Book Review: The Minister’s Wife

The Minister’s Wife: Privileges, Pressures and Pitfalls by Ann Benton and friends. Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2011.

How helpful you find this book will probably depend to some extent on how similar you are to the authors. As Ann Benton explains in the introduction, all the contributors are evangelical Christians with a complementarian view of gender (male headship and wives as helpers). So as you probably guessed from the title, it is not aimed at clergy husbands. Despite this, much of the book could be helpful to many CS’s, especially those who would like to read something with a good dose of theology and biblical references. I think much of the content could equally apply to clergy husbands so don’t let the title put you off. I would think it will be least helpful for those of no/different faith as it’s focus is primarily spiritual and assumes you are attending, and being heavily involved in, your husband’s church. However, it may still be useful in helping to prepare you for being married to a clergy person. I found much that was helpful and was often able to agree with bits of advice even if I sometimes took issue with the theology and biblical interpretation behind it. As Benton says, they hope people outside their tradition will be able to benefit, even if they do not agree with all the explanations and applications.

This is a very readable book and manages to touch on a broad range of issues. It is broken down into 10 chapters. The first 9 cover various aspects of being a minister’s wife. The first three chapters look at her responsibility to herself, her husband and her family. The other 6 cover privileges and pressure points, with some pressures or aspects of the role getting a whole chapter, such as handling criticism or offering hospitality. Chapter 10 answers some questions young CS’s ask/wish they could ask.

Depending on your situation some chapters are likely to be more relevant than others, as some are very specific to a life stage or issue. Even if not every chapter speaks to your current experience, I think that most people will find some useful insights or advice across the whole of the book. I found chapters 5 ‘Pressure points: For the sake of the kingdom’ and 6 ‘Her service for Christ: Using God-given gifts’ particularly helpful. I wish I had read something like this before becoming a CS as they cover many of the pressure points I have encountered, but was not prepared for, as well as suggesting ways of dealing with them.

Chapter 2 ‘Her responsibility to her husband: A suitable helper’ is one where even if the title annoys you, there is actually quite a bit of sound advice. In fact much of it is simply good marriage advice for any couple, but it may be particularly helpful for those (both husbands and wives) wondering how they can support the clergy person in their life, in what can be a stressful job. A favourite point was to use the arostic ‘t-h-i-n-k’ to ask yourself whether what you are about to say to your spouse is ‘true-helpful-inspiring-necessary-kind.’ If it is none of these then it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.

Each chapter has a good mix of pragmatism and optimism. The contributors do not shy away from the challenges of their lives and are open about the difficulties which inevitably come with being a CS. At the same time they suggest ways of dealing with them, with some practical suggestions and some more focused on your own attitude and spiritual life. This was a particular challenge to me, as it reminded me that to some extent your own mindset can have an impact on a situation. Going into the curacy knowing that we would be there for no more than 4 years, I never really committed to our house as a proper home and so, unsurprisingly, it didn’t quite felt like one. In chapter 5 I think Julia Jones is right in the more positive attitude she recommends, ‘Make a mental decision to embrace whatever house you find yourself in…Live in it as if you own it…’ Throughout the book I was challenged to see things from a different perspective and this often left me feeling more positive.

For those many years into CS life this book may not tell you anything you didn’t know but it may help you reflect on how to deal with certain situations. It may even help refresh your attitude and feelings about being a CS. I think it would be particularly helpful to those who are fairly new/about to become a CS. The honesty of the writers should give you some sense of the pressures you may face in the future.  I also think clergy, congregations and church leaders could learn much from it too, but getting them to read it could be more of a challenge.

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