives who generally face “greater psychological and physiological stress than clergy.”4 More specifically, clergy wives who had greater
spiritual resources had lower compassion fatigue and “lower psychological and
physiological stress along with a greater sense of being able to manage their lives.”5
Additionally, spiritual resources foster compassion satisfaction, which works to mitigate
compassion fatigue as discussed in chapter one.6 Yet even with research denoting the
powerful positive impact of spiritual resources – SFMs, resourcing of spiritual practices,
and small group spiritual community – there is still a great unmet “desperate need”
among women married to ministers for spiritual resourcing.7
This application chapter explores some of the ways and means that a ministry
focused on serving women married to clergy could support them in embracing and
implementing the proposed SFM. In fact, this author is the founder and current executive
director of such a ministry, Journey Partner Ministries (JPM).8 This application chapter,
based on the included research, has been created to serve as a roadmap for JPM in an
effort to fruitfully meet the spiritual needs of pastors’ wives. Current at-large resources for clergy wives include conferences, self-help or
autobiographical books, and the rare support group. While there are conferences clergy
wives could attend, only 24 percent do attend, and many of these conferences are
advertised as being for women in ministry and not specifically geared for clergy wives.9
Many of the conferences are “one-off” events with little follow-up structure, aside from
returning for next year’s conference. Other resources include autobiographies written by
pastors’ wives, some having famous husbands and some not; these books offer
commiseration and some guidance. With the financial success of many of these books, it
would seem to underscore the women’s needs. Fifty-nine percent of wives report carving
out regular time for themselves; perhaps some of that time is spent reading these types of
books.10 Still, due to the isolated nature of most clergy wives, the working-out of any
guidance from the books would be done alone. Only 14 percent of wives report
participating in a ministers’ wives support group, either online or in person.11 However,
based on this author’s general and field research, this paper asserts that the low percent of
participation is due to the rare availability of safe groups. Based on the research here
reported women are positively impacted by cross-affinity groups, testify to the positive
impacts, note their willingness to recommend such groups to others, and have requested such groups.12 Therefore, this author interprets the low group participation percentage as
a lack of opportunity and not as a lack of interest or desire.
The current ministry application offers some of the above-mentioned resourcing
with the added prominent anchor of facilitating cross-affinity groups. As JPM supports
women in each process of the proposed SFM, the ministry tasks may be divided into two
general categories: resourcing and facilitating.
Resourcing
JPM resources wives in both passive and active ways. Passively, JPM provides
information on topics such as spiritual practices in solitude, biblical study, selfexploration,
and spiritual formation. Additionally, JPM provides a vetted database of
spiritual directors and Christian counselors. Interactively, JPM provides training, both
live and pre-recorded, in the areas of spiritual formation and role exploration. As
explicated in chapter two, navigating the embodied role of pastor’s wife that a woman
feels led to live can be daunting and full of conflicting information. Regardless of
whether a woman feels God leading her to some degree of ministry involvement or if she
feels God is leading her to focus her talents in other areas (or perhaps even a different
church from her pastor-husband), she is better served by intentionally and proactively
seeking God’s will for her in the role. There is simply no way around the current social
construct of church which does indeed create the role of pastor’s wife as being more prominent than the singular role of congregant.13 However, it is the woman filling that
role who is to discern how God is leading her to live-out that embodied role. Women are
well-served through interactive training and guided exploration as they examine and
reexamine how they will embody the role, especially as situations and seasons of life
shift.
Facilitating
JPM facilitates the creating and sustaining of cross-affinity spiritual formation
groups. First, JPM offers structure, organization, and accountability for the groups.
Second, JPM aids in connecting women for the creation of groups. This includes
supporting women in their local search and outreach to other pastors’ wives, if they seek
to create a group bound geographically. This also includes connecting women virtually, if
they seek to meet via video conferencing, and supporting them with technological
training and a virtual room if needed. Third, JPM provides ongoing training to both
promote health and foster the development of depth within the groups.
Due to the scope of this paper, the only JPM resourcing addressed in this chapter
is that of role exploration. Healthy group facilitation will also be addressed in greater
detail later in this chapter. Resourcing Women’s Exploration of their Embodied Role as Pastor’s Wife
As noted in chapter two, “There are some women [pastors’ wives] who love their
life in the ministry; others are very unhappy with their role, while some are confused and
have no idea what is expected of them in this position of ‘the pastor’s wife.’”14 In order to
support these women, some faith traditions have tried to provide a one-size-fits-all
framework as a starting point. Some pastors’ wives’ have authored self-help books which
depict personal practices for fulfilling the role, based on how the author has fulfilled her
role.15 Many resources are filled with dos and don’ts, tips and tricks. Some of these may
indeed be helpful. However, this proposed SFM includes resourcing that educates and
guides clergy wives instead of directing or dictating to them. The education and guidance
include aspects of the what and how of the role itself. The what includes: the common
stressors, the systems the role impacts, the critical components of these systems, the lived
history of the role…much of the information included in this paper. The how includes
facilitating a woman’s self-exploration of the unique role she wishes to construct and
embody for herself in her context, especially through the lens of positive psychology and Scripture. (“Positive psychology has been defined as ‘the study of positive emotions,
positive character traits, and enabling institutions.”)16
The “What” of the Role
Focusing on the what, chapter one discusses the three systems impacted by the
role of pastor’s wife: self, family, and the church. Within each of these three systems, a
woman is invited to intentionally reflect, through guidance, on three critical components.
In the self system, the components are boundaries, expectations, and self and soul care. In
both the family and church systems, the components are boundaries, expectations, and
communication. Some sample areas of exploration are listed below in Table 5.1. Through this guided role exploration, the woman has the opportunity to seek God and
discern with intentionality the unique role God has equipped her for in the particular
season of life in which she finds herself. With this, she will have conviction of her
approach and actions, which becomes critical as she lives week-to-week. Just as in golf or
tennis where an off-handed comment can take a player out of her game, the same is true
for a minister’s wife. Preparation of the woman’s identity and the embodied role she is
called to and desires to fulfill creates an anchor for her in times of stress.
