Ministry, Testimony

To be a ‘Pastor’s Wife’

I’ll have to follow up with this post in about 3-5 years or so (hopefully). But, since I just stumbled upon it recently I wanted to write about my thoughts, reactions, and share a little bit about the fantastic discussion I had about this with my hubby.

To get a really good grasp of where I’m going with this, you need to read another blog post first.  It’s from The Shattered Magazine and is titled Nine Secrets Your Pastor’s Wife Wishes You Knew.

I really recommend reading the post and it’s not that long but if you don’t here’s a short summary:

The author paneled some pastor’s wives. It doesn’t say how many exactly, but we know that there were several in various different kinds of churches and denominations but I think we can safely assume they were all in the evangelical camp.  When asked if they could tell their church one thing about being a pastor’s wife there were apparently 9 common topics that came up.

1. Wishing people knew they struggled to have family time.
2. Fearing every day of screwing it all up.
3. Being a pastor’s wife is extremely lonely and it’s hard to make/have friends
4. That it’s okay and welcomed to have conversations about other things that are not church related or directly involving talking about Jesus Christ.
5. Sometimes, Sundays are the least favorite day of the week.
6. It’s hard to deal with feelings of resentment towards people when they criticize, gossip, or disrespect the ministry of their husbands.
7. Wanting to be free of judgment for exercising the freedom to NOT be involved in 100% of church functions.
8. Wanting people to avoid joking about ‘pastor’s kids’ and reiterate the truth that even when good parenting choices are made, sometimes kids still go through difficult times.
9. The support (love, prayer, financial etc…) for this role is tremendous and being a pastor’s wife is incredibly rewarding.

As a seminary wife who will likely be a pastor’s wife at some point, this was very insightful, especially since I have had fellow seminary friends graduate, move, and are now in that role.  I’ve definitely heard some of these things already and have experienced some of them as a seminary wife.  So here are some thoughts I have about each one, and some questions, and I’d love to hear more from other pastor’s wives to shed some light on what I thought was sad or surprising.

So…

#1. on family time: NO surprise there.  I’ve written about this before.  One reason I am glad God has brought us to this season of seminary is to prepare us exactly for this – the struggle to have family time.  We definitely struggle with that (along with most of our friends here) because the hubby’s are so busy with school/homework/jobs/ministries etc… My one question though and something I hope a solid church makes a priority is to have some kind of system in place to protect the family time of their staff.  After all, if the family is suffering the ministry will suffer too.  In emergencies, last minute changes, urgent needs, who else in the church is able to fulfill a role so that the pastor and his family do not have to cut a vacation short or sacrifice their day off?  Isn’t one of the responsibilities for pastor’s to be to equip others to take on leadership rolls?  Is there a team of other pastors, elders, deacons, volunteers etc… ready, able, and willing to help with some of those burdens?

#2. Fear of screwing it up: this one I feel connects with #3 (feeling lonely) a lot so I’m going to lump them together.  I’ve absolutely heard the loneliness thing before, especially when moving from a larger city to a small town/small church.  It’s definitely a culture shock to move from a big seminary community where you have lots of people to relate to and who are all in similar situations/life stages to a small town where there might not be anyone really to relate to.  And though I don’t have experience with that yet, I’ve heard about it from those who have since moved on.
I get that it is (will be) hard to find safe relationships where you can be real with others about your struggles and fears as long as you know that it is absolutely necessary to have that.  Fight for those kind of relationships.  They take work.  It takes guts to step out in faith and open up about where you need accountability to fight the sin in your life, especially if members of a church have this false view that pastor’s families have it all together.  I think it is in part your own responsibility to pursue those kinds of relationships and not just wait and hope for them to happen.  Maybe they will be with people you would not expect to have that with.  Some of my most closest friends I have made out of necessity – we were put in a situation which forced us to be friends and those are some of the best friends I have had.  In the end, we all have Christ in common and we can trust Him that He has a plan for putting certain people in our life for different seasons.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately as far as currently being in seminary life is that it’s evident we are all broken, in need of Jesus every day, struggling in our marriages, etc… None of us have it all together and that is a way we can all bond.  Sometimes I have wondered, ‘maybe by the time we’re done with seminary we’ll have it together a little more and will be ready for ministry’.  I cannot say enough about how wrong it is/was for me to think that.  We are NEVER ready for ministry, God works in us and He equips us.  I’ve realized that we don’t ‘have it together’ now and we never will because that’s what this whole life is about battling.  In some seasons, we’ll have victory over this, and struggle in other areas, when in other seasons we’ll have different victories and a different set of struggles.  As long as there is growth and fruit to evidence the Lord’s working.  If we think about us having it all together, the focus becomes on us and not Christ and in reality no one would ever be ready for ministry because we are always in need of a savior.  I hope that makes sense.
With that to say, I believe it’s necessary for a pastor and his wife to be open, honest, transparent, and real with the people they serve.  That is what makes much of Christ and that will encourage and build up the body.  So with the transparency we can experience now in this seminary community, I hope to see that never goes away because it shouldn’t.  We will always need accountability and discipleship.
There was a line written on the post towards the end of #3 about loneliness that says, “On Sunday mornings pastors’ wives are often sitting solo and those with children are essentially single parenting.”  I hope that what the author meant was that the mom feels like a single parent on a Sunday morning because her husband is busy preaching or teaching etc…  and I get that.  Not all churches have a good Sunday school program or nursery for the kids.  But again, this is just another example of where it might take a little extra work to share the load of that.  It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to approach others to say, ‘hey can I sit with you’.  Maybe that’s a good way to continue getting to know those in the congregation.  I’m just brainstorming here.  Again, I have no experience, just ideas.  😉

