It seems as if we have had a slew of deaths and serious illnesses within our local church family and among our bible college friends. In the last month, we’ve lost two bible college professor friends, Sherwood and Jim, two local pastors: Jay and Les, and Mildred and Irma, two older, godly women in our congregation. I can envision these six precious people sitting at the feet of Jesus, discovering the answers to all those deeper theological questions they have always wondered about, and finally knowing Him as they have always been known.
I will truly miss Mildred. Early on, in our current ministry, this gracious lady and her stroke-afflicted husband welcomed us into their duplex and blessed us more than I believe we blessed them. We immediately felt at ease with them as if we spoke a common dialect. Together we shared the joys and heartaches of ministry. They asked how we were adjusting and about our girls who now lived five hundred miles away. They encouraged us and told us they were praying for us. We were heartened because someone within the congregation knew and understood the life we lived.
Ministers and their wives are called upon to share the most intimate moments of their church members’ lives in sickness, death, and crisis. Then, when they must leave that ministry for whatever reason, they are expected to walk away from the people they hold in their hearts as if it doesn’t matter – and yet it does. Within the tenure of their ministry, they are expected to know the right thing to say, and to pitch in and do anything whether they feel gifted in that area or not.
They willingly listen and sympathize to the concerns of others without mentioning a word of their own heartaches. We know Jesus is the solution to the problems people share with us, yet we must accept that only God can change them, not us, and only when they are ready. Our church is our family when our own family lives so far away, yet, after smiling and wishing our folks well at Christmas and Easter, we go home to an empty house while they join other family for a time of celebration.
Over the years, my husband and I have so appreciated the church members God has brought to us, like Chuck and Mildred, who have entered our world and treated us more like the brother and sister in Christ that we long to be and who have become, to use the apostle Paul’s words, partners and fellow workers. These people, like Aaron and Hur who lifted up Moses’ weary arms, have shown their willingness to step to our side and care about our dreams, our goals, our passion for God’s people and the building of His kingdom in that community, and about our personal lives.
There’s Gloria, who asked my husband for the names of people on the verge of accepting Christ so she could pray for them.
There’s Bev and Duke, who invite us to their home to play dominoes and don’t think twice about our character if we get annoyed at each other for playing off each other’s dominoes!
There’s Marian, who invited us to Easter dinner with the rest of her family. There’s Ed and Margorie who invited us to a family outdoor barbecue so we could meet their extended family. Soon, we became their family. We spent many a Christmas Eve with their daughter-in-law and two granddaughters at the local Chinese restaurant after Christmas Eve services, a memory both families still cherish even after we had to move away.
There’s Jim and Carol, who would always put on the coffee pot whenever we stopped by their house, who wanted to know the details of my forthcoming eye surgery, and who took care of our kids when I entered the hospital. There’s my friend “Karen the elder,” who looked past my role as a minister’s wife and treated me as a fellow history lover as we drove all over the local countryside collecting research for my next historical novel.
There’s Pat and Violet who became Grandma-friends to our girls when they were little, letting the girls sit with them during church and lavishing Christmas presents on them as only a grandma can.
These wonderful people have loved us and let us love them. Our friendship has spanned across ministries. Their regard for us kept us going when ministry got tough. They had the grace to look past our faults and weaknesses to support and encourage us to do the work God has called us to do.
Paul must have felt that way about a group of people in Thessalonica when he said, “We loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very lives as well, because you had become so dear to us (1 Thess 2:8).” Ministry can be tough at times, but when a congregation becomes so dear, that a minister and his wife have the privilege of sharing both the gospel and their lives with the people, the fragrance of God’s grace is particularly sweet.
How do you plan to bless your ministry couple this week? After all, they need love and care like anyone else.
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