The “How” of the Role
Focusing on the how, pastors’ wives are invited to recognize and develop their
psychological capital while recognizing and enhancing their subjective well-being or
143
happiness.17 (Happiness is here defined by Shawn Achor as “the joy we feel striving after
our potential” as opposed to pleasure, which is very short-lived.18 Some positive
psychologists use the term happiness interchangeably with well-being, a term previously
used throughout this paper.19) Psychological capital currently has four components,
defined below in Table 5.2. They are often “referred to as the HERO within,” as the
components create that acronym.20 As women explore their role, they are guided and invited to reflect on how these elements
impact their role and may be developed to enhance not only their fruitfulness within the
role but their happiness in fulfilling the role. Subjective well-being, happiness, includes three basic components: higher life
satisfaction, positive feelings, and reduced negative feelings.21 There are three primary
enhancers of well-being: self-compassion, social relationships, and the development of
positivity habits and practices. Clergy wives are invited to cultivate these three primary
enhancers. Self-compassion improves both psychological and physical well-being, such
as: happiness, optimism, decreased anxiety, resilience, depression, cancer, stress
response, immune function, cardiac reactivity, social functioning, cortisol regulation,
longevity, and obesity.22 Self-compassion is “the ability to treat oneself with kindness,
recognizing one’s shared humanity, and being mindful when considering one’s negative
aspects” – the ability to accept oneself “in light of a realistic understanding of one’s
inadequacies.”23
The second primary enhancer is healthy social relationships, healthy support
networks, which has a vast array of positive psycho-emotional impacts as noted in
chapter four, such as “aiding in effective coping mechanisms when faced with and
recovery from stress.”24 Additionally, the success people have in their careers and roles,
such as the role of pastor’s wife, is mostly influenced by four factors: level of optimism,
belief that behavior can influence change, social networks, and the way one perceives
stress. These four factors account for 75 percent of one’s success, while intelligence and skill account for only 25 percent.25 In fact, the greatest predictor of long-term happiness
is one’s social connections: the breadth, depth, and meaning of one’s social
relationships.26 Social connections have such a profound influence over the holistic nature
of a person that social connection, obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking can all
equally predict the longevity of one’s life.27
The third primary enhancer is developing positivity habits and practices. Positive
practices create a buffer from stress and buoy life satisfaction levels.28 Positivity, similar
to the rational optimism of psychological capital noted above in Table 5.2, is not blind to
pain or problems; however, positivity affirms that the pain or the problem is not the end
of the story. Positivity affirms that one’s behavior can make a positive difference.
Positivity habits take seriously the teachings of Scripture and put them into active use,
with psychological research results to demonstrate the effectiveness. As stated in chapter
four, it should come as no surprise that science has proven the observable positive impact
of what Scripture has been offering to Christians for centuries. For example, take the
teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for
you in Christ Jesus.” Research has demonstrated that if individuals record on paper the what and why of three things they are grateful for that have happened within the past
twenty-four hours, for twenty-one consecutive days, their positivity and well-being levels
rise.29 Another example is the teaching of Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy,
think about these things.” Research has demonstrated that if for twenty-one consecutive
days individuals think of one positive experience they have had within the last twentyfour
hours and record that experience on paper, including where they were, what they
were thinking about, and what they said, the brain basically relives the positive
experience.30 The brain barely distinguishes between actual events and visualized events;
thus the thinking of the event produces the same effect of reliving the event. Therefore,
the positive benefits are doubled. The examples could continue, but these will suffice.
There is deep power in Christians actually practicing, in intentional consistent ways, what
Scripture actually teaches us.
As clergy wives are invited by this SFM to examine and re-examine their
embodied role, they are encouraged to discern one to three areas of focus. These areas
may include a boundary shift, the gaining of a communication skill, or implementing a
positivity practice. Wherever the Spirit leads them to focus, the invitation is to continue
to examine and develop within their embodied role. Facilitating Cross-Affinity Spiritual Formation Groups
Introduction
“We travel in our own fast tracks, and though we may want close relationships,
we are too weary to take the initiative.”31 Clergy wives often find themselves in this
conundrum. They are very busy and have limited time, yet they are hungry for
interpersonal relationships where they can freely discuss aspects of their spiritual journey,
personal state, and complications of their role. In which case, an outside ministry, like
JPM, can foster the creation of close relationships through facilitating cross-affinity
groups. In Brunette-Hill’s study, “support groups were requested by 44 percent of the
respondents.”32 Yet she confesses, “After careful consideration, this researcher could not
discern many reasonable strategies for increasing the likelihood of forming friendships
for pastors’ wives.”33 This paper affirms that by assisting clergy wives in creating and
sustaining cross-affinity groups, JPM can indeed present a reasonable strategy for not
only forming friendships among clergy wives but also facilitating the meeting of other
needs while positively impacting the women’s overall spiritual health and well-being.
Brunette-Hill’s paper also notes that a single breach of confidence can cause the
disbandment of a group. Certainly, there is some risk involved in any endeavor where
authentic vulnerability is key; however, without risking authentic vulnerability we cannot form deep, lasting spiritual relationships. Group covenants and JPM’s assistance in times
of conflict can help solidify confidentiality and mitigate negative impacts. Brunette-Hill
also notes “competition between clergy and/or clergy wives” as an obstacle to group
formation. This can be especially true within faith traditions, which is why several studies
call for more pastorate family support from outside denominational confines.34 One study
explains:
Some type of group supervision/parish assistance program could be created that
involves clergy meeting on a regular basis across denominations. Clergy and their
spouses need anonymity to feel safe in sharing their concerns and struggles and
will do so more readily across denominations than within denominations because
of political/hierarchy issues. Interview experiences with these clergy and clergy
spouses from different denominations revealed a genuine openness and eagerness
in sharing with each other.35
The cross-denominational composition of the proposed groups works to relieve feelings
of competition within the groups. However, it is true that in geographical areas there may
be feelings of competition even cross-denominationally. JPM can work to disarm feelings
of competition through the publication of positive testimonials and offer non-geographic
virtual groups through video conferencing to women who feel less safe with local clergy
wives.
