Ten Unfair Expectations of Pastors’ Wives

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.

Posted on September 4, 2017

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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  • My wife discovered early on that as a pastor’s wife, if she gets involved in rhe church’s ministries people will say she’s trying to run the church. And if she backs away some will accuse her of being unfriendly. God help the meek and introverted pastor’s wife.
    One last thought; when the church bullies run out of issues and complaints against the pastor they will often attack his wife and kids. Takes a special woman to be a pastor’s wife. God bless them.

  • An unfortunate list that is generally spot on. My wife has experienced many of them. I’ll add that she has had to take all kinds of toxic abuse from people regarding herself and me and she can never respond in kind.

    Nor would she. She is more mature than that. And she should not have to endure that kind of toxicity and we’re trying learn how to set boundaries so that people don’t step over that line. Hard to learn because we’re always questioning ourselves about being right and godly and the critics seem to never be concerned about being godly. Perhaps that’s an unrealistic expectation we have of church folk.

    All that said, a pastor’s wife will endure a good deal of suffering. It is incumbent upon the pastor to do his best to protect her (I’m learning…) and for both not to adopt a victim mentality. In the end, being a pastor’s is indeed a calling.

  • A Pastor's Wife says on

    These are definitely unfair. However, it becomes easy with so many articles on the unfairness to take on a mentality of “poor me.” While I appreciate the attention drawn to this, I believe it’s better directed to the husbands so they can protect their wives as best as possible–for instance, telling the congregation from the pulpit to let the secretary know of any messages, not his wife. Or even to show pastor wives how to scripturally handle the issues that come up. We have to be lovingly tough-skinned toward some of the unbiblical thinking that we face. And, I too have MANY stories of things said to me, done to me, or even written about me as a pastor’s wife.

  • So what do you do about these things? How do you set up healthy boundaries so your spouse and families can be themselves?

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      The pastor must demonstrate to his congregation that his family is his first ministry, and that he clearly supports and loves them and despite crazy expectations from church members.

  • We always viewed the pastorate as God’s calling for both of us, pastor & wife. When people treat us poorly it shows us the limits of their growth in Christ and where the ministry needs to begin with them. Obvioiusly the ministry is never finished–just like the Spirit’s ministry to us!

  • David Kinnon says on

    It is more of an American thing than something observable elsewhere, that a pastor and his wife represent some kind of ministerial duo or double act. That seems to me to be unfair. I can find no biblical reason to expect it. A pastor ought to be treated as he* would be as the employee of an organisation. To the extent his wife becomes involved in ministry, that’s a bonus. (*implies male as well as female) So stop chirping in the pastor’s spouse’s ear and get working!!

  • Dennis E. Paul says on

    After working in various job descriptions in a few churches and having experienced the critical spirits of many “attenders” I sorrowfully would attribute the above statements to those that are unsaved within the church.

  • Ralph Hough says on

    As I am looking through this (with my wife beside me), there have been some expectations in our experience to be sure but not to the extreme listed here. It leaves me to wonder and think that most people/Christians respond because of how they were trained/raised in church. Whether it is worship wars, pastor families, etc… how people are trained in what to expect of church, pastor, their spouse and children, many fall short of Biblical understanding and teaching. As a pastor one of my jobs is to properly train the congregation to respond to the next pastor and his family in a way the builds up and encourages them under grace so that in the joy of their salvation they participate alongside the rest of the church in the gifts, skills and passion God has given them. The pastor will have to step up and not allow any unhealthy division in the congregation or his family… in love, respect and the hope that God will bring wholeness when reconciliation in Christ is sought, solutions are not far behind.

  • Thank you for this post. I am a pastor’s daughter and wife and have experienced most of these on both levels. I absolutely love being a pastor’s wife but have learned to keep these very things in perspective. I am going to share these at a ministry wives retreat I am having this week for the wives in our association.

  • Wellllllll…I’ve been both a pastor’s wife and not a pastor’s wife. I liked being a pastor’s wife in spite of any of the above. It was a calling and just like everyone else, I had to love and forgive no matter what people did and said. Pastor’s wives should not take on a victim mentality. They are not victims and should not allow themselves to become that in spite of anyone’s criticisms, rejections, etc. Make sure, as a pastor’s wife, you are not victimizing others because of your attitudes and selfishness.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Certainly pastors’ wives should avoid the victim mentality. But this article was also meant as a matter awareness for others.

    • Thank you, Liberty. Many Pastor’s wives reap many benefits from the love of others, too. I believe if you are married to a pastor you vow to take on the call of your husband’s ministry and called to be a humble servant (not a door mat). I have known the most grateful, loving pastors’ wives and I’ve known the most removed, distant, selfish pastors’ wives.

      We should reflect our beliefs in every walk of life. Most of the demands/expectations pastors and wives feel can be self-inflicted. Remember this article assumes that all Pastors and their wives are truly following God’s will for fulfilling their positions, too.

  • I wonder how many pastors grant their spouses permission, as if it’s needed, to free themselves from the false expectations of members. That is a part of authentic leadership. Sometimes we are part of the problem.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Exactly. My hope is that many pastors will see this blog post for themselves.

      • Phillip Sterling says on

        I was very clear that while my wife and I are a team, she works outside our home, plus is a mother. Therefore, while she will fill in here and there, she does not desire to fill any position full time. She does ask questions to guage ideas and reactions, but I also made it clear that if anyone has anything to say, they come to me, not my wife. My family is off limits.

      • And that’s the way it’s done, Phillip.

      • Kathy Bailey says on

        You are a good man!

      • Bridgit Lawson says on

        I am blessed to be the wife of a pastor that reminds me (sometimes daily) that God called me to go with him. That means that both of us need to be ourselves, and that we are both who God called to this church, for our own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.

      • Why should a pastors wife put herself above the saints of the church?

    • My situation is very unique. Not only am I a pastor (associate lead part-time pastor). I work full-time outside of the church and my husband is also a pastor. However, he fell ill a few years back with an autoimmune disease causing him to not be able to pastor full-time. We actually attend and serve at different churches right now b/c his church is closer to our home in case he falls ill. I’m on staff at another church about 30 minutes away. We have had to learn how to put our family first despite any criticism or expectations of our congregational members. Our call has not changed just b/c our circumstances has. I miss the days when he and I worked in ministry together (He as the senior pastor and me as the associate youth pastor). However, God’s plans are not always mine. People have to learn to set their own agendas to the side and let God be God.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      It is a learned habit to divide and manage expectations appropriately. Thankfully I had 22+ years in another field where my wife was independent of me, she never wore my rank and she made