Encouragement for Pastors’ Wives

Thanks to the good folks at WordPress, I can view the site stats for this blog. My favorite thing to check is the list of search terms that send people here. They’ll type a phrase into their Google search bar like “Rattlesnake Saloon restaurant in cave” and be sent to my blog post. How fun is that? I get a good laugh at some of the search terms. One poor guy typed in “pictures of girls running in the rain” and wound up reading my Color Run post, severely disappointed, I’m sure! It’s always interesting to see what people search for that leads them to my blog. But then, every few days, I read search terms that break my heart:

“I don’t want to be a pastor’s wife anymore”

“When a pastor’s wife hates church”

“Struggles of a pastor’s wife”

“Pastor’s wife leaving the church”

“Preacher’s wife can’t take it anymore”

“Pastor’s wife who doesn’t attend church”

I’m not sure how these search terms lead people to my blog, but they do. Frequently. I’ve been honest about the hard parts of being a pastor’s wife, but it’s a position and a privilege I love! My feelings on this matter definitely don’t echo the sentiments in those search terms. I hate that these women find my site but don’t find the answers they are looking for, and I wish I could do something about it. I wish that I could email each of them, let them know that someone cares about their struggles, and encourage them. But since I can’t do that, maybe I can write a post to them. Maybe the next time a discouraged pastor’s wife turns to Google to find advice, she can stumble across this blog post and be encouraged. At least, that’s my prayer in writing this.

Let me be clear that I do not have this pastor’s wife thing all figured out. I’ve been married to a minister for 7 1/2 years, but my husband has only been a Senior Pastor for a year and a half. I humbly acknowledge that I still have decades worth of lessons to learn about supporting him in his ministry and being the wife and mother God has called me to be. But today, I feel like He is calling me to share a few of the lessons I’ve already learned in the hope of encouraging other women in my position.

In scripture, there is much teaching about the qualifications of pastors and how they are to lead their lives. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays this out clearly, as does Titus 1:6-9. Nowhere in the Bible, however, can you find a list of do’s and don’t’s for pastors’ wives. There is no list of qualifying character traits, no guidelines for behavior, no model for the perfect minister’s wife, no expectations the church should have for her — nothing. And you know what? That’s freeing! There isn’t a perfect personality type, an ideal background and upbringing, or a certain “type” of woman who makes a good pastor’s wife. It’s not a gift that you either have or don’t have. The pressure is off! God isn’t calling us to be perfect pastors’ wives — He only wants us to be growing, godly women and good wives to our husbands.

How can we be good wives to our pastor-husbands? Thankfully, there is scripture to help us with that. Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Peter 3:1-6, and Proverbs 31 are good places to start. But after you consult the Word, ask your husband. What does he need from you? How can you better show him your love and respect? Your husband needs you to be a good wife to him more than he needs you to be a good pastor’s wife to your congregation. He needs you at home more than he needs you at church. Be careful not to spend all of your time and energy working in the church only to come home empty with no energy or time left for your husband. He needs to know that he, not the ministry, is your main priority. Your service at home, to your family, is so much more important than your service in the church, to your church family.

Our main job, as pastors’ wives, is to support our husbands as they minister, and that support will look different for every couple. What my husband needs from me may be different than what your husband needs from you. Personally, I try to keep up with what texts and topics he is preaching on, and ask questions and initiate conversations about his sermon preparation and plans. I may not be able to contribute much to this process, but he knows I’m interested and available if there is anything he would like to talk through. I also support him with my presence. Every time he preaches, I’m sitting in the front, listening and taking notes. I laugh at the jokes that other people may not get. I nod and smile if he looks my way. No matter how the rest of the church is reacting or responding, he can know that his biggest fan is listening and supporting him. Lastly, I try to verbally encourage him and let him know that I think he is doing a great job. (Which, for me, is easy because he IS doing a great job.)

After we make sure we are serving our husbands at home and supporting their ministry at church, we can begin thinking about how we serve in the church. Should a pastor’s wife attend church regularly? Absolutely. Does she have to be at every single church function, program, meeting, or event? No. Should she serve in the church in some capacity? Of course. But does she have to be the “first lady” of the church, heading up every ministry? Definitely not. I think this is where many pastors’ wives get burned out and discouraged. Many churches have unreasonable expectations of what a pastor’s wife’s role should be. By the same measure, many of us have a hard time saying no.

Fellow pastors’ wives, you do not have to play the piano every Sunday. You do not have to lead the women’s ministry and head up the children’s programs. You do not have to make a meal for every church member who is sick, has a baby, or experiences a death in the family. There is no scriptural mandate for how or when you should serve in the church! Any service I do in the church is my choice, not my obligation. Currently, I choose to serve by teaching youth Sunday School and teaching the toddlers on Wednesday nights. There are seasons, however, (like in a few months when I’ll have a new baby) when I cannot give the church as much of my time, and that’s okay, too. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out, maybe you need a season of rest. Maybe you need to cut back on your service at church. Maybe you need to say no every now and then. And if you do, it will be okay.

Jesus calls us to love his church, and sometimes that’s not the easiest task for a pastor’s wife. Sometimes churches do not treat pastors or their families well. Sometimes there are people in the church that are very difficult to love. I’ve been there in the past, and I get it. It’s difficult not to take every comment and criticism personally. In these situations, I think it is important to be able to escape for a few days, a couple of hours, or even for a long conversation. While I love having friendships and strong relationships in our church, in hard times I realize the value of having a few close friends outside of the church. Every pastor’s wife needs a confidant to vent to about church drama. We need a friend who can encourage us and give us perspective from an outside point of view. Our husbands need friends who are not in their “flock” or under their spiritual authority. If you are lacking these relationships outside of the church and are always surrounded by your congregation, it will be easier to lose your love for your church and harder to serve them joyfully. Is there an outside friendship you can invest in? Another pastor’s wife who can give you advice and perspective? Seek these relationships, because we, as pastors’ wives, need them dearly.

Fellow pastors’ wives, there is so much more I want to say to you. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be writing on this topic again soon. In the meantime, please know that you are not alone. Your position is not always easy, and every woman in this position struggles from time to time. I would love to hear about your struggles so I can pray with you. I would love to know what advice you would give your fellow pastors’ wives. Leave a comment so we can encourage one another and pray for each other!


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?