T Time: Spiritual conversations For, With and About Women.

The journey of a pastor's wife

Episode Summary

What is easily believed in the light is not easily seen in the dark. Today on T Time, we get to glean wisdom from the unique story of a two-time pastor's wife, Kathy Ferguson Litton, who shares her story of loss, grief and purpose all while church planting, parenting and surviving with faith.

Episode Notes

What is easily believed in the light is not easily seen in the dark. Today on T Time, we get to glean wisdom from the unique story of a two-time pastor's wife, Kathy Ferguson Litton, who shares her story of loss, grief and purpose all while church planting, parenting and surviving with faith. 

00:23 Twanna introduces guest speaker, Kathy Ferguson Litton. 

1:07 Twanna asks Kathy to share her story of being a second-time pastor's wife. 

1:34 Kathy shares details of her first marriage to Rick Ferguson and how during a thriving season of ministry, her husband was killed in a car accident. 

3:37 Twanna asks Kathy to share how difficult it was to navigate through his sudden death.

3:57 Kathy admits that in this season things she easily believed in the light got a little harder to see in the dark. 

6:04 After the death of her first husband, Kathy shares having to take a secular job and how a coworker admitted that her suffering made her faith more believable.

8:08 As the director of spouse development at the North American Mission Board, Kathy shares some tips from an e-book her team created for pastor's wives. 

11:14 Twanna asks Kathy to share her thoughts over the last 18 months in our country and the pressure the church has felt because of that. 

15:38 Kathy shares that when we honor anyone's story, we are bearing their burdens and loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. 

16:26 Twanna asks Kathy to share what she now knows about the pastor's wife role that she didn't know before. 

18:34 Kathy shares a talk she does with young pastors' wives on sacred influence, and how their influence impacts eternity. 

22:26 Kathy believes through her experience that a part of having a leadership role is to develop a thick skin but also keeping a tender heart. 

25:46 Kathy closes the podcast in prayer. 

Episode Transcription

Twanna Henderson: Welcome to T Time: Spiritual Conversations For, With and About Women. I'm your host, Twanna Henderson and I want to remind you to like this podcast and share it with your family and your friends. Well, I'm excited about today's guest. Our guest is Kathy Ferguson Litton. Kathy serves as the director of spouse development at the North American Mission Board, where she administrates a system of care support and training for church planting wives. She is married to Ed Linton who is the pastor of Redemption Church, and they live in Mobile, Alabama, and have three children and eight grandchildren. Kathy it is a pleasure meeting you. Welcome to T Time.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: It's great to be here, Twanna. I've been looking forward to this.

Twanna Henderson: Absolutely. So have I. Well, I want to really jump right in. I want to start by really talking about your journey as a pastor's wife. Because you have a very unique story being that this is your second time being a pastor's wife. Talk to us about that.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Sure. I grew up in Missouri, and I met my first husband, Rick Ferguson, at youth camp. A lot of youth camp romances kind of turn u and I am one of those, but he had felt a call to ministry when he was 17 years old. We got married at 19 and 20. Because we were really ready for marriage at that stage. But anyway, he finished college and seminary and all the things. He served in churches in Missouri. And then in 1991, we moved to Denver, Colorado, and he became the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church there right in the heart of the city. And it was such a glorious season of ministry for us. And God did some amazing things during that timeframe in our life. But he was unexpectedly taken very young in a car accident that our family had, leaving Denver going back to Missouri in the summer of 2002. And so my life just went on a trajectory that I could not have imagined. And it was a really hard time. It was a hard time for us to the stunning shock of his death at 45. And my kids were 17 and 18 and 22, the day that Rick was killed. I'll say this, because there will be some listeners in the city of Denver that that city really rallied around our family and very profound ways. And the body of Christ and including the community of Denver, were really good for us and good to us. I lived alone for seven years, I went on staff at a church and our denomination in Arkansas. And then seven years later, I remarried another Southern Baptist pastor who had lost his spouse in a car accident and then I moved to Mobile and moved to the deep south never lived down here. And so that is really the trajectory of my life, how I got here today. And I started working at the North American Mission Board about 10 years ago, in my role with them.

