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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366 Comments

  • I am not a pastor’s wife. I am a woman of God serving the Lord under the leadership of a pastoral couple. I have always had this inner passion to reach out to pastor’s wives, as there are no “blue-print” for becoming one. I have seen ordinary woman who became pastors wives (most of them younger than myself) and I feel sorry for them because they try so hard to live up to the expectations of the “church”. I partly blame their husbands. The husband is the called one – what happened to just allowing your wife to be your wife and the mother of your children? Allowing her to serve God in the gifts that’s within her? Accepting her limitations and not put expectations on her just because the congregation. I have more respect for a pastor who, whenever he is “out there” doing what God has called him to do,1. ACKNOWLEDGES – His wife if she is present. 2. PUBLICALLY APPRECIATES AND RESPECTS HER. In her absence – Makes an APOLOGY on her behalf. 3.
    I respect and appreciate a pastor’s wife if I see her husband is loved and respected by her – sadly I want to share with pastors wives what some women in your congretation thinks of you when they see your husband;-
    If he is not well dressed – they feel sorry for him and disrespect you, because you, in their opinion are not looking after him.
    If you are dressed fashionably – Envy, jealousy creeps in and you using the churches money
    We still sit with the stigma that pastor’s wife must be “chubby and look motherly to get hugs. To them, depending how “old” your congregation is, a young, outgoing; vibrant, beautiful, successful (especially if you have a career), is not easily accepted.
    Pastor: My advice to you: LOVE your wife, for the WOMAN she is – (Call her by her name at all times)
    Pastors Wife: – Respect and treat your husband for the MAN that he is – especially at home.
    ACKNOWLEDGE each other always and stay committed to the calling as a family.
    Pastors Wife: There is ONE woman in your congregation that loves, respects, appreciates, admire you. She just wants the best for your entire family, she has YOUR back, more than that of your husband. She want’s to reach out to you, but because you are so sceptical and afraid, you don’t see her. Just open your eyes and ears and you will hear her pray for you, see her serve you and your family as a whole. She is your Gatekeeper. She is there… you don’t have to be so lonely and here’s the weirdest part… SHE IS NOT A PASTORS WIFE. She’s just a woman, mother, like yourself..

  • Twenty-some years ago I went to my first pastor and wife Christmas dinner. When we left, I told my husband, “If that is what I am going to look like after twenty years in the ministry, I want out now.” We laughed. Twenty-two years later… it is not funny. We never imagined that night how we would literally “suffer” for the call.
    We are one of those pastors that when our church’s tithing decreased for awhile, the church voted to cut our pay after six years of ministry (but keep two full-time secretaries), because the lead deacon used the SBC published church salary listings to convince the congregation that we were making more than someone should in a church our size. (He used an out-dated listing.) We took a $10,000 a year cut in pay. My husband was almost 50. We hung in there for a year–walking in shame and humiliation, but we had to sell our house and a car before we could leave—-that was the purpose, right?? To get us to leave?? Some might find this hard to believe, but my husband is a great preacher and pastor, and he had done nothing wrong—except not patronize those who held the purse strings. Could he have visited more? Yes. Could he have taken up fishing or hunting so to be more in fellowship with some of the deacons? Yes, but he truly believes his first priority is the preaching of the Word. So, he spends 20-30 hours a week preparing for three messages.
    We looked back and saw one thing that we could have done——Return the “raises” we had gotten to cover Guidestone’s increases. One year it was $300/month. Usually, it was around $100. After several years of increases, we decreased our coverage. That was our “moral” mistake. I suppose we should have offered to return the “raises”, and then we would still be living near our friends and family. That place you call—home.
    I understand God’s sovereignty more than most—we are more Reformed than most of the SBC. But His sovereignty doesn’t take the pain away as I sit here tonight 17 hours away from my 2 year-old granddaughter and awaiting her little sister’s arrival this week. It is hard to not be bitter at times. The Lord allowed one man’s leadership to change everything in my life.
    We are now in a church that highly honors my husband. In fact, we have never been held in such esteem before. We have been here three years, and it is a “good land.” They love us (most of our members always have), but I grieve so deeply at times (tonight), because of the miles of separation from soul-mates and a son….and grand-daughters. I have no history here. No one here has walked with me through life. No one can share the pain when I lose a friend to death –from home. They don’t know them. They can’t celebrate with me when Julie or Kathy’s daughter gives birth. Julie, Kathy, Monica, and I raised our children together. I would love to see their grandchildren, but I don’t live there anymore.
    My new friends here can’t grieve with me when a friend from “home” commits suicide—-and if I had been there, maybe…. And, when a family in our last church lost several members in a tragic car accident—no one here knew them…and I grieved, alone.
    Everyone knows that there are precious times in the pastorate. When someone comes to Christ or when a prodigal returns home—those things confirm the calling in your life. The other day I stood with a member as they removed the life-support from her mother. I was glad that I was —here. But tonight as my husband gets ready to depart overseas tomorrow on a mission trip, and my 15 year-old son and I will be here alone next week…..I wish that that deacon would have stopped to realize how his actions would affect our family for so many years. His very extended family lives within five miles of him…and they are all members of the same church–our last pastorate. He calls that place–“home.” Besides the loneliness in the ministry, not having a place I really call “home,” hurts deeply…but His grace is always sufficient, isn’t it?
    “Called before the foundations of the earth”…..to ministry.

