After sixteen years of her husband serving in ministry a pastor’s wife said to him, “If I had it to do all over again, I would not have married a pastor.” Another long-time pastor’s wife was asked to describe the ideal church. She responded, “Any church where I am not the pastor’s wife.” Neither of these ladies had a problem with their husbands. They had healthy marriages. But like so many ministry wives they had experienced loneliness, unrealistic expectations, even betrayal in the church. Their responses should break the hearts of every member of every church.
I got the idea for this article several months ago while listening to a podcast featuring Kathy Litton. Kathy heads up the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention’s work with pastors’ wives. I heard Kathy talk about pastors’ wives and the isolation that many of them experience. Later that afternoon I started the research for this article.
This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. Chris Crain is a ministry colleague who serves as Director of Missions for the St. Clair Baptist Association in Alabama. Chris posted this on Facebook: “Happy Mother’s Day to Ministry Wives! Each minister’s wife is unique! Not all play piano, bake casseroles, or do public speaking!” He went on to say, “Ministry wives need special grace and wisdom from God to navigate the stress and pressure of living in ‘the glass house’ for God’s purposes.” He concluded the post with this statement, “The greatest honor you can give them is your prayers and understanding.” When I read the post I decided it was time to finish this article. It is my Mother’s Day gift to ministry wives.
I posed this question to a fairly large group of pastors: “What is one thing your wife would like the church to know about her, her relationship with the church, work, family, etc.?” The overwhelming first response was, “My wife loves the church.” Unfortunately, every “My wife loves the church” response was followed by a “but.” Based on their responses, here are six gentle reminders for church members concerning their ministers’ wives.
- Remember that she is a church member. God has placed her and her family in the body in the same way that he has placed every other member of the body (1 Cor. 12:18). The moment they joined the church God began to knit their hearts together with yours (Col. 2:2 and 2:19). This is the same language used in scripture to describe the sanctify of the marriage relationship. It is the idea expressed in the old chorus, “We are one in the bond of love.” She and her family are not outsiders. They are family. One ministry wife said, “I sometimes feel like I am a disposable person.” God placed her in the body according to his design. She is not disposable. Accept her into the church like you would anyone else.
- Remember that she is a unique person created in the Image of God. I recently heard a conversation where two ladies were discussing their former pastor’s wife. She was completely outgoing. She accompanied her husband on hospital and other visits. They described her as the perfect pastor’s wife. That church was seeking a new pastor. I pray for his wife! The truth is that each ministry wife is a unique person. Some are extroverts. Some are introverts. Some have the gift of hospitality. Others have differing gifts. God made them the way that they are, and he knew their personalities, passions and gifts when he called their husbands into ministry. Love your pastor’s wife for who she is, not who you want her to be.
- Remember that she is not an employee of the church. I have always said that the best part of getting me as a pastor is that the church gets Melanie as a church member (see number one above). This does not mean that the church hires one of us and gets the other for free. After her personal relationship with Jesus, Melanie’s priorities have always been family first, her vocational calling as a professional educator second, followed by service to the church (usually in the area of worship ministry since that is where her talents, gifts and passions lie). She once missed a major women’s ministry event at church because Emily and Robert had high school soccer matches. She has turned down “invitations” to serve in areas outside of her talents, gifts and passions. She understands her priorities, and I am so very thankful that the churches I have served have understood them, too. Your pastor’s wife is not an employee. You may need to change your expectations.
- Remember that she is fiercely loyal to her family. That includes the church, unless she perceives the church is hurting her husband or her children. One ministry colleague said that his wife would want the church to know, “She will give a flying elbow drop to anyone who messes with her family.” While he made the comment in jest, I expect it contains a certain amount of truth. Another pastor’s wife said, “When you hurt my husband, you hurt me worse.” NOTE: If you choose to hurt her husband or her children, look out for those flying elbows!
- Remember that she needs true friends. She is a person just like you. She has good days, and she has bad days. She needs friends who will understand her and accept her for who she is. I heard from one ministry wife who said, “I feel like some church members treat me like a project rather than a person.” Another recalled an incident when a church member invited her to a function. When they walked into the gathering the church member declared, “Look who I brought!” I know that Melanie is thankful for the true friends she has made over the years. Your pastor’s wife needs a friend. Be that friend!
- Remember that she will likely do something (or fail to do something) that will annoy you or hurt your feelings. When she does, don’t talk to others about her. That is gossip, and it is sin. Instead, talk to God about her and whatever the issue happens to be. That is prayer, and through prayer God will either change her or he will change your attitude towards her. He might even do both. Pray for her. Give her the benefit of the doubt. And forgive her if necessary.
I thank God for my wife every day. She has been a wonderful mother to our children and is now making the transition to being a wonderful grandmother. When our kids were younger, she was the one who held everything together. Along the way she found the time to complete an undergraduate degree in math with high honors and to start her vocational career in education. She is amazing.
Years ago, we were talking to a pastor search committee. As the interview progressed someone asked her the question, “How do you feel about being a pastor’s wife?” Her response caught some of them off guard, but it was totally honest and totally real. She said, “Well, I love being Rob’s wife, and Rob is a pastor.” You see, Melanie did not marry a pastor. She married a man. The same could be said for your pastor’s wife. She deserves your prayers, your understanding, your support and your friendship.