Seven Things Pastors’ Wives Wish They Had Been Told Before They Became Pastors’ Wives

I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to hear from pastors’ wives since much of my focus is on pastors. In an informal survey, I simply asked the open-ended question: “What do you wish you had been told before you became a minister’s wife?”

Thank you to the pastors’ wives who were willing to give us such great feedback. And thanks to Chris Adams for doing the survey and to Amy Jordan for assembling the data.

The responses are in order of frequency. A representative comment follows each response.

  1. I wish someone had told me just to be myself. “I am a people-pleaser by nature, so for me, not being prepared to handle being a pastor’s wife with my personality was a heavy burden to carry early in our ministry.”
  2. I wish someone had prepared me to deal with criticism of my husband and me. “It was hard to deal with negative experiences, conflicts, or criticisms, especially in relation to my husband and our area of ministry. So I would harbor feelings of resentment when it came to ministry and my man.”
  3. I wish someone had reminded me that my husband is human. “I wish someone had told me that my husband could not be God for me. I was disillusioned at first to find out that he indeed is just a man.”
  4. I wish someone had told me that others were watching us (the glass house syndrome). “Even though they are watching us, we don’t need to be controlled by what they expect of us.”
  5. I wish someone had told me there are some really mean people in the church. “I was really surprised. I had to learn not to pay too much attention to them or they would get me down.”
  6. I wish someone had told me how much my husband needs me to build him up. “I need to be his cheerleader. Dealing with critics in the church is difficult. He needs to hear that I respect him now more than ever.”
  7. I wish someone had told me that my schedule will never be normal again. “Your husband will be very busy. Expect that. But come alongside him in the areas of time management and organization.”

One pastor’s wife told us that her role was like getting a job for which she never applied. She wrote this funny script in her response:

Husband: “Honey, I got you a job today.”

Wife: “Really? Okay, but I wasn’t looking for a job. I have plenty to do here running the household and raising the kids. That was our plan, right? Me stay home with the kids so you could fully dedicate yourself to the ministry.”

Husband: “Yeah, yeah. But I really need you take this job for me.”

Wife: “Well, okay, just tell me what to do and when it needs to be done by, and I will do everything I can to make it happen.”

Husband: “Well, right now there are no specific responsibilities. Basically, it’s just doing anything at church that no one else steps up to do or wants to do.”

Wife: “Oh my, that is a tall order. Okay, I’ll do it. I guess we could use the extra money anyway. Things are always tight around here on a pastor’s salary.

Husband: “Well, actually honey, there is no salary . . .”

What do you think of these seven responses? What would you add?


Posted on April 6, 2013

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.
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  • David Highfield says on

    During my years of full-time, local church ministry, my wife and I raised two sons. They mostly grew up in two communities, one in a small town, the other in the suburbs.
    Here are a few things that worked for us as we raised “preacher’s kids.”
    1. We raised them in the church. The congregations provided socialization for our sons, role models, activities, and Christian education.
    2. We involved our sons in community activities like scouts, sports, and music where they would interact with other kids and adults who were outside of our local church sphere.
    3. We maintained high expectations for our sons, not because they were preacher’s kids, but because they were our sons. We encouraged them to develop their own gifts and abilities. Of course there were some trials along the way but discipline never included an admonition to protect my or the congregation’s reputation.
    4. I rarely, rarely, rarely used stories about my sons as a sermon illustration.
    5. Significantly, although we were in a parsonage system, we never had to live next door to the church building, in a fishbowl.
    By the grace of God, our sons, now grown men with families, became solidly Christian. One is in ministry full-time with Campus Crusade for Christ, and the other married a pastor! It’s all by the grace of God, but maybe these comments will encourage the spouses of pastors who have expressed concerns about raising their children.

    • David,
      Glad your sons are serving The Lord. I was simply curious (because of the day and age we live in) if I was correct in assuming one son married a female pastor. Not that I would agree with it biblically, but the other day my husband did come across the “husband” of a local male pastor. You may wish not to share of course.

