When I was twenty-four years old, my husband of two years graduated from seminary and became the senior pastor in a rural church in Missouri. We packed up our home in Tennessee and moved to begin a new life as a full-time ministry couple. It dawned on me about the time we crossed the Mississippi River that I would be the pastor’s wife. I’d been so busy packing and preparing to move that I hadn’t really considered what would be expected of me when we arrived at our new church. I thought about the different pastors’ wives I’d known over the years and felt instinctively that I wasn’t cut out for this. I had no idea what awaited me at our new church, but I felt acutely ill-prepared for what lay ahead.
I grew up in the church and enjoyed the blessing of Christian parents. I was saved at a young age. Watching my parents prioritize Bible study and prayer, I adopted similar habits in middle school. However, I lost touch with my Bible during college and early marriage. To be frank, I was simultaneously busy and lazy, prioritizing an extra hour of sleep in the morning and television at the end of a long workday over any kind of faithful Bible reading or prayer habits. I was happy, and life was full. I didn’t seem to need much time in the Word beyond Sunday morning preaching or midweek church meetings.
That changed when we began our new posting in Missouri. We walked into a church that was eager for our arrival but broken nearly beyond repair by dissension and factions. We spent the first ten years of our ministry trying not to get fired. In addition to turmoil, there were the usual challenges of ministry that the flock brings to you for comfort or wisdom: death, illness, broken relationships, doubt, theological questions, fear, anxiety. I quickly learned that I had nothing much to offer anyone because my spiritual reserves remained depleted. I rarely filled my heart with what was true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). I wasn’t pursuing any kind of spiritual growth myself; I couldn’t expect others to do what I was unwilling to do. How could I encourage our suffering church members with the comforting truths of Scripture if I had no idea what those truths where? How could I grow in godliness and extend grace when I wasn’t connected to the source of godliness or grace?
I began reaching for my dusty Bible in desperation. I had nothing to give, but I knew Who had everything I needed. I think a lot of people assume that their pastor’s wife is a theological giant with an education like her husband’s. In some cases, that may be true. But, as I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many pastors’ wives over the years, I’ve learned that most of us have had no training for ministry life. In fact, your pastor’s wife might be exactly who I was sixteen years ago: young, inexperienced, and not 100% certain she even wants to be a pastor’s wife. She may have had no formal education or training. She may not have any regular habits of Bible reading or prayer. When she finds herself in a position that prompts others to look to her for spiritual guidance, she might find that she is as ill-equipped for the job as I was. And, aside from all the expectations (right or wrong) her church might have of her, she may sincerely struggle for spiritual health.
It took me a few years of treading water in ministry before I realized that regular Bible intake was the only thing that would sustain me through the suffering that pastoral ministry produces and the neediness it attracts. In 2nd Timothy, Paul talks about the usefulness of Scripture. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). More than anything in life, I want to be complete in Christ and equipped for what He has called me to do. Through Scripture, we can be taught, corrected, and trained in righteousness. God has given us the gift of His word to provide what we need in this life. The apostle Peter says that we have everything we need for “life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2nd Peter 1:3-4).
It is through knowledge of God that we learn who He is, who we are, what He has promised and provided through Christ, and how we can be saved and sanctified. And it is through Scripture that God has chosen to reveal Himself and His plan for redemption. If we want to know Him, love Him, and obey Him, we must read His Word. We must become students of the Bible. Jesus said that if we love Him, we’ll obey His commands, and that if we want to bear fruit, we must remain attached to the vine (John 14:15; 15:4). We cannot expect to bear fruit while severed from the vine. If we want a life of fruitfulness and growth in Christ, we must remain connected to Christ (John 15:1-11). To remain connected to Christ, we must remain connected to His Word.
Though I didn’t really know how to study my Bible, I began simply by opening and reading it. If you are intimidated by Bible study, I encourage you to begin by reading one book through, slowly and thoughtfully. Pick a Gospel—the book of John, perhaps—and read through it a couple of times over the course of a month or two. If you’re a list or goal-oriented person, make it a part of your daily to-do list—not because you’re trying to accomplish a goal as much as you are getting to know a person. The Bible is a book primarily about God, and when we come to it, we aren’t to do so in order to earn points with God or to have a tidy checklist. We come to the Bible to be taught, corrected, and trained. We come to the Word to learn about God, to get to know the contours of His faithfulness, to see the wideness of His goodness. As we grow in knowledge of Him, we will grow in love for Him. As we study His character, He molds our hearts to look more like His. Paul says in Colossians that it is through knowledge of God that we can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and endure with patience and joy (Colossians 1:9-12).
Once you have chosen a book and have read through it a couple of times, read it again much more slowly—just a few paragraphs or a chapter per day. Ask a couple of questions of the passage to keep your heart engaged and to see the text from several different angles. I like to stretch this process out over the course of a week. Currently, I’m studying the book of Joshua. This week, I’ll read Joshua 6 every day and answer a different question about the text. By the end of the week, I will have read, studied, and meditated on the passage with more depth than a simple read-through can afford. Here are some questions to consider or begin with:
- What does this teach me about God?
- What does this teach me about man?
- How does this point me to Christ or help me see the gospel?
- How should I apply this to my life?
- How could I summarize this text and articulate it to a friend or neighbor?
To take things a step further, try working out this study process with a group. Perhaps there are a few women in your church or community who would enjoy meeting once a week to discuss the Bible. You might even ask some other pastors’ wives! While this might feel intimidating, you can start small with one or two other women. Have everyone follow the steps suggested above and meet once a week to discuss what you’ve learned. I have done this for the past five years, and it has filled my heart with deep affection for the women I study with. We have learned from one another and grown together as we’ve examined numerous books of the Bible in an in-depth way. Learning in a group like this also provides built-in accountability. I know that every Tuesday at noon, the ladies in my study group will expect me to meet them at the local coffee shop ready to discuss the text we’ve all studied on our own for the past week.
If you struggle to finish projects or maintain momentum, or if you’re just worried you might miss something important as you study, including others in the process can be helpful and encouraging. God has given us the Church to aid us in perseverance and to encourage us to grow in the faith. While that might feel challenging for those of us at the helm of church life, it is still possible to study and learn with those for whom God has called you to labor. You can begin praying now for some partners to study Scripture with!
When Life Gets Hard, Press into the Word
As you begin to build your life around studying God’s Word, you will encounter seasons of spiritual dryness or times of deep suffering. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes those attacks of slander or apathy can feel like they are directly from the enemy. And sometimes they are! Satan does not want you to read your Bible. He does not want you to grow in godliness. He does not want you to mature in the faith. And he’ll seek to distract you or distort your goals in any way he can. When life gets hard or your ministry comes under attack, don’t “take a break” from Scripture. Instead, press in even more. Arm yourself with truth and stand firm on the gospel. Paul paints a clear picture of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, showing us that the way that we stand firm through suffering or attacks is by outfitting ourselves with truth. And as Jesus plainly said, God’s word is truth (John 17:17).
When I think about the women who stood beside their pastor-husbands at the churches of my childhood and college years, I now see women who weren’t perfect, who struggled to love their churches, who loved the Lord but wanted to love Him more, and who learned to love His Word as a means for perseverance and growth.
Whatever the demands of church life might be, our personal growth in Christ and our perseverance hinge, in many ways, upon our commitment to Scripture. The good news is that God has given us what we need to grow and endure. His word is a veritable feast we can enjoy every single day—starting today! While growth takes time and perseverance is a long journey, God will keep His promise to finish the work He began in us. He will make us more and more like Jesus, and He will give us what we need to love and serve the members of our churches.