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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  • Rachel says on

    Re: the loneliness issue: Whenever we move, I always pray that I will meet one lady who will be a good friend to me and to whom I can be a good friend as well. It often turns out that when this woman shows up, she’s often of another denomination than ours and has a greater view of the Christian life than the things that divide us as different organizations. Purposefully, I don’t look for good friends within the congregation where my husband pastors. The last place we were, it was the people who were warmest and most hospitable toward us who turned the knife (so to speak). This seems to be the case quite often. It’s often the people who have lower incomes and are a little less friendly than the “welcomers” who will stand by you when times are tough. Keep in touch with your old friends as well. It’s so much easier these days with phone plans and online networking.

  • Catherine says on

    Great article… You may be interested to know that I recently compiled and edited a book for pastor’s wives. It is due to be released by P and R in September of this year. I think you will find it to be an expanded version of this article. Contributors include Margy Tripp, Mary Beeke, Betty Jane Adams and 15 other pious women who have lived a life in ministry.

  • I wish people waited to enter the Pastorate after they had reared their children. After all, that is what the Bible says in 1 Timothy 2 about being an overseer or a Pastor.

    • Gary…. Ask the churches why they won’t hire men who have reared their children and are “too old” to be pastor. My dad has been called to pastor and has been looking for a church for over 5 years. It seems that he is overlooked because of his age… Reality?

      • The system is stacked against maturity and love immature leaders. As long as we select people as a result of collecting school rather than experiencing life we will reject the people called “Elders” in preference for educated young people. At the least Seasoned Believers need to demand leads who have kids in college for that particular group and let the immature but educated people preach to others their own age.

      • Kara, it’s too bad your dad is not in Asia. In the culture of my church, I have heard people “age-drop” (much like name-dropping) about themselves relative to my husband-pastor, who is younger than most members. People publicly try to figure out where a new person fits into everyone’s ranking in terms of age, older being better, of course. It is so much a part of this culture that my husband told me that whenever the time comes for us to move on, he is going to encourage the church to consider pastoral candidates who are older than our church members.

      • David Highfield says on

        One advantage of the United Methodist appointment system is that there is so much less age and gender discrimination. For the privilege of receiving a qualified pastor in a timely way, congregations
        are to prayerfully receive and support whoever the Bishop sends. Although every match does not bear fruit, and sometimes congregations are unhappy about the gender or age of the pastor, more often this system is just. One challenge still being faced is to overcome racial bias in appointments.

  • Thank you writing this article, Dr Rainer and many of the PW sharing so honestly their struggles. I am a pastor and I thank God for my wife who stand by me and many wives who stand by their pastor-husband. I pray that we husbands will stand by our wives who have made tremendous sacrifices just to stand by us.

  • Well, it’s not just for pastor’s wife. I think it also applies to young mothers joining the church as full time church staff. 🙂 Often, the church staff are the “title-less” folks who also bear the brunt of criticism and receive no thanks for the things they do. I always think at least “pastor” is a title and people do give some level of respect and authority to that…but church staff is the slave to the slaves…(in the words of my own pastor to me when I was working in church). 🙂 I just wished people had told me the above BEFORE I joined the church as staff..LOL.

  • I became a pastors wife at 19 (now 22) so I could think of A lot for someone that age. However, my main thing would have been that I won’t live up to the churches expectations nor my own! I don’t sing, I don’t speak infront of large crowds, I don’t teach. I felt useless because every time I saw pastors wives they were Doing those things. One day I had a wonderful lady tell me I was a “behind the scenes” person an was always showing love and compassion when people wasn’t looking. You don’t have to be in front of crowds and preaching like your husband. You work together. His strengths are my weeknesses and vise versa! I wish someone would have also told me, the job is 24/7. Late night calls, hospital visits, deaths, people “dropping” in too see you unexpected, having to leave vacation early because of a serious problem at church. Those who are not pastoring don’t understand just how much strain the pastor and his family are under and should really look at the way they choose to treat them.

