Interview With a Pastor’s Wife: Valerie Ponder

Interview questions:

Where did you grow up? How did where you grew up contribute to preparing you for life in small-town pastoral ministry?  

I grew up in Brazil as a Missionary Kid/Pastor’s Kid. As a missionary family, we ministered in settings from small churches in a large city, to a larger church in a smaller town. I helped as a Sunday School teacher in start-up ministry in a small town.

This helped prepare me for ministry because ministering in small churches growing up, I learned by example that sometimes you just do whatever needs to be done. It’s been the same way in the small churches we ministered in.

Where have you served in ministry? Can you describe the particular culture in those areas and how that affected your ministry there?

We have mostly ministered in Arkansas, where my husband was from, although we did move for a few months to West Virginia to minister there. In Arkansas, it is traditional Bible Belt, small church USA! My husband was a bit of a non-traditionalist, so it was occasionally a struggle to depart from a few of the traditions (that weren’t exactly Biblical to begin with).

We began our ministry straight out of college, in a Children’s Home. We were dorm parents to around 30 different boys and girls over a period of 2 years (12 at a time). In addition to being their parents, my husband also served as the chaplain, leading the children in daily devotions, accompanying them to summer camps, etc. After that, we served as youth ministers in one church in Arkansas and another in West Virginia. The second was a horrible experience that almost brought us to give up ministry altogether.

How did God bring you to a place of serving in small-town/rural ministry? Did you have any sort of “calling” in this?  If so, describe the circumstances.

Through much prayer, we did remain in ministry, where my husband took a small, part-time church while he finished his doctorate. Soon after, he took his first full-time pastorate and then another. Were we specifically called to small churches? I don’t know. There was one particular time that we truly felt God was calling us to move to Hartford, Connecticut to start a new church. As soon as we took the first steps to head that direction, God slammed the door. We didn’t really understand why. Later, when God called us to Arbor Grove Church in Northeast Arkansas, to pastor David’s home church, we realized that God was truly testing us: to see if we’d be willing to go out of our comfort zone and go wherever HE wanted us to go. I believe we passed that test and He brought us to where David’s ministry would end, and mine would continue.

How did God bring you and your husband together to serve in this way?

My husband and I met in college. It’s a long story all its own, but suffice it to say, I knew from the beginning that God had called him into ministry and that He had called me to be a Pastor’s wife. There was never a doubt that God wanted us to serve together wherever He sent us.

Did you have any particular areas of ministry in which you served in your church and community and what led you to those decisions?

I have served in several capacities in my church. One of the main ones has been in youth ministry. I taught the teen classes for years; I’ve led VBS for 12 years. I teach Wednesday night Bible study for the kids and help in other children’s ministry capacities. I’ve facilitated Women’s Bible Studies and organized Women’s Day events. In our community, I volunteered in our local schools and with the CASA (guardian Ad litem) in our county. Now, I’m a member of the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) at our University where I work.

Now that my husband has passed, I’ve really been feeling that I need to gear my ministry more towards widows’ ministry and educating churches on how to minister to widows. It wasn’t until I became a widow that I realized that churches are TERRIBLE at ministering to our widows. We don’t know what to say, how to say it, or what they really need! Ouch.

What has been one of your greatest challenges in this ministry context and how did you persevere in it? What did God teach you through it?

One of the biggest challenges in my life and ministry is anxiety! I get anxious about EVERYTHING! Did I say the wrong thing? Will someone get mad if I do this or that? I persevere by remembering that no one is perfect and even if someone gets mad, God loves us both and everything can be worked out. God has taught me that while I do have anxiety, it can be a good thing to occasionally use that for self evaluation.

What has been one of your greatest blessings in this ministry context and how has that affected your perspective of small-town and rural ministry?

One of the greatest blessings of ministering in a small-town church is that everyone knows everything about everyone else. There aren’t any secrets, really! If you need help, all you have to do is ask, because everyone already knows about it anyway. I LOVE my small-town church!

If you could give a piece of advice to other rural and small-town pastors’ wives, what would it be and why?

Hmmm. What advice can I give another small-town pastor’s wife? There are probably a few:

 

  • Find someone (another pastor’s wife, preferably because no one else will really get it) that you can confide in and DON’T hesitate. Odds are, that pastor’s wife needs someone too.
  • Try NOT to think of it as a Fish Bowl existence. While it is true that some people watch the pastor’s family with an eagle eye, trying to catch them in some perceived fault, it isn’t always so. Surround yourself with some personal supporters. People who will have your back all the time. Those people are the ones that if the nay-sayers start rambling, they will shut it down.
  • Just be yourself. Be open and honest with your church people from day one: what you see is what you get. It’s easier than to try to maintain a false mask.

After 19 years of marriage and ministry, I lost my sweet pastor-husband in a tragic accident in 2016. The night before his 40th birthday, he choked on his birthday meal and didn’t make it. We had his visitation on Thanksgiving night and buried him the day after. I admit to struggling with the “Why” of his death? Why did God choose to take him home in the peak of his ministry? He was mentoring a young minister, was beginning to be involved on a denominational level with boards, etc. He was in the process of compiling his sermons into a book series. It’s really been a struggle to understand why. I’ve had to just accept that I probably won’t ever know on this side of eternity. 

 

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We are a group of pastors' wives who want to encourage you in your small-town, rural ministry! To learn more about our team, go here: https://smalltownpastorswives.com/flowersteam/