The Hidden Life of the Pastor’s Wife
Living in a preacher’s home is all I’ve ever known. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the days my father attended Bible college in preparation for the ministry, and when we lived in Iowa where he served his first pastorate. I was raised believing Sundays were the most important day of the week! I didn’t realize it at the time but looking back, I suppose the world would say that our family was “poor as church mice” a lot of the time. If we were, it never stopped my parents from helping people who had needs, sometimes even taking food out of our cupboards, if that was all they had to give! Watching my parents’ sacrificial example of helping and caring for others impacted my siblings and me, in a life- changing way! Growing up as a “Preacher’s Kid” (a.k.a. PK), though not always easy, truly taught us the blessedness of giving and the joy of serving! I thank the Lord for my godly heritage!
When I left home to attend Bible College at the tender age of 17, unbeknownst to me at the time, God’s Plan for my future quickly began to unfold. Despite being a part of a 2,000-member student body, within days of arriving at college, I met another PK…a godly young man whom God had called to preach! Not too many years later, with our school days behind us, we married and soon were totally immersed in church work as his life’s calling and vocation. At this point, I was well on my way to becoming what I had intuitively always felt I would one day become: a pastor’s wife!
During some 40 plus years, I have often puzzled over exactly how to describe this life that is my own! I’ve noticed that the mere mention of being a “pastor’s wife” evokes an array of emotions from people. Thankfully, for some, it is respect, but I’ve also met others who exhibit disdain, curiosity, wariness, and even pity! I am well aware that my position is fraught with a myriad of innate frustrations, and countless “no-win” situations, simply because it is IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone all the time! I know I am “dead on” when I say that being a pastor’s wife carries with it a host of “built-in,” potentially irritating, unattainable expectations! Some say, because of the “job hazards,” the most vulnerable position in the church is that of the pastor’s wife! At times, she can be subjected to malicious gossip- criticism toward her husband (which people “share” because they think she should know but they, of course are afraid to tell the pastor face to face!). Still others just want to vent! It is also common for pastors to become the target of unwanted female advances. I will never forget the day I received a phone call from a woman who explained to me her “feelings” and intentions toward my husband!
Being a pastor’s wife is a study in Human Nature 101. People are funnier than anybody! Some people are curious…ahem, well, ok…downright nosy! Others feel they have the “right” to ask personal questions of the pastor’s wife or his children, and some even make it their mission to keep a running list of offenses PK’s rack up in their early days in Sunday School, or wherever. The pastor’s family can be faithful servants, very involved in the church and its ministries, and they will be criticized for doing “too much” or trying to “run the church”! On the other hand, if the pastor’s family doesn’t do enough, they are criticized for a lack of dedication to the Lord! Keep in mind: these are all personal opinions which vary in degree from individual to individual! It is interesting to note that typically people who are under conviction will criticize and find fault, simply because their real “issues” are with God!
It has been stated that the pastor’s wife is the key figure to the success or failure of the pastor! Personally, I have a hard time imagining a pastor building a solid church if his wife is dragging her feet or fighting against his every move! However, I can tell you from personal experience that it is a heavy load to realize that if I knowingly harbor bitterness, jealousy, anger, pettiness, etc. in my heart, I am in a position to undermine my husband’s preaching and potentially, his entire ministry! To be brutally honest, there have been times on a Sunday morning, for example, something is said or done that upsets me, and I am faced with the decision to forgive or not to forgive. When I think about lost people coming to church and how I could be a hindrance to them getting saved, I am rightfully humbled! What other vocation could a husband have that carries more eternal weight for his wife, than that of being a pastor?
Like the pastor- although in a different way- a pastor’s wife is in a unique situation. Hers is the only position that bridges the gap between a regular church member and the man of God! The fact that she also considers herself to be his partner causes her to be very protective.
Any pastor’s wife worth her salt is fiercely loyal to her husband! It hurts us deeply to see him disrespected, maligned, or misunderstood! It is not uncommon for us to know what our husband is thinking, struggling with, or discouraged about and sometimes we may already know the actual words that will come out of his mouth! We watch him, pray for him, and in the deepest trials, urgently pray for others to also pray for him! It is frightening to see Satan’s darts “flying,” and know that lives are literally “hanging” upon the potential success or failure of his decisions! Spiritual warfare is very real, and on a human level, a sense of “aloneness” in these moments is also very real for the Pastor and his wife.
