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Ardis Dick Stenbakken, an educator, served as the director of women’s ministries for the General Conference and as the editor of the GC Women’s Devotional until recently. Now she enjoys mentoring the next generation – especially her grandchildren and spending time with her
husband, Dick.
Getting Started:
Starting a Ministry for Clergy Spouses
No one asked you, but suddenly the job is yours.
Your spouse was just elected to an office in the conference or union, and—voila—you are now the leader of the ministerial spouses association. Everyone expects it of you. You may be willing or even thrilled to take on this generally unpaid position, or you may feel overwhelmed. But you really do care about the ministry teams in your territory. What now? you ask. How do I get started? Help!
I know the feeling. My husband was an army chaplain and had just been assigned as a division chaplain. That would make no difference in my life, right? Wrong. The post chaplain, whose spouse should have been the unpaid, de facto leader of the chaplains’ spouses, was a Catholic priest and therefore not married—so suddenly I inherited the leader’s job. I learned a lot and loved it. Along the way I learned ideas about leadership that continue to bless my life.
More important to your constituents than any program or other activity you plan will be whether or not they know you care about them. If you truly care, they will know it; they will forgive any mistakes you might make, and they will love to work with you and bolster your support of their ministry.
Fortunately, you are not in this alone: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17, NIV). The Apostle Paul was certainly a minister to be emulated, but he had no spouse during his ministry. However, he did have Barnabas. Acts 4:36 (NIV) explains that Barnabas means “son of encouragement.”
Encouragers: that is our role, both as a spouse and as one who stands beside those who are on the front line of ministry. What a privilege; and through the grace of God, a fulfilling ministry in itself. Most encouraging of all, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8, NIV).
So, how do you start? The suggestions in this article should make your life easier.
Prayer comes first
As with all ministry-related tasks, prayer is the best place to begin. Scripture admonishes us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV). Furthermore, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26, NIV). With such help and encouragement, you will love your assignment!
Get in touch
Just who are your constituents, your target group? There may be more of them that you realized. There are of course the spouses of employed pastors, departmental directors, and administrators. Remember these others as well:
  • Spouses of theology teachers and theology students, if you have those in your territory
  • Spouses of retired and deceased ministers (these are often neglected)
  • Spouses of military and civilian chaplains (at medical facilities, academic institutions, and prisons)
Begin by reaching out to this target group. Part of caring is just letting spouses in your conference know that you are available.
  • Give them your contact information: phone, e-mail, Facebook, website, whatever is applicable.
  • Introduce yourself. Let them know your experience, your passions, and your hopes and dreams for their success.
  • Call them; find out how they are doing and share with them.
If there was an active ministerial spouses association in the conference before you arrived, your initial job is easy: you just continue to do what was done before. As you discover the needs of the group and develop ideas of your own, you can begin to implement them.
If there was no support for ministerial spouses previously, you’ll need to start at the beginning. Bear in mind that every conference and union is different, the personalities of the men and women are different, and, of course, so are you!
Ask and listen
One of the first things you need to do is ascertain the needs of your group; there is no point in planning what your constituent group does not feel the need for. The best way to determine needs? Get personally acquainted with each spouse. Listen—and listen a lot. What questions can you ask to draw them out without being “nosey”? 
Try this interactive activity: Make a list of what you feel would be your needs from the ministerial spouses association. Then make a list of what you believe to be the needs of the spouses in your conference. As you work with them, compare the lists.
Many opinions are better than one, so gather a group of the spouses to work with you, at least initially. In gathering this group you must keep geography in mind, but also consider a balance of gender, age, ethnicity, experience, and creative talents. And try to represent both larger and smaller churches and multi-church districts. A diverse group of leaders will help you keep in mind the varied needs of your target audience.
Also consider doing a survey of all the spouses. Not only does this give them a buy-in and get them involved in the process, but it may reveal needs that would not be discovered otherwise. A survey is included in the list of additional resources. Feel free modify as necessary to fit your group.
Practical matters
After identifying needs, determine what resources you have: money, people, places, and existing programs. Find out from the administration what support you will get from them:
  • Will you have a budget? How much will it be?
  • Will you get a travel budget, or will you just travel with your spouse?
  • Will you get any office help with mailing, copying, secretarial duties?
One of your most important tasks? Communication! Use every avenue available to let ministerial spouses know about activities, ongoing programs, needs, and concerns of the group. Remember, telling someone something once is never enough. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Your ministerial spouses committee may want to formalize your organization by developing a mission statement, a vision, and values. Both websites and leadership books can help inspire this process.
Once you have a vision of what you can do to support ministerial spouses, you need to determine where and how this can be done.
  • Many spouses enjoy getting together with each other, especially those who are new to ministry or who live in isolated areas. This can be arranged during ministerial meetings, camp meeting, and constituency meetings. Plan and advertise these meetings well in advance since many spouses work and need to plan their schedules around jobs and family care.
  • A newsletter helps keep your group on the same page—this can be in print, e-mail, or on a website.
  • Setting up prayer partners or a prayer chain can be helpful between meetings and newsletters—communication is so important! 
Activity: If money, time, and resources were no barrier, what kinds of activities would you like to do with a group of ministerial spouses? Dream big!
Encouragement in ministry: this is what the ministerial spouses association is all about. Gather your team, dream big, put on your collective thinking caps, and have fun. God will be glorified as you meet the needs of those whom you are sent to bless.