The Hardest Part of Being a Pastor’s Wife

I love my husband. I love that he loves Jesus and the Church. I love that he spends his life for the sake of the gospel. Every Sunday as he preaches from the Word, I am proud of him. I love being a pastor’s wife, and I consider it a high compliment when I am called Mrs. Preacher.

However,  alongside the joys of being a pastor’s wife, there are many struggles, and these struggles have been heavy on my heart lately. And what’s the point in having a blog if I can’t use it to reflect and process personal struggles from time to time? So, here is my countdown of the hardest struggles I’ve faced as a pastor’s wife.

(Before I begin with my list, however, I need to clarify that my husband has prioritized his family and ministry responsibilities to keep me from facing the main struggle of most pastors’ wives. Many (if not most) wives of full-time ministers have to sacrifice time with their husbands in the name of service to the church. Many (if not most) full-time ministers wrongly prioritize their ministry to the church above their ministry to their families. One pastor’s wife I know and love told me once that she often felt like a single mom. I’m so thankful I haven’t had that experience. JD has committed to make his ministry to our family a higher priority than his ministry to his church, and he sets clear boundaries between family time and church time. He spends ample quality with me and Piper, and I am incredibly thankful for a husband who keeps his priorities in line.)

With that major struggle averted, here is my list of the hardest challenges I’ve faced in seven years of marriage to a full-time minister:

5) Unrealistic Expectations. Once upon a time I was a young, newly married youth pastor’s wife. Within a week of moving to a new church in a new city, I was (quite aggressively) asked to lead an interpretive dance ministry group, made up of about a dozen 40 to 60 year old ladies. They told me they were so excited that JD and I had come to their church because they needed a new leader and God had sent me to them. I was caught completely off guard, but thankfully had the presence of mind to stammer some excuse about needing to settle in before I made any commitments.

I might have gotten off the hook for that one, but I’m really not good as saying “no” and I’ve had to do many things I never wanted to. For example: 1) Choreographing youth Christmas musicals. (Even though I’ve never had a dance class in my life.) 2) Playing the keyboard in Easter programs. (I really tried to say no to this one. Several times.) 3) Confronting two middle school girls who were making a college-aged guy uncomfortable with their flirting. (Apparently neither the guy nor the moms who called me to do this could handle it themselves.) 4) Teaching a kids’ Bible Drill class. 5) Babysitting choir-members’ kids during the Easter program.

That’s just a small list of things I didn’t say “no” to. Here are a few of the requests I’ve denied: 1) Helping with an all-day kids’ sports camp (when I had a five-month-old baby.) 2) Teaching sixth grade VBS. 3) Joining the choir. (I’ve said no to this one more times than I can count!) 4) Enforcing modest dress among female church members.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love to serve in the church. I have taught youth Sunday School and small groups, mentored girls, led Bible studies, organized tutoring programs, spoken at Missions’ events, gone on mission trips, played in a hand-bell choir, etc. I even worked as JD’s assistant for a (short) season! But please, church members, if you love your pastor’s wife, let her choose how she serves. Don’t pressure her into serving in ways you think befit her position.

4) Unjust Criticisms. When JD is criticized, I take it much harder than he does. He is my hero, and I know the motivations and thoughts behind his actions. I understand his personality, his priorities, and his philosophy of ministry. When he is criticized unfairly, I get angry. Really angry.

Once, we were new to a church and spending time getting to know people. Instead of returning that favor, several people made a rash judgment about JD. They went to the senior pastor and complained that JD was arrogant. Those of you who know my husband will know how ludicrous that is. Introverted? yes. Arrogant? heck, no! Apparently he made a quick stop by an after-church party, said a general hello to everyone, spoke with the person he came to speak to, said a general goodbye, and left. Therefore, because he didn’t spend a hour engaging every person in the room in in-depth conversation, he was arrogant. In addition to this rash (and false) judgment, the complainers didn’t have the courage to address JD with this issue! Needless to say, when I heard about this I was irate. I’m still mad thinking about it. And I wish this was the only time in our ministry that JD was unjustly criticized, but it’s not, and dealing with this is a hard struggle.

3) Unnecessary Drama. There are some issues that are important and worth fighting for in the church. We can fight to protect sound doctrine, we can fight to remove prejudices, and we can fight sin. But there are some issues that simply are not worth fighting over. Those are the issues that (at least in our years of ministry) seem to cause the most trouble.

At one church we fought about doughnuts. Yes, doughnuts. Krispy Kremes, to be exact. We fought about doughnuts on multiple occasions over the course of several years. The debate got very heated and people took sides. Over doughnuts. Can you see me rolling my eyes here? If you’re going to fight for the church, fight over an issue that matters! Fight injustice, fight poverty, fight modern-day slavery, fight abortion. Fight for the spread of the gospel. Fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. But for goodness sake, don’t you have something better to do than fight over doughnuts?

2) Unsaid words. Over the years I’ve learned that one of the most essential skills of a pastor’s wife is the ability to hold her tongue. In good and bad circumstances, there are things I want to say that I can’t. I want to defend my husband against criticism. I want to explain why he does things the way he does them. I want to tell people to back off. I want to tell people what I think of them. I want to debate. I want to fight.

