By Diana Chandler
NASHVILLE — Happily wed to his new bride Pennie, Joe Wright didn’t want to travel without her in his role as executive director of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN).
“When I interviewed with the BSCLN and they offered me the position, I shared with them, ‘This is a burden on my heart. A lot of ministers are struggling. I’m a newlywed, I’m happy and I want my wife to go with me, ’ ” Wright told Baptist Press in describing a new BSCLN conference for pastors and their wives.
“And they said, ‘Joe, will you buy her plane ticket?’ ” Wright recounted. “And I said, ‘I will, I will.’ They said, ‘Then she goes with you wherever you go.’ ”
The Wrights’ story segues into “The Pastor’s Wife and The Other Woman: Balancing Your Marriage with Your Ministry,” a conference available at no fee to Southern Baptist churches, associations and conventions. The conference, adaptable to a single evening or two days, is designed to encourage and equip pastors and their wives to manage their ministerial and personal lives in harmony.
“I believe the greatest vulnerability for the modern minister is not in his church work, but in his home life,” said Wright, a former Tennessee Baptist pastor and director of missions for Dyer Baptist Association, based in Dyersburg. “And if Satan can injure him at home, he will cripple him at work.
“Doctrinal, theological, missiological, practical places in the ministry all can be places of failure, but if a minister has trouble in his own home,” Wright said, “that trouble will bleed over into all of those places in his ministry and he’ll struggle. And it doesn’t have to be a moral failure.”
Stan Wafler, who helped host a conference as associational missionary of Beech River Baptist Association, based in Lexington, told Baptist Press the event is a valuable opportunity for associations to encourage pastors and their wives.
“I would just encourage associations to be the organization that actually lifts up the role of pastor and takes that time to invest in them so that they know that they’re important,” Wafler said, “because it’s possible that there’s nobody else doing that.”
The Wrights both lost their first mates to cancer after more than 30 years of marriage. They thought their lives and ministries were essentially over, Wright told BP, until the Lord intervened.
“And then all of a sudden, God introduced us to one another. We carefully courted for a year, and then God opened the door for us to be married,” he said. “And we discovered that with the advent of personal happiness, we began to be available to God again to be used in the ministry. Our attention, our strength, our focus wasn’t on our own personal loss anymore, because God had taken that loss away.”
The conference incorporates BSCLN main strategies of finding and engaging small church and bivocational leaders, encouraging and equipping them through training and resources to be better pastors. Costs are minimal, Wright said. The conference is underwritten by BSCLN supporters, while hosts provide a location and perhaps dinner for attendees.
The Wrights have hosted four conferences this year, he said, and have additional conferences planned in Iowa, Kentucky and a regional event serving Delaware, West Virginia and Maryland.
Before the Wrights met, Pennie was married 32 years to a bivocational pastor, and Wright was married 31 years while serving as a pastor and director of missions.
“Pennie’s and my story become the foundation for the presentation of this material and this work,” Wright said. “We’re able to speak from our own personal experiences. Pennie can tell preacher wives stories; she knows. She knows what it’s like to live in parsonages and she knows what it’s like to deal with a husband who comes home from deacons’ meetings, and she’s had to hold her husband when he wept over the brokenness of the church.
“From my point of view, I was the one going to the deacons’ meeting. I was the one weeping over problems in people’s lives.”
God began shaping the conference shortly after the BSCLN hired Wright about a year and a half ago.
“Right off the bat, I noticed our convention seemed to be going through a rash, almost, of stories of ministerial failure that wraps around the loss of their family life,” Wright said. “Oftentimes it’s not a moral failure, it’s just pastors and church leaders who are struggling because they’re pouring so much into the ministry that they have nothing left over when they get home. And their families are suffering for it” Wright added.
Ephesians 5:25 is a Scriptural anchor of the event.
“The big thing for me as a minister is reminding pastors that the church is not their wife. The church is the bride of a coming King, and He’s coming back to get His bride,” Wright said. “Our caretaking of His bride is nothing more than being the house butler preparing the bride for the Bridegroom. … But on the other hand, the Lord has given us — if we’ve been blessed in this way — our own bride that we must love, we must take care of, we must seek to be the best husband we can be,” Wright said, “the same that Jesus does for His church.”
The conference allows pastors and wives to enjoy either an evening of fellowship with other ministerial couples for encouragement and edification, or a two-day event with expanded instruction and resources.
The BSCLN was founded in 1997 as the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministerial Association. The group is self-funded by gifts, grants, donations and ad hoc partnerships with state conventions.