Church Answers began as a source of information for pastors, staff, and other Christian leaders. I have been incredibly blessed to discover a subgroup of my readership that has much to offer: pastors’ wives. Many in this group have also shared a common plight: they are very lonely.
Indeed the transparency of these pastors’ wives is amazing. Many have shared with each other on this blog about their battles with depression. My desire to offer help to pastors’ wives has increased greatly. My respect and admiration for them has also grown significantly.
For this article, I assimilated the hundreds of blog comments, Twitter and Facebook messages, and general conversations I’ve had with pastors’ wives. My focus was on the number one challenge they have shared: loneliness.
Here are the twelve most common reasons pastors’ wives have offered to explain their loneliness.
- Superficial relationships in the church. “No one ever sees me as my own person. I am the pastor’s wife. No one tries to get close to me.”
- A busy pastor/husband. “My husband is on 24/7 call all the time. I just get leftovers.”
- Mean church members. “I guess I’ve isolated myself to some extent. I just don’t want to keep hearing those awful things they say about my husband and me.”
- A conduit for complaints about her husband. “Last week someone told me their family was leaving the church because my husband is a lousy preacher. Do they have any idea how that makes me feel?”
- Broken confidences. “I’ve given up trying to get close to church members. I thought I had a close friend until I found out she was sharing everything I told her. That killed me emotionally.”
- Frequent moves. “I’m scared to get close to anybody now. Every time I develop a close relationship, we move again.”
- Viewed as a second-class person. “One church member introduced me to a guest visiting the church by saying I’m ‘just the pastor’s wife.’”
- Lack of support groups. “I’ve heard that some wives have support groups that really help. I’ve never been able to find one.”
- No date nights. “I can’t remember the last time my husband and I had a date night together.”
- Complaints about children. “I really don’t try to get close to church members anymore. I’m tired of so many of them telling me how perfect our children should be.”
- Husband does not give the wife priority. “Frankly, the church is like a mistress to my husband. He has abandoned me for someone else.”
- Financial struggles. “My husband makes so much less money than most of the members. I just can’t afford to do the things they do socially.”
While many pastors’ wives share that there are blessings in their role, many do suffer severe loneliness. I would love to hear from more of these wives. And I would love to hear from others about them. The words I have heard from these women have prompted me to be more intentional about praying for them.
Posted on February 15, 2014
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
I have been widowed almost 30 years but I have continued to observe the ‘isolation’ of the pastor’s wife. I have been involved in all areas of church work from the wife of a bi-vocational pastor to a member of all sizes of churches in many different states. My heart has always reached out to pastor’s wives. I would like to add a few observations.
1. Pastors do the church a dis-service by not teaching them by example that family comes first. It gives the.impression that it is fine for men to put their work ahead of families.
2. I have prayed for years that the SBC would see the need to include courses/seminars for wives when pastors have conferences. Not only does it give them additional insight into what the pastors are learning but more importantly a chance to develop relationships with other wives.
3. Encouragement, and financial assistance if necessary, for wives to attend conferences with the pastors. This may be the most significant time they have together to re-connect and strengthen their marriage.
Thank you for your concern.
Thank you Carra.
And I would add offer childcare for seminars And events! Kids need a place to go too and most of the time pastors live away from extended family.
Amen to that!
This expresses a lot of my feelings. I am a Youth Pastor’s wife. Thank you for sharing.
I think sometimes the youth pastor’s wife can be even lonelier. It (for some reason) seems easier for the congregation to care for their Lead Pastor’s Wife, and totally neglect the youth pastor’s wife.
Thankyou – I agree with some of what you have written but it does make us all sound a bit of an ungrateful, complaining bunch :). I’ve been a “pastor’s wife” for 26 yrs and in many ways feel extremely privileged – to be right in the middle of church life, seeing folk grow and change, and being constantly reminded on my own total dependence on God, which is a good thing! I do think it needs to be a “calling”, just as much as being a pastor needs to be a calling, and I think, when it is, it’s much easier to accept that we’ll often only get to see our husbands when they are tired/washed out, and be able to find ways of supporting them in their tiredness. Someone decades ago gave me the advice that I should always make my husband glad that he came home (no matter how late he is!), and that’s been fantastic advice for my marriage.