    • This sounds like my husband: “Some might find this hard to believe, but my husband is a great preacher and pastor, and he had done nothing wrong—except not patronize those who held the purse strings.” Believing in God’s sovereignty is a great comfort, I agree. Because we’re Presbyterian, the congregation couldn’t reduce our salary without the approval of Presbytery; instead, well-do-do couples in the congregation found ways to give to the church without putting money in the general fund–the large portion of which is the stipend. They put their money into mission funds or property funds instead.

  • I am encouraged reading your post. My husband and I have been pastoring for over 15 years. We are in our early 30’s. I know the importance of a wife that encourages her husband. I have been a cheerleader for him. I have tried to make him see that God is in control even when it doesnt seem like it. We have recently moved from associate pastor to senior pastor in our church. I see my husband worry about everything. The finances, who is here, who is not here, …we attend a church that runs around 200. Not big but bigger than most. Is it normal to worry about those little things? He worries that he will fail and that people will leave the church… We have experienced criticism over petty things…like permission to use van for outreach…or asking board permission to schedule speaker…. I ask my husband…Do you feel it is time for us to move on? He says no I am just depressed! How can I help him?? How can I make him realize that there will be people who criticize him and we have to look over and keep ministering…. Here lately though it seems more and more petty things people are criticizing over…

  • Thank you for sharing this; it really helped my spirit this morning! As an associate pastor’s wife, my biggest struggle is knowing that my relationships are one-sided. People get upset if I don’t check up on them and help with everything, but I’ve never been asked how I’m really doing or if there’s anything they can help me with. It took a while, but I have settled on the fact that I am not there to be exhorted or to strengthen my spirit- I am there to help in the church’s mission. It certainly is a much different mindset than someone who simply attends church.

  • I didn’t go to church again today. We have been in ministry for 17 years. I wish someone would have told me that I am not perfect and that I might not make it through this journey alive even though I really want to.

