I’ve been a pastor’s wife now for over a decade. It is a beautiful privilege and heavy responsibility. It is a role that comes with many joys and sorrows, benefits and sacrifices, unexpected gifts and unstated expectations from others. That last one is often the hardest dose to swallow.
Most churchgoers don’t realize it, but they have a picture of the perfect pastor’s wife in their mind, and that projection paints every interaction they have with the wife of their pastor.
Your pastor’s wife is in a very unique position. What she does (or doesn’t do) affects her husband’s ministry. For those of you who are married (except in the rare case of some very particular jobs), your behavior, your spiritual growth, your words, your involvement in church has no bearing to your spouse’s job security. He was most likely hired without as much as a glance your way. Nor are his clients, or whomever he serves day-in and day-out, holding strong opinions on what you should or should not be doing right now. This is not true of the pastor’s wife. Just last month a pastor’s wife friend shared that her husband, an interim pastor (who had previously served the church for years in another role), was not offered the permanent pastorate job because they thought his wife wasn’t pulling her weight.
Bottom line, so many people have tightly held opinions on what the church, the pastor, and his family should be/look/act like. Some realize it. Some don’t. Because of these realities, your pastor’s wife most likely feels that she cannot be herself. Consequently, she often finds herself with a heavy armload of her own secrets. Here are a couple:
“I am not perfect, but I feel like I need to be.”
As stated already, your pastor’s wife lives with the constant pressure of living up to the expectations of the congregation. Most churchgoers expect her to be more mature and knowledgeable than they are. All of this, alongside her desire to be an encouraging role model for the women of the church, leads to her feeling a massive pressure to be perfect. However, she is far from perfect. She messes up all the time. She is likely trying to live up to the pedestal on which she’s been placed yet, at the same time, she wants to be authentic and real.
This all leads to the feeling that there is no safe place within the church for her to lay out the messiness of her own soul. If she shares too much, she fears that your opinion of her will change (or worse…you’ll use this against her when conflict arises), and thus her and her husband’s ministry effectiveness is damaged. However, if she never shares her junk you will accuse her of being unapproachable and stand-off-ish (at best) or an arrogant snob (at worst).
“My church is not perfect…but I feel like I need to pretend that it is.”
There are things about your church she dislikes and is disappointed in. There are processes she wishes she could change, traditions she wants to undo, and people she would love to quiet down. It may very well be the case that if she were a normal church-goer she would have continued on in her search after visiting your church.
Ironically, though the congregation typically expects more from the pastor’s wife, her voice for change is often smaller than the average church member. She often doesn’t have an official place in the leadership of the church. Sure, she has the pastor’s ear at home, but beyond that, she has to be careful with her comments. Much of what she suggests is misconstrued as self-serving. Her motives are often in question. She can’t simply have an opinion about how something is run because many churchgoers take it as her just trying to get her husband elevated.
The evil one loves to stir up dissension, and often his first attack is on the church member’s view of their pastor and his family. If Satan can get church members to question their pastor’s motives and character, then he can easily erode the pastor’s ability to lead. The next best thing is to have them criticize the pastor’s wife’s motives and actions.
More secret thoughts of the pastor’s wife:
Here are even more secret thoughts your pastors’ wives may be thinking:
“I’m friends with both everyone and no one.”
“I can’t help with every ministry!”
“Parenting in the pew on display for the whole church is the hardest ‘ministry’ I engage in every week.”
“I’m more than ‘the pastor’s wife’ and my kids are more than ‘the pastor’s kids.’ These titles do not encapsulate us…we are real people also.”
“I want real friends who want to do fun things, people who don’t see me as eternally ‘on the clock’ as a pastor’s wife. Let’s just hang out and eat pizza.”
“My children and my marriage do not belong to you. Please don’t feel the freedom to demand information or offer ‘advice’ that wasn’t solicited for and give me the freedom to not follow it.”
“It’s hard for us to accept help/gifts. I don’t know if it will be used against us later.”
“I may not know everything that is going on in your life. Please don’t assume that I do.”
“I thought we were friends and then you left the church without telling me. It really bothers me.”
“Just because I am the pastor’s wife doesn’t mean I am an instant volunteer for every plan you come up with.”
“I’m lonely. It may look like there’s a lot of people around us on Sundays, but during the week people don’t reach out unless they need something. This fuels the lie that ‘I’m only useful/needed based on what I can give you.’”
“Trying to use me as a voice to speak to my husband or other leaders is annoying and not useful. I am not their secretary, administrator, or adviser.”
These are actual comments from pastor’s wives I interviewed recently. Can you hear the hurt, loneliness, discouragement, and exhaustion behind these comments? Unfortunately, these secrets are held by the majority of pastors’ wives, not the minority.
Here’s the bottom line:
It is very hard for your pastor’s wife to let you know what she really thinks and feels.
How you can help your pastor’s wife
Pray, pray, pray for her to experience the freedom of being her real self, even if just to a few trusted women in the congregation.
Think about how your words affect your pastor’s wife. I’ve had ladies tell me what my job as a pastor’s wife is (personally visiting church members in their homes, with freshly baked pies in tow), make comments on what I should or should not wear because I’m a pastor’s wife (Jeans? In the service?!), ask me to convey a message or ministry idea to the pastor (why not tell his office assistant?), and ask me where I was at some church event I was unable to attend (and it wasn’t because they were concerned that I was sick). None of these comments would have been verbalized if I was not the pastor’s wife. You may not think that your small comment is a big deal, but it is most likely not the only comment she has received that day. The weight of those comments and requests begin to add up.
Allow her to be a normal church member, and don’t expect more from her just because she is the pastor’s wife. You hired her husband, not her. She has her own jobs to take care of.
Pray again for your pastor’s wife: that her significance would be rooted in her relationship with God. That her moments would be continually dependent on the power of His Spirit. That her heart would be renewed through the promises in His Word. And that all this would lead to resiliency and grace to navigate this unique role she’s been called to.