A part of my “flesh” that I’m continually trying to overcome is my desire to argue and debate. I enjoy it, and I’m good at it. In an English class debate I once made a girl cry. I often make up conflict scenarios in my head and think about the words I would use to make my case. (That’s not weird, is it?) When we’re facing drama or criticism within the church, my mind fills with arguments, debate points, stingers, and put-downs. But can I use them? No. Do I ever wish I had? Occasionally. But 99% of the time I’m so thankful I kept them to myself.

There is one past conversation that I wish I could return to and say what was in my head. But in that moment, I was so hurt and so mad that I was on the verge of tears and couldn’t say anything for fear of breaking down. Those tears, I truly believe, were God’s way of keeping me from saying something I would regret; and I’m sure that if I could return to that situation, He would send me those same tears of frustration. I just have to learn that, as hard as they are to keep in, there is grace in unsaid words.

1) Unfinished Ministry. By far the hardest thing about being a pastor’s wife is leaving a church. We’ve left four, and I miss people from every single one of those churches. Saying goodbye to people you love is never easy, even when you know God has ordained your move.

A friend and fellow pastor’s wife recently told me that she has needed to put up a wall between herself and the people of her church to keep herself from getting too attached. She and her husband have moved many times, served in many churches, and left behind many friends. And while I hate to admit this, I know I’ve been guilty of the same thing. If I don’t get too close, it won’t hurt as much when we have to leave.

This wall-building, however, never lasts. We can’t help but develop close friendships with the people who serve in the church alongside us. And honestly, we want and need those friendships badly. So we let down our walls and enjoy a season of life in community with those friends and pray that we won’t be called to move on. (At least for a long time.)

Thank you for praying for your pastor and your pastor’s wife. I really do love my position in ministry and I’m thankful for the things God is teaching me through these struggles. So, fellow pastors’ wives: what would you add? What are the hardest struggles for you?


14 thoughts on “The Hardest Part of Being a Pastor’s Wife

  1. Thank you so much for writing this.

    I am a pastor’s wife as well. I did a blog search on Sunday afternoon as I was very discouraged and just wondered what other pastor’s wives my age have to say about their circumstances. Your post brought tears to my eyes, and later I read it to my husband and we laughed and reflected together.

    My husband, like your JD, also prioritizes our family over our church and I also am blessed to not have to fight for his time and attention. We too have a toddler – a boy who is 18 months old this week! And I, too, have significant challenges and struggles as a Pastor’s Wife.

    We laughed SO hard about your invitation to lead that group of older ladies in interpretive dance! Way to say no! 🙂 At our previous church I was made the choir director. It happened rather quickly, almost overnight – I had no choir experience! Several left the choir due to my leadership despite the fact that they had put me in charge and I was very clear that I had no idea what I was doing! Yikes! I still feel bad about the 4th of July choir service I directed that was a disaster… I neglected to invite Uncle Sam and the children to participate! Oops.

    I cringe at the many unjust criticisms that have been said to my husband over the past 3 years. When we were doing pre-marital counseling my counselor and dear friend told me that I was a “Mama Bear” and then when my “Papa Bear” and later my “Baby Bears” are challenged that I needed to be very aware that my first instinct is to get my claws out and come out swinging. She was so right. My husband still refers to me as “Mama Bear” when others hurt him. It’s heart-wrenching. I take it personally. Those words never leave. They haunt me. I forgive over and over again and I still get angry. I can think of so many situations right now and I still want to punch someone!

    Your lines about fighting over the doughnuts are hysterical – and yet so true! We so often find ourselves caught up in meaningless drama that causes such a strain on relationships and takes so much time and energy away from sharing Jesus with those around us. Often I am so frustrated I just want to quit – I want to leave – I don’t even want to go to church anymore! But then I remember that our people need us – to love them, to love our husbands – to remind them that fighting over doughnuts is so silly!

    I’m newer at being a pastor’s wife than you – our 3rd anniversary with our church is quickly approaching and we were married only a week before coming to this church. I feel like I still have so much to learn about how to be a pastor’s wife. And I so want to be a good, dear, sweet one!! What I most appreciated about your blogpost is your sharing of your struggle with unsaid words. I am just like you in that I also dream up conflict situations and have a response for everything – and I mean everything!! I am a social worker and loved my first job where I spent much time in the courtroom – I have often considered going back to school and becoming a lawyer. And oh, so often I get myself into trouble. I don’t hold my tongue. I say what I’m thinking. I fight, I argue, I stir up dissension by trying to stand up for what I believe in. The things I’m fighting for are worth fighting for, but my method often lacks grace, tact, and love. I cried as I read your line “I just have to learn that, as hard as they are to keep in, there is grace in unsaid words.” Thank you, so much for writing that! I don’t even know your name -and I just feel like you were saying that to me directly as a friend.

