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Thriving in the Smaller Church

By Kristy Dykes

Enrichment Journal, fall 2001

It was testimony time. We were enjoying faith-building praise reports and the sanctuary was permeated with a spirit of worship. Mr. Goldie, our faithful, senile man from the nursing home, sat in his favorite seat on the second pew. His bushy eyebrows bristled over his large glasses, his mouth dropped open in its usual "O." Slowly, he stood to his feet and bellowed, "If you want to go to heaven when you D-I-E, then put on your coat and your T-I-E."

A scene from the best-selling novel, At Home in Mitford, you say? No, that's a scene from our lives. We've pastored large churches and small, in big towns and little. While we enjoyed every experience, we have a special place in our hearts for the smaller church.

We've had the privilege of living in some unique places. Carrabelle, Florida, was a fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico. Our parishioners frequently took us fishing, shrimping, oystering, floundering, and even shark hunting. Carrabelle's claim to fame is the world's smallest police station, which was once featured on national TV. The police station is a phone booth. The police chief parks his car beside it. When people need help, they call him, and he speeds off to assist. My husband, Milton, led the police chief to the Lord and baptized him in the Gulf, along with many others in a thrilling revival that was so unique, the Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Florida) reported it.

Though in many ways it is rewarding to serve as pastor's wife in the smaller church, there are unique challenges and demands. It is sometimes easy to become weary in well doing.

Early in our ministry we acquired Greener Grass Syndrome. We spent valuable time talking about how much better it would be at our next church. "We'll have a bigger budget, salary, and facilities," we'd say. "We'll have more members, more workers, more ministries."

One day, the Lord took away our GGS. He showed us that we could spend our time wishing away half our lives and kicking against the goads, or we could enjoy where He had placed us. After this we adopted a philosophy we still live by today: Whatever the Lord calls you to do, He gives you a love for it…if you let Him. That "if" means focusing on the good things in your particular situation—from the church to the town to the parishioners, and more. That "if" also provides the key to thriving, not just surviving, in the smaller church. Below are four vital areas you, as pastor's wife, must address.

MINISTRY TO YOUR CHURCH

Most pastors' wives are talented, compassionate leaders who are quick to take on added responsibilities when they see a need; and there's plenty of need in smaller churches where there's a shortage of workers. Heather* directs the choir, schedules special music, and produces seasonal musical dramas, besides teaching school. Anne*, a secretary, puts on a ladies' breakfast every first Saturday. She and her husband plan and/or attend departmental events the second, third, and fourth Saturdays.

Other pastors' wives aren't as visibly involved, but carry their own heavy personal load. Each pastor's wife needs to realize that her ministry should be in relationship to her giftings. However, as I willingly responded to the needs of various churches we've served—even when I didn't feel capable—the Lord expanded my giftings.

In the first church we pastored, the pianist played the same octave with her left hand no matter what notes she played with her right. I practiced the piano relentlessly, took organ lessons from an accomplished gospel organist, and became the church organist for several of our churches.

MINISTRY TO YOUR HOME

At a ministers' wives retreat, the speaker said, "When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I say is, ‘Yes, Lord.' " The next day I spoke on "Family Together Time in the Ministry." With a big smile on my face and meaning it with all my heart, I told the wives, "When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I say is, ‘What in the world are we going to have for supper?' "
No matter how involved we a
re in church responsibilities or secular work, our first priority is to see that the practical needs of our families are met. That's a tall order for the often-harried pastor's wife in the smaller church. But if we don't strive to make our home a peaceful retreat from the stress of the world and ministry, how can we care for the needs of parishioners? If our homes are topsy-turvy—with laundry piled up and/or meals served at odd hours, or not at all—we are incapable of giving out.

I've waged the battle of becoming too involved in church work. But I can truthfully say I've always kept my family at the head of my to-do list.

If you need help in organization, read books on getting organized. Have a friend teach you how to prepare quick and easy meals. Recruit your family to assist with household chores. Most of all, schedule family-together times—your children will soon be grown and gone.

Beverly, a minister's wife from Florida, says when her children were small, she would take a load of laundry out of the dryer, dump it on the couch while the family was watching TV, and say, "We're all in this together. Fold." She accomplished two things: family-together time and laundry folding…smart. Try skating, bike rides, picnics in the park, walking, playing games—all memory making and money saving; an important dimension in pastoring the smaller church.

MINISTRY TO YOUR HUSBAND

Too often ministers in the smaller church feel that they are only pastoring a small church. This can result in low self-esteem. They may be dealing with congregants who aren't quick to follow their vision. They might also be dealing with unique feelings relative to their preaching and inadequacies in communicating the gospel.

On these cat-kicking days, as one minister calls them, the pastor's wife needs to be an encourager and wise counselor—without being pushy or reactionary. She can reassure her husband with positive statements like, "Church size doesn't determine significance," or, "Small churches can be excellent, effective, and exciting."

MINISTRY TO YOURSELF

There is an acronym that states: JOY equals Jesus first, Others second, and You last. At least the "you" is included. To be healthy in the ministry, pastors' wives need a time for themselves. Tricia Welborne, an involved pastor's wife and a schoolteacher in Leesburg, Florida, rides her horse at least once a week. Some ministers' wives like to shop for bargains at malls or yard sales. Others enjoy crafts. Some ministry couples choose a day of the week as their time of refreshment and enjoyment, either separately or together.

Sometimes pastors' wives simply need some quiet time. A scenic view can provide the perfect backdrop. Recently, we visited Little River Canyon in northeast Alabama. A plaque at one breathtaking lookout point read, "Remove nothing from this park except nourishment for the soul, consolation for the heart, and inspiration for the mind." I followed its instructions and was the better for it.

HIGH CALL, HIGH PRIVILEGE

Someone said, "Never stoop to be a king if God has called you to be a minister." My paraphrase is: "Never stoop to be a queen if God has called you to be a minister's wife—especially in a smaller church." We are hand-picked to do a special work for Him.

Kristy Dykes is a minister's wife and lives in Tampa, Florida. She is a writer and has co-authored, American Dream, a best-selling work of Christian fiction.

*Names have been changed.