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Humor, biblical counsel relayed at new ministers’ wives session

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–More than 1,000 women gathered in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium June 20 in what will become a yearly Monday morning conference for ministers’ wives in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference.

Anita Renfroe of suburban Atlanta, author of “The Purse-Driven Life,”
opened the session with spirited music and comedy connecting with the women’s experiences as wives of ministers.

“I know why Christian women are gaining weight at a faster rate than the rest of the population,” Renfroe said. “It’s because of that little bitty book we all read and then asked, ‘Lord, enlarge my territory.’” Then she recalled a T-shirt she’d seen that read, “If our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, then I’m not fat, I’m just a megachurch.”

No subject was off-limits for Renfroe, who said her husband describes her as engaging in “estrogen evangelism.” She told of her gratitude for “23 years of hot, righteous monogamy!” and of her husband’s ministry for 20 years as an associate pastor: “That means he actually did all the work,” she said, drawing laughter from wives of associate church staff members.

Refroe said the fact that none of her children had been on Jerry Springer gave her hope that they had turned out well. But, she said, “[N]o matter what a brochure says, absolutely nothing is fun for the whole family.”

Renfroe sang a modified version of “Breathe,” a recent hit by country music singer Faith Hill, who was in the youth group of the first church Renfroe’s husband served while in seminary. Sporting a blonde wig and eventually a gas mask, Renfroe changed the words to describe waking up to a husband with bad breath.

Bible study teacher Susie Hawkins followed Renfro’s act, saying, “Anita’s job was to warm you up. Instead, she’s got you hanging off the rafters.”

Hawkins drew her own share of laughs by describing the reception she was given at the first church her husband served after seminary. One woman asked if Hawkins could sing solos, another wondered if she could play the piano and a third asked if she’d think about being the director of the upcoming Vacation Bible School. “I told O.S., ‘I don’t care when we move there but it has to be after Vacation Bible School.”

Having been a pastor’s wife in Oklahoma, Florida and Texas, Hawkins commiserated with women who are expected to be like Shirley Dobson as a wife and mother, Martha Stewart in the home, Beth Moore as a Bible teacher, Karen Hughes as an administrator, Elisabeth Elliott as a missionary, Lottie Moon as an evangelist and minister to the sick like Mother Teresa.

Hawkins said wives of ministers should “take a deeper look at what God has called us to be and what God has called us to do.” She offered an overview of the role of a pastor’s wife, drawing from historical and biblical sources. “Because of the Reformation,” she said, “marriage and children and wives regained a certain amount of respect and women came to be considered an important part of the husband’s ministry.”

Speaking from Ephesians 4, Hawkins told the women they are called as a partner, called to a people and called for a purpose. “If you are married to a man who is called to ministry, then you are called as his partner in ministry,” she stated.

“I’ve heard too many times, ‘That’s his job, but I’m not called. I don’t have to do that stuff.’” Hawkins urged women with that attitude to “think and pray on this because the Bible is very clear that we are called as well.” The primary role of a minister’s wife is to be a helper to her husband, praying and encouraging him, she noted.

By exercising the godly characteristics of humility, gentleness, patience and acceptance of one another in love, the wives of ministers will encourage unity in the church as they serve people, Hawkins said, and by maturing in the fullness of Christ, they will achieve the purpose of glorifying God.

Longtime retreat leader Barbara O’Chester of Austin encouraged the wives of ministers to remember that children are a treasure from the Lord at every stage of life, whether experiencing morning sickness while pregnant or the anxiety of having a new teenage driver. “When that treasure begins having a treasure, the whole life circle begins all over again,” she said with the pride of a grandmother.

When training their children, O’Chester said, “The principles of raising children are the same whether you’re in the ministry or not.” Cautioning the women not to tell their children they must obey because their father is a minister, she recalled her husband telling his congregation, “Do not expect more out of my children than you expect of your own.”

“If they don’t learn to understand authority in the home, they will have to learn it in the world…. Teach [children] that we are obedient to God and submissive to their father.” She advised the women to choose ministry outside the home as the Lord leads while remembering “your husband and children are your first ministry.”

