Statistics show that about 80% of South Africans are Christian. In 2016, it was estimated that around 53% of the world's Christian population over the age of 20 was female, with this figure falling to 51.6% in 2020. In line with this, the Pew Research Center reports that, compared with Christian men, Christian women are more likely to attend weekly church services (53% versus 46%), pray daily (61% versus 51%) and say religion is important in their lives (68% versus 61%).
In the context of these statistics, it would be logical to assume that women are then well represented in Christian leadership. But this is not the case. Most of the leadership roles in churches and Christian organisations are occupied by men, and not the women who continue to make up the bulk of the people following this faith. Needless to point out, the majority of men in Christian leadership are married. Sadly, for many women married to clergymen, there is little recognition of their existence and contribution to the growth of the ministries their partners are labouring in.
Mamoruti, Mamfundisi, Majevrou… however you may address them, these are, in a larger sense, our unsung sheroes! Often, these women are confronted with having to raise their children in the absence of their partners, maintaining their home, and family balance. All because uTat’uMfundisi is taking care of the flock of God. While many a couple may take it easy on a Saturday evening and focus on nurturing their social and marriage life – not for clergy couples who find themselves preparing for the coming Sunday service. Most pastor’s wives are expected to lead prayer and women groups, which we have already established comprises the larger proportion of most congregations. Not to mention how many are instrumental in leading various other departments within the church.
The sad reality is that these women are deemed good enough to help the pastor, yet they remain obscured to many. This is the one person who knows the ministry leader at their lowest, when they feel their calling is not making sense, promises are not kept, bills are left hanging because congregations have not honoured their obligations, and yet the pastor is expected to always offer counsel, an inspiring sermon and all that comes with being the head of a ministry. The pastor’s wife is the sounding board, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when the pastor is at his wits’ end.
Many a pastor’s wife goes through the dark alley of mental health, unnoticed by those they serve or even those they serve with. They are often expected to offer counsel to both young and old in the church. While she is assumed to be the first lady of the ministry, she sometimes suffers criticism and condemnation from unapproving, scornful attitudes of some congregants, often people who are the same gender as her.
Then there are the women who have left their own professions and walked away from climbing the corporate ladder so they can offer support to their husband in ministry. This can be especially difficult if the prospect of leading a church was not on the cards when the two met. Often, these women find themselves questioning their adequacy – whether or not they fit the role of being a pastor’s wife. They did not call it upon themselves, but the calling found them.
One of the saddest things I have ever witnessed is how widowed women are treated after their pastor husbands pass away. Some have had to vacate the mission house in order to make room for the family of the incoming pastor. In some cases, assisting in church is all they have ever known as they had to travel with their husbands doing ministry and therefore could not hold a job.
Pastors wives are among the unsung sheroes that are often misunderstood, but their value should not be ignored.
Along with her work at Heartlines, Fikile runs other programmes including the Chosen Generation Children’s Academy and the Reach for Life school’s programme, and she is the provincial coordinator at the Pastor’s Wives College and Women Ministry organisation. In addition to that, she has been a radio anchor on the Christian radio station Rainbow FM.
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