Laura McLean has been pastor-wifing since 1998, first in Glastonbury, CT, and now in Atlantic, IA. She teaches adult literacy and serves on the Atlantic Board of Education. She just can't help but think about the forest when she sees a tree.
Wisdom From a Senior Saint
Review of 'Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those Who Love Them' by Jani Ortlund
Jani Ortlund is the Executive Vice President of Renewal Ministries—and a pastor’s wife for over 50 years. Her husband, Ray Ortlund, is the pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, and they run Renewal Ministries together, which they inherited from Ray’s father.
Is there a word for skeptical yet hopeful? This is how I felt as I approached Jani Ortlund’s new guidebook for ministry wives. I’ve read several similar books over the years and have yet to find one that I am eager to gift to younger women as they take on this role. While this one falls a bit short, I’m glad to have it on my resource shelf for the seasoned wisdom Ortlund offers.
Ortlund’s approach is stated in her introduction: “What every ministry wife needs is a friend—not another list of things to do to keep everyone happy, but another woman calling back to her from farther down the road, telling her that this life of sacrifices is worth it…I want to be that kind of friend.” In bite-sized chapters, she shares experiences and advice about several pertinent topics including expectations, marriage, raising children, personal devotional life and attitude.
Her heart for Jesus consistently shines through. Her last chapter “Help! Remind Me Why We Do This” points us to the love of Christ as our motivational joy, and the four anti-discouragement gems she includes here are worth posting on any ministry couple’s refrigerator.
I also appreciated that she ends each chapter with a brief “letter” addressed to husbands, encouraging them to speak to their wives about that topic. In this way she places herself as an intermediary, helping couples begin important conversations about their relationship and their ministry.
Ortlund does well to address some concerns that are unique to ministry couples—the struggle of Sunday mornings with young children, the embarrassment of forgetting the names of church members and the bewilderment felt when friends leave the church. Her short chapters work pretty well for these types of specific topics. However, when she engages with deeper, more complex issues, like clergy depression or the loss of romance in marriage, her treatment feels superficial and lacking. I doubt that Ortlund’s tee-hee exhortation to burdened ministry wives to buy a new negligee and splurge on new perfume will do much to resolve a stagnating intimacy. There is danger here of communicating that these problems are uncommon, trivial or easily solved.
Christ-saturated, actionable parenting advice is eagerly sought by Christian parents including pastoral families. As might be expected from a senior saint such as Ortlund, her advice, as well as her writing, feels old-fashioned. She was raising young children decades ago, and the world has changed a lot since then. Her general principles for raising Christ- and church-loving PKs are sound, but her chapter on parenting lacks contemporary contextualization and falls short in addressing the enhanced distress of trying to raise “not-perfect” children in the ministry fishbowl.
Most of Ortlund’s advice about how to encourage and support a pastor-husband is straightforward and mature. Although many topics relevant for contemporary ministry wives are left out of this book, its strengths are Ortlund’s passions for Jesus, her husband and ministry families, in that order. In particular, her suggestion that ministry wives reading this book would discuss it with their husbands, encouraging discourse about their experiences as a ministry couple, is one I haven’t seen before and could be of great benefit. Ortlund may lack contemporary wisdom but she makes up for it in grandmotherly encouragement and coaching—something I think we can all use.