Ten Unfair Expectations of Pastors’ Wives

September 4, 2017

The pastor’s wife in many churches carries heavy burdens.

Sometimes they are impossible expectations.

To be fair, this post could refer to any church staff person, male or female, so it could be called ministers’ spouses. For simplicity, and because I primarily hear from this group of people, I refer to them as pastors’ wives.

So what are some of these unfair expectations? Here are the top ten expectations imposed upon these ladies.

  1. “I am expected to attend every function at the church.” One wife told us that church members resent it when she is seen doing anything outside the church.
  2. “Many church members expect me to know everything that is happening in the church.” In other words, they should know everything their pastor/husband knows.
  3. “We have several church members who feel free to complain to me about my husband.” So her church has several members who are lacking in emotional intelligence.
  4. “Church members utilize me as a de facto assistant to my husband, giving me messages for him.” One wife shared with us that she received eleven messages to give to her husband after a specific worship service.
  5. “I am still amazed how many church members expect me to function as an employee of the church.” Some are expected to lead music or play piano. Others are expected to act in a specific ministry employee role such as student or children’s director.
  6. “Some of the members expect our children to be perfect and act perfect.” One wife explained that she and her husband were new to a church when a church member confronted them about their misbehaving children. Their outlandish sin was running in the church after a worship service.
  7. “I am always supposed to be perfectly made up and dressed when I leave the house.” A church member expressed her dismay to a pastor’s wife who ran into a grocery store without makeup. You can’t make this stuff up.
  8. “I have no freedom at our church to be anything but perfectly emotionally composed.” This story really got to me. A deacon chastised a pastor’s wife for shedding tears at church four days after her dad died.
  9. “I think some of our church members expect my family to take a vow of poverty.” She was specifically referring to the criticism she received for purchasing a six-year-old minivan after her third child was born.
  10. “So many church members expect me to be their best friend.” And obviously a pastor’s wife can’t be the best friend to everyone, so she disappoints or angers others.

These are some of the comments we have received at this blog over the years from pastors’ wives. And it seems as though these trials are more gender biased. For example, the husband of a children’s minister commented that he rarely has the pressure and expectations that he sees imposed upon female spouses.

But more than other staff positions, the pastor is naturally the focus of attention and, often, criticism.

And the pastor’s family, by extension, becomes the focus of unfair and unreasonable expectations.

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124 Comments

  • Samuel Santos says on

    Hello,

    The Leadership group of my church is now studying the women’s role. I’m a member of leadership group, and I was to decline of my position to aliviate the burden of my wife. We have 3 daugthers, Sofia (8 years old), Samantha (5 years old) and Sarah (1 year old), and the work of shepherd the church along with the our responsabilities with our family was being too much to us. What was happening, was that my wife was taking more responsabilities than me, and also there was a pressure on her to be more active in the shepherding of the church along with the women.

    I’m writting you about it because I appreciate your post, and I’d like to get more resources on this subject, so I became able to help to build a healthy mindset on this subject in my church.

    If you have any resource i would appreciate. Books, articles, etc.

    Thank you so Much
    In Christ
    Samuel Santos

  • WOW fellow brothers and sisters! I had to stop reading all of this. I’m a pastors wife and it’s a tough job for sure and no one really knows what God has put before another brother or sister but the one and only heavenly Father himself. He’s says lean not on your own understanding but of his.
    We are to feed daily in Gods word and trust, love and relay only on his answer. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be like Jesus (Jesus like Characteristics) So therefore we should not be forced on what we preceive a women’s job is are isn’t . We all should have a personal relationship with God and I’ll tell you for me brothers and sisters teaching and preaching and disciplining should be what every Christian is doing.
    “He who saves souls is wise” (he doesn’t necessarily mean a man)
    Do you really think God cares only on the gender of his followers that are saving souls and doing his will?
    Ask him and then be still and he will answer.
    Love brothers and Sisters , LOVE
    Because Love is above all!
    Everything else just falls into place.
    I pray for protection and Edification and also you understand all that our Father is saying to you and may piece and love be with you always , Amen

  • Wow. The pastor told me that I need to step it up and be more supportive. I was recently told that the personnel committee felt deceived because I wasn’t as active in the church as they thought I’d be when they hired my husband. I was also told by the pastor that I would feel better if I lost weight.
    I live with a chronic health condition that limits my ability to be involved – they were told about my health during the interview process.
    I am so tired and weary. Church should not be this complicated for anyone, including the spouse of one of the ministers.
    I feel like there is a scorecard and I’m failing. What happened to grace?