  • I am a newbie Pastor’s wife. We have been in ministry for years but this will be the first year my husband has been senior pastor. (It’ll be a year in May). So far I have loved the way our church family has embraced us but for some reason I keep waiting for the honeymoon phase to end and for all the heartache to begin. I’ve grown up in church and I’ve seen first hand how sin destroyed several pastors and churches I was a part of or knew of. It’s a little daunting to try and picture ourselves being here for many years (which is our goal) without facing major conflict. I just know it’s coming and I hate having that pessimistic attitude. I want to just be genuine and transparent with our people here but at the same time I feel like I need to be guarded and I’m not sure that’s how Jesus would have wanted us to be? I also worry about my children being scrutinized. I have for young children under 6 yrs old, I’m a stay at home homeschooling mother. And I worry so much about what people think of my kids and if they meet that standard that people hold for PKs. And also do I want my kids to have that much pressure!? I don’t want them to rebel our be disillusioned but rather love the Lord and love the Church and ultimately want to serve in the Church someday. Advice?
    Thanks so much!

  • THANK YOU for bringing light to this issue! AND THANK YOU for those who have shared their struggles. I agree with all of the above. I’ve been a youth pastor’s spouse for over 20 years. The instability of finances, schedule, and even job security compound the isolation and loneliness that spouses feel. I began ministry fresh and excited about doing Kingdom work. Seven years later and three churches in, I felt bitterness closing me off to anything God may want to use me to do. Then, Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study opened my eyes to the reality of what it means to serve “church people”. In his study, he points to the parable of the wheat and the chaff (Matt.13:24-30). Jesus says that in the kingdom of God, weeds grow up right along with the good seed. From that point on, I started to look at the critical, negative people as people I should pity. Those who have complete exposure to the truth of Jesus without ever experiencing true relationship with Him. Church is about serving the “sick” -that’s who needs a Physician. It would be great for spouses to understand that they are stepping into a messy, heartbreaking, fulfilling, miracle-filled, high-energy adventure sport that sometimes even requires death-defying stunts before they marry a pastor. Maybe your article and these wonderful comments can be the catalyst for more understanding. Thanks again~

  • I used to think I understood how hard it was to be in the ministry. My dad was the head of the deacon board and my grandfather pastored a small church. Then I got married and moved straight into ministry work. I wish someone had told me about the long and odd hours. That is where my husband and I struggled at first. Then he actually became the Pastor of a church and I learned that since people have been taught to “respect” the pastor, they turn their criticisms to the family. My husband resigned his position almost 2 years ago and now we are working in a church again. But I will never understand how and why christians are so hurtful to their own.

  • Karen Conway says on

    I have been in the ministry with my husband for 35 years. I do agree with those listed.

    My husband does depend on me to do what others are not willing to do. Eventually the jobs are given to someone else but I always seem to get new ones. A great stretching opportunity to balance work, family and chruch life together.

    One other I wish is that when the wife is working church tend not to offer the pastor the health insurance and life insurance. They assume because she works it is not needed. Most of my life I have worked mainly for having the ability to have the benefits the chruch does not offer. I continued working after he left school so my ministry as a pastor’s wife has not been what I would have like it to be but I am growing and learning how more and more every day. It is a challenge and a balancingn act.

    I have learned that if things are missed, don’t happen or mistakes are made that it is okay. All God asks of us is to be obedient and he takes care of the rest.

    One opportunity I have taken advantage of is the Seminary Wives Instiute at Southern Baptist Theological Seimnary. It is a very practical mentoring for minister’s wives and I have loved learning what I should be doing as a minister’s wife.

    We are never too old to learn how to improve family life, marriage, church and being a Godly example to others that glorifies God. God has been working in my life and is showing me new things everyday. Many of them challenging but I am learning to be content in whatever happens.

  • I am a recent Bible college grad with a degree in counseling. I served as administrative assistant to a pastor and taught Sunday school. I also guest spoke for various events on our ministry campus. I married my husband and 2 weeks later we moved to Arkansas so he could take a position as a youth pastor. Many considered me to be, beyond prepared for the position as Pastor’s Wife because of my education and experiences, however I struggle with every single thing on this list and I would add to the top lonliness. We’re experiencing so many firsts in our life and its so hard without the support of family and long-time friends. We love our church and key people have been incredibly instrumental in being our support system in times of great stress. I still find myself wishing for a different phase of life back and wanting so badly to go back “home.” It’s so difficult to keep your eyes forward and not let past success or failure distract you from where you are right now. This was a breath of fresh air to me to see other women struggling with the demands of ministry. I feel so often like the dialogue at the end of the post. As ministry wives we put out fires without seeing much success or change. Thank you for doing this. It’s helped me.

