We owe the pastor’s wife a great debt of love.

We’re all vulnerable.

Everyone who walks in the church door can be helped or hurt in what happens during the next hour. Whether saint or sinner, preacher or pew-sitter, oldtimer or newcomer, child or geezer, everyone is vulnerable, and should be treated respectfully, faithfully, carefully.

No one in the church family is more vulnerable than the pastor’s wife. She is the key figure in the life of the pastor and plays the biggest role in his success or failure. (Note: I am fully aware that in some churches the pastor is a woman. In such cases, what follows would hardly pertain to her household.)

And yet, many churches treat her as an unpaid employee, an uncalled assistant pastor, an always available office volunteer, a biblical expert and a psychological whiz.

She is almost always a reliable helper as well as an under-appreciated servant.

You might not think so, but she is the most vulnerable person in the building. That is to say, she is the single most likely person to become the victim of malicious gossp, sneaky innuendo, impossible expectations, and pastoral frustrations.

The pastor’s wife can be hurt in a hundred ways–through attacks on her husband, her children, herself. Her pain is magnified by one great reality: she cannot fight back. She cannot give a certain member a piece of her mind for criticizing the pastor’s children, cannot straighten out the deacon who is making life miserable for her husband, cannot stand up to the finance committee who, once again, failed to approve a needed raise or the building and grounds committee which post-poned repair work on the pastorium.

She has to take it in silence, most of the time.

It takes the best Christian in the church to be a pastor’s wife and pull it off. And that’s the problem: in most cases, she’s pretty much the same kind of Christian as everyone else. When the enemy attacks, she bleeds.

The pastor’s wife has no say-so in how the church is run and receives no pay, yet she has a lot to do with whether her husband gets called to that church and succeeds once he arrives. That’s why I counsel pastors to include with their resume’ a photo of their family. The search committee will want to see the entire family, particularly the pastor’s wife, and  will try to envision whether they would “fit” in “our” church.

The pastor’s wife occupies no official position, was not the object of a church vote, and gives no regular reports to the congregation on anything. And yet, no one person in the church is more influential in making the pastor a success–or a resounding failure–than she.

She is the object of a world of expectations….

–She is expected to dress modestly and attractively, well enough but not overly ornate.

–She is expected to be the perfect mother, raising disciplined children who are models of well-behaved offspring for the other families, to be her husband’s biggest supporter and prayer warrior, and to attend all the church functions faithfully and, of course, bring a great casserole.

–Since her husband is subject to being called away from home at all hours, she is expected to understand this and have worked it out with the Lord from the time of her marriage–if not from the moment of her salvation–and to have no problem with it. If she complains about his being called out, she can expect no sympathy from the members. If she does voice her frustrations, what she hears is “This is why we pay him the big salary” and “Well, you married a preacher; what did you expect?”

–She is expected to run her household well on the limited funds the church can pay and keep her family looking like a million bucks.

And those are just for starters!

The pastor’s children likewise suffer in silence as they share their daddy with hundreds of church members each of whom feel they own a piece of him, and can do little about it. (But, that’s another article.)

What we owe to the pastor’s wife….

1)We owe her the right to be herself. She is our sister in Christ and accountable to Him.

My wife was blessed to have followed pastors’ wives who cut their own path. So, in some churches, Margaret taught Sunday School and came to the woman’s missionary meetings. In other churches, she directed the drama team and ran television cameras.  A few times, she held weekday jobs while raising three pretty terrific kids. And, as far as I know, the churches were always supportive and understanding. We were blessed.

Allow the pastor’s wife to serve in whatever areas she’s gifted in. Allow her to try different things, and to grow. But do not put your expectations on her, if at all possible.

Do not try to tell her how to raise her children. Do not try to get to her husband through her with your messages or (ahem) helpful suggestions.

2) We owe her our love and gratitude. She has a one-of-a-kind role in the congregation which makes her essential to the church’s well-being.

Recently, as I was finishing a weekend of ministry at a church in central Alabama, and about to drive the 300 miles back home, a member said, “Please thank your wife for sharing you with us this weekend. I know your leaving is hard on her.”

