From the Director: Tara Dew
Survive or Thrive:
An Exploration of the Preparedness of Southern Baptist Pastors’ Wives for Ministry
By: Tara Dew, Ed.D.
Introduction to the Research Problem
Many pastors’ wives feel overwhelmed by the ministerial expectations and responsibilities placed upon them by their local church. Some are expected to lead the choir, teach Sunday School, direct the women’s ministry, or serve in the children’s programs. In addition to the ministry expectations, there is often an assumption that the pastor’s wife knows more about the Bible than the other women in the congregation, and has been prepared to teach, counsel, serve, and lead in these capacities.
It is my hope that this dissertation research will bring a greater awareness to the many ways in which pastors’ wives are serving their congregations, and the incredible asset they are to the longevity and tenure of their husbands in ministry. Inferences of this research will hopefully assist seminaries and other SBC organizations to design programs and other resources to better train and support pastors’ wives in ministry.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this mixed-method study was to explore the level of preparedness of pastor’s wives for ministry. In order to explore this issue, the researcher interviewed and surveyed pastors’ wives in the Southern Baptist Convention to ascertain what areas they are currently serving in and to what extent they believe they were equipped in four specific areas of ministry: biblical teaching, counseling, hospitality, and administrative tasks.
This study interviewed and surveyed women across America whose husbands are serving on staff in a Southern Baptist church. The questions were designed to ascertain the types of training the pastors’ wives have received as well as the degree to which they felt prepared for their ministerial tasks, particularly in the areas of teaching, counseling, administration, and hospitality. Specifically, the researcher focused on pastors’ wives whose husbands had graduated from one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries (Gateway, Midwestern, New Orleans, Southern, Southeastern, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries). Only those whose husbands had graduated during the last five years (2012-2017) were included in the target group.
Guiding Research Questions
- In what ways does a Southern Baptist pastor’s wife serve her local church?
- How has the pastor’s wife been trained to fulfill these tasks?
- Has the ministry affected the pastor’s wife’s personal relationships, both positively and negatively? If so, to what degree was the pastor’s wife prepared for the way ministry affects her marriage, her family, and her other relationships?
- To what degree does a pastor’s wife feel prepared for ministry in the area of biblical teaching?
- To what degree does a pastor’s wife feel prepared for ministry in the area of counseling?
- To what degree does a pastor’s wife feel prepared for ministry in the area of hospitality, both within the home and within the church?
- To what degree does a pastor’s wife feel prepared for ministry in administrative tasks, such as handling the nursery, directing weddings or funerals, planning meals and church events, coordinating volunteers, etc.?
- In what ways do pastors’ wives want to be better equipped and supported?
The research was conducted in three stages, with both qualitative and quantitative methods. First, a focus group was formed to determine the areas in which a pastor’s wife serves and the different trainings she had received for these roles. (The researcher emailed SBC churches in the Wake Forest, NC area whose pastors or staff had graduated from a seminary in the last five years and had 9 pastors’ wives respond.) The information gathered in this first focus group was used to develop a survey that was reviewed by an expert panel, then submitted to a pilot group. The survey was then distributed via email distribution lists to alumnae of five of the SBC seminaries, social media avenues (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), and seminary alumnae networks. A total of 711 responses was gathered from pastors’ wives throughout the United States and in several countries. Thirdly, a follow-up focus group was gathered to discuss the survey results and how best to equip and support pastors’ wives. (These 12 participants had commented on the last survey question that they would be willing to talk more with the researcher.)
RQ 1: Pastors’ wives serve their churches in a variety of ways.
Pastors’ wives are overwhelmingly supportive (98.87%) of their husbands’ ministry, and are willing to be involved (98.17%). They give hours each week to church related matters (79.04% give at least 5 hours a week), and whether or not they feel a personal call to ministry, they often are happy to serve wherever needed. Pastors’ wives often fill multiple roles in the church (94.51% serve in at least three ways and 79.90% serve in at least five ways).
RQ2: Pastors’ wives have received mostly informal training through women’s Bible studies and mentorships.
The majority of the pastors’ wives surveyed has been trained by women’s Bible studies (62.31%). About a third were trained by either a mentor (40.23%) or their husband (30.10%). A smaller percentage had some type of formal training through either a college degree (26.44%), a seminary degree (17.72%), formal classes (17.44%), or a certificate (13.78%). Even though some pastors’ wives have had some formal training, more commented that they wished they had been more prepared and had taken classes to train them for ministry.
RQ3: Pastors’ wives had relationships that were both positively and negatively impacted by the ministry.
It was discovered that the majority of pastors’ wives (82.56%) had relationships that were positively impacted by the ministry. Conversely, over half (55.13%) of the pastors’ wives noted that their relationships were negatively impacted by the ministry.
RQ4: Pastors’ wives were prepared for Biblical teaching.
The survey showed that most pastors’ wives (70.39%) were prepared overall for Biblical teaching, feeling confident in how to study their Bibles, outline the text, use commentaries, look up cross-references and teach a lesson to both adults and children.
RQ5: Pastors’ wives were slightly prepared to counsel others in their churches.
Through the survey responses, it was discovered that pastors’ wives feel “slightly prepared” (33.29%) to counsel overall. A greater percentage (42.92%) however feel either “slightly unprepared” or “very unprepared.” Specifically, pastors’ wives noted their lack of confidence to counsel through mental issues as well as anxiety and depression. Only about ten percent (12.75%) felt “very prepared” for counseling overall.
RQ6: Pastors’ wives were prepared in their hospitality roles.
The majority of pastors’ wives (83.66%) felt prepared to do hospitality, both within their homes, their churches, and their communities. They expressed a confidence in hosting others in their homes, bringing meals to church members, and helping with church events surrounding life events of church members. They were not as prepared (43.22%), however, in knowing how to begin and run a mercy ministry.
RQ 7: Pastors’ wives were prepared for administrative tasks.
The survey showed that about a third of the pastors’ wives were “very prepared” (27.48%) or “slightly prepared” (31.73%) for the overall administrative tasks in the church. These tasks included secretarial work, church bulletins/website creation, organizing volunteers, and other administrative responsibilities, including the catch-all phrase “odds and ends.” The two categories in which pastors’ wives noted their lack of preparation were in directing weddings and funerals.
RQ8: Pastors’ wives desire more training and support.
The survey and focus groups confirmed that pastors’ wives desire more training, specifically in the form of practical classes, online videos, helpful books, articles, and podcasts. Some topics to include in these trainings would be loving their husbands well, budgeting on a small income, making and keeping friends, dealing with difficult church members, and how to share their faith with others. In addition, they desire more support through mentors, support groups, network of pastors’ wives, and conferences/retreats designed for them.
My hope is that this study will shed light on the many essential tasks that pastors’ wives are performing in their churches, and how pastors’ wives desire to be more adequately supported and equipped for tasks in their marriage and ministry with their husband-pastor. It is absolutely imperative that both the pastor and his wife be trained and equipped for ministry through both formal and informal venues. With the necessary preparation and training through practical classes, support networks, online resource hubs, and mentorships, the research has shown that pastors’ wives do not only need to survive through the ministry—with the right help, they can also thrive in ministry!
For More Information
This dissertation has been published through ProQuest and is available in research databases. In addition, you may contact the researcher by email: TaraBDew@gmail.com