I completely agree that it’s often very lonely. Often because we can’t tell church members if we’re having a hard time, and we often can’t tell our non Christian friends as it might be a bad witness.
One thing I struggle with sometimes is when I want to talk to my husband about church things. When he’s working, he’s too busy and I don’t want to interrupt/hold him back; when he’s not working, he’s wanting to chill and not talk about work. Sorting that out takes organisation and discipline – organisation in terms of us both scheduling some of his work time for me as the pastor’s wife, and discipline on my part to not talk to him about church things when e.g. his head is on the pillow and he’s trying to sleep! Groups like the Facebook Pastor’s Wives groups are great. More local groups with the potential for meet-ups are even better.
Thanks for sharing Karen.
My daughter is a wife of a pastor and I have seen firsthand how church members treat her and the family. Most are very caring but some are just down right mean. I am very involved in my church and I have seen the same things in our church relating to your blog. I wished more people could see your blog and look into their hearts and adjust their hearts and minds.
Thank you Quina.
Renee and made it a priority that when we went to a church it was first a church we could join even if we were not on staff, and that prayer was the vert thing that helped us deal with the things you have mentioned. It didn’t meant we didn’t experience the things you have mentioned. It meant we were able to cope with these things in a more godly way. We literally discipled each other(and others) over past 32 years of ministry.
Good word Ron.
This is the first article on this subject that I’ve seen. Thank you! As a Pastor’s wife of several decades, I can tell you that I struggle with hurt and disappointment resulting from words and actions coming from church bullies, and organizational intellectual snobbery. I choose to tattle to my Heavenly Father, because I take my responsibility and testimony so seriously. But, still because of our experiences with these two church behaviors, I don’t get too close with church folk. My close relationships are secular.
Church bullies are those folks that take joy in using the struggles of our children in hateful ways. They’re the folks that say things out loud, to your face, like, “We can’t have the Pastor making too much money. We keep them humble.” “The last Pastor that bought a house lost his job. Get it?” “How did you afford that dress?” “We’re leaving because we’ve out grown what your husband can teach us”. Church bullies with hold tithes because they don’t like the sermon series, and tell others to do the same. Folks who get angry because I can’t furnish the ham for a funeral, because my job has me out of town that week. I would go on, but frankly what’s the point?
Inner-church organizational snobbery, is what we experience because we aren’t the beautiful people of this 21st century mega-church phenomena. Our denominational leaders give huge amounts of support time and resources to the beautiful people. Despite our holding graduate degrees, ministering successfully for decades, we just don’t fit the mold worthy of support; emotional or spiritual. Our parents pass away. No support. We suffer serious illness. Nothing. We desire to learn and continue in current relevant ministry techniques as a means to reach Gens Y and Z (millenials); you’re on your own. I have observed denominational leadership behaviors that indicate that they believe the intentional small to medium church Pastor is irrelevant.
So, now I’ll share my choice of reaction. First, I am aware that people are watching my testimony. So I choose to walk by the Lord’s precepts, without regard for the behaviors of others. I have a successful career, which funds my husband’s career. I hold dear my (secular) friendships. We source our own development opportunities, choosing to continue to grow and improve, despite attitudes of our denominational leadership. Most importantly, I remember my own individual call to ministry and serve God within the parameters of His gifting. I celebrate the folks with whom we have the privilege of participating as they are radically saved. I teach and mentor new Believers on walking with the Lord in our crazy 21st century American culture. I refuse to participate in gossip, or negativity. I remember the tremendous honor in marrying, burying, baptizing, mentoring, and loving multiple generations of ordinary people.
At the end of the day, while this is a lonely and difficult vocation, I am called and at perfect peace. But, that peace requires intentional and frequent prayer, slaying my flesh in favor or His will, and remembering that this is a battle over issues of eternal consequence. So, I press toward the goal and happy in it!
Press on Beth!
Oh my word, Beth, you have such a healthy attitude. I’m going to pray that the Lord will help me to be like this. I must pray more too. Sometimes I think I can manage by myself but I know I can’t.