  • i thought i was alone but i see its all, criticism,jelousy is our food, psalms 68 is the answer. b prayerful and jesus provides best friends

  • Amy Nemecek says on

    I think one of the hardest things I’ve encountered in the almost 12 years my husband has been in ministry was when certain women within the church wanted to be my friend, and I trusted them and opened up to them. Then they got upset over something my pastor-husband said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do, left the church, and disappeared from my life and stopped being my friends. The rare times when I bump into them out in the community, they avoid me. While such instances have been the exception not the rule, it does make it hard for me to let my guard down sometimes.

  • Melinda says on

    After 17 years of ministry (2 years of dating & 15 years of marriage), I wish someone would tell churches these things!!! Recently we’ve had some deacons upset with my husband (one of the things was he read to much scripture during his sermons, I’m not joking), yet their wives want to know why I’m not doing the Beth Moore Bible study with them. Although the time is not ideal (5:15 in the afternoon), it’s mostly to guard my heart!

    • Kim Guenther says on

      I think I can one up you on that one. My husband had a women actually tell him she did not like to sing songs about the blood because it was disgusting. Do you ever wonder if some of these people know Jesus? How could you actually say things like singing about the blood or too much scripture is bad? I really have learned that those claiming to be Christians are the worst people toward me and there will a lot less people in heaven than we think. I wonder sometimes if they actually hear what they are saying. I also wonder how so many people can be touched by a sermon and uplifted while God speaks through my husband and someone else actually has the gall to tell my husband, to his face, “I got nothing from that message”. I sometimes question whether or not I really heard God right when surrendering to marry this man and his calling!

      • Rachel says on

        I wonder sometimes how many of these abusers truly know and follow the Lord Jesus, or whether they just “said the sinner’s prayer” and thought they were done.

  • Wonderful topic with great comments and advice. I am so thankful for the opportunity to benefit from everyone’s experiences.

  • Christie Crawford says on

    I would add to the list that pastor’s wives should be prepared to speak publicly. We will be asked to speak at women’s events or in a Bible study, etc. I’ve learned to ask my husband for help in my preparation, notes and even going through it with him as the audience while he runs a stopwatch!

    I would also say that it’s hard to read these comments filled with so much hurt and discouragement. I do think there’s another side to the coin. I’ve been with my husband in ministry for 10 years and I grew up as a minister’s daughter. I’ve witnessed some of the things other pastor’s wives have mentioned. However, that same spotlight can truly mean that you are loved, blessed & encouraged more than others in the church. We do get encouraging letters. People do random and wonderful acts of kindness for us. Nursery workers develop special bonds with my children. People know my name and care for me and I don’t even know their name! A man in our church recently greeted me and told me he prays for me and my husband every single day. It’s not easy to be in the spotlight, and sinners can be very hurtful, but we have Paul and really a lot of the New Testament to tell us that the glory of Christ and the joy that comes from knowing Him is worth it.

  • I am still amazed after over 20 years of being married to a pastor at how people expect us & our family to be “perfect” and also how mean people can be. When I was growing up my parents taught me to always respect our pastor even if you didn’t agree with him. That went for anyone in authority over us. Some people aren’t that way at all and have spoken so hateful to my husband face to face and about him behind his back. It’s sad but I realize that I can’t act as their Holy Spirit.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Your situation is sadly common Michele.

    • Rachel says on

      We’re living in a very different time today. When I was growing up in my minister-dad’s home, the position of pastor was a respected one in the community. There’s less respect for authority in general, and this is one way in which today’s culture has affected the church. Also, I believe that people in many churches today are afraid because they see attendance dwindling and finances drying up. They want/expect the minister to rescue them from their current situation; but an ordinary human being can’t do that. Fear leads to anger. I understand your pain in dealing with “mean-ness”. Even though people have not abused me, I have suffered in seeing what my husband–a good, Godly man who loves the Lord with all his heart–has gone through.

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