A para-church ministry such as JPM, outside of denominations but working in
conjunction with denominations to support pastorate families, can facilitate the gathering
and maintaining of cross-affinity groups. Many women married to ministers are
struggling to find adequate authentic emotional connections. Because women who work outside the home have a greater opportunity to create a wider support network, they tend
to fare better than wives who do not work outside the home. There are, however, still the
issues of priority and subject matter for these wives. Only 28 percent of wives report
spending “regular time with friends.”36 In addition, the vast majority of those friends are
not married to ministers.37 Therefore, even for the minority of clergy wives who are
regularly spending time with friends, there are still many issues that the woman may feel
her non-ministry friends simply do not understand. Thus, she may withhold parts of
herself or choose not to discuss certain topics during their interactions, limiting the depth
of the relationships and strength of that support network.
Clergy wives “need increased and on-going support networks.”38 If JPM
facilitates and trains wives to engage in healthy and spiritually developing cross-affinity
groups, then on-going and deepening support networks may be created. Combating
loneliness and developing friendships are the two primary roles of a support network,
which cross-affinity groups serve to widen and strengthen; “where closeness exists, burnout
has a hard time staking out a claim.”39
There are six specific processes of the proposed SFM which are supported by
cross-affinity spiritual formation groups. (An overview of the entire proposed SFM may. Environment: Culture of Transformation
In order for JPM to effectively support clergy wives in the recommended SFM,
three environmental ministry principles are to be espoused and implemented. These
principles support adaptive change, as JPM seeks to support the continued spiritual
transformation of women married to ministers. There is an environmental principle
impacting each of the three general areas of human development and engagement:
thoughts (orthodoxy), feelings (orthopathy), actions (orthopraxy). It is reminiscent of the
longstanding VBS categories of head, heart, and hands. The SFM itself has each of these
three categories, as is noted in chapter three, Table 3.2. To intentionally address all three
areas is to attempt to care and provide for the woman as a whole being, to care for her
soul or heart. Henri Nouwen describes the human psyche – soul, heart – as follows: …a person’s core self or spiritual center, where one’s physical, mental, and
emotional lives come together as one in relation to God. …when the human heart
is open and responsive to the movements of the Spirit, healthy spiritual formation
inevitably occurs.40
Below, Table 5.5 presents an overview of each of the environmental ministry principles
for the following discussion. Orthodoxy Ministry Principle: Identity as a Child of God. John 1:12-13
assures us that all who believe in God have been given the right, or power, to become
children of God. 1 John 3:1a goes on to explain that because of God’s love believers have
been adopted as God’s children, through the person and sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.41
God presents us as “holy and unblemished in his sight in love” and lavishes on us grace
and forgiveness.42
This new identity of love and adoption reorients us and our thinking. “From birth
to death, love is not just the focus of human experience but also the life force of the mind,
determining our moods, stabilizing our bodily rhythms, and changing the structure of our
brains… Love makes us who we are, and who we can become.”43 When we live into this
identity, individually and together, God’s love can transform who we are both directly
and through others as we engage in community.44
The first orthodoxy process is to orient women’s core identity in Christ as
opposed to another source. “We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that. makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is
good for us to be, and to be who we are.”45 Willard’s encouragement reflects the idea of
gratitude for who God has made us to be and in turn allows us to extend gratitude for who
God has made others to be. Many pastors’ wives, as many Christians, have heard a gospel
that makes them question this “good” identity, as their identity shifts based on their
perception of their sin management.46 Dr. Lovelace explains shifting from a sin
management legalism to spiritual transformation:
Christians must be removed from the training devices of legalism and allowed to
walk as those liberated by the work of the cross, freed from human regulations
and entrusted to the communion of the Holy Spirit who guides believers through
the application of biblical principles and precepts.47
If clergy wives function in the legalism of sin management, their personal perception of
being good or bad may be influenced by others’ words, denominational expectations of a
pastor’s wife, judgments of congregants, or family traditions. However, “whatever our
position in life, if our lives and works are to be of the kingdom of God, we must not have
human approval as a primary or even major aim. We must lovingly allow people to think
whatever they will.”48 For women who feel as if they live in a fishbowl, this is a daunting
task. However, as these women shift their identity and audience to Christ, their lives and labors will have integrity and joy, “for the labor itself brings honor to God,” regardless of
outcomes or judgments.49
Orienting is fostered through the repetition of teachings of love, grace, and
forgiveness as being embedded in Christians’ new birthright and not rewards to be earned
or lost. We express these three aspects of a Christocentric identity – love, grace, and
forgiveness – towards ourselves and others, not expecting perfection but expecting the
need for grace. Chris Rice explains: “Grace assumes sin. When we ask you to accept each
other, we aren’t asking you to ignore hurts between you. People of grace speak the truth.