Beth Gifford…6 years later of making this post & you hit the nail on the head in 2020. This response is profound & on point! Good read/response/comment. This address you made will never go old, because it’s always a current & re-accruing issue in the Church realm from the past to the present & it will be in the future because there is going to ALWAYS be the “Wheat & the Terror” growing together.
Excellent point. I have been a music minister for 23 years. My wife has also been on staff as children’s minister. We have dealt with much, but now God has called me to be pastor and your comments have renewed the perspective that I must keep while serving in this capacity. Thank you Thom and Allen!
I love being a pastor’s wife. We get to watch so many people grow through the joys and sorrows of life. But you really hit the nail on the head with this article. Early in our time here, a group of ladies was going to an event to support one of the teens in our church. I mentioned that I would love to go, too. So everyone met up and decided who was going to ride with whom. They all loaded up and left with me standing on the sidewalk. So I walked home, and was later criticized for not going. I wish I could say it was an isolated event, but 6 years later, I am still seeing their pictures of “girl’s nights” on social media.
I don’t tell that to sound pitiful, for I am a very happy person by nature. I think that some people just don’t think about reaching out. Maybe they have been hurt or are afraid they can’t be real with a pastor’s wife because of negative experiences in the past. I have learned that there has been a serious deficit in discipleship in SBC circles, and many people are just overgrown teenagers who never learned to communicate and relate in healthy ways.
Thank you for taking the time to write about pastor’s wives!
I am indeed thankful for all of you.
I am with you! It is so very lonely, and I can relate to many of these points. One thing I will say is I don’t go, because I don’t get invited. It is like the “moms night out” movie where everyone goes and no one thinks about inviting the Pastor’s wife. We lived in a parsonage for almost 20 years, and folks would have barbeques in our backyard, because it was church property and not invite us. It was so awkward for our kids especially to see their friends playing outside in “their” yard. Women would post on social media about all the fun stuff they did together and not think about inviting me. It’s just hurtful and lonely sometimes. I’m just thankful God has given me my family. We are very close because it is all we’ve ever had.
I too am a pastor’s wife and my family is my support system. If I didn’t have them, I would be very lonely.
I believe that God always sends bits of joy in the midst of the battle. My family moments have been my bits of joy, which I am very grateful for. It gets a little harder when they move away to continue their lives.
Sad thing is, two of our children, after seeing all the negative in the church, have decided that church is not for them. Actually, I would go on to say, if my husband didn’t have the job he has I probably wouldn’t go to church either.
Thank you for your thoughts on this! I agree with most of what you say. 🙂 As a pastor’s wife I have to disagree with some of it though. I think that #2, 9 & 11 are the responsibility of the pastor. My husband does his absolute best to make sure our marriage and family take priority over the church. Though we go through seasons when the church HAS to come first (like there was a 6 month period where my husband performed a doz funerals, no joke!) he does a wonderful job to not let the church take over. Though we’re not perfect at having date nights every single week, we do do our best to make it a priority. I would say if my husband didn’t work at making our marriage first I would be horribly lonely, even if he wasn’t a pastor. From my husband’s perspective he always feels the pull and guilt from church to make them priority. I’m thankful for my husband and his work in the church and also his work at balancing it all. I do understand this is not the case for every woman and I would say I have dealt with all the other numbers listed above at least once, or on some level. It’s a shame how church people treat their pastors and in turn the pastor’s family. I think the Lord is going to have some words with those who have not recognized the silent servant they have in the pastor’s wife.
Thanks for the input.
I’m new to the world of pastor’s spouse. My husband is a worship pastor. He spent 2 years doing this job as a lay minister in the church where we grew up. We spent the next 4 in a community within driving distance from the seminary he attended, and just a few months ago, we moved again and connected with an established church with multiple pastors on staff. I have a few observations that I would add, simply from my own experiences.
The senior pastor’s wife has the ability to change some of these things for the other pastors’ wives. One wife had few fellowships, few conversations, and little advice to give. I was lonely in that church. One wife has many fellowships with diverse groups; she makes sure to include the other wives and introduce us to many of her guests. She checks on us, talks to us, and helps connect us to solutions. It helps diminish or even eliminate the loneliness.