  • whisperingsage says on

    I would even mind THOSE things. What really irks me is that we have become the chauffer and trailer hauler of people’s household goods. AND we can’t even eat in the church after service without people coming and begging for our food. Right now I’m not working, because of my health, so Pastor’s secular job has to cover church bills, as nobody gives. We’re lucky if we get $20 a month in the offering. In the past we had our own building and I used to bake nutritious cookies Sunday Morning so sharing some food was not such a hassle. But right now we are on a budget personally and I have to measure out our food, Pastor’s food for his secular job, etc.
    When I did have a car (I have been carless for a year now, another reason I can’t get a secular job, we are rural and not in a position to walk or ride the bus) I became the chauffer to take people shopping. Now we have extricated ourselves from 2 other families (we are trying to convince them it is in their best interests to get driver’s licenses and a car) and now just have one in her 70’s that did not prepare for retirement, and right now Pastor and I take her one Friday a month on her SSI payday, and she goes to 15 stores. It’s a 13 hour day. (shopping is 60 miles away). On top of that, one young couple is texting Pastor at all hours of the day for every little thing. We took over a year to convince them they didn’t need to go to the hospital for everything, and a little longer to convince them not to cause their own injuries that would sent them to the hospital legitimately. That’s just the highlights. These are high maintenance people. They think I’m mean for trying to straighten them out. I’m “judging”.

  • I am a young pastor’s wife, only been in ministry for five years. I have recently learned the benefits of honoring and submitting to my husband when he tells me “stop thinking about this problem, it has nothing to do with you, you did your best, now chose to have peace about it….” At first this seemed cold to me. I wanted more sympathy. Then I realized that I could never be a godly example to our church if I couldn’t even honor my husband’s request (sometimes begging to leave church problems out of our family life). With God’s help, I finally surrendered my anxiety and now have a much healthier marriage. There is still stress and tension, but if the devil wasn’t attacking us, I would be more worried. All I can say is, thank God for the JOY and PEACE of His Spirit! Where would we be with out it?

  • Hello from Vegas, and thank you for this post, Dr. Rainer!

    I have been a pastor’s wife for 22 years, and your list resonated with me. My “favorite” criticism was the time I shared a testimony during a Sunday service in the weeks following a miscarriage, about finding joy amidst pain, and was told by a leader/seminary professor that I was grieving my miscarriage inappropriately…

    I almost didn’t marry my husband in the first place, because I knew he was called to ministry and I feared the role of pastor’s wife. Truth be told, all in all, it has proven to be the greatest blessing. I am married to an incredible, God fearing man who leads in the fullness of grace and truth, and I can’t imagine any other life!

    While there are certainly tough aspects to being a pastor’s wife, the blessings outweigh them for me. I have come to appreciate the in-built accountability, for one thing. Although I am not an employee of the church, it is an undeniable fact that I have a unique role — one that includes congregants “watching” me a little more. For starters, I have been co-interviewed by an entire congregation alongside my husband at each of the three churches where we’ve served. My heart’s desire is to reach my full potential in Christ through my life, and I am grateful for the added reminder that my choices are on display. (Of course, God sees all of everyone’s choices — I’m just thankful for the extra awareness that comes with “living in a glass house” as a pastor’s wife.)

    One more thing I have learned to embrace as a pastor’s wife is the opportunity to impact lives as a role model. For example: Especially when our children were younger, I was passionate about being “busy at home” (Titus 2:5), and said no to being “busy at church” or anywhere else outside our home a lot. I skipped women’s retreats, passed on VBS, took a break from the Worship Team, etc. When I was questioned about being less involved during that season, it was a great opening to turn to scripture and discuss the Biblical guidelines for how we are to each steward our time, depending upon our season of life.