    It did my heart good to read about your challenges as a Pastor’s Wife as I feel like I identify with you. It’s so refreshing to be reminded that I’m not the only one thinking all these things! I am so glad my blog search on Sunday brought me to your blog! Thank you for encouraging me. Keep writing, keep loving Jesus and your family and your church. I don’t know you, but I know from your words that you are an awesome Pastor’s wife and Mom and I hope my comment encourages you as your post so uplifted me! Thank you.

    • Kara, thank you so much for your encouragement! I wrote this post as ‘therapy;’ I just needed to get it out. By no means do I have this pastor’s wife thing figured out – I’m still learning and messing up all the time. But I’m so glad that my experiences encouraged you and that other pastors’ wives can identify with my struggles. It sounds like we’re a lot alike, and I think we should be friends. Can I email you? 🙂

  2. Thank you for this honest post! I love it! Church ministry is so fulfilling and yet so…draining and potentially depressing. I think the hardest struggle for me as a pastor’s wife is to know how much we pour into this ministry, how much it demands of our family, and yet to not see results – like I/we want anyway. I know the truth – that we sow and another reaps, and that our labor is not in vain when it’s done in the Lord, but it is hard to keep that perspective when people don’t have the same desire to grow that you have for them, or don’t know the abundant life they’re missing out on.
    Another thing is that we live in a parsonage, 10 steps from the church door. It makes life interesting to say the least. Like today, when there was an activity planned at the church, and I decided not to go. My kids wanted to play outside, so there I am standing in my yard watching people go into the church. I could see their bewilderment as to why I was avoiding the place. Oh well. I can’t always be there and still be HERE for my kids. Thankfully, our church is full of people who seem to get that. I really love our congregation!
    Thanks again for your transparency. It is good for my soul. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Encouragement for Pastors’ Wives | Mrs. Preacher

  4. I, too, was searching for encouragement today. As a Pastor’s wife, I go through many seasons, and the past year has been a difficult one for us in ministry. I typed in “Discouraged Pastor’s Wives” and your site came up. This is actually the second time I’ve visited your site, but today it just spoke to me. I can relate so very much to you and the other PW’s. I never thought I would dislike being one, but sometimes that is exactly what I feel. My husband was a Youth Pastor for 7 years, and has been Pastor at that same church for 6. It lifts my heart to hear that I am not alone in my struggles. I find it hard to be close to anyone at church, even though it has been almost 14 years total that I’ve been there.
    Lately, I have felt alone and without a friend. Thankfully, my husband is my dearest friend and makes me and our children his #1 priority and has said so in the pulpit. So that certainly takes the sting out of feeling alone, but at times, I wish I had a friend to talk to about my struggles. I am currently reaching out in search of an online community of PW’s for help. Do you have any experience with the ConnectLive from “Leading and Loving It” website? I registered for some connect times and I hope that will help.
    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your heart. There are women reading who need it.
    By the way, the hardest party about being one? There are a few, but, I get tired of my husband having to “put out fires” and appeasing people who have such “thin skin” and get offended over simple, small things like “you didn’t shake my hand” or “you didn’t mention my prayer request.” There is so much work we could be doing for the cause of Christ, and yet we get so burdened down with the trivial and it makes me so very sad. It is all about Christ, not us.

    • I’m glad you found this post encouraging, Jen. That was my desire in writing it. I know how lonely ministry can be at times, too. I’ve never heard of ConnectLive or Leading and Loving It, but I might check that out. Is it helpful so far?

  5. I am glad that I ran across your post… It is encouraging to be able to identify with another pastor’s wife close to my age and in the same season of life!

    I could use prayer for my situation right now. My husband and I are part of a young church plant and he is working full time as well and I go back and forth from one day to the next on my attitude. One day I’m determined to have a good attitude about everything and try to bear the behind-the-scenes burden myself to lighten his load and other days I just want to throw my hands in the air and quit. I feel like a single mom way too often, my husband does the absolute best he can to prioritize me and our two boys but it feels like we always get his leftovers, the last little bit of energy he has. On top of that I feel super disconnected from the ladies in our church and I can’t figure out why? I won’t go into much detail on here, I am just discouraged and overwhelmed and not sure how to meet all the demands that are put on me by default of my husband being so tied up all the time. I keep finding myself daydreaming at the thought of a nice long vacation!

    Thank you again for your post and thank you to whoever sees this and takes a moment to pray for me!

    • Christina, I will definitely pray for you! I’ll pray for energy and endurance as you minister to your family and church. I’ll pray for a break or vacation, and for friendship for you within your church. I’ll also pray that this season of super-hard work for your husband will be short-lived, and that something will change soon so that he can spend more time with his family. Thank you for your ministry and the sacrifices you make for the sake of the gospel. Please know you’re not alone in your struggles! God bless!

      • Thank you, Corrie! I really appreciate you taking the time to pray and to respond to me! This is the first time I have run across your site but will definitely be bookmarking it! 😉

  6. I’ve been struggling for quite some time with negative comments and outright cruel words said about and directly to my husband. Sometimes I wonder if people just don’t realize that how they treat my husband affects me also. And our son! I do get very angry and want to punch a few noses! The stress wears on me greatly. Good to know I’m not alone and that there are pastors wives that can totally empathize.

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