The other observation might get me into trouble, but I am speaking of myself, but I think a portion of my loneliness came from my own pride. In trying to conduct myself in a manner so as not to put any shame on my husband, I hid a lot of pain and sadness. I, without intending to, isolated myself so none of my friends would see the imperfect parts of me, but I’m human. I’m as flawed and imperfect as anyone else, and when I humbled myself and were honest with a few ladies I found a kindred sisterhood to help hold me up. This does open me up to #5 Broken Confidences, but I will stand before God for my own sins, not the sins of others, and I was led to believe that I was wrong to not share all of me with my friends. I found more ways to minister to their broken, sad, hurting moments when they knew I had them, too, then when I tried to be someone I was not. Likewise, if I felt lonely at a holiday, then I made a point to open my home and invite them to us. Sometimes, I think our church members don’t want to intrude on us, or don’t think about the fact that we don’t have family around, or years of traditions to follow.
Just my two cents worth…
Good two cents. Thank you.
The pastor’s wife has the hardest job in the church because it comes with so many unrealistic expectations. The vigorous support of her pastor husband is the only way it can be made an enjoyable experience.
I can illustrate with my own story. I came late into the ministry…I was 38 before I graduated seminary and served in my first full-time church. My wife and I were married, had our two kids and a upper middle-class comfortable life before the call to ministry came. The ministry was definitely something my wife had to warm up to. It took over a year for her to get on board. But she has enjoyed it for the most part because I have made sure that she and the family remain my #1 priority. Here are some things I have deliberately done that I believe have helped:
1. I have always told search committees that Gerri will choose what she will do in the church, just like every other member. She will be involved on her own terms according to the Lord’s leadership in her life, NOT according to what pastor’s wives typically do our what the past one did. So she has never been the WMU president because that is not her interest area. She has never taught a Beth Moore ladies’ Bible study because teaching adults is not her area of preferred service.
2. She knows I will support whatever decision she makes related to her church service. Members have been mad that she was not willing to be the church hostess or the WMU President. But I have never told her she had to do it ‘for the sake of the church’.
3. I take all the vacation the church allows and honor my days off as much as possible. I believe she has been happy as a pastor’s wife, even though it was not what she signed up for when we married, because I have tried to make sure she and the kids know they are my priority.
4. I try to keep her ‘in the loop’ and seek her advice on church decisions but try not to burden her with the junk that creates church conflict.
5. I go out of my way to praise her in public an d express my love and appreciation for her. If something in our life is shared as a sermon illustration, I make sure it is not something that reflects poorly on her.
If a pastor is not willing to support his wife and defend her from unreasonable critics and criticism I really do not think any support group, level of pay, or number of close friends in or out of the church will make enough of a difference to make the position of pastor’s wife one she enjoys. …and she will most certainly feel lonely because she IS alone without the support she needs and deserves.
Outstanding insights Allen. Thank you.
I am a wife of a man in a para-church ministry (a college ministry). He started this job right after we got married and it has been 20 years now. Our relationship has not been an easy one and he doesn’t understand why I am unable to honestly open up to other woman in church and in his ministry about things that I may struggle with (depression and anxiety). I am unable to do that, even though I deeply long to, because every church leader and church member, home/small group friend is a “potential (financial) supporter”. How can I open up with them about struggles I have with my husband at the risk of them not wanting to be a supporter of him and the ministry work? We have real issues and aside from sharing them with our counselor and my non-Christian friends, I feel alone and without anyone to talk to and pray with about this. It’s gotten to the point that I am considering divorce and since he has no problem discussing my depression (some of which has been a result of his passive aggressive behavior and anger issues) with his peers, fellow co-workers and church leaders I fear that if we do divorce they will still have only heard his side. They will never know how cruel he could be to me. No one would even believe the things he has said to me. If it weren’t for our kids I would have been gone a long time ago, even though I never thought I would ever have considered divorce. I am starting to think that divorce will actually be better than staying in a marriage that is a terrible example to our kids. With the amount of arguing that goes on, it is unbearable and not sustainable if I want to be well, and if I want them to be well and if they ever get married, to not stand for the treatment I deal with… Thank you for caring for us ministry wives and acknowledging that we struggle silently.