Even though I am a pastor’s wife, I still struggle to adequately define my role! As it is with many women in my church, I am a wife and mother. However, being a pastor’s wife, along with those same responsibilities comes another side- a hidden side- to my life, that is so unlike every other woman in the church! It is a challenge to keep the right balance. Building a “career” out of being a pastor’s wife is not what God intended. Keeping my priorities straight by being diligent in my duties as a wife and mother are my first responsibilities! If I’m not careful and prayerful, the inherent difficulty of these things can breed discontentment in my heart. (For the record, I doubt that there has ever been a pastor’s wife who has never daydreamed about a life outside the ministry!) Oh, and did I mention how fearful we pastor’s wives can be? For instance, counselling or standing in front of other ladies and teaching, can be a dreaded chore! Just as we encourage our ladies to serve joyfully and trust the Lord, we are challenged to do the very same thing!
We live in glass houses. Our example, in appearance, conduct, speech, housekeeping, parenting skills, etc., is HUGE! When pastor’s wives have lapses and momentarily forget these aspects of our lives, it doesn’t take very long before we are soundly reminded, and rightly so. Although, this is stressful, I don’t blame church members for this. It is human nature! Rather than focusing on the obligation of being a godly example and role model, I have learned if I do what I do as unto the Lord, it safeguards my heart against resentment and bitterness setting in.
Also “in the mix” is the reality that many in the ministry have lived years on a “shoe string” budget, as the saying goes. Of necessity, frugality is a most practiced virtue! With God’s help, we must always strive to sacrifice our time and resources joyfully. Most pastor’s families are well acquainted with the concept of “taking up the slack” and filling in the gaps for ministry tasks left undone. As a pre-teen, I well remember cleaning the church on Saturday nights. Those were also the days when my family lived in the church building, and my sisters and I had Sunday School classes in our bedroom!
The pastor’s wife often serves as her husband’s 24/7 secretary, of sorts. Intimately knowing his needs, tendencies, and preferences, I try my best to help him with delegated, non-spiritually impacting decisions: those “little things” that make his heavier responsibilities seem easier, quicker or less stressful. Doing this is not without risk, however! To people on the “outside” of our relationship, it may appear as if I am trying to control or “run the show,” as it were. To the contrary, I am only trying to help my husband deal with the details of “busy work”- things that would otherwise create more demands on his time and meditation. When I help with these things, I can ease the strain and stress I know he is feeling.
We pastor’s wives are our husband’s confidant, sounding board, cheerleader, his encourager and helper in any way possible. We go through the valleys and up on the mountain tops with this man God has given us! Besides the Lord, we are the only one who knows his true heart. We laugh together, cry together, and sometimes laugh together to keep from crying together! Just as physical parents do, in a spiritual sense, we rejoice together over the giant or “baby steps” each and every church member takes in their Christian life!
As well as is possible, we feel our husband’s burden to be all God and His people need for him to be. A godly pastor gives his best and most productive years to the work of the ministry, as his wife stands by his side, observing the toll it takes on him, physically and emotionally. For success, yea even survival purposes, a pastor and his wife, should understand the importance of teamwork! Our ministry and our relationship will suffer if we allow Satan to drive a wedge between us! As important as “teamwork” is, however, there are many times when spiritual issues arise and ministry decisions need to be made that the pastor’s wife is just like everyone else who is on the outside looking in. If we are spiritually “in tune,” we can see and accept that these situations, decisions and sometimes struggles, are between the preacher and God, only! In those moments, the best thing a pastor’s wife can do is just pray for her husband!
I’ve tried to share an honest picture of my life as a pastor’s wife. I will confess, it has been a bit uncomfortable to do and perhaps for some readers, it all sounds very oppressive and negative! Even with the difficulties and challenges, I choose to view my life as a privilege and blessing! Through the years, I have tried to keep my focus on pleasing the Lord and my husband. Doing this answers a lot of questions and has often brought calm in the midst of many a storm! Although I have not always been perfect at keeping the right balance, viewing my life in this way has made a great difference!
There are times when I’ve failed the Lord and others. In those moments, all I can do is ask for forgiveness and start again! God is so good! He is so faithful! He remembers that we are dust and our imperfections do not take Him by surprise! I sincerely love helping, encouraging and building people in the things of the Lord. Doing this by the side of my life’s partner has brought indescribable joy to our hearts over the years! I am blessed to serve the Lord as a pastor’s wife. Having a “front row seat” to view God’s Hand at work in people’s lives is to me, a priceless privilege!