    • Your message “stopped me in my tracks”, Darcy. It sounds so full of pain and discouragement.that I feel compelled to respond. What I’ve learned in my 17 years of being “the minister’s wife” is that the Church, although being the body of Christ, is not Christ Himself. What I mean is that I’ve learned not to look for solace in congregations, but instead in Jesus and His love for me and my husband. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It can be very hard to hear criticism of our husbands and ourselves; but I think that often, this nastiness can be a reflection of the unhappiness of the persons who say these things. The Lord said that anyone who followed Him would have to pick up his cross and deny himself. Although we don’t suffer in North America the way pastors and their families suffer in other countries, we do suffer from things like social exclusion, criticism, and financial insecurity. This is part and parcel of serving God. Sometimes I have seen that the trouble that congregational members have caused has indeed make me appreciate Jesus’ love so much more. His love is constant and unchanging. He never changes his mind about us or puts us on a pedestal only to knock us off. I also had to take time off from going to church. I ended up in doctor’s care due to the stress we were under and had to take a step back from church activities in order to recover. Now that the stress has passed, at least for awhile, I’m able to go to church again. If you are depressed, which is what I think I see in your post, please consider seeing a doctor. You might need some temporary help until your strength gets built up again. Of course, I could be wrong in what I’m seeing.

      • Rachel, this is Darcy. You are correct about the depression. I am currently in an intensive out patient program, therapy and med changes AGAIN. Thank you for your comment. I have always been so sure of my faith since a very young child. But now I am not. I think it is the depression talking. I have a new understanding of people who need people and God and cannot reach out or even understand anything beyond the six inches in front of them. I hope that God is the answer but the church has a hard time understanding that I am just trying to function everyday. There is no brain function beyond that. Certainly not prayer. If I have to choose between having mental energy to say hello to my children and saying hello to the Heavenly Father, I am picking my children today. I hope he understands. I sound very sad, but it is not emotional, it is more thought process. If any of you struggle with similar, get help from a doctor. I want to know God. But please understand for yourself and those you minister to that there is a point in mental capacity and depression that spirituality isn’t a choice untill you deal with the disease. I know that sounds like a lack of faith. Maybe it is. But my hope is when, the depression lifts, the ability to know or feel God will return. Rachel, I think you will see that I am already doing better since my last post. Much less suicidal thought. Yay!! Thank you for responding. Anyone who wants/ needs mental health…please use all you have to get it.

      • I actually went through an agnostic phase while depressed; ergo your “lack of faith” likely is your depression talking. There is so little understanding of these things in many church circles. I was so depressed/anxious about things going on in one of our last congregations that I had to stop going to that church entirely in order to recover. Had to take “baby steps” getting back, but now I can go again. Fortunately I have a very understanding husband. Thank you for replying to my reply. 🙂 You sound articulate, which is a good thing.

  • berryhart says on

    My pastor’s wife has a very vindictive (her words) nature. If she likes you, or you do what she needs, you will be spoke to. Otherwise ~ she will walk right past and not speak. Almost knock you down if you walk close to her.
    Her husband totally supports her behavior and says she is under a lot of stress and is not “aware” of those actions. Sure does make the Spirit sad during the service.

    • There is no excuse for vindictive behavior, but I’ve learned that people with a tough outer shell like that often build that shell because they are hurting inwardly in some way. Your pastor’s wife may not have many (or any) friends, which deepens the hurt. Sometimes a little piece of that shell breaks off when the person is sincerely encouraged. Try writing her a thank you note for something you appreciate about her (if you can’t think of anything else, you can even say thanks for her selflessly sacrificing time with her husband for the sake of the church members, and how you benefitted from something he taught, etc…) and make it as heartfelt as possible – which can be hard, I know. Pastor’s wives simply cannot open up as fully with others like other women in the church can, so they often harbor pain silently. Pray for her; pray for an opportunity to be a blessing to her.

  • My husband is now working toward being a pastor. I have the same fears above peoples’ expectations and often feel lonely. I’ve had to come to terms with the depression and loneliness and just trust God that he is in control. I’ve often thought it could be God’s way of preparing me for something…and now i feel like after reading some the blogs above this is why. I’m learning to think of Jesus as my forever, “heart” friend. He’s always there…always genuine…forever loving and caring…and He is the perfect friend.