O’Chester described “a nightmare in our lives that lasted 15 years” as one of their children rebelled, but ultimately repented, making her and her husband “more like Jesus today than we ever were before.” During those years, they struggled with whether she should give up retreat ministry and he should resign the pastorate. “A wise pastor told us if everyone who had a problem with a child left the ministry there would be no one left in the ministry,” she recounted.

Even in the trials of parenting, O’Chester said, “God knows in each of our lives what kind of difficulty will conform us to the image of his Son.”

Speaker Joyce Rogers of Memphis described “the simplest and most profound two lessons” she had learned in a lifetime of ministry — dig deep into God’s Word and lean hard on the Lord Jesus Christ. “I’m so grateful that I believed the Bible is true since [the time when] I was a child. I didn’t know the words ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ back then,” she added. “Somehow it was enough to simply believe God’s Word and I’m so glad I did and I do.”

As a 25-year-old minister’s wife whose husband, Adrian, had been pastoring his first church out of seminary for just three weeks, Rogers recalled the loss of their first son on Mother’s Day due to sudden crib death. “Those passages I’d learned as a child rushed to my rescue,” she said through tears, adding that God taught her to praise Him by faith even when she didn’t feel like it.

“Many years later life knocked me down through an unwanted divorce in our family,” Rogers said. “We never thought it would enter our lives. It was worse than death. It was a living death.” Once again, “God’s Word rushed to my rescue and picked me up and I again began to dig deeper in his Word,” she said, citing the encouragement she found in Psalm 18.

More recently, Rogers said an “earthquake” shook her life upon learning that her husband of 53 years has cancer. “I’m rehearsing promises I already know and asking for a fresh word from God every day,” she said, citing 2 Chronicles 20. “I’m here to tell you from experience and by faith that God is faithful and He is able to accomplish whatever concerns you today. Won’t you run into His arms and lean hard on Jesus?”

Paula Hemphill of Nashville spoke of a day when “we will be worshiping with people from every tongue and language.” An International Mission Board consultant for women’s mobilization, Hemphill described her travels in Muslim countries where women cleanse themselves ritually. “But Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, has covered you and me with the blood of the cross,” she said. “He has delivered us, purchased us and given us confidence to enter His presence by the precious blood of Christ.” The message of joy and thanksgiving is what God wants for every woman in the world, she added.

She described how she and Donna Gaines, wife of Alabama pastor Steve Gaines, shared the story of the woman at the well found in John 4 with Muslim women in India who were pumping water at a well. Since 85 percent of the women are limited to oral communication, Hemphill said they appreciate and remember such stories. At one house church, she said, people were “literally hanging in the windows and doors” to hear “a message of hope that does not disappoint.”

In addition to a call for repentance, Hemphill urged women to have a ministry of reconciliation among the people in their churches, including those that are hostile and alienated from God. “The ‘emery board’ people file you down and the hatchet people go in and lop off things.”

Applying the concept on a global scale, she spoke of the “angry young men who blow themselves up,” describing them as alienated from their own homes. Hemphill related how a Muslim man “trained in a Mujahideen camp in Pakistan to fight the infidels” was “gloriously saved” in 1992 and now broadcasts the Gospel from the mountains of Afghanistan in three languages.

Calling on ministers’ wives to be “faithful prayer warriors in our mission to take the knowledge of the glory of the Lord to the ends of the earth,” Hemphill said, “Light is coming to the darkness because the Gospel is being exalted all over the world.”

Gaines, the meeting’s organizer from First Baptist Church in Gardendale, Ala., said a self-perpetuating board of women will plan each year’s Monday morning session. While clearly supportive of the Minister’s Wives Conference now in its 50th year as an annual event held on Tuesday during the SBC annual meeting, Gaines said the new session is not limited by the time constraint of a luncheon. “We want to listen to our fellow pastors’ wives and hear from women who will instruct and challenge us.”

The cost of this year’s sessions was underwritten by First Baptist Church of Gardendale, Ala., First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., LifeWay Christian Resources, North American Mission Board and GuideStone Financial Resources.

The audience rose to applaud O’Chester and Rogers as Gaines expressed appreciation to them as exemplary role models. “You have been faithful to love the Lord, love your husbands and love your families,” Gaines told the two wives of pastors who recently retired from long tenures at large churches. “They’ve been faithful to the call God has placed on their lives.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter