Shirley Cross knows what it’s like to not be “Patty Perfect” – and still survive.
NASHVILLE, Tenn., – Shirley Cross knows what it’s like to not be “Patty Perfect” – and still survive.
“It’s been an interesting season each year to go through because each
year brings the different stresses,” said Cross, a pastor’s wife,
employee of LifeWay Christian Resources, former missionary and mother
“How do you handle prioritizing the church parties and the family time?
Issues with going to see family also was always a stress because you
had to find time,” Cross said. “And a lot of times, you not only had
the concern about ‘is there time to go,’ but [also] ‘is something going
to happen with a church member in the church’ [when you leave]?”
The last six weeks of every year are supposed to be the most festive
times of the year, especially for Christians. Families gather for big
Thanksgiving meals and just weeks later gather again to celebrate the
birth of Christ.
The herald angel ushered in Jesus’ arrival with, “Behold, I bring you
good news of great joy.” Unfortunately, many times for ministers’
wives, the only good news they hear during the holiday season is that
they have almost made it through to January.
The stress of balancing the realities of their lives against the
expectations of other people can sap them of the great joy they long to
experience during the holidays.
Cross was part of a panel discussion recently recorded for an episode
of Inside LifeWay – found at www.LifeWay.com/InsideLifeWay – the
official news podcast of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Ministers’ wives often feel the pressure to be “Patty Perfect” during
the holiday season, being the perfect hostess or guest, or providing
the perfect gift – for everybody. Unfortunately, while ministers’ wives
may be smiling on the outside, the panel said, inside they are
“probably screaming,” hoping to survive until January.
“They cannot always afford to go and visit family, or because of church
responsibilities they’re not able to leave and go be with family,”
panelist Chris Adams said. “So sometimes it can be really lonely for
“There is also the issue of finances,” she said. “Who do you buy
presents for? Do you try to have something at your home, a little gift
of some sort to give to those who come by your home? Where do you stop
the gifts? Is it with other staff members? Is it with other
Adams also said the expectation to be at so many Sunday school parties
or other gatherings can be a financial burden for those ministers’
families with smaller children, which translates into a considerable
expense for babysitting.
“There is a significant need for ministers’ wives and ministers to show
a graceful balance and say, ‘yes, we love you but no, we are not coming
to your party,’” Self said. “That is a way to affirm those who are
inviting but it is also a way to draw the line as well.
“I think the ministers themselves can help their wives by defining for
the church what’s appropriate,” Self added. “Very often the minister
doesn’t do that. He just sort of plays a passive role and takes it as
it comes. Which means he brings home the list of Sunday school parties
and there’s an expectation that they’re going to go to all of them.”
Cross acknowledged wives have the fear that people don’t want to hear
“no.” She said ministers’ wives often fall prey to wanting to be people
pleasers and fear saying no will offend church members. But, she said,
saying “no” is a learning process, and one that is a necessity if wives
are going to enjoy the season and help create a meaningful time for
their own families.
“In order for balance to occur there needs to be an awareness of both
sets of needs and expectations,” Self said. “If you try to meet all of
the needs it will not work. Often ministers’ wives ignore their own
needs and focus on the needs of others. This is a set-up for trauma in
the family of the minister.”
Adams said church members can look for ways to minister to their
ministers’ families by praying for them and doing something special for
ministers’ wives to acknowledge their contribution to the ministry.
Self added that this is a difficult time of the year emotionally for
many people in the church and it adds extra stress on ministers and
“I think it’s critical for the ministry body to be lifted up in prayer
… by the congregation and certainly by specific groups within the
church that are really committed to the church life being the best it
can be,” he said. “I think bathing ministers and their families in
prayer, especially during this season, is vital because the pressures
on them are greater.”