It can sometimes be intimidating for pastors or pastor’s wives when former pastors and wives are a part of one’s congregation. I never had that feeling over the years that Ron and Gloria Johnston called the church “home” in which my husband is currently the pastor. We have felt nothing but support and encouragement from them, and I am happy to have Gloria share her pastor’s wife story with you here.
Her husband Ron is the director of Small Church Connections, a ministry focused on supporting smaller churches. They are based in Canada, but have great resources online for any small church at Small Church Connections.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Gloria!
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 northern Ontario in a small town. Later, my father was transferred to an even smaller town. I attended small churches where there was a big focus on missionaries. The leaders of the youth group I attended had us involved in taking services and doing Christmas pageant plays. My boyfriend, later my husband, preached in the local small churches and my sisters sang. I grew up with a mother who was always involved in teaching kids clubs, Sunday School, and working with the teens. She had a heart for Christ. My father worked shift work as a police officer but hardly missed a Sunday service even if he worked all night. So they demonstrated by their lives how important it was to love and serve Christ. I taught at an after school children’s program.
Where have you served in ministry? Can you describe the particular culture in those areas and how that affected your ministry there?
As we prepared to be missionaries for two years with a team of church planters, we went from small towns in Ontario, to Chicago, Illinois for training. Then we went to the City of Barranquilla, Colombia, a city of a million and for two years planted a new church. Our first son was born there. This time of ministry showed us poverty in a way we had never seen before. We also became aware of white privilege which has changed my thinking ever since. We realized when we finished our two-year term that we needed to come home and for my husband to start working on his first degree – Bachelor of Theology. He felt that the place he could be most effective was here in Canada.Since we returned I have been very conscious of people who come to Canada and can’t speak the language and my need to give them the time and consideration that the people in Colombia gave to us.
We then pastored a church in a small city that bordered Toronto. We had no intention of raising our three children there, but that was God’s plan. We had many young people who were attending Ontario Bible College in our home and also recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
From there we went to a small town on the western side of Ontario. We went from being involved with what was happening in the evangelical world to feeling we were on the outside of it all. We had to adjust to a slower lifestyle and people who were related and knew each other. It took a while to fit in. Because the church was bigger, we no longer had to do everything.
Next my husband went back to work for the mission organization with whom we had gone to Barranquilla. With this change, I had to deal with a loss of identity and us no longer working as a team. I could go to church and just talk to whom I wanted to, not who I felt I had to.
Now we are back into pastoring a very small church in a small town with the most incredible people. I am seeing seniors alive for Christ and serving in the church. Age doesn’t make a difference.
My husband started Small Church Connections several years ago to try and help small church pastors and churches. I am the Administrative Assistant. One of the things we are working on is a research project in regard to Canadian small churches. We are very much looking forward to seeing the results, which should be finished by the end of the year, and praying it will be a help to small churches.
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.
When I was five I wanted to be a nurse. When I was 11, I wanted to be a missionary nurse and so being a missionary and then a pastor’s wife seemed the most logical thing. The only disappointing thing that I had to deal with was that I never did become a nurse. We felt called to serve God wherever He placed us.
How did God bring you and your husband together to serve in this way?
My husband started the youth group in his church. The youth leaders asked if my sisters and I, who went to another church, could attend. It became a youth group for the Christians in our town. My husband had a desire to study and be a pastor. We dated through high school and we were married when I graduated. Then we headed off to Chicago for missionary training to go out on a two-year mission team. He now has his doctorate and his thesis was on small churches. He has started Small Church Connections and his desire is to work with small churches across Canada.
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 led women’s Bible studies, headed up women’s ministries, taught Sunday School, the nursery, played the piano, planned worship services, worked with the youth and young adults, and have run ZOOM. I have filled in wherever there has been a need. I was on the Parents Council in our children’s public school. Since none of the churches could give us a good salary, I have worked outside of the church in a retirement/nursing home and in medical clinics as a medical assistant and phlebotomist which allowed me to be in the medical field that I so enjoyed. I also did home day care when the children were young.
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?
Hmmmm….one of my greatest challenges – when I started out, I was so young and felt so inadequate. I didn’t know how to relate to people well and have had to work on that. I would have people come up to me in order to get through to my husband,if they saw that he was busy. I felt like I didn’t matter, that my husband was the important one. I would let things bother me – I remember being in church meetings where people would be criticizing my husband as though I wasn’t there. I threatened to miscarry one of my children after one such meeting. To this day, I do not enjoy church business meetings. I have had to learn to love and forgive people in spite of what they did and said.
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 my greatest blessings has been that there are many wonderful people in every place that we have ministered that are still our friends today.
If you could give a piece of advice to other rural and small-town pastors’ wives, what would it be and why?
Every church will have its good points and bad points. The goal is to focus on the people and see Christ in them. Yes, they will disappoint you; yes, they will leave the church after you and your husband have poured hours of your lives into them, but they are still God’s children. You will be hurt, in fact deeply hurt, but there are others in the church who need you to love them and to show Christ to them. It is not easy to see your husband hurt by other people whom you have to face the next Sunday and be kind to, but God will give you the strength and the courage.
Other info you might want to include:
I came up with quite a list so will just give these two. Many pastors’ wives are finding that they are having to work these days to supplement their husband’s salaries. Many pastors are becoming bi-vocational. Guilt can sometimes be huge. My experience was that I had been convinced that I was to be a stay-at-home mother and God showed me that that was not the case for me. The blessings were that when I worked, I was able to leave the problems of the church, other people’s problems, and any family problems behind, and just focus on work. I had something else besides the church to talk about with my husband. It helped me relate to other women who had to work either out of necessity or because they wanted to. I knew what it was like to come home tired and to try and work hard at being a mother, a wife, and being hospitable. The other blessing was that I worked many times with non-Christians and it helped me in understanding the views that they held and how it affected their lives.
Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be yourself. You will have your flaws that you have to work on but, we all do. It is not a sin to be an introvert or extrovert. It is who God made you.
Gloria is married to her wonderful husband Ron. They enjoy their three children, seven grandchildren and two step-grandchildren, though they would love to see them more than their busy ministry schedule allows. They live in Elmira, Ontario and team up in ministering to a little church called New Dundee Baptist Church that has been in existence for over 168 years. They are also involved in Small Church Connections which Ron started while working on his DMin several years ago to help minister to small church pastors and to help people realize that small churches are important to God. Gloria completed her Masters in Theological Studies (MTS) not long ago and finds she misses the studies. She and Ron have been ministering as a team ever since they were married, as missionaries and in pastoring churches. Gloria enjoys working with people and reading detective books and books on medical issues. She also loves gardening, playing the piano, and trying to plan creative worship services in their church which lately has involved a lot of technology.
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