  • Hello Thom,
    I want to start by saying it was great hearing you a while back in Springfield, MO at BBC Alumni days! You really struck a chord with me that day, and I paged through your book on church members very quickly on the way home.
    I am hoping and praying that this string of comments about the struggles of pastor wives does something to heal my wife and I a little. I am no stranger to the ministry life, as I grew up in a pastor’s home. However, this is pretty new for my wife. We are 16 years into our married life, and about 13 years into our ministry life together. And we can identify with every one of the struggles listed above. However, I don’t want to share details, because you never know who’s looking, who also can put 2 and 2 together.
    But please add us to your prayer list if you will. We feel like we are on the last of our last nerves, looking at Moses and wondering how in the world he lasted 40 years with so many people! We try to keep our eyes on Jesus, but find even that pretty hard these days. But at least we can say we still have each other’s love, and we know our names are written in the Book of Life. Honestly, that is about the only thing keeping us going some days…that, and remembering how much loneliness, pain, and suffering Jesus endured for me. Pray that we will continue looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for joy, endured the cross…

    Sincerely thankful for you,
    Chris

  • This are all true. I am a Pastor’s wife and I have a ministry to Pastors’ wives. I have also written a book for them, which came out recently. Pastors’ wives are dying on the vine and there are very few resources for them. I come in contact with hurting wives on a regular basis. May God bless us all.

  • Something I wish I knew going in to the ministry, is that the opinions of people don’t really matter as much as God’s opinion matters. Maybe I heard this or thought I knew this being a youth pastor’s wife in church ministry, it wasn’t until after serving the Lord as a missionary in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, with foreign expectations, that I was forced to go through some very painful lessons. I see though how the Lord allowed it, especially since I tend to be people-pleaser, and used these painful experiences to teach me invaluable lessons. #1 WE LIVE TO PLEASE THE LORD AND NOT MAN. We will all stand before the Lord one day and He will reward each of us according to what we have done onto Him. Unlike people who don’t see our hearts, and often are searingly critical and hurtful, God sees our hearts and what is done onto Him with a right heart. He is gracious and merciful. When people are jealous and vindictive, God is loving and kind. He loves to lavish His kindness on His children. When people are unforgiving and gossips, the Lord is a strong tower and protects us from the enemy. When we are obedient to Him to love our enemies, He will work in them to prayerfully bring about repentance and restoration. When people are super-critical of me or my husband or children, this truth has given me great peace and freedom that if we are doing what the Lord has called us to do, then we can rest assured, His opinion is the only one that matters. On that Day, I will stand before HIM, not all those critical people, and hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” #2 LONELINESS, PAIN, AND SUFFERING ARE PART AND PARCEL OF THE CALLING. Yes, it is hard, but again, God has used all these things for good! On one particular occasion, after confessing to my husband about my terrible loneliness, he confessed he was lonely too! I was shocked. God used the physical separation from our family and friends and country to actually draw us closer to one another as a stronger, more open and unified married couple! I believe that those who desire to serve the Lord have a cost to take into consideration. Of course we are going to be falsely accused and misunderstood and we are going to suffer for His sake. His Word says we will! But didn’t Jesus go to the cross for us? What is our suffering compared to His? Have we yet resisted to blood-shed? I believe that as God has called us to be representing Him to a lost and dying world, He will allow us to go through these painful situations so that we can EXPERIENCE HIM as our Healer, Provider, and All-Sufficient One! Only then can we, in turn, testify to a lost world what a wonderful Savior He is! This is real ministry, and it starts with me.

  • Jane Chase says on

    When my husband was a pastor and we had 2 preschoolers, most of our church was elderly people. I joined a Mom’s group at another church where I could have contact with other moms of young children and where I wasn’t the “pastor’s wife.” I was often criticized at our church for what I wore to church (I’m not a dressy person), how we raised our kids, etc. Many people were kind and supportive, but the few people that weren’t really hurt us.

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