Jill Briscoe shares lessons with staff wives

FORT WORTH, Texas – When Jill Briscoe arrived at the little church in Wisconsin where her husband Stuart pastored and grew Elmbrook Church in suburban Milwaukee for over 33 years, she had no idea how a pastor’s wife should behave. So she walked up and down the aisles of the church, asking women to write on paper their expectations of her.
“I took that paper home and made an English cup of tea which is what you do in times of crisis,” Briscoe shared with the Great Hills Ministry Staff Wives Retreat at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Feb. 20-21. “I read the paper and there wasn’t one of my gifts on it. I was devastated.” After explaining her frustration to her husband, she recalled that he looked at her unsympathetically and said, “‘Jill, the job has to be done. So just do it badly.'”
Arguing that she wanted to “do it goodly for Jesus and His church,” she realized she could not because she did not feel gifted to do all of the things listed by the women from the church. “He said it’s better to do it badly than to not do it at all,” Briscoe remembered. “He’s very logical because he’s English.”
She drew inspiration from Col. 3:23 to “do it heartily unto the Lord.” Briscoe soon began “doing it badly and doing it heartily for Jesus.” As a result, two things happened. “All those women looked at me and said, ‘Oh, that poor woman, she needs help. People who could do it ‘goodly,’ but had sat on their backside all those years came out of the woodwork. It was obvious I needed help and they came. Also, I discovered gifts I didn’t know I had.”
Briscoe said, “In England we have a saying–you have a go. You just have a go. You don’t have to do it excellently,” she added. “That’s the problem with American women, insecurity that if you can’t do it well, you don’t do it at all. Well, I’m British, so I didn’t care. It had to be done and I wanted to do it and I did it for him.”
At the age of 67, Briscoe said she is having the best time of her life as she and her husband serve as ministers at large for the church from which he retired three years ago. “My soul will never return to its original shape after these last three years. Never. It’s incredible,” she said, describing opportunities to minister in restricted countries where biblical training has never been available to pastors and their wives.
In her two messages to the 170 women gathered for the staff wives retreat, Briscoe related some of the lessons she had learned over a lifetime of ministry:
1. Make yourself time. Recognizing that there are never enough hours in the day to do all there is to do, Briscoe said, “We are distracted by the work of the Lord from the Lord of the work.
Setting aside 10 minutes a day to meet with God without an agenda can be lifesaving, she said. “When you’re in ministry and you’re giving out, preparing, thinking, and discipling– whatever you’re into-you get in a habit of reading everything with that in mind,” she warned. “We have to meet with him, just for his sake, not for Mrs. Smith, for her or him, but for his sake.”
2. Pray yourself quiet. “It’s my observation that the western church talks too much in prayer, in teaching, in everything,” Briscoe observed. “God is thinking, nicely, just shut up. Just listen,” she said, citing the instruction of Isa. 50:4 to get up early and receive a word for the weary.
“If I’ve gotten up and listened to him, He will give me a word in the morning for the evening and it will be the right word and it will do away with all our little canned formulas. I’ve often thought if I had missed that this morning, whatever would I have said to her? How would I have grappled with the situation I’m in now? For that you have to pray yourself quiet; have to learn to listen, and deal with some solitude which is something we do very badly in the West.”
By “taking your wristwatch off” during their times with God, Briscoe said the wives of ministers may conclude that they do not have to do half of the things that had previously considered priorities. “If the unexpected blessings [of extra time] happen in a crowded day, try not to dash to the washing machine. It doesn’t matter. Don’t sweat it. The tyranny of the urgent finishes off ministry people all the time.”
3. Keep your hands clean. From Ps. 24:4, Briscoe reiterated the need for clean hands and a pure heart. “I’ve got 13 grandchildren and there’s always a parent saying to one, ‘Go and wash your hands!” Similarly, God reminds his children to wash their hands, she said. “We often go straight to the selfish intercession first when we haven’t done the repentance bit first,” she said.
“If I don’t have clean hands there won’t be any fire on my ministry,” Briscoe said. “I’ll be like the prophets of Baal and will have to repair the altar of the Lord.” She added, “There is carnage in ministry today because people are not living with clean hands. And there, but by the grace of God, go every one of us.”
4. We know ourselves loved. At a recent conference for ministers and their wives, Briscoe learned that three-fourths of those present had been terminated by a church at some point in their ministries. “The pain in that conference was incredible. I was overwhelmed listening to stories I could not believe.”
Briscoe responded, “If you do not know that you are loved of God, affirmed by God and get your encouragement from him alone, you will not survive in a situation like this.” Just as a flight attendant advises passengers to secure an oxygen mask on themselves before aiding any children, Briscoe said, “Breathe in that wonderful air and then you’ll be able to rescue and help others. We’re too busy shoving oxygen masks on everybody else’s face.”
5. Think yourself clear. Briscoe recalled taking her preschool children out of their playpen as she stepped into the fenced area with her cup of tea and Bible. “I was away from their sticky little fingers for just 15 minutes,” she remembered, telling her children she needed to spend time with Jesus. Her oldest son, David, looked at his 2-year-old sister, asking, “‘Can you see Jesus? Mommy said she sees Jesus in our playpen.'”
Years later she heard her son recount the story while preaching, explaining that he learned to leave his mother alone when she was sitting in their playpen, because she was a whole lot nicer mommy when she got out than when she got in. “I was not deliberately modeling anything except desperation,” Briscoe added.
“Your husband is your head, but he is not your brain. We have to do the hard work of sorting this out before God, with our Bible. “Having observed that many pastors’ wives are just taken along on the coattails of their husbands’ calling, Briscoe said, “That’s not going to work.”
6) Hear yourself called. By submitting to each other following the pattern of Ephesians 5, Briscoe said, “You put on your gifting, calling, background, and training together and you will become formidable to God as partners; both submitting to Lord.”
As a result, assumed priorities may shift according to the demands of the day, she said. “I need to be obedient to the priorities God dictates in my life. If we can do that our family is going to do just great; so are our kids. If we teach our kids the world revolves around them, they won’t be ready to reach out.”
Warning against a tendency to sacrifice families on