#4 & 5 seem funny to me.  I agree, they are true.  When my husband and I get together with our other seminary couple friends, often the men start conversing about class and theology and the wives just sit there quiet until one of them starts a different conversation about something else.  It’s a little bit funny sometimes.  Our church group recently had a ladies game night.  No church talk, no Bible study, just a game and a lot of laughs.  Sometimes, having those moments are better for the soul than anything else and I think the Lord smiles when we have those kind of evenings once in a while.  And yeah I already have feelings about Sundays being the hardest day of the week and we’re not even on church staff.  Sundays are exhausting, but usually VERY worth it!

#6: gossip or criticism of your husband.  This one is tough.  Again, no experience here but this was a profound thing for me to think about.  This would be (will be) very hard.  There is a difference between helpful criticism and gossip.  Preachers and teachers should regularly be examining their methods and whether or not it’s effective for the people they are speaking to and sometimes it takes a listener’s perspective to offer helpful critiques so the pastor can learn and adjust his style to be effective for that particular group of people.  But other times it might be gossip and criticism over things that cannot change or should not change, like what if people don’t like the sound of his voice, the way he looks, etc… Gossip can be very hurtful and I hope for strength and patience if and when we ever encounter that sort of thing.

#7: this is a lot like #4.  It seems like a fair perspective.  I imagine myself wanting to be involved in my husbands ministry and maybe needing to remind myself that my purpose right now is rearing our young children and it’s better for him and for our family that I not involve myself and our kids in too much.  But I hadn’t thought about how others might have an expectation of a pastor’s wife to always be at everything.

#8: This one scares me.  I’ve heard a lot about pastor’s kids feeling lots of pressure and there being a stigma about how pastor’s kids often rebel.  I think since I lack experience here and it is a real concern of mine I’ll seek the advice of those around me and we will do our best.  I hope and pray I don’t have to hear jokes about my children and that they will not be harassed by their peers.  The thought of this makes me very sad.  But again, it’s another area that the power and grace of God can move and work to build up a community, not to tear them down, and to be unified with Christ that he may be more glorified and we be more sanctified.

And lastly with #9 being about the tremendous love, support and prayer, I am encouraged.  So after reading and thinking about all of this, do I feel ready?  Am I ready for these unique challenges?  In a way I do not feel ready (but again, would I ever feel ready?), in fact it is a little bit frightening.  Even so, I still long for the day when we can serve a local church and I still desire it for our family because I believe it’s what we’ve been called to and it’s what we want and we’re excited about that.

Now I want to hear from you.  What stories can you share in your own experiences that will build up and encourage other pastor’s wives and give them hope to persevere in difficult times?

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5 thoughts on “To be a ‘Pastor’s Wife’”

  1. Jessica, I’m so glad that you are starting to think through this! It will be a never ending journey, but I’m happy to share some of what I’ve learned over the years, both being on staff at a church and being a church planter. Beware – this will be a long answer, but I’m always up for a conversation to keep talking through it even more!

    In fact, let that be my first encouragement: find a woman OUTSIDE of your church that you can turn to regularly to vent, cry, pray, and ask for support. In all of my seasons of church ministry, I have had an older/more experienced woman who I spoke with every 4-6 weeks just to download and debrief with. She is the safest person in the world because she is not part of my church – I can speak freely about my husband without worrying that his leadership will be affected, I can ask for advice & encouragement, and I can get prayer. This is one of the very best decisions I feel I’ve made in the last 12 years of ministry.