Twanna Henderson: Now, that's that's an amazing story. And I want to just ask you this, because, you know, we go through life challenges like that, you know, it's always difficult to know how to navigate through those things. Just talk to us a second, just about the grace of God.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: You know there are things that really try our faith in unique ways and we're all staring down something out there that's going to come along and what I would say that things that I easily believed in the light got a little harder to see in the dark. That really kind of made my faith and the Bible talks about our faith becoming more precious than gold under pressure. And I think as spiritual leaders, we need to be honest about the when people would ask me in Denver in those early months, like how are you doing and I found this kind of good pastor's wife answer but honest like I'm kind of hanging on by my fingernails. I didn't want to portray that this was by any means an easy journey. It was a tough journey. But the reality of Christ in the journey,

Twanna Henderson: yeah.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: became sweeter and more precious and in our trials and our difficulty, the reality of Christ can move closer to our daily experience with him and I found that to be true.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, and I think I think that is so important for others to hear and because we all go through various things. And as leaders, I think sometimes people think that leaders don't go through, go through things, either. But we go through things and, and we have to navigate through those things just like everybody else. And so, you know, I like how you said that the things that you knew, in the light, were kind of hard in some kind of way to know in the dark. And that's, that's just that's very real. That's very real.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: You know, I took a job downtown Denver about a year after Rick died in a corporate setting, and I had a degree to teach. I had taught school in Jefferson County Schools. But I took this job, I worked there for two years in this very secular space. And when I left the exit interview, the man that was the corporate governance person and have an exit interview, and he said at the end of it, he said, you know, Kathy, I have found you to be a very believable person of faith. And honestly, I've really realized as a pastor's wife, I had never thought my faith wasn't believable. But being in that secular space and understanding suffering in our life can make our faith more believable, not just to us, but to people around us.

Twanna Henderson: Absolutely, absolutely. I think that's one of those things that helps us to be the salt and the light and the light that we're called to be. I want to move on, because there's so much I want to talk to you about and we really could stay there for a while. But I know you serve as director of spouse development at the North American Mission Board. Tell us what the North American Mission Board is, and what your role entails.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: We are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, and we have two mission entities. One is for international missions, and North America would include Canada and the United States. And part of what we do is to plant churches in very underserved area. Many, most of Southern Baptists live in the southeast part of the United States, and many of our churches are consolidated there. And so our goal is to plant churches, in places where they desperately need churches in the northeast, and in the West, and all of Canada. And so we are going into cities like San Francisco and Chicago and LA and Phoenix and Denver, where there is a need for churches and planting churches very intentionally there and we provide them a support system along the way. And they're in a five year care window with us at NAM, and we help provide community for them training and coaching. And I do that on the spouse side.

Twanna Henderson: Okay. And I know that it's so important to have that support for spouses. You know, people just don't often realize just the pressures that come with that role. Are there consistent features seen in being healthy, healthy ministry wives? And if so, what are they?

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Well, we wrote a little ebook for our women. And we really identified five things. And and the first one is that they would have a transforming faith and we chose every word carefully, that they would have a faith that's really bringing life change to them, and it would be authentic and its roots would be going down deep into the the truth of the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ. The other thing is that they would be authentically connected, that they would have relational connections with other people that were real. Now not everybody's a raging extrovert, we're not asking, but there needs to be a level of authenticity with people and with the church itself, that there would be something authentic there. Also, because of what we're doing with planting, that they would engage lostness, that would be a marker of a healthy wife that she has the capacity. Now we we mean that in a really broad term, that we have a lifestyle of connection with people around us. The other thing, and we talk about this a lot and our spouse development is that she is having growing emotional health. Our spiritual health affects our emotional health. And those two things are closely connected, they're not separate. And so the deeper my roots go down in Christ, the more secure I am, and that promotes this emotional health. And the last one is that she would be gracefully resilient. And we use that word grace as really indicating that this comes from the power of God. We're not looking for just strong tough women. There can be a toughness that comes to us that's not really filled with the Holy Spirit. But ministry requires a lot of resiliency and in church planting even more. There's so many highs and lows, there's so many times that they're without the things they need. And that resilience, the capacity to be resilient. So I know it's kind of a lot of words, but those things really do suggest health for us, and everybody kind of can plug into those things in their own way. But as long as some of those features are in their life, we feel like they're on their way to health.

Twanna Henderson: Okay, so I'm assuming there's some type of training that kind of helps them to get on that right path, because a lot of times, you know, women come into that role as a ministry spouse, and you know, there's no playbook for it. Nobody tells you how to do it, you just, you're just there.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Yes, and you know, that's what my team does. We have trained people across the country, and we help train them around these topics. Now, our topics that we give them don't include all that word, all those words, but we're trying to build that into them. But I think any pastor's wife along the way, needs to look for piecing these healthy markers in their life.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. All of us actually need to, you know, over the last 18 months or so the the local church has, has encountered a lot of issues that have created a great deal of pressure for and on leadership. But what are some of the issues that you've seen that have surface that has created this pressure?