Moria, I can’t imagine the pain and suffering you are feeling. I pray that you can find the help you need for yourself and for your marriage. Have you thought about healing prayer ministry? There are some wonderful ministries available for you to attend to receive anonymous prayer ministry. Christian healing ministries in Jacksonville Florida offers several opportunities throughout the year. I have been twice and both times received significant emotional healing and clarity. You can’t do this alone. Allow the body of Christ to minister hope to you and the Holy Spirit to heal, strengthen, and guide you. Love and Blessings dear sister.
I know exactly how you feel. I’m pretty much going through the same thing. My husband’s church is small and very dysfunctional because he allows almost anything, just to keep the few members he has. When I try to talk to him about some of those things (in private), he belittles me, calls me the devil, say that I’m not a Christian and that I’m a disobedient wife. Then, he’ll go and discuss our private conversations with the men in the church, (which that’s what it mostly is). I feel like I’m nothing; not important, unwanted and not needed. He shows me off when its convenient for him and allows me to sing; (that’s my main ministry, although I have been called to speak, he rarely allows me to speak in ‘his’ church). I’m so tired and I just want out of this marriage. I’m not growing in his church, I’m totally dependent upon Holy Spirit to teach me and if I have any questions, I’ll ask my eldest brother, who is the Elder in his church. My husband has always been very arrogant and a true narcissist. He’s mean-spirited and cruel. He ignores me, won’t speak to me unless he’s being seen, and when we’re at home, he’s in one room and I’m in the other. If we should have some kind of conversation, it always turns into an argument. I have learned how to just walk away and keep to myself. Don’t speak unless I’m spoken to. I’m tired of being hurt. He has cheated numerous times and have gotten caught, now I really believe it’s time to make a decision. Fortunately, we do not have children together. Please pray for me.
Excellent methods you use in your church relating your wife as you were the pastor in the church. I also think that is a big opportunity to teach the Bible principles related to this experience so other pastor’s wives may keep serving God in their churches.
You sound like such a gem 🙂 Being a pastor’s wife isn’t like being any other sort of wife, not even an Army wife. There are demands on such women that most folks don’t even start to understand. And if their husbands are some of the folks who don’t understand, then I don’t know how things are expected to turn out well. I’m glad you recognize the challenges she faced being thrust into that role. I hope you two continue to grow together.
I ‘LIKE’ and And if their husbands are some of the folks who don’t understand, then I don’t know how things are expected to turn out well.
Allen, I think that’s some great advice. However, your last point gets at something that can be really difficult. I think attacks against the pastors family often come at the time when the church is approaching real, meaningful change. These attacks can sometimes come as a distraction to derail the progress God is bringing about.
My mentor pastor in my first full time calling told me how this had happened to him. He was early in a tough revitalization work and had recently introducing the idea of Biblical elders and spiritual leadership. Just after the first elders were elected and the whole church was starting to break free from the death grip of apathy that had held it for decades a vicious rumor started spreading about the pastors wife. In a healthy church with biblical elders the person who started this rumor would rightly have been called by the elders to repent. But in this case it would have meant that the first action taken by the elders who were newly elected at the pastors recommendation would have been to silence a critic of his wife (who also happened to be an influential member of the church). At least that’s how the congregation would have perceived it. He saw this as an attack from Satan to destroy the work God was doing. So he chose not to address it.
I’m not sure if I would make the same choice he did. But I can say that this is not a simple issue or easy to solve. I don’t find it at all far fetched to think the enemies of the Gospel would use the pastors family to try to stop the Gospel from spreading both in and out of the church. So how do we balance defending our families with the good of the church in a situation like this?
