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July 8, 2013

Real Pastors’ Wives

A picture of healthy relationship between ministry spouses


Flipping through TV channels, we can see shows like The Housewives of Wherever, depicting women as backbiting, gossiping liars with a proclivity toward physical altercations. Now more than ever, women in church leadership have an opportunity to model healthy female relationships worth imitating.

Debbie Altman is one such woman. She works in a world that can be filled with both explosive relational land mines and pockets of gold: the world of church ministry. Debbie and her husband, Craig Altman, founded Grace Family Church 19 years ago. Currently, Grace Family has a weekend attendance of 6,000 people with Debbie and Craig leading a large staff, including 12 pastors. Although Debbie is not a paid staff member, she co-leads Grace with her husband and believes that part of her role as lead pastor’s wife is to minister to the other pastors’ wives.

As an observer of people, I was curious how Debbie creates healthy relationships with pastors’ wives. I also asked Kristin, the wife of one of Grace’s executive pastor’s, what Debbie does to create healthy relationships. Since leadership begins at the top, both Debbie and Kristin agree that Debbie has maintained certain values that have created healthy relationships with the pastors’ wives.

Debbie’s Perspective

Connectivity—When the church was young, Debbie wanted to convey the message that she cared about the pastors’ wives as people. So she instituted monthly meetings so pastors’ wives could share the joys and challenges of life by encouraging one another and sharing wisdom. The meetings also provided a launch pad for increased relationships not only with Debbie as the lead pastor’s wife, but also between the other pastors’ wives. Since Grace is now larger, the meetings occur about four times a year and consist of a field trip or dinner out.

Vulnerability—Debbie believes women are hungry to be real but afraid to be judged. To combat this, Debbie has chosen to be vulnerable about the challenges in her own life: her marriage, children, menopause, anxiety, and challenges as a woman in ministry. Being vulnerable with her own struggles empowers women in her circle of influence to be more open about their challenges.

Affirmation—Noticing excellence and faithfulness affirms to the pastors’ wives that they are appreciated.

Resolutions—Smoldering feelings eventually turn into big fires. Debbie is a big believer that conflicts need to be addressed. When she has negative feelings about one of the pastor’s wives, she brings up the uncomfortable relational issue in a gentle, calm, and open-hearted manner, hoping to discover her feelings and gain a deeper understanding, leading to a deeper level of intimacy and a closer relationship. Even in particularly difficult situations, where pastors have been asked to step down from their positions, Debbie has reached out to their wives and had healing discussions. Also, when Debbie has feelings of insecurity about one of the pastor’s wives, she reminds herself of the following:

• It’s not about herself; it’s about God.
• She must be incredibly grateful that God has chosen to send amazing women leaders who take ministry to the next level at Grace.
• She can’t do everything. It takes everyone with various gifts working together to advance the kingdom.

From Kristin’s Perspective

Ministry Sweet Spot—Debbie and Craig created a culture at Grace where people, both volunteers and staff, work in their “sweet spot” of ministry. Early in the church’s history, each staff member took a personality test which identified strengths and gifts. This helped them understand one another and create realistic expectations. For example, Debbie loves to greet people as they come through the doors. Remembering people’s names and situations, she makes them feel loved and affirmed. Kristin feels awkward greeting people as they come through the doors; however, if you give her a job such as checking kids into the nursery or serving coffee, she is more comfortable connecting with people.

Seasons of Ministry—While pastors’ wives are not obligated to volunteer at Grace, some women want to lead. Debbie encourages these women to minister where it is most natural at the time. For example, when Kristin was a young mom, she led Bible studies for other young moms. When her children were toddlers, she led a play group for moms of toddlers.

Clear Expectations—Debbie sets clear expectations when pastors’ wives are needed to help with events, but never asks them to do anything that she wouldn’t do herself.

Mentoring—Debbie values mentoring, putting the relationships with the pastors’ wives before the ministry work they are doing together. She does a tremendous job of listening, advising, and choosing her words wisely.

Hopefully, women in church leadership won’t be found exemplifying the Housewives franchise but modeling the biblical standards found in Scripture. “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other (Romans 12:10). Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).” Hats off to Debbie, who has set the bar high for the rest of us.

Julia Mateer is a writer, speaker, therapist, and director of women’s small groups at Bayside Community Church. You can connect with Julia on her website.

Related Tags: Relationships


Great insight! Love "seeing it" from various perspectives...

From this article we learn:
- Women's work is not valued enough to be made paid staff
- Women take on their husband's names
- People need to be reminded that pastor's wives are people
What the article does not say:
- Husbands of pastors are not mentioned
- Executive pastors at Grace are all white men

Samatva, you are funny. That is the same hit I get from this article. Pastors are people, who as it says on their website, "Pastor Craig enjoys family, reading, golf, sports and making people laugh." They golf, tell a good joke, keep people entertained, watch football on TV and have sweet little wives who are encouraged to volunteer. Its the boys club. Just like Priscilla and Aquila, or the apostle Junia, or Tryphena and Tryphosa, or the four prophet daughters of Philip right? I did notice though that out of the 13 they had one woman pastor, (not an executive pastor I suppose) the Pastor of Care. How can Debbie Altman co-lead and co-found a church and not be paid staff? Even the photo illustrating this article is unfortunate. These are leisure time cuties hanging out at Starbucks. Let's hope the best and hope that the church is changing. Julie Mateer, how do you respond to these perceptions?

I'm really glad for this article, Julia. I see the progress being made by a woman who is thoughtful enough to see the true needs of today's pastoral wife, who may or may not have a paid job elsewhere. She and her husband are a serving and teaching team, and burn out comes fast when you're at the top of an organization with a lot of people looking for you to be perfect, even though that's of course not going to happen. It sounds like this church is thriving in part, because there is someone helping women to avoid the false teaching of eternal physical beauty, and instead modeling for them a life of service, honesty, love, and also time to relax and let down. Thanks for sharing!

I feel that it would take a very healthy couple to be able to effectively minister together in this way. I think if this is the ministry that God has called them to, that is awesome. And if Debbie chooses not to be paid and does this strictly as a volunteer ministry that would be her choice. But again, that would take a VERY healthy couple to be able to work and minister in this way. Having been in ministry for over 25 years and being a senior pastors wife of a large church of a multi staff, I would caution pastors wives before jumping into this style of ministry without a specific calling upon their lives to do so. There is no blueprint for pastors wives! We are all individual people who happen to be called to a very specific purpose. Blessings to Debbie and Craig's ministry at Grace. God uses all kinds of incredible men and women doing great and wonderful things to advance His Kingdom! Let's not be too quick to judge or rush to imitate, but let God use us all to be who He intended us to be!

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