My Identity Non-Crisis
Jan Grage Beard
“My spouse is a pastor’s husband,” said no one ever—even though it’s true!
Another phrase I’ve never heard used before: “engineer’s wife.” I grew up with a father who was an engineer and a mother who worked at home for many years, who became a college student in her 40s, and who volunteered joyfully and tirelessly. Even though my mom was married to an engineer for 60 years, I never heard anyone call her an “engineer’s wife.”
In many ministry settings, a woman is given an identity based on the occupation of her spouse; she is called the pastor’s wife. This has been a conundrum to me as long as I have heard the phrase. I entered the ministry in my early twenties, serving in then-Yugoslavia as a missionary associate to Dr. Peter Kuzmic. My husband also served in Yugoslavia at the Bible school in Osijek. Figuring out my identity during college and into my twenties was challenging enough before I added the many layers of relationships that affected my identity.
As we mature, we realize that the most important and foundational identity, which will uphold all of the seasonal hats we will wear is who we are as a daughter or son of the King. Knowing who we are, and whose we are, trumps all labels given to us or that we stick on ourselves.
Because I didn’t grow up in a vocational ministry home, I found the added identity expectation of “pastor’s wife” to be particularly perplexing. The title assumes and adds much responsibility to the wife of a pastor, not always consistent with who God has designed her to be. The church is the first place the body of Christ can display the wonderful grace God gives for each of us to fulfill our unique calling. Being called “pastor’s wife” carries the potential for a woman to be absorbed by the title and role of her husband and to be lost in who God created her to be. Identity confusion can happen in various contexts. I am just speaking from my story.
I am thrilled to be married to the man God gave me for a husband. He is a gift. Chris told me well before we were married, during our Evangel University days, that if we married, I was fully free to fulfill all that God had in store for me. Chris encouraged me to pursue God-dreams and the good works He planned for me (Ephesians 2:10). He encouraged my creativity in fashion and design and all of my other passions. Chris understood that my identity was not based on his career path. This began a marriage of mutual submission out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
As long as I understand who I am, a princess warrior of the King of Kings, I can accommodate others’ inclinations for giving me different titles. In our context at Peoples Church, diverse unity is essential. This means we not only have brown, beige, and international peoples, but also individuals from various denominational backgrounds. With these many backgrounds come different titles for me. Some refer to me as Pastor’s Wife, some as First Lady, Pastor Jan, Miss Jan and one of my favorites, Lady B. In order to be the integrated body of diverse believers, we ebb and flow with uniqueness. While accepting different titles, I do not take on the burden that any one title may connote, unless it is a burden God gives me to carry. When I am yoked with Him, the burden is easy and light (Matthew 11:30).
A passage that has been foundational for me through the years is found in Romans:
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.
After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun (Romans 8:29-30, The Message).
God has a design for every life. He is shaping each of us who loves Him. My hope is that we are careful with labels that may restrict us and give each individual the grace to fulfill who God created her to be.
JAN GRAGE BEARD and her husband Chris are lead pastors at Peoples Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.