How sensitive–and how true, I thought. That person had no idea that my wife underwent surgery two weeks earlier and I had been her nurse ever since, and that in my absence my son and his family were taking care of her, and that I was now about to rush home to relieve them.

Church members have no clue–and no way of knowing–regarding the pressures inside the pastor’s family, and should not investigate to find out. What they should do is love the wife and children and show them appreciation at every opportunity.

3) We owe her our love and prayers. While the Father alone knows her heart, the pastor may be the only human who knows her burdens.

Pray for her by name on a regular basis. Then, leave it to the Lord to answer those prayers however He chooses.

If we believe that the Living God is our Lord and Savior and that He hears our prayers, we should be lifting to Him these whose lives are given in service for Him.

Ask the Father for His protection upon the pastor’s wife and children–for their health, for their safety from all harm, and for Him to shield them from evil people.

Pray for His provisions for all their needs, and for the church to do well in providing for them.

Pray for the pastor’s relationship with his wife. If their private life is healthy, the congregation’s shepherd is far better prepared for everything he will be asked to do.

4) We owe her our responsible care. What does she need?

Do they need a babysitter for a date night?  Do they need some finances for an upcoming trip?  If they are attending the state assembly or the annual meeting of the denomination, are the funds provided by the church budget adequate or do they need more?  Is the wife going with the pastor? (She should be encouraged to do so, if possible.)

Ask the Holy Spirit what the pastor’s wife (and/or the pastor’s entire family) needs, and if it’s something you can do, do it. If it’s too huge, rally the troops.

5) We owe it  to the pastor and his wife to speak up. Sometimes, they need a friend to take their side.

If your pastor’s wife has a ministry in the church, look for people to criticize her for a) dominating others, b) neglecting her home, or c) running the whole show. To some, she cannot do anything right.

You be the one to voice appreciation for her talents and abilities, her love for the Lord and her particular skills that make this ministry work.

Imagine you standing in a church business meeting to mention something the pastor’s wife did that blessed someone, that made a difference, that glorified the Lord. Imagine you planning in advance what you will say, asking the moderator (who is frequently, the pastor) for a moment for “a personal privilege,” without telling him in advance.  And, imagine you informing a couple of your best friends what you are planning to do, so they can be prepared to stand up “spontaneously” and begin the ovation.  (Hey, sometimes our people have to be taught to do these things!)

The typical reaction most church members give when someone is criticizing the pastor’s wife is silence. But you speak up.  Take up for her.  Praise God for her willingness to get involved, to not sit at home in silence, but to support her husband and bless the church.

6) We owe them protection for the pastor’s off days and vacations.

After my third pastorate, I joined the staff of the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, and quickly made an outstanding discovery. The personnel policies stipulated that the church office would be closed on Saturdays and the ministers were expected to enjoy the day with their families. Furthermore, when the church gave a minister several weeks of vacation, it was understood at least two full weeks of it would be spent with the family in rest and recreation and not in ministry somewhere.  As one who took off-days reluctantly and would not allow myself to relax and rest during vacations, I needed this to be spelled out in official policy.

When a pastor is being interviewed for the position and when he is new, he should make plain that his off-days are sacred.  The ministerial and office staffs can see that he is protected. The lay leadership can make sure the congregation knows this time is just as holy to the Lord as the time he spends in the office, the hospitals, or even the pulpit.

7) We owe them the same thing we owe the Lord: faithful obedience to Christ.

Pastors will tell you in a heartbeat that the best gift anyone can give them is just to live the Christian life faithfully.  When our members do that–when they live like Jesus and strive to know Him better, to love one another, to pray and give and serve–ten thousand problems in relationships disappear.

Finally, a word to the pastor’s wife…

It’s my observation that most wives of ministers feel inadequate. They want to do the right thing, to manage their households well and support their husbands, keep a clean house, sometimes accompany him on his ministries, and such, but there are only so many hours in a day and so much strength in this young woman.  She feels guilty for being tired, and worries that she is inadequate.

The Apostle Paul may have had pastors’ wives in mind when he said, “Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

We are inadequate.  None of us is worthy or capable of this incredible calling from God.

We must abide in Him or nothing about our lives will go right.

One thing more, pastor’s wife: Find other wives of ministers and encourage them.  The young ones in particular have a hard time of it, with the children, the young husband, the demanding congregation, and sometimes, Lord help us, even an outside job.