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Yeah. Well, I think, unfortunately, we've taken up some of the atmosphere of the political world around us that have been around us in the last five or six years. And when these difficulties have come in our communities evolving around COVID, closures, wearing masks, not wearing mask is that some of the responses, it's like we were in a culture of outrage that we've seen around us, but that's kind of crept into the body of Christ. And there didn't seem to be in some people the ability to have an opinion about something without taking it to the outrage level. And, you know, we've seen a lot of people leave churches, stop going to church over a decision about mask or no mask, or when churches started back when churches didn't start back, how they opened up their church, there was just a lot of opinions about this, that people took to a level toward outrage has not been healthy, not been healthy at all. And then we, you know, we have what you call nominal Christians that, you know, attend our churches every six or eight or seven or 10 weeks, maybe they're there five or six times a year. Honestly, some of them just, they never came back. You know, it. They came to church when it was convenient. But once it was gone, it wasn't that important to us. And then they just stepped aside. And so I think of the pastors that we're married to, and watching them do their best to make decisions based on their local setting, and what's happening here with COVID, and coming under constant attack for that with some ways that, unfortunately, social media gives a lot of platform where there can be a lot of "yah, yah" going on, and it's been hurtful for churches, and our husbands can't control that.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah. And it does speak to the health, the health of our churches, and, you know, and really walking in Christ's likeness. And even the pressures that we've seen over the, you know, more visible over the past 18 months, with racial divides.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Yes, yes. No, absolutely. And that also is a topic that, you know, can breed a lot of place for division along the way and a lot of misunderstanding. When we were in Denver, there were two big initiatives that Rick led at Riverside, and one was racial reconciliation, and the other was church planting and so and so I watched it there in a city that's really not in the deep south and saw some of the opposition there in that city. But now that I live here, it has a different history. And so it's some of it is very similar, but there are people that, I listened to a podcasts this morning, and this is about loving your neighbor, racial reconciliation at its heart. Is about loving your neighbor as yourself. And when I love the people around me, and I want to understand their experience in this country and their history of their experience from their race in this country, I would love them as I love myself and lean in to understand their unique struggle and honor their story.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, I think the challenge many times is recognizing or identifying or resonating with who my neighbor is.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: And, and bearing their burden. I mean, it's when I honor anybody's story, I'm bearing their burden. I'm, I'm empathetic, which means I'm, I want to learn how this affects their life and their kid's life. And that is humility, that is loving your neighbor as yourself. And it's part of the ethos of being a believer. I think it should be.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Kathy, you've been a pastor's wife for nearly 40 years. And that's hard to believe. Your crown awaits you. What do you know about this role now that you didn't see when you started?

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Yeah. I tell you what, I learned this really, prior to Rick's death in a way of really how much influence I had over my husband. And I didn't know because your husbands don't sit around and tell you, you're influencing them. But you know, I was not short of opinions as a young woman. Let me just say, and I realize now that unconsciously, you know, things I said at the house, my perspective on things really did influence Rick, but he didn't run around and tell me that all day. This happened about three or four years before he died there at Riverside, he had preached a sermon series on creation. And, of course, we know the secular nature of that city and how tricky biblical creation can be. And so one of the men at church who went to our church one of the Godliest guys, he was a rocket science, had a degree in physics from University of Colorado, said to me at that Sunday morning, like man, right, got this science, right. He got the Bible, right. And he just really affirmed Rick about this message. So that night laying a bed, I told Rick, what this man had said, and Rick rolled over and said to me, he was kind of a quiet guy wasn't prone to drama or anything. And he just said, there's only one person's opinion about my preaching that matters to me. And it was me, but I didn't really know what I thought, most respected man at church with a degree in physics. And I just, I would tell pastor's wife, that unconsciously, we're leaving a lot of influence on our husbands. And, and I don't think I stewarded that well, as a younger woman, you know, my thoughts and stuff really did matter to Rick. It even shaped his perspective, my thoughts about people our circumstances. And so I, I have this whole talk for young pastor's wives about your sacred influence. And the thing that makes our influence so sacred, is because we're working in the gospel world. We're not working in the business industry. We are working in the gospel world where we have our influence really effects for eternity. And so I think I wish I had seen sooner the power of my influence. And even to the congregation, frankly, I think we have more influence than we know even our congregation, even if no one ever tells us, we're influencing them. But when we show up like, you know, to show up at events, something small that I take pretty much for granted. I work in our student area here. And being in that student ministry, I recognize my presence means a lot to those people. It doesn't mean it's very insignificant to me.  Part of that. And so I would just urge all pastors wives to recognize that influence is a part of what you have at home, at church in the community. And we need to steward that really well.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, I think that's excellent. And I think a lot of times, wives don't really recognize the impact they do have and the influence that they have and, you know, need to really understand that the Lord has placed them there, to be a help, you know, with their words with their actions with things that they don't even realize that their husbands are watching, you know, that the Lord has placed them there for that. And so I think that's very important. Some of our listeners may be trying to place your last name, you and your husband have recently been thrust into public leadership as your husband, Ed is now the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Can you share any newfound insights concerning receiving constant scrutiny and very public opposition?

