Before you read this, please know this is NOT about me, personally; my family, specifically; or anyone you think you may know in your own sphere of influence. It’s written generically out of my sincere concern for and extended time spent in conversation with many friends in ministry, specifically pastors’ wives. This is the first installment of a new series entitled, “The Secret Life of a Pastor’s Wife”!
For nearly two decades, I have personally served in vocational ministry in various positions in and outside of the local church and para-church organizations. Fifteen of those years have been spent married to a man who is also a minister. And after I said, “I DO”, I was branded with the lovely label of pastor’s wife! Whether I asked for it, wanted it, liked it, or not, it was now mine.
Over the years, I have discovered this label comes with a lot of baggage in the form of expectations: those we place upon ourselves and those placed upon us by others. But this label also comes with a gift: a sisterhood of sorts. A unique group of women, many of whom I am honored to call dear friends and Soul Sisters. Some of whom are hurting, and who have been deeply wounded by folks who should be extending grace, instead of grudges. It shouldn’t be this way, especially in the church alongside of other Christians.
So, I’m stepping out on a limb with this topic, but it’s necessary because many of my friends are in a place where they are lonely and feel as if they have no where to turn. Because the place where they should be able to turn, the church, is the very place their wounds have been inflicted. If you attend a church, if you call yourself a Christ-follower, may I please make a suggestion: Give your pastor’s wife a break!
Seriously, cut her some slack. Let go of the preconceived ideas of who you think she should be and what you think she should be doing, and simply allow her to be herself. She may disappoint you. She may offend you. She may not be everything you think a pastor’s wife should be. But guess what? She is a child of God with her own unique gifts, passions and callings that may have little, if anything, to do with the expectations you place upon her or the job to which her husband has been hired to do at your church. For many pastors’ wives, it seems that instead of being seen as individuals, we are only seen because of who we happen to be married to. Sound like fun, huh? :-)
Contrary to my unique life, where BOTH my husband and I are ordained pastors and serve on pastoral staff of a local church, most pastors’ wives are not employed by the church in any capacity or position. And they simply see themselves as merely another church member, who desires to serve the church as God directs. In fact, many pastors’ wives have their own careers and are not personally called to vocational ministry at all. However, these women sincerely desire to be supportive, loving, and encouraging wives to their pastor-husbands. As I would hope any wife would desire to be, regardless of her husband’s vocation. That’s good for the relationship, eh?
My pastor-husband and I have come to the realization that all relationships require risk-taking, purposeful and strategic investment and at times making the decision to initiate difficult discussions. Our marriage relationship, various family relationships, and, of course, friendships are made up of imperfect humans and, therefore, they tend to be M-E-S-S-Y. Over the years, we have learned (and, to be honest, are still learning) how to navigate friendships both in and outside of the church. But we can honestly say, we’ve met some of our dearest and trusted friends at the various churches where we have served. Even though we are pastors.
Personally, our family is in a very unique situation. We are acutely aware of this reality. You see, we are serving on staff of a church where we’ve previously served (nearly 15 years ago), and are living in a community where we have lived for nearly ten years (with a move out-of-state in between appointments). Consequently, we have a developed network of friends in and outside of the church where we serve. That’s not typical!
And most pastors’ wives don’t have this luxury. Many move to places they may not have personally chosen, but know it’s where God directed their pastor-husband and, consequently, their family. Routinely, their husband’s job takes them to new communities where they know absolutely no one. Not a soul. And they feel all alone. Instantly, the are installed as a member of a new church with folks who have attended for years and years, if not decades and decades. Don’t get me wrong: It’s great to have longevity of attendees in churches. But it’s not always easy for the new kid to find their place. Sounds awesome, huh?
So for those of you who attend church, can I share a little secret with you? Pastors’ wives are some of the loneliest people in your congregations. Why? Remember when you were a little kid and had to walk into a new class at school, or ask to play with a new group of kids on the playground? That was hard. Well, it’s hard as an adult, too. Maybe even more so. And, especially, when you are walking into your husband’s place of employment week after week, Sunday after Sunday. A place where everyone knows you, but you don’t really know anyone. And the reality is, they really don’t know you either. They simply know who you are: the pastor’s wife.
It would seem making friends is easy, but that’s not really the case for pastors’ wives. You see, the definition of friend takes on a new meaning. Seriously, it does. As a pastor’s wife, you wonder if your definition is the same as someone else’s. Or if the person who’s befriended you has ulterior motives? Or when, not if, people will begin talking behind your back because of something you wore to church (or what your kids wore)? And pastors’ wives always have an internal dialogue going on inside their heads. Usually, it’s wondering how (or if) they should address the attacks made against their pastor- husband? (And yes, we know we should keep our mouths shut. Still, gosh darn it, it hurts!) So, if you ever see us with one of those permanent smiles on our face, well, it’s probably because we are trying our best to use our filter. And not say something stupid that could get our husband fired. Or, sometimes, it could be there to keep from crying because someone just said something astronomically hurtful.