But in an atmosphere of grace, truth seems less offensive and more important.”50
The second process is to lead women to examine their own thought processes and
to wrestle with issues themselves instead of what Ronald Heifetz calls “stress-reducing
distractions,” such as “denial, scapegoating, externalizing the enemy, pretending the
problem is technical [as opposed to adaptive], or attacking individuals rather than
issues.”51 Accepting our identity from Christ as being good allows us to accept how God
designed our brains to work: with two primary modalities.52 The power of System 1 (hot system or amygdala) thinking is that it helps us survive and is influenced by
“subconscious values, drives, beliefs…”53 To that end, the Holy Spirit’s formation of us
can transform these three currents – values, drives, beliefs – to reflect kingdom heuristics
and display fewer faulty heuristics.54 The power of System 2 (cool system or prefrontal
cortex) thinking is that “it helps us thrive, rather than just survive.”55
Focusing is fostered by groups intentionally engaging cool system thinking
together, naming it, and using the cool/hot language in common. Centering prayer, the
Examen, Lectio Divina, and the imaginative reading of Scripture inform and activate the
cool system. Monitoring the feedback of the physical sensations during these activities
provides a control against which to compare the physical sensations when the hot system
is activated: increased heartrate, shallow breathing, rise in anxiety or fear. When their hot
system is activated, they can then engage in cool system thinking by engaging their
prefrontal cortex and short-circuiting their amygdala.56 Such cool system activities could
be practices from the group engagement such as recalling/ reciting a memory verse or
thinking/expressing gratitude through spontaneous prayer or Psalm recitation. Later, through sharing stories with the group or through the Examen, the women can begin to
wrestle with why their hot system was activated and observe any patterns of activation,
while they seek God in and through that activation.
Orthopathy Ministry Principle: Accepted in the Beloved. God has made us
accepted and loved in his Beloved, Jesus, through his redemption of us.57 In this
acceptance, we are presented “holy, without blemish, and blameless before him.”58
Therefore, since God has accepted us, we are not to “despise” or “judge” others for their
Christian traditions and practices.59 Even when we pray to God in our fear, frailty, tears,
exhaustion, abandonment, depression, impatience or frustration, the Lord hears and
accepts our prayers and, in turn, us.60 Indeed, God himself has justified us, is ever for us,
and loves us with an attachment that is unbreakable and never failing.61 It is out of this
profound acceptance from God that we may, in turn, accept and love ourselves and
others. “The truth is you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are
loved.”62 Which is exactly why “we love because He first loved us.”63 Acceptance and
belonging precede change or transformation. The first orthopathy process, validating the loss and pain of change while still
challenging the change, keeps the community honest but still moving forward. “Growing
into the likeness of Christ and into the church as it’s supposed to be cannot be separated
from the messiness and disappointments that are part of human relationship.”64 As these
women bump up against congregants, and others, and then seek to process those feelings
in a cross-affinity group, things will simply not stay pretty. As souls are formed and
relationships forged, pain will need to be processed. The groups should embrace this fact
and heed the advice of Pastors Ken and Deb Lloyd: “We all have to process pain, and
most people are unwilling to do it.” In Spiritual Formation, Nouwen et al. provide
insight:
You can never get to the joy if you dare not cry, if you do not have the courage to
weep, if you don’t take the opportunity to experience the pain. The world says,
“Just ignore it, be strong, don’t cry, get over it, move on.” But if you don’t mourn
you can become bitter. All your grief can go right into your deepest self and sit
there for the rest of your life. Better to mourn your losses than to deny them. Dare
to feel your losses. Dare to grieve them. Name the pain and say, “Yes, I feel real
pain, real fear, real loss; and I am going to embrace it. I will take up the cross of
my life and accept it.” To grieve is to experience the pain of your life and face the
dark abyss where nothing is clear or settled, where everything is shifting and
changing.65
Cross-affinity groups provide a safe harbor for mourning pain in loving community.
The second process, promising a community for intimate and formative
relationships anchored in sharing and steadfastness, builds acceptance and trust.
“Commitments and promises that have been tested and proven are at the root of our ability to trust one another, and without some measure of trust, it is difficult to do much
of anything.”66 Each time these women come together as a group and share their stories,
they are keeping a promise, building trust, generating “wordless strength,” “restoring
balance,” and fostering feelings of being “centered and whole.”67 As they repeatedly
honor each other’s time and presence by attending, they activate the “healing force of
communal connection.”68 Moving as a dependent vector, the sharing and vulnerability
will deepen as relationships are “nurtured through time and attentiveness to the subtleties
of need, memory, joy and hurt.”69 Promise making and keeping is fostered through the
women making a covenantal agreement every six or twelve months, accompanied by a
time “to celebrate the event and to mark its importance.”70 Through this covenanting
ritual, “relationships are extended and deepened.”71
The third process is regulating the process for the authentic expression of strong
emotions through language, acceptance, pacing, and a holding environment.72 Regulating
language includes providing a symbolic language inherent in the structure of the groups
and the groups’ gatherings. The structure employs orchestral language; for example, a
group is an orchestra, a group leader is a conductor, and the three practices of group gatherings form a sonata. To give the women handles for expressing emotions, the
language is extended for expression, “I feel like my cymbals are crashing.”
Confusion My cymbals are crashing
Anger My whistle is blowing
Anxiety My drums are pounding
Instability My tuba is flat
Sadness My cello is moaning
Pain My strings are bending
The language communicates the expectancy of a full range of emotions and the
acceptance of all emotions as part of the sonata.
Regulating pacing is fostered by both silence and the structure of the gatherings.
Every symphony has rests: accepted and planned times of silence. With silence being part
of the ethos, it is always acceptable to activate it in order to allow for processing,
reflection, and to slow the group down. As these women share their lives with each other,
a variety of emotions will be triggered. In pacing their sharing, leaders must pay
“attention to the three essential elements of the resilience-building and healing pattern of
stress activation. These are predictability, controllability, and moderation.”73 Having the
same basic structure for each gathering and allowing the women to control the depth of
their personal sharing fosters regulation.