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Well, again, social media has changed this opportunity for scrutiny and critiquing in epic proportion in my lifetime, no doubt. We come from a denomination that has, has a little bit of history of conflict and on many levels, and my husband was elected as the president in a very close race between one conservative group and another conservative group, just to simplify it. And so that with that narrow victory, it caused a lot of critiquing. And even going back, people researched all the sermons that Ed preached and watched all the videos and found clips of things along the way. It was very it wasn't, it was an effort launched intentionally. And that created some difficult and heartache for Ed, for our church to be under that kind of scrutiny. And course, they found some things that were less than stellar they weren't. And so some things that Ed had to apologize for along the way to our congregation. But I won't go into all those details. But I would say that that scrutiny in that form, and you know, we're all kind of being watched. And sometimes we're watched, and we have some things that come along, that we need to own and recognize and be straightforward with that. But there's some things that we get criticized for that we just have to develop some thick skin. You know, in a leadership role, the goal is as leaders to have a thick skin, but keep a tender heart. And I think that's really, really hard to do, is to not let your heart get hard under criticism and opposition. And I know we're talking to some wives right now that their opposition's come from their local church, not coming from some people on social media that you don't know very well. And that's even more personal, that's even more personal. And so we have to strive to do right and to be right and maintain ethic and godliness and all those things. But that won't ford off all criticism. There will be people that will say things about your husband and my husband that are just not true. And we can't attack everybody out there. We have to have a thick skin, we have to let some of that roll off. But we have to keep our heart tender and not be angry, and bitter and resentful. And only the Spirit can do that in our lives. Only the Spirit can do that in our lives.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, yeah. Is there a scripture or passage that's kind of helped you during this season? Um, I'm sure there are many that do. But is there anything that you just kind of hang on to that has kind of helped you walk through this.

Kathy Ferguson Litton: I tell you what, we have to cling to Christ. We have to cling to him and I would say as much as you know, it's, when it's said, not I but Christ. I can't bear this. Only Christ can give me the strength to bear up underneath this. And he can shepherd my soul through that. He is you know, he's the lifter of my head. He is the strong tower that I run to. I think even in grief when I was living in Denver, Colorado, that idea that God was my strong tower to run into was very, very personal to me when I felt like I had no strength for the role of widow and the role of grief and same now. I'd just hide behind the cross.

Twanna Henderson: Yeah, yeah, that is so important. And I think it goes back to the whole thing about grace that his grace is sufficient. I mean, it really is. Kathy, you resonate, I believe, with so many women, just because of your life experiences and your transparency. There are women who are listening who are seeking God's grace in various situations. They are those who are invisible ministry roles who are trying to navigate through scrutiny, and maybe even public opposition, as well as those who are married to pastors and just need soul care and support. As we prepare to close will you just take a moment and pray for them?

Kathy Ferguson Litton: Father, I pray for all those listening to this recording right now that you would be very present in their time of trouble. Lord, that they would feel your spirit and your love and your power and your grace in their life, Father. That you would walk beside them every step, Lord, and that they would turn to you as their strong tower. We cannot do this in our own strength Father, we have to lay down all of our tools, Father, and we need to throw ourselves on your mercy and grace and all we thank you for your love. We thank you for your power that you give us to overcome the things that we don't have the strength to do on our own that you will give to us Father, I pray, Father, that you would let these women listening to me find community with other wives that they can have a sisterhood that understands this unique calling on each other's life so that we can strengthen one another for this journey. And Father, I pray that we put your glory on display not ourselves, not I but Christ that these other people would see Christ in us more than anything, Father, make that real and vibrant in our life and Lord, help us to represent who you are to the world around us, Lord, with grace and beauty and strength and tender mercies. In your name I pray. Amen.

Twanna Henderson: Amen. Well, Kathy, it was great having you today. Thank you for being a guest on T Time. And to all of our listeners I look forward to connecting with you the next time. Be blessed of the Lord.