  • Jessica says on

    Thank you for posting this, Dr. Rainer. My husband and I came off the field with NAMB and he is the youth and children’s minister at our church. There should be some kind of training manual for husband and wives or some kind of conference for rebuilding.

    I have seen my husband get clobbered by these youth parents who think that they can bully and intimidate us. It is so hard to keep quiet while someone is being so hateful. My husband (he was not born in America) turned to me one day and asked “Are all American Christians like this … or are these people just especially horrible?” I was speechless and saddened. He has almost left youth ministry more than once because of our church members. Please pray for us. Pray that God will give us direction. My husband feels like God gave him a message for this youth and children’s group before we even got there and he feels so discouraged b/c he feels so ineffective.

    I have encouraged our senior pastor to have a retreat for his staff and their wives. That was 6 months ago. Please pray for our pastor. That he would rally behind his staff and stand up for them when he needs to.

    Pray for us. Pray for our young children (3 and 14 months). Thank you for the mission & ministry of Lifeway.

  • Shelley Brown says on

    I wish I had known who my true friends were when my husband was a pastor for many years. Since he is no longer a pastor, (he is a chaplain now) I have found out who my true friends are and who were my ‘friends’ only because of my position.

  • In the 20 years plus that I served side by side with my husband as his wife and supporter, I came to realize that it is never about me. I chose to marry a man in ministry and it was never an option for me to not be in ministry even though I had resented it early in our married life. The Lord showed me clearly that it is not my decision for my husband to step away, in his word, he showed me that he will never leave us nor forsake us no matter what. I really want to encourage each of you, don’t give up the calling God has on your husband, stick by him, no matter how it hurts, how deep the wounds are, trust in God and know that he will bring us through it no matter what. Ministry hurts very much and it is us who will make the choice to be lonely or not. This is the time, that you and your husband should stick to each other like glue. Don’t separate yourself from people because you are a pastor’s wife, just be careful what you share. We are servants serving the body of Christ. As I read all these posts, my heart bleeds for so many of you. I have been through so much stuff but my husband beside the Lord kept me going. I don’t know a stranger and everyone in the church are my friends. Praying for each of you.

  • Grace, thanks for opening up like many of us. I was once a youth pastor’s wife and it was really tough. My husband was and is a strong leader. He didn’t allow anyone to push me around or treat me as though I am second class in ministry. Reach out to the body and make friends with other couples if the senior pastor and his wife separates themselves from you. So sad today because the youth ministry is like an island on its own and it should not be so at all. Show the senior pastor’s wife that you want to be friends and ask her to share her wisdom with you to help you in this new journey that that Lord has you and your husband in. My husband pastors a church now for 15years and everyone in the church are our friends, we don’t make any separation at all. We are a small congregation but even that should never make a difference. Take care and know that you are being prayed for. Do it all for the glory of God and know that you have to continue to be your husband’s best cheer leader, also both of you stay accountable to another couple.

  • My husband and and on going on 10 years of marriage and his ministry started a few years before we were married. As a people pleaser, after our first ministry/pastoral experience together ended in us getting kicked to the curb and a church split, I was not only left broken and discouraged inside, but overly concerned with what rumors would be spread or what outsiders would say who did not know the full situation. I almost wished I could have posted a banner that read “Not our fault! Horrible people took over church.” Lol I wish I had been told that WHEN you experience horrible situations, criticisms from within and even from without (fellow pastors even), don’t get consumed with lies and what others think as long as you are doing your best to follow the Lord’s will in your life. God is the only One we should seek to please in our ministry.

    I also wish I’d been told how important it is to stand behind your man when he starts getting criticism from members. Another weakness as a people pleaser was not being used to the leadership qualities God blessed my husband with, which is simply addressing problems head on in a biblical way and not stroking problematic personalities. People will get angry and try to get to your husband through you. You MUST let them AND him know that you are with him all the way!

    Thanks Bro. Rainer for all the wonderful articles. My husband and I enjoy and appreciate them!

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