The final orthopathy process is empowering groups to seek out and address fears
which are causing anxiety. This acknowledges both fear and anxiety and accepts them
while simultaneously seeking to release them. “Anxiety, our most core emotion, breaks attachment. Tells us there’s a place inside where Christ doesn’t reign.”74 As women share
space in groups, fear and anxiety are bound to rise at some point. If they are not named,
processed, and released, they will damage the group (rendering it ineffective) or destroy
it (leading to disbandment). Fostering symbolic language may be helpful here as well. If
the orchestra (the group as a whole) feels out of tune or feels incomplete because a
member is missing or holding back, then these acknowledgements can provide a soft
entry for discussion. Often when fears, such as fear of judgment, are verbalized, groups
find the fear is shared. The shared fear can be processed and may actually serve as a point
of deeper relational connection.
Orthopraxy Ministry Principle: Unity and Equity in Christ. Both Paul and
Jesus himself prayed for the unity of all believers; Paul wanted our unity to glorify God,
and Jesus wanted it to demonstrate both his place as the Son and God’s love for
believers.75 They clearly affirm that unity is a gift from God; a sign of his grace. To foster
this unity, believers are all given the same Spirit, for the benefit of creation.76 This
indwelling of the Holy Spirit unites believers into one body.77 Within this body,
regardless of the believer’s function, equity under Christ is granted, so that “the members
may have mutual concern for one another.”78 So that “if one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it.”79 The unity of the body
teaches us to “carry one another’s burdens” and to “not compare [ourselves] with
someone else.”80 The equity of the body teaches us that “each one will carry his own
load.”81
The first orthopraxy process is to protect equal access to power and opportunities
for others to lead. “Power is God’s gift,” and should be held in unity and equity.82 “Power
is exercised any time a person in a group attempts to influence, perhaps through an
opinion, suggestion, passionate plea, rational presentation or the use of his or her body to
take up space.”83 All group members must be provided the access to engage in these
behaviors, as the structure of cross-affinity groups provide opportunity. By encouraging
all the women to share their insights from Scripture reading and to rotate who leads the
Scripture portion, power is shared. By allowing all the women to pray and share their
stories, equity is expressed. As the group shares power with each other, they demonstrate
God’s kingdom which “manifests the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend,
restore, and liberate.”84
The second orthopraxy process is to connect women with healthy group
approaches and methods that focus on the work of transformation. There are three approaches to community life of great importance to the health of cross-affinity groups.
The first is the willingness of the wives to be authentically vulnerable. The more deeply
and authentically women share, the more formative the group. Deep sharing occurs in
progression with a receptive audience who listens without judgment and confrontation.
The method is: Share openly; receive lovingly. The second approach expounds on what it
means to receive lovingly. In order for women to both grow personally and develop
relationships socially, boundaries must be set. The method is: Practice ARK (Ask openended
or clarifying questions. Reflect before speaking. Keep advice unless directly
requested.). The third approach is one of humility. Humility fosters the group’s
connection to the power of the Spirit and reminds them it is God who is doing the heavy
lifting of transformation as they present themselves in unity and equity before him. The
method is prayer. When the group anchors each gathering in prayer, through unity and
equity, a posture of humility is maintained.
The final process is to enquire and observe to identify the adaptive challenges and
needs of the community for development and growth. Adaptive change requires a
feedback loop of evaluation and adaptation. In unity and equity, each person’s view and
feedback are valuable. Pastors Ken and Deb Lloyd emphasize this focus on enquiry by
asking people an ongoing simple question, “What do you need?”85 They noted that
through both answers to that question and personal observations, people will “tell us who
we need to be for them.”86 Well-rounded enquiry requires open curiosity; even so, getting to the needed questions is no easy task. Bernie Roth tells a story about a woman who
asks, “How can I find a spouse?” Bernie replies, “How do you benefit if you get a
spouse?” The woman goes on to explain that she would then have companionship. Bernie
then reframes the question to be, “How might you find companionship?” The answers to
this question were wide-ranging for the woman. She now had multiple avenues for
finding companionship instead of the one quest for a spouse: meet friends online, take
classes, get a pet, join a club, etc. Yet it took Bernie reframing the situation and asking a
different question to open the woman’s horizons. Fruitful enquiry is necessary and not as
easy as it might appear on the surface.
An old riddle depicts how questions can limit one’s thinking, when presented with
a vast array of information.
As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?
The puzzle is fashioned to conceal the gap in the listener’s knowledge. How many
were going to St. Ives? yields an answer only by sweeping past the question
crouching behind it – Where is everyone going? That question is unanswerable –
and so it is rendered unthinkable.87
(The answer, by the way, is one. Only the narrator of the riddle is known to be bound for
St. Ives.) When enquiring about needs of a community, of any size, there is a basic truth
at play: “The questions we ask change the world we see.”88 A ministry’s questions, as well, may conceal its knowledge gap and fail to get at the heart of what people are really
looking for. Yet questions are crucial for cross-affinity group health. These questions
help leaders discern what is not working and where there is conflict. Enquiry into the
groups may be made every six or twelve months when they re-covenant or disband. The
survey would focus on behaviors and be returned directly to JPM staff. Survey questions
may include, but not be limited to:
How often did you engage in telling a personal story or sharing your feelings?
How often was silence kept in the group? How did you feel about it?
Did the silence feel like enough, too much, too little?
How often did an orchestra member pray for you? How did you feel afterwards?
If the conductor had to bring a member back on track during a gathering, how did
you feel about that?
Could the conductor have done something more helpful? What?
How could you work to make your orchestra healthier?
JPM leaders could then review the surveys with the conductor to provide “deliberate
practice with clear feedback.”89 Additionally, the surveys may be used to grow or
enhance JPM practices.
Structure: Group Covenant
A group’s individualized covenant provides for and binds the structure and
language of the group. The covenant supports the following structural components: demographics, size, frequency and duration, location, leadership, group traits and
practices, group stage, reconciliation process, and renewal procedures.
