For the first time since becoming the pastor at Oldham Bethel Church, I did not go to our church prayer meeting. I wasn’t on holiday, I stayed at home. I wasn’t ill, I am perfectly well enough to go out. I wasn’t suddenly called out to a pastoral emergency and it all got a bit late to go. Circumstances were as normal as they ever are when our church prayer meeting rolls around. But I’m writing this at home, whilst our prayer meeting is going on.
I can assure you I didn’t just stay in because there was something I fancied watching on the TV. As it happens, the TV isn’t on because there’s nothing I want to watch. But you can bet your bottom dollar it would be if there was something I was keen to see. But that wouldn’t have stopped me going to the prayer meeting. I’ve never not gone to church to stop in and watch something and, in these days of catch up and on demand, there really is no reason to prefer the TV to church because you can watch anything back whenever you want. So that’s not the reason either.
You may think this a terrible thing. Isn’t it awful that the pastor didn’t go out to the prayer meeting. But not only do I maintain this was a good decision, I think it was an absolutely right decision for a number of reasons. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to the prayer meeting – I have been so encouraged by our plenary prayer meetings of late – but there was one overarching reason that caused me to stay home tonight: the good of my wife.
No, she isn’t dragging me away from the Lord and insisting I spend time with her instead of going out to church. We’re not on the brink of divorce and desperately trying to scrape time together or anything like that. In fact, she isn’t even here. I know what you’re thinking, muggins has had to skip the prayer meeting so she can go off on a jolly with her mates. But no, nothing like that.
You see, since I started as the pastor of this church, my wife has not been to a single plenary prayer meeting. Not one. Every month, she has dutifully stayed at home babysitting our young children (who are too young to come out at this time of night). She, like most of the church (and, I suspect, most churches) felt it was only right for the pastor to be at the prayer meeting. I, somewhat unthinkingly, inadvertently bought into the same logic. What would people think if the pastor weren’t at the prayer meeting? What message would it send about the importance of prayer for the pastor not to be there? So, we made sure the pastor was there. And that inevitably meant my wife wasn’t.
What we hadn’t given much thought to was this: what does it say about the importance of prayer that the pastor happily deprived his wife of the opportunity to join in it corporately? What does it say of the pastor that he is willing to deprive his wife of the opportunity to join in corporate prayer? What does it communicate to the church that the pastor’s wife is never at the prayer meeting?
I am fairly sure the decision was driven, at least in part, by my wife and my collective anxiety about how it would look to the church. We thought that we would look bad in the eyes of church if the pastor were not to be there. What we hadn’t countenanced was how bad it not only looked but was in actuality that my wife could never go.
Many of the most encouraging things going on in the church are mentioned at the prayer meeting so that we can pray about them. My wife continually missed out on that. When ministry was hard and difficulties loomed large in the mind, I had all those encouragements to look at and spur me on. My wife never saw those encouragements but she most certainly saw the discouragements (especially how they affected me). That is a toxic position to be in for any pastor’s wife.
I was depriving her of the opportunity to pray communally with God’s people. She wasn’t getting the chance to see the encouragement of the prayer meeting growing in numbers and new members beginning to pray. She wasn’t hearing all the exciting stuff that was going on in the church and then fanning the flames of that excitement by thanking God in fellowship with other church members.
Worst of all, I was inadvertently communicating all sorts of heinous untruth to the church. You make sure you selfishly get yourself to the prayer meeting, even if that means your wife/husband missing out. It reinforced the unhealthy view that the meeting is only valuable (or, at least, more valuable) if the pastor is there. It compounded the view that the home is the woman’s domain – she is entirely responsible for caring for our children – and I, as the man, bear no responsibility for it. If the prayer meeting calls, my family can be left and my wife must be the one to sort all domestic issues. These, and perhaps a few others, are no messages to send to your wife, children or church.
So, last night, I stayed home with the kids and my wife went to the prayer meeting. By staying in I let my wife be encouraged and join in the corporate prayer life of the church. I told my church that I, too, am responsible for the wellbeing of my children. I was saying that my wife, as much as I, needs to be a full and functioning part of the church. I was proving that prayer meetings are just as important and valuable when I am there than when I am not. I (hopefully) encouraged some of our men to offer to stay home so their wives can also be included fully in the life of the church. All of these things are good and important.
So, that’s why I stayed home for our prayer meeting and that’s why I intend to do it again. I think it’s important for my wife to be able to pray with our church. I think it communicates something important to the church too. So, whilst I don’t intend to miss all the prayer meetings (I need all those things I listed before too), I certainly intend to miss more so that my wife can go to more. And I’m convinced that is the right decision.