Living on mission in the Bible Belt

By Jenna Fleming

It is interesting how the enemy can use ministry to keep Christians away from our mission, and pastors’ wives are no exception. Let’s face it, our calendars fill up quickly with church events, Bible studies, small groups and other activities leaving little room for engagement with those outside of church.

For as long as I can remember, I was always in church. If the doors were open, I was there. I worked in youth ministry as a college student followed by seminary where I received my MA in Worship. It doesn’t get more churchy than an actual degree in “church.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for my heritage and ministry training, and marrying my pastor husband was the best decision of my life apart from accepting Christ as my Savior. What I am beginning to discover though is that the more entrenched I am in the busyness of church, the less engaged I am with those outside its walls.

This reality set in when God led my family to a growing church outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Between getting settled, building relationships with church members, plugging into ministry and attending various church events, I can all too easily lock myself into a bubble with little to no outside contact. Some may say that it is easy to live out your faith with so many Christians around, but I argue that the opposite is true. It is easy to hide in the Bible belt pretending to live out your faith—even as pastors’ wives—because we live and serve in a context of acceptance. And yet, our faith is tested and on its best display when we live it out where it is not accepted.

Does this mean that we cannot be faithful in the Bible Belt? No, I don’t think that is the case. But I am discovering we feel safe here. We belong here. The danger lies in our comfort turning to complacency. If we no longer know what it means to go and make disciples beyond our subculture, we may have started hiding in our safe and accepting Bible Belt.

The Lord revealed incorrect thinking I had about ministry in the Bible Belt, and He began to untangle myths I’d believed long before we moved here. Here are three common mission myths in the Bible Belt:

1. Lostness doesn’t exist.

It may seem as if everywhere we turn there are church goers in the South. While that may be more true of the South than in other locations, there are still people moving here who may not have a relationship with Christ. Furthermore, just because it is socially acceptable and even expected in many places in the South to attend church, that does not mean all church goers are believers.

2. Missions is sending people out and away.

With regular missions offerings, short-term trips and prayer lists, it is easy to think of evangelism as something that others do “out there.” We send money, our youth groups, disaster relief teams or volunteers to “go and tell.” Then, we wait to hear back from them. But there is no tier in evangelism! We are all called to “go and tell” the good news of Jesus Christ wherever we are. But in order to do this, we need to get out from behind the walls of our churches.

3. I have to do everything offered to me within the church.

One reason we don’t get out much as ministers’ wives is we are too busy within the walls of our churches. We are involved in worthy pursuits like Bible studies, discipleship groups, ministry team meetings, conferences. We are responsible for experiences on Sunday mornings and maybe even Sunday nights; Wednesday night activities we cannot possibly miss simply add one more thing to our calendars. We may even feel like we need permission to go beyond our churches—especially if it means stepping out on the church calendar to step into our communities and engage our lost neighbors.

What if ministry wives in the South were less available to the flock in order to be more intentional with the lost? Would we need permission to do so? What would it look like if the role of the “pastor’s wife” was marked less by Christmas teas and ladies’ retreats, and more by neighborhood backyard cookouts and community development?

Here are three actions to consider in order to become a new kind of ministry wife in the South:

1. Be intentional.

As I have spent some time considering my role as a pastor’s wife in the Bible Belt, the Lord reminds me of Romans 10:13-15 where Paul writes, “‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” These verses to apply to ministry wives—not just our husbands—for all of us are sent. What began with the Great Commission can continue today as Jesus Christ is shared through the centuries all around the world by the beautiful feet of believers who were intentional to win the lost.

2. Be the initiator.

Just the other day I met a young, pregnant mother with her son at Chick-Fil-A. I asked if she belongs to a church anywhere, and she said, “No. My husband and I haven’t found one yet.” They are transplants from Chicago. The mother came from a Catholic background, and her husband from a Christian background. When I asked her if she or her husband had ever asked Jesus to be their Savior, she said, “No.”

I got to share Christ with her and pray for her and her baby on the way. This gave me the opportunity to invite her to our church. She took down the information and gospel seeds were planted. The Lord gently impressed upon me the importance to be the initiator in reaching out to people in my community—not just the people in my church. He also gave me the wisdom to not assume everyone in the South has a relationship with Christ.

3. Be invested.

When God calls us to serve in a particular church, He calls us to a particular place. Pastor’s wife or not, we have to be invested where God leads us. There is no biblical description of the role of “pastor’s wife,” so there is a lot of freedom in what we can do when it comes to investing in people. Join the Chamber of Commerce, take a fitness class in a local gym, invite moms over from your child’s class or have the neighbors over for burgers. The options are endless when it comes to “going and making disciples.” We may have to say “No” to something in our churches in order to say “Yes” to God for someone on the outside.

We must get outside the walls of our church.

Yes, we have a calling to serve the Body of Christ using our gifts, but we are also called to go and make disciples of all nations. As ministry wives, this does not mean we need to go to the ends of the earth, but perhaps the end of our streets. We may not need to give away all our possessions, but we can give away some of our time. We may be absent from some church events in order to show up and share the good news in a waiting room or around our kitchen table.

Will such behavior be acceptable of ministry wives here in the South? How will our churches respond? We will only know if we go. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

Perhaps we will start a movement in the South that unleashes ministry wives to be less of a church fixture and more of a community engager, leading others within our churches to break out of their huddles and into the pervading lostness on the outside.

Published November 16, 2017

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Jenna Fleming

Jenna Fleming is a pastor's wife and writer whose credits include LifeWay's Journey Magazine, ERLC, True Woman blog, For the Church, and the Tennessee Baptist Reflector. She received her MA in Worship from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and now serves at home with her husband, Travis who pastors FBC Gallatin,TN. They have three children ages 7, 5, and 2. You can read Jenna's blog at or follow her on Twitter at @jennafleming81.