Invite a couple of these women for tea or coffee. Have no agenda other than getting to know one another.

See what happens.

 

42 thoughts on “We owe the pastor’s wife a great debt of love.

  1. Love this. Shared it on my page. I do pray for my pastor’s wife. Love, love her and she loves me. Thanks for this one.

    • Truly enjoyed the article and can relate because I have pastored for forty years and have been married 37 to a most godly and patient pastor’s wife. In our earlier years in rural traditional churches, this article really hit home. We found out quickly that my wife did not have an identity outside “the pastor’s wife”. Another thing that added to the pain was living in a church parsonage. I interviewed with one church and for thirty minutes we listened to one parishioner on the search committee complain about th last pastor’s wife leaving all the lights on in the parsonage. We did not go to that church! We have been at the same church for the last 21 years and have not had to deal with this issue for the last 17 years because we transitioned into a relational church. One thing I have learned over these years is that one of the greatest detriments supporting this problem is that the church has become too business minded and not enough relationally minded. We are blessed at our church and are seen first as a brother and sister and then seen according to our spiritual giftings. I hurt for these dear saints who must be demeaned in the name of The Lord.

  2. Thank you from a pastor’s wife!! The Lord knew I needed these exact words of acknowledgements of successes, failures, walking on eggshells and feelings of inadequacies which has turned the love and refreshment of going to Worship to full blown panic attacks having to be hidden. So thank you for allowing the Lord to remind me that some do realize, acknowledge and appreciate our unique service to the Lord, our husbands ministry, our family, etc…

    • It always blesses me, Mike, to see your Terri in the church office working on some program or other. She is a wonderful complement to your ministry and a blessing to our church.

      • Reminds me of a former pastor’s wife. When they were being “interviewed” for a potential move, she was included in the process. At this time, they had three little ones, about 9, 5, and 3 years old. So while one group was grilling the preacher, another group was checking out the wife. They asked her did she played piano? Play any musical instrument? Sing? Teach Sunday School? When she answered no to each of these questions, one asked “well, just what do you do?” Her answer? “I raise the preacher’s kids.”

        Having said that I have a couple of ideas about how to support the pastoral wife. Of course pray for her. Take her to lunch or shopping – and pick up the tab. Take a meal to the family so she can skip cooking a meal. Slip her a few bucks every once in a while (and don’t let anyone else see)

        • “Slip her a few bucks every once in a while.” Come on. You can do better than that. You slip a few bucks to the maitre d’, or the barista when they are extra helpful or the hair stylist when you know it is her birthday.

  3. Thank you Joe for sharing these words, they are spot on and brought tears to my eyes. I am blessed in so very many ways but at the same time I have had to endure many of the things you mention. Your words simply capture what I have been unable to express in my own.

  4. Thank you for a wonderful post! I’m an urban pastor’s wife who has served in the same church for 34 years and now works with an excellent ministry to church planting spouses–Parakaleo. We are providing that care, connection, training and mentoring that is so necessary to wives in ministry!

    • Hi Maria! I have been in ministry with my husband for 15 years. We planted a church 5yrs ago. It has been some of the hardest times in my life. I relate to every single word joe wrote! I have a very strong desire to start a group for all the church planting wives in my city. I of corse am a little scared to do it. I sometimes feel like I am in their shoes so how can I help, but at the same time realize that is exactly why I can help because I know exactly how they feel. I would love to get any advice from you on how to start one. Please contact me :)

  5. Hello,
    A friend posted this on my page today and told me thank you for all I do. It is funny that she isn’t and has never been a member of any of our congregations. I read it cynically at first. I thought, “what does anyone know about being a pastor’s wife,”? However, about halfway through I was in tears. Your words really rang true. “Someone REALLY does know,” I thought.
    When my hubby and I were really young and first married I met an older pastor’s wife. Although my hubby was a school teacher at the time, I told her that I felt that God was going to eventually call him into the ministry. She shook her head sadly and said that I didn’t really want that. I didn’t really “get” her attitude and I am not saying that she was right in trying to rain on my parade, but I understand more now where she was coming from. It is the best and worst “job” that you never applied for. Thank you so much for writing this and please pray for my family. We have just accepted a new calling at a new church after being in a church very much like the one you blogged about today Aug. 17th. Fighting the 1950s mentality is very trying and this mom of 7 (including a 1 year old) is very weary of it. :)