Cross-affinity groups are open to women married to ministers of all Protestant
faith traditions. There is no required fee for participation, which allows participation of
clergy wives from all socio-economic levels and churches of all sizes and stages of
development. (Of course, JPM welcomes and appreciates those members whom God
leads to give.) All races, ethnicities, cultures, and geographic locations are welcome. This
diverse composition of the social support network of a cross-affinity group creates greater
resiliency for each member.90 Groups must have at least three members but no more than
six. If a group of five or six finds that the gathering duration is too long with that number,
the group is encouraged to form a second group. Group size is steady, since the groups
are closed, in that wives do not bring visitors to group gatherings. If a woman feels the
Spirit leading her to invite another woman, she must discuss it with the group. If the
group is open to adding another member, then the group begins the process of adding
another member (discussed below).
Groups will gather every two to three weeks for one to two hours, or any
determination in between. The groups agree to what meets their needs and includes that
in their covenant. The time should be set in the covenant and kept consistently, with
formal adjustments being made if necessary. The pace of the gathering must be
maintained to employ all three group practices. If the group is unable to complete all three practices within the covenanted time, then either the pace must be more disciplined
or the duration must be formally extended. Gatherings must always occur within private,
safe places where confidentiality may be kept and all emotions may be expressed.
A group leader is called a conductor; in orchestral terms, a conductor is “one who
directs a group of performers. The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics,
and style by gestures and facial expressions.”91 In this case, the performers are group
members, and the conductor additionally utilizes words. The conductor, as is each JPM
leader at every level, is encouraged and equipped to function as a servant leader who
models herself after Jesus. These servant leaders lead from, through, and to Jesus by the
power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in surrender to and cooperation with God’s
kingdom plan of redemption and reconciliation.92 They embody the servant attitude of
Jesus by placing emphasis on humility and caring service, not grasping for selfish desires
or prestige.93 They are instruments of ethical adaptive change for those they serve,
seeking all to be built up in love towards the ideal of Christ.94 Additionally, the conductor
is serving in a peer-to-peer situation in unity and equity, seeking transformative change
herself. Conductors are called to leadership as here defined as “a relationship process”
among Christ, the Spirit, the servant-leader, and those being served as they continually grow into God’s kingdom purposes for all creation where leaders model themselves after
Jesus.95 Servant leaders seek to model Jesus specifically in the following ways:
1. Embody “God’s word of love” through a non-anxious, faithful presence.96
2. Prioritize integrity of self, accountability with others, and prayer.97
3. Model and encourage others in Christocentric soul and self-care.98
By modeling Jesus, the leader has already begun the transformation of adaptive change.
“By the nature of bringing Christ, we necessarily bring change. More Christ equals more
change.”99
Group traits are named in and supported by the covenant. Hospitality and fidelity
are crucial for a healthy cross-affinity group. Hospitality is not just about welcoming
strangers outside of a community, it is about welcoming each other within community as
internal relationships are strengthened.100 It is not just about coffee and donuts; it taps
“into deep human longings to belong, find a place to share one’s gifts, and be valued.”101
Women married to ministers find a deep place of belonging in these groups. They share
their gifts as the conductor leads, as members rotate leading practices, and as women
share spiritual insights. However, cross-affinity hospitality recognizes the woman’s very self as a gift to be received, respected, and treasured. As she shares stories of her life, the
revelation of herself is a gift received by the group, with gratitude being shown through
deep knowing of each other. Christine Pohl explains some necessary components of
enduring hospitality:
To sustain hospitality over the long term, our gratitude needs to be cultivated in
response to the love and grace of God. Fidelity, truthfulness, and gratitude make
space for the practice of hospitality. Communities of hospitality also learn how
important it is to set aside time for rest and renewal.
Fidelity is a foundational group trait, as women need to feel that all the members in the
group have their best interest at heart. As such, confidentiality will be kept, gatherings
attended, and criticism will have no place. However, groups understand that time away is
sometimes necessary. Groups may schedule times when gatherings are temporarily
suspended, such as in the summer, after childbirth, during a child’s wedding preparations,
etc. The group may still keep in touch via text or email, but the gatherings themselves
would be suspended. All of these temporary shifts would be noted with dates in an
updated covenant, so that the promise-keeping of returning to regular meetings will have
accountability and can be celebrated. As part of the general accountability, the three
group practices are described in the covenant and will be discussed in detail in the next
section of this chapter.
The stage of a group is noted in the covenant, including any shifts in the group’s
stage. Groups are described as orchestras; when a group is first formed, it is considered a
chamber orchestra. In chamber phase, the group takes six to eight meetings of
exploration. The chamber phase is covenanted, includes the three practices in each
gathering, and includes: an introductory meeting where the covenant is discussed and
general introductions are made, meetings where each member individually shares her life-story (starting with the conductor), and then two or three meetings of the regular
rhythm of the three practices. Thus, the number of meetings in the chamber phase
depends on the total number of members. After the chamber phase, members decide
whether they want to extend their covenant to six or twelve months, creating a symphony
orchestra, or if they want to disband and try again with a different mix of women. Either
option is absolutely acceptable, as the chemistry and dynamics of the groups must
provide for each woman’s comfort. If a group decides to expand their symphony
orchestra to include a new member, the group shifts back to a chamber orchestra with an
adjusted covenant. The entire chamber process begins anew with the new member.