    Our pastor who married us counseled us to not serve utterly side-by-side all the time, so that I wouldn’t have the same stresses/irritations/discouragements. My husband and I definitely work side-by-side at times, which I love, but the bit of separation provides me with emotional reserves to encourage him and lift him up when I’m not burdened by the exact same stresses/irritations/discouragements. And we always mention this when we’re describing how we work together… you know, when we’re being interviewed by a couple hundred people. Ha ha!

    Forgive me for writing a novella! And thank you again for your post. It is much appreciated.

    • whisperingsage says on

      I’ve been a Pastor’s wife for 14 years and if he didn’t have me organizing the events, VBS, researching for materials, pictures etc, to be used, he wouldn’t have any events at all. Nobody else so far has been willing to take any responsibility.

  • It seams like the last one has always been reversed for me: no one really wants to be my bestfriend because I’m the pastor’s wife. I feel like I’m put in a bubble to keep people from getting too close. It can be a very lonely place.

  • It is very important to set boundaries and make clear the spouse’s role from the interview forward. Still, this may not prevent all hurtful comments and actions. We have to remember that it is God that we must please, not the church members. We can never please every one. By showing my child that we sometimes overlook, always forgive and love all of the people in our church, it allows my husband and I to demonstrably teach God’s love. Just as God is patient, merciful, and long-suffering with me, so I must be with others. When I take my hurts to Him, He provides healing. I’m praying for all of those who have posted their hurts. Only God can heal and restore us. He can! He can be glorified in us through even the most hurtful situations as we allow Him to shine through us.

  • Thank you for this article. As a pastor’s wife for 33 years, I have heard many, but have prayed to have the grace to respond in kindness. Didn’t always happen! (HA) But God does give us the grace to handle tasks, situations AND people like He would, if only we ask.

    Toughest one for me was when I was accused of being demon-possessed, because I ‘glared’ at someone across the gym. I had no idea I was even looking in the direction across a gym at a person. But after a meeting to clear this up, and my apologizing for any perceived issue, I was forgiven. Until a day later when she was SURE I was still demon-possessed. AND…we had been at the church only 6 to 7 years…she had been there MUCH longer and told all of her friends all about this. Later it was discovered that she was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, and I just happen to be the one to receive her wrath.

    My husband/pastor was amazing through this all, but this fun-loving bubbly energetic person (me) dropped into a depression that I didn’t even know was possible. Took time and prayer to heal. Being falsely accused of anything, even something as odd as demon-possession, is very painful and humbling, but can bring us closer to the One who received torture must worse that what we can imagine, taking Him to the cross.

    • whisperingsage says on

      I recently had to deliberately glare at a 17 yr old boy after having to yell at him not to smack another boy in the back with a folded chair. While the other boy was talking to Pastor at the pulpit. Believe me I gave him the dirtiest look I could muster.

  • I think part of the problem with these church members is that they expect the pastors wife to act like a member instead of some elite person. The pastor expect members to show up at church functions. The pastor hopes that his own church members would know what’s going on in the church. The members however old or young don’t want to trip over with kids running around in the hall. I don’t think these are outdated comments. I think they lack proper perspective. I am not in total disagreement that sometimes church members hope for ridiculous things. Sometimes pastors and their wives hope for ridiculous things. Maybe just to let the people know that it’s OK to run in the church that the pastor should run down the hall. Or would that be too much to expect of him? Stop and think about what we want our church members to do that they think is unreasonable. “We have not suffered unto blood. “

  • I think it is a great article. While all of the statements seem outdated, they are not. I have heard many of them, and some of them have been mentioned to our congregations when we are seeking a pastor. I have also addressed them when interviewing prospective pastors. He is the one being called to pastor us.
    It is great when a Pastor’s wife can be engaged in the church, but her responsibility is to be his helpmate, be understanding when he rushes out to an emergency, and know that people in the congregation are praying for her as well as him.
    While this strays from the subject, at pastor reviews, we focus on the pastor spending adequate time with his family, because he is, most importantly, the spiritual leader of that family.
    If you have never heard these comments, you are blessed. If you heard them and did not address them with the source, you have failed a “teaching moment.”

  • Thom S Rainer says on

    Yep.

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