  6. Terry just a note to our favorite daughter.telling you just how mean to Mother and I as you do ministry in Gods church. Time spent you council many that have personal and family problems, marriage.etc. Feed those that are sick and
    Menistering to their spiritual need through your testimony. You are the apedmity of what I desired to be as I ministry during gods time for my calling which has lefty me. to say you the perfect pastor wife Not without hurt or bearing others burden. Mom and I are very proud that you were raised to love God,.raise your children right. Now you using the things you learned through many years to share with others in the church ministry. Just look how your children Love! Just over look the typing mistakes and know what I’m trying to do is to lift you up
    I know there are times that I probable disappoint you. How ever with the information, We have try to do the best for the children and family

  7. Good article. I’m a pastor, and my wife is not able to attend church as often as she would like because of her various health issues. Fortunately, the church I serve is very understanding, and they realize my wife does a lot of things behind the scenes. Not all churches are like that, though.

  8. Bro. Joe, very good article. Thank you for letting us see thru the eyes of a pastor’s wife. Enjoy your postings. Billy Brasher

  9. Thank you–so many things you wrote are so true.

    However, I would disagree with including the photo of the pastor’s family. As you stated, the pastor is the one with the call, not the family. The pastor is there to convict people of their sin so he can forgive their sin. Whether or not the family “fits in” is irrelevant and is nowhere found in Scripture or our confessions. While looking at the PIF and SET questions, one question asked “Do you plan to homeschool?” That is irrelevant and should not be considered when calling a pastor. Whether or not the pastor homeschools his children has no bearing on his preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments. Furthermore, many congregations are biased against homeschooling and may use that against the pastor when considering a call. In that case, they are not using Biblical criteria to consider a call, but their own unjust prejudices.

    All else that you wrote is great though! Thank you so much!

    • Including the photo is not scriptural? I’m smiling. Neither is a pastor search committee or a resume’ either, for that matter. I’m merely saying the committee is going to want to know about your family, and any pastor who thinks the family is irrelevant to his call is going to find out in a heartbeat that they are. A pastor who was widowed some years ago told me just last week that pastor search committees are not interested in talking with him at all since he has no wife. A sad situation, but it’s the reality. That’s my point, that the wife is an important part of the picture.

    • Hi…just wanted to clear up something you said #1 I’m a pastors wife & when my husband accepted the call to pastor the church we are at, we ALL prayed about it, not just him. I disagree when you said it’s just his calling. It is the WHOLE family……#2 you said the pastor is there to convict people of their sin so he can forgive their sin. The pastor doesn’t convict people, Jesus does. And Jesus is the One that forgives sin. We are not accountable to the pastor, but to Jesus. The pastor didn’t die for the church’s sin, Jesus did.

    • A Pastor does not convict people of sin – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. He also does not forgive sin – only Christ can do that.

      • For those who are trying to read too much into the article (bless your hearts)- yes, Jesus does does convict sinners, but He uses preachers to do it from the pulpit fully mindful that they themselves are not perfect…as the pastor’s wives know full-well. This is perhaps the most thought-provoking article giving insight into the pastor’s family that I have ever read. I sent my wife a copy of it. It truly touched and encouraged her. Thank you, Joe, for being used of God to bless us today.

  10. One last comment: toward the end–many of us live in rural areas where the nearest Lutheran PW is 2 hours away. That’s another hardship we endure. How many people live in a place where the nearest person with their same kind of job is two hours away? We can’t meet for tea or anything else without a great deal of time and expense.

    • I’m not saying your coffee or tea has to be within your denomination, my friend. You’d be amazed how much you have in common with ministers’ wives in other denominations.

  11. Joe,

    Another great post! I’m printing this one for Faye to read. Even after almost 40 years serving together, she still struggles with feelings of inadequacy.