Or have you ever had a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, followed by this question: Is this friend going to leave the church disgruntled over a decision made or because they are dissatisfied with the pastor’s leadership? The pastor who happens to be your husband. Or had to ask yourself the question, “Do I have enough money to go out with the ladies from church AND still be able to afford childcare for our date night this month?” Then, spend days agonizing over the decision because you know the church ladies already think you are rather stand-offish. Surely, they will not understand if you say no. But the monthly date night that you budget for is a lifeline for you and your husband. You both need it. What do you do?
These all questions that I have had, personally, or that other pastors’ wives have shared with me, specifically. And there are more. Many, many more.
And as crazy as it sounds: There are many pastors’ wives who have been instructed not to have friends within the church where their husbands serve. (Now, I won’t even tell ya what I think about that, but I am sure you can imagine!) Think I am joking? I’m not! Totally serious! There are actual courses taught at some seminaries and bible colleges, specifically about how to be a pastor’s wife! And, heck no! I didn’t take those. But I’m sure those of you who know me in real life already knew that! I’m a square-peg-round-hole-sorta-gal, who has a name, a job of my own, and a life outside of church! And I my pastor-husband supports and loves this about me!
But seriously, dear friends, church attenders, and fellow sinners of which I am a mighty fine one. (Praise the Lord for forgiveness and grace, right!?), if your pastor’s wife comes off aloof, you do know there is more to the story. There is always more to the story. (And you may never know the entirety of her story and that’s okay!) Perhaps, she has been wounded. Or maybe she’s going through a difficult season in her marriage, as a parent, with extended family, or at her own place of employment. Or maybe she’s duking it out with God over some significant spiritual question or doubts. Pastors’ families are not immune to heartaches or trials, ya know?
Or maybe your pastor’s wife is simply scared. Or shy. Or exhausted. I mean, does your husband’s job require that spouses attend most, if not all, work-related events? Or expect them to cover a position in the event that someone else doesn’t show up? Yea, I didn’t think so! And for the record, my pastor-husband has never and would never expect that craziness of me. But some pastors do AND, worse, yet, some churches do. Please don’t be that church!
And if you are that church that expects the pastor’s wife to be at every event, function, and festivity: For the love of everything good and holy, help a sista out. Heck, help a brotha, too! Consider covering the costs of childcare, travel or registration fees. Because you do realize the pastor’s wife is not an employee of the church. Therefore, she is not being paid for the time spent at those events and functions you expect her to attend. And lemme tell ya: there are many, many events she’s expected to attend.
Honestly, most pastors’ families are not able to budget for all of these extraneous expenses and unexpected expenditures. And it puts major stress and strain on a marriage! (Trust me, I know about this one!) If your pastor’s wife is not attending all of the events, retreats, or gatherings, this just might be the reason. Or she might actually have an honest-to-goodness work commitment at her actual job! And that could entail anything from changing a kid’s stinky diaper, wiping a snotty nose, sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, or educating some of today’s smartest and brightest brains! Or, perhaps, she just needed a mental health day. Nothing wrong with that!
But being a pastor’s wife is not a job. It just isn’t. Please don’t make it that. Don’t treat your pastor’s wife like she’s her husband’s secretary (Unless, of course, she is.) Or assume she’s privy to the inner-workings of the church, such as the details of board meetings, private counseling sessions, or the logistics of the many church events. On Sunday mornings, she would love to simply be warmly greeted and told, “It’s so good to see you at church today. We are very glad you are here!”
If you know a pastor’s wife, treat her like a normal person. Be friendly. Pray for her. NO! I mean, REALLY pray for her and her family. None of this gossip-via–prayer-business. Get on your knees and go to battle for your pastor, his or her spouse and their children. They face battles of which you have no clue and probably never will. And for the record: they know all about the permanent bull’s eye on their backs. It’s a constant reminder that everything they do is seen, heard and meticulously discussed by others.
Who is your pastor’s wife? Well she’s many things. She’s a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a (insert hobby enthusiast), a (insert career choice here), but mostly, She’s simply a girl, married to a boy, and she earnestly loves God and is fiercely searching for her unique place in his enormous family. Please let her discover that place on her own without any additional pressure. Trust me, she already places enough pressure on herself.
And to my Secret Tribe of Pastors’ Wives and Women in Ministry, I love you. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet many of you face-to-face. But for the ones who I don’t meet this side of heaven, know that you are regularly in my thoughts and prayers. And can I encourage you with a word: Don’t strive to be the best pastor’s wife you can be. Instead, simply press on in this journey towards Christ. Striving only to know him more while learning how to live and love others as he does.
I leave you with a passage from Philippians 3: 12-21 (The Message):
12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
15-16 So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
17-19 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.