Two for the price of one

Work that is paid in our society is valued and work that is unpaid is not.

By Elizabeth Evans Hagan

Growing up in a male-centric church culture, it was not uncommon for me to hear the phrase growing up in relation to pastors and their wives: “Oh, wow, isn’t is great that the preacher’s wife is so dedicated to the work of the church! We are really getting two staff for the price of one.”

In the church, the role of the pastor’s spouse is one that usually comes with a lot of expectations for giving ministerial energy to the team but not on the payroll. Because if a pastor is truly “working for God,” then there’s a lot of assumed sacrifices that a pastor’s family will make especially on the financial front.

Once I freed myself from the tangling web of my Southern Baptist upbringing, I vowed to never be this kind of woman — the kind of woman financially dependent on a man who allowed others to not validate her work through pay. I would not let the church abuse me as I’d seen it treat other women in ministry.

Work that is paid in our society is valued and work that is unpaid is not. Organizations pay for what they value. They ask for volunteers to do the work that they do not. Of course there are exceptions, especially in nonprofit life. But, if you want to know whom an organization cares about most, then check their human-resource budget. What tasks are they willing to pay staff to accomplish? Which tasks are they not?

I never thought I had to worry about this. Upon completing my seminary studies, I would become the pastor after all, not the pastor’s wife. Blazing new trails as a Baptist pastor, I would work for the church and get a paycheck too.

Further, I wanted to marry a man who cared about the church and appreciated my vocation as much as he did his own. And I did. Until last December, my husband, Kevin, and I both had full-time jobs outside the home. Kevin tried to plug into our church as his schedule allowed.

But, in the strange turns that life has taken in the past year, I now find myself in the position I said I’d never be in.

Kevin is the president and CEO of Feed The Children. It’s an organization with a nepotism policy. Even as a consultant or someone whose presence is requested at events, a spouse cannot be paid for anything. If a spouse goes to a Feed The Children event, the family is required to pay.

Where did this leave me? I knew I would be asked to work, but I would not get paid. How would I proceed? Acceptance of this season of life has not come easy. I feel I have gifts to give. I’m naturally going to pitch in, but to do work without the exchange of money felt off-putting to everything I have learned about self-respect.

As Kevin has settled into his new role and we sought to connect our family’s mission to the great mission of this organization and to give our marriage every possibility of growing strong with his constant travel demands, I started to see the larger picture. There was so much that I could do to help Feed The Children grow stronger. I would no longer pastor in a local church context in order to keep up. And, why was I associating so much of my worth with money? Weren’t all my financial needs being met?

And, so, currently, I am living “a two for the price of one” existence as I have embraced my role at Feed The Children within the social media team, in relationship building with the staff and supporting the amazing storytelling that this organization has to tell. And, it is not so bad.

It’s not so bad because all of these things are in line with who I am called to be as a minister, a writer and a wife. It’s not so bad because I am doing these things not because they are being forced upon me, but because I have chosen them. It’s not so bad because it is for a season. One day, I’m sure I will get paid again.

But for now, the Hagan team is two persons strong in the same direction, knowing that we as well as the organization we serve are better for it.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.