    As I read this – and your comments about the “Search Committee” process – I remember the story of a fellow pastor in Georgia (at the time). As he and the search committee were finalizing everything before presenting him to the church as their recommended candidate he said, “Oh – by the way – how much did you say my wife’s salary would be?” With a shocked expression, the Committee Chair said, “But, we’re not calling her!” The Pastor-to-be replied, “Please remember that!”

    Look forward to seeing you in West Point, MS tomorrow evening for the Sunday School workshop!

    Yours in HIS Service,
    Danny

  12. Pingback: Stuff For You To Read | The View From My Study

    • My friend, can you seek out wives of ministers of other branches of the Christian faith? You would be surprised how much you and they have in common after you get past the surface matters. God bless you.

  13. Thank you for writing on such a needed topic! After serving with my husband as church planters in oversees missions, I didn’t expect church planting and the pastorate to be as difficult in the US as it turned out to be. It seems there was more understanding and acceptance of my calling in a missions role than there was in a pastors wife role. After 30 plus years in pastoral ministry (as the pastors wife) I find the ambiguity regarding our role and the lack of understanding our unique calling to be the hardest parts for pastor’s wives. It’s especially difficult when a multitude of others tell us what our role and calling should be or say that our husbands are called and not us. While this may be said with the purpose of lessening the pressure on us, it actually undermines us and for many women can bring into question the purpose of the very existence. No, we don’t need the approval of man but we long to experience acceptance and support from the body of Christ for the work God has called us to. I now work with pastor’s and church planter’s wives. Among the many things we offer is internet one on one coaching from a graced filled perspective. (We encourage every couple entering the pastorate to secure in the church budget, funds for her coaching and care). Even with recent research findings about the wife- humanly speaking she is the number one reason pastors stay or leave the ministry- I don’t think most churches are aware how critical it is that she get ongoing input and care. Again, thank you for your insightful blog post.

  14. Good stuff, Joe! Keep it up!!!! David and I are about ready for another one of your sketches!!! :-) You are multi-talented and we appreciate you!!!!

  15. Pingback: Where the pastor’s wife can find a buddy | Pastor Joe McKeever

  16. Thank you. As a young pastor’s wife and mother of young preschoolers I often feel the comments and pressures (and criticisms) about what I do and what I can’t do. Something I would add–loneliness–especially at church. I often feel like I don’t have any real friends at church because being honest and transparent isn’t safe with church members. Even those who are kind–there is always the reality of who I am married to.

    • Loneliness is a HUGE issue for both the PW’s and the PK’s. Through the years, I have found that PW’s of another Christian denomination have been very good friends. But most times, PW’s are reluctant to reach out, especially when we are new in a community and those PW’s already in a community are very reluctant to reach out to the newbies.

      I thank you for this article. Very true; wish I could share it with some church members who need the admonishments.

  17. Thank you joe for posting this article. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed I google key words praying to find a blog or article that will remind me that I am not alone. Tonight’s search words were “Pastors wives having friends at church”. Your insight and honesty is refreshing. Thank you! No one will ever understand until they themselves have been a pastors wife.

    • Thank you, Jennifer. God bless you, my friend. And please start that fellowship of young ministers’ wives. The fact that you care is enough qualification. Do it!

  18. In one church I pastored, the committee asked if we kept a dog in the house? (They had a new parsonage). My wife’s response was, No, but we have two boys. After 11 years, I think the wear and tear on the parsonage would have been less with a dog. This was also the church where some objected when my wife chose to work in the Bed Baby area during Sunday School. They said,(whoever they are). that the pastor’s wife shouldn’t be changing dirty diapers. I don’t know who they thought had changed our boys’ dirty diapers. We had a great time there in spite of some crazy ideas. Nothing like pastoring a Church. I went and interviewed for a job as a camp manager. The man in charge asked her, What would you think about your husband being a camp manager? After answering, he said, “we will excuse you and Mr. “Jones” will show you around the camp.” I should have gotten up and left at that time. Having served on several committees which interviewed camp managers, I knew the importance of the wife. Duhh! Fortunately, we got our answer that day that God’s place for us was still in the pastorate.

  19. Thank you for a GREAT message… I pray that I can do more than my part to help my wife navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of ministry. Thank God for time of peace, but the challenges that pastor’s wives face can truly be overwhelming. The demands certainly outweigh the compensation on a personal level.

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