TJ, My final comment about defending my wife against unreasonable critics does not mean I would initiate an investigation into ANY unfair allegation or piece of gossip against my wife. That would indeed be a tricky situation requiring much prayer seeking God’s discernment and insight. One issue to me would be ‘Is this an isolated incident or a persistent practice’? If the gossip was the most recent in a long line of abusive attacks then it might need to be addressed, even if it is the first thing for a newly elected group of elders to address. But a pastor can certainly show private and public support for his wife without seeking official church action against her critic. Things would have to be REALLY bad for me to consider going there! Also, pastors do need to realize spiritual warfare is ongoing…and his family is not immune. Our enemy certainly does not play fair! He loves to attack what we love. Pastors and their wives also need to guard against being overly sensitive in this regard. I can remember one time when my wife was attacked in a very vicious way on a Sunday morning that sent her home crying that caused me to confront her critic publicly in an unbiblical way. Obviously, the critic was wrong. But so was I! It Is ALWAYS hard to take back harsh words, even if they are deserved. Sometimes we need to be willing to privately ‘dress our own family’s wounds’ and mutely move on remembering that vengeance ultimately belongs to the Lord.
Thank you for publishing this article. Very interesting and thought provoking. I have had men of God to take interest in me but being a pastor/bishop wife has to be a challenge. I wonder if that is the reason why I have lived a life of isolation and gone through some of the situations I’ve encountered because God is preparing me. Please pray and intercede for me to know Gods will for my life.
My pastor husband does the exact same things for me and I appreciate it so much. But deep down in my heart I always feel like I’m letting him and the Lord down because I don’t measure up to the high expectations people have of a pastor’s wife.
Also I am extremely lonely because I have cut myself off from people due to terrible hurts. I keep them at a distance even though there are some I’d love to be friends with.
I enjoyed reading your comments.
I am a missionary in South America. My main ministry is to work with pastors’ wives. I encourage these women to form small groups among themselves for study and encouragement.
Your letter agrees what I have always contended that even good support from a pastor-husband does not fill all the emotional needs of a pastor’s wife. We need girlfriends with whom we can share our hearts. Please seek such friends. Just a hint: Other women in ministry (pastors’ wives, missionaries, etc.) are the ones who will “get it” and who will be safe recipients of any concerns you might have.
That is an awesome article. Everyone woman has her own gifts and talents. They should have choices like anyone else to choose how they will participate in serving in the church. Seems like you started off right and your wife was highly supported. Your support is what truly matters. Your ministry to made the work enjoyable.
This a real article woman need in the role of Pastor’s wives.
I think it’s awesome the way you live your calling, and give the proper respect for your wife’s calling and being the Pastor’s wife. I am the Pastor’s wife and I have to say, didn’t sign up for this, but I do have to say it has the good and not so good days. God has prepared me, and shown me a great deal of things, but I think at this point in life, I need to step back a bit; here’s why: I do everything in the church, from Admin, Women’s Dept. President, over-see every single ministry from ushers-children’s-fundraising-events, I mean everything. All the problems come to me first, since people find it that I’m more easily reachable, and things get done. My husband, the pastor, well he is the handy man of the church, and his top priority is study the word and pray. Of course he makes calls and attends to the need. But he is also my first critic-if I don’t go to a home bible study or if I don’t attend ALL activities, (Because I love spending time with our kids) he comes down on me hard. He’ll critique every single thing about from I don’t love God, I’m not a good leader, and so forth and so on. All the church issues make it to our bedroom at times because he doesn’t come down on others as he does on me. Ministry I understand is very important to him, and it is very important to me as well, but I refuse to make it our problem, and that’s what most of the time lately is becoming. I know I am far from perfect, but I do things for God and people out of love. I support my husband 100% I just wish that back off and see the blessings that he has with his family serving God in Ministry and he wouldn’t be so hard on his family, because he is definetely not hard at all with the congregation. Love the post
My husband also went into the ministry as an older adults. He is now an associate pastor at a small country church. I think that is part of the problem. He isn’t a “real” pastor so the people don’t have to show the same amount of respect for us as they do for the lead pastor and his wife. I am about at the point where I wish he had never taken this path.
I’m a young, Pentecostal preacher and I have learned through my own suffering, that if people do not truly believe in Christ, they wont truly believe, in those who preach.
The devil is always looking for ways to spiritually rip a pastor, marriage and church apart and we as preachers are not God Almighty to take punches, 24/7.
Therefore, we as believers and preachers, have to constantly look for other, true believers to pray and fast with.
Prayer and faith in the Lord, is our best and only friend, at times.