Reconciliation is part of the covenant. Reconciliation may need to be explored
through truthfulness, confession, and forgiveness for any breach of covenant. Perhaps a
member begins to repeatedly miss gatherings or is struggling with hospitality by
dominating conversations or giving unsolicited advice; these would be covenant breaches
which would need to be brought to the erring member’s attention. Otherwise, the group
risks unhealthy dysfunction or disbandment. The reconciliation process can actually lead
to deeper conversations and relationship strengthening, regardless of how difficult it may
seem in the beginning. Grace dominates the reconciliation process, and all members
agree to the process when they agree to the orchestra covenant. There may be times when
a breach is painful enough that, while reconciliation occurs, a member may still want to
move on to another group. The transition to a new group is completely understandable,
particularly in cases of a breach of confidentiality. However, the healthy practice is for
reconciliation to be sought even if membership is to be transferred. Renewal occurs every six to twelve months, depending upon the orchestra’s
agreed length of time. (JPM generally recommends a twelve-month covenant for
symphony orchestras.) At renewal time, the group may renew its current covenant, adjust
the covenant, or disband. Covenant adjustments may include extending the covenant time
from six to twelve months, shifting to chamber stage to welcome a new member,
changing the gathering schedule or location, etc. Covenant disbandment may be due to
relocations, the need for an orchestra to split and form two new orchestras, or perhaps the
desire to create additional relationships in other new orchestras, etc. During renewal, five
events occur:
1. Promise-keeping for the previous covenant is celebrated (as discussed in
chapter four), perhaps with a social gathering, retreat, community service
project etc.
2. Covenant is reviewed, adjusted if necessary, renewed, or disbanded (the
orchestra communicates the outcome to JPM)
3. Feedback is provided to JPM in respect to the previous year (reflections of the
flow and progress of the group are communicated to provide a beneficial
feedback loop for the health of the group, questions vary based on the
longevity of the group with an eye toward gauging growth and development)
4. Life-stories are told annually (with the hope of sharing more deeply and
broadly with each renewal)
5. Embodied role of pastor’s wife is reviewed and shared annually
With each renewal comes an opportunity for members to share, once again, their lifestories.
The hope is that women will use some of these renewal events as an opportunity
to engage in solitude practices focused on her life-story. There are several spiritual
formation techniques, which are resourced by JPM, to aid the women in delving into their
life-stories as a means of self-exploration/development and spiritual
exploration/transformation. The hope is that the women will get to know themselves, each other, and God more intimately through these life-story events. Additionally,
women are encouraged to use some of these renewal events as opportunities to reevaluate
their embodied role as a clergy wife, as was discussed earlier in this chapter. The
insights gained during these two methods of solitude may be shared with the orchestra.
The sharing, especially of the embodied role, serves to give voice to members’ internal
processing. The orchestra is there, not to judge or compare, but to receive, bear witness,
and encourage. Perhaps members may even receive insights or be inspired by each other.
This deep, intimate unity within diversity is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:23 and what
bears such a profound witness to the love of God.
Practices: Scripture, Prayer, Sharing
Orchestras, both chamber and symphony, engage in three main practices (play a
sonata) at each gathering. The sonata movements are Scripture, prayer, and sharing. The
movements may be played in varying order, as the Spirit directs. Yet the sonata for a
gathering is not complete until all three movements have been played.
Transformational Scripture engagement is led by members in rotation, as they
engage with unity and equity. This Scripture movement is not didactic or informational.
It is a time when members gather around the living word of God and invite the Spirit to
move through the Scripture in transforming them individually and binding them
communally. It is the love, grace, and power of God’s word that equips and empowers
members to walk in the orchestra traits of hospitality and fidelity. The Word reminds
members of the holy task at hand and the call to be Christ centered. It is the Spirit
through the Word that softens hearts to be authentically vulnerable and prepares members
to be receptive and to hold the safe space. The leading member chooses the Scripture and method. However, all members share their personal insights. This allows members to
learn and be inspired by each other, as the Spirit moves. Because of Scripture’s power to
set the tone and anchor the orchestra, JPM generally recommends that it be the first
movement of the sonata, with the exception of adding a centering prayer to begin the
gathering.
Prayer is another sonata movement. It may be played multiple times by an
orchestra in a single gathering. For example, the gathering may open in centering prayer,
a member may want to offer or receive specific prayer immediately after a sharing
movement, and the gathering may end in communal prayer where members and
communities alike receive prayer. This movement is a fluid one, but it still must be held
in hospitality. With differing denominations present, it is important that members discuss
what types of prayer they are comfortable with. As Paul instructs believers in the area of
food in 1 Corinthians 8:8-13, we may apply that teaching to an orchestra’s prayer. If a
group is not edified by praying in tongues, then the member who does pray in tongues
may refrain during orchestra gatherings. Not that God does not commend it but for the
sake of hospitality to the other members. Likewise, if members pray with beads or prayer
books, save for one member, then perhaps the orchestra agrees to a compromise of usage
that does not create an obstacle for the single member. Truthfulness and hospitality are
group traits that must be fully expressed while discussing prayer. Truthfulness is also to
be expressed during prayer, so that members may feel free to pray in a safe,
conversational posture without adding any overly religious language or overtones.
Silence and emotional expression are invited and welcomed during prayer. Since a sonata is not complete without prayer, the conductor must pace the orchestra to ensure that the
movement of prayer is played.
Sharing completes the sonata movements. The sharing movement is played by
each orchestra member at each gathering. During the chamber orchestra stage, members
may engage in very brief sharing in order to appropriate the largest amount of sharing
time to the member offering her life-story for that gathering. During the symphony
orchestra stage, each member should be appropriated generally equal amounts of time to
share from their lives as the Spirit leads. This may be current life events or struggles,
church or faith issues, family or personal conflicts, disturbing dreams, recurring pain of
the past, etc. In response to this sharing, members engage in loving reception, grace,
acceptance, silence, cool system thinking and ARK (as discussed earlier in the
Environment section). Orchestras are not a place to be “fixed,” they are a place to share
and receive in a spiritual formation community. Members may certainly ask other
members for their perspectives; responses may include words of experience or
encouragement, Scripture references, or the invitation for a member to consider seeking
deeper mentoring through a spiritual director or counselor.