    Second, I want to tread carefully here, but I have a sense that many of the problems that pastors’ wives face actually start with their husbands, not with the church. My husband and I have always committed to the fact that our first ministry is to each other and to our family, not to the church. His role as pastor is FIRST to pastor me and our kids. As a result, he ALWAYS consults ME first when church activities threaten to steal time from us or when he isn’t taking enough breaks. Honestly, I have been blessed with a husband who knows how to say “no”, even in “emergency” situations, and I have been blessed with the Spirit who has protected our unity in knowing when to give more and take less for ourselves. But this is not true for most of the pastors I know. They begin to see themselves as the ‘savior’ of the church (though none of them would word it that way), they fear letting people down, etc. etc. so they, as pastors, actually don’t let the church see them as human beings who can’t meet their every need.

    Having a strong elder board can make all the difference here. I don’t know what your view of church leadership is, but we are part of elder-led congregations, where a team of elders oversees the ministry of the church. The elders hold one another accountable to ministry and family concerns and fill in gaps when individuals take breaks like vacations or sabbaths. With this model, in our experience, 99% of the time, pastors haven’t had to be called in during their breaks because a strong elder team (and involved volunteers/deacons) can handle church responsibilities without them.

    As a side note to this, Jessica, I have always cultivated relationships with other elders’ wives. In our situation, the elders usually meet once per month, so I have taken on the task of ensuring that the elders’ wives also meet monthly, for conversation and for prayer. This has provided a safe place for us to speak freely, pray for the burdens of our families and ministries, and be recharged together.

    With that said, once we had children, Sunday mornings became very lonely for me and it IS like single parenting. What I mean by this is that, unlike other couples in church, my husband is not available to pick up our kids from the nursery or hold them while I try to have a conversation because people in the congregation want to talk to him. He gets to the building before I do, is unavailable when I’m there, leaves long after I do, and usually wants to nap or watch football to decompress afterwards. 🙂

    Third, I think the church context plays a HUGE role in how ministry affects your family. If your husband steps into a pastoral role in an already-existing congregation that you aren’t currently a part of (i.e., if you move to a new town in order to take on that role), then you are coming into the traditions and habits of that community. So it will take awhile to get used to how people do things, what they expect, how you fit in, etc. In my experience, that is ALOT harder for pastors & their families than the ways that I have been blessed – coming on staff at a church that we were already serving in as lay people, and then starting a church together. In those situations, we were already known by the leadership and the congregation, and we already knew “how things worked” (or how we were going to decide to work things), so it was a relatively easy transition into ministry.

    At the end of the day, I really believe that you and your husband have to seek the Lord together. The unhappiest pastors’ wives I’ve met are those who were never really on-board with their husbands’ ministries, who resented their churches, or who saw themselves as more important than they really are. As you said, we ALL are broken, sinful people who need Jesus, and the more you and your husband press into that truth TOGETHER, the more prepared you will be to rely on the Spirit for all the seasons of ministry that you face!

  2. Jessica,
    You have great assessments of the various issues Pastor’s wives have. I will definitely say that most pastor’s wives do not have what you get to experience at SBTS. They are not adequately prepared for ministry and it shows. Seminary Wives Institue helped prepare my heart and mind for ministry as a pastor’s wife more than anything else, and you have the opportunity to get great teaching before you make mistakes as a pastor’s wife and hopefully you will not make a lot of the mistakes others make because of this. I constantly have one or more of the professors wives or professors words in my head when i am going through a situation at church from what I have been taught. It was so incredibly helpful to get advice before we get into these circumstances to better help make correct decisions. That being said, most people do not get this opportunity or even are involved like the wives are at SBTS so they have no idea what to expect and their husbands are not trained in what to and not to do in these situations like they are at SBTS. Your ministry will be different because of the sound teaching you guys are learning at SBTS. I could say a lot about each topic, but I don’t have time right now. I do remember Mrs. Stinson telling us to stop worrying that our children are in the “fish bowl” being looked at and scrutinized and instead be like Christ so they can see something edifying while they are looking at you. Emulate Christ and teach his truths and be thankful they are looking at you and your husband. 🙂 Ministry is hard and feelings get hurt, but relying on Christ and his word is essential. Finding contentment in HIM and putting off sinful thoughts and actions and putting on the Righteousness found in Christ is essential. miss you girl and I am always available to chat if you want advice or my opinion.

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