In sharing, women married to ministers may choose to reveal their husband’s
church or not. Especially in the early life of an orchestra, a woman may not feel safe
enough yet to disclose that information. All levels of sharing are acceptable. Some
pastor’s wives’ groups, as noted earlier in chapter four, do not even feel the need to
divulge their faith tradition. After all, the point is not to have theological discussions over
doctrine. Nevertheless, denominations have differing marks which may become apparent;
therefore, humility, sensitivity, and hospitality are to be graced among all with the goal of openly addressing any conflict that may arise. As women gather into orchestras, either in
person or via video conferencing, they may choose to divulge their home churches as the
level of trust rises and relationships deepen. However, it is not necessary in the
beginning. Some women desire a geographic, personal connection where their home
churches may even unite to engage in community ministry together. However, some
women have a desire to remain anonymous and interact with a group that is more
geographically diverse through video conferencing. The women are encouraged to seek
what is fulfilling and meets their desires and needs at the time.
The sharing movement is a way for clergy wives to unburden themselves in a safe
community that, through their role affinity, can empathize with their complex situation.
Hileman helps to explain their situation:
…an ordained pastor and pastoral counselor in Siler City, North Carolina, says
that clergy wives are the angriest people he sees. They cannot talk to members of
the congregation or others in the community because what they say may get back
to the congregation. They cannot talk to denominational officials because they
fear it will affect their spouse’s chances for advancement. Pastor’s spouses may
also not feel free to communicate their feelings to the pastor. They may be
reluctant to burden an already overburdened pastor, and the pastor may be
reluctant to acknowledge the spouses’ dissatisfaction. …pastors often have a
difficult time relating to their spouses’ struggles because they themselves feel a
sense of satisfaction from the ministry and may not understand the spouses’
negative feelings. The author’s [Hileman’s] husband, a United Methodist pastor
and marriage and family therapist, believes that a larger, more hidden issue may
be that the pastor does not want to admit the spouse is suffering because of the
pastor’s job. He or she may fear being pressured to leave the ministry.102
When pastors’ wives face issues of doubt, crisis of faith, marriage conflict, extended
family conflict, congregational conflict, stress in managing role expectations, financial
distress, depression, burn-out, etc., they have few outlets to process such life events. In some situations, the orchestra member may be vocalizing issues for the first time, having
previously only circled the thoughts around in her head. With all this in mind, the
environment of the gathering is important to allow clergy wives to process their life and
faith journeys and to create enough space and safety to allow authentic vulnerability. The
majority of clergy wives express a dynamic paradox of the clergy wife role: blessing and
woe. Most wives are open about how God has used the role to bless them. However, they
are not provided a safe space to express the woes as well. Orchestra members understand
this paradox; they understand that a pastor’s wife needs to unburden stresses about the
role while still desiring to be in the role. In fact, as the research cited in this paper has
indicated, when wives are able to express the woes of the role, they thrive evermore
deeply in the blessings of the role. Kay Warren explains how important she believes
sharing is for pastors’ wives:
Friendship is crucial. Because I think the only thing that keeps us from trying to
walk on water, from trying to live as a perfectionist, and from trying to please
everyone is to know and be known, and the only way you can know and be
known is in relationships. Is in friendships.103
In cross-affinity groups pastors’ wives can know and be fully known across all the roles
and subject matter of their lives without reservation.
When the orchestra shares, relationships develop, social support networks are
created, and interpersonal isolation diminishes, along with its negative impacts, which
were noted in chapter one. Because members have created mutually satisfying
relationships, their loneliness is diminished and well-being rises, along with all the vital benefits of well-being noted in chapter four. These relationships are what Shawn Achor
describes as reciprocal bonds, which are more fruitful and have greater impacts on our
happiness, engagement, and creativity.104 Reciprocal bonds foster psychological safety,
which is defined by Amy Edmondson as a shared belief that the community is “safe for
interpersonal risk-taking” and that the community will not “embarrass, reject, or punish
someone for speaking up.”105 Psychological safety is crucial for a healthy cross-affinity
group to create healthy and lasting social connections. When that occurs, levels of wellbeing
and psychological capital each rise.
Conclusion
As chapter two demonstrates, the role of pastor’s wife is indeed an actual role in
churches in the United States. The question women must answer is, how do I believe God
is inviting me to live this embodied role? The answer to that question may fall anywhere
on an involvement spectrum from a partnership model to an independent model.
Regardless of how a woman embodies her role, the majority of pastors’ wives face the
stressors of interpersonal loneliness, a struggle to find confidants, and challenges creating
spiritual community wherein they can be authentically vulnerable. Chapter one certainly
unpacks the various obstacles these women face in embracing their embodied role, such
as isolation, emotional pain, and stress and anxiety that negatively impact their
spirituality and overall quality of life. These negative impacts may be categorized and
seen across three systems: self, family, and church. Amid the many rewards of the role, women must find ways to cope with these negative impacts or endure ongoing suffering
from them.
Remember Eve, from chapter one’s introduction? In her love of the Lord, her
husband, family, and church, she still wrestled with the many stressors of the role and
struggled to find answers to these questions: Whom could she talk to? Who would
understand?
Indeed, how can women like Eve, pastors’ wives everywhere, deepen their
spirituality and thrive as they navigate the challenges of their role? An SFM is one
solution. Chapter three unpacks the theological and biblical foundations for this solution
geared toward the needs of pastors’ wives – a model that creates an optimal environment
for spiritual growth and leads to an increased quality of life. Necessary to this SFM are
individual spiritual practices, cross-affinity spiritual formation small groups, and the
continued exploration of a woman’s embodied role as a pastor’s wife. Chapter four details
some of research’s best practices concerning such small groups.
Here in chapter five, specific application is developed for the use by JPM in
serving women married to ministers – from resourcing to facilitating. Specifically, a
framework for the facilitation of cross-affinity spiritual formation community has been
developed based on the three major components of environment, structure, and practices.
Clergy wives who engage in this model, as facilitated by JPM, develop a deeper
spirituality, a strong social support system, better psycho-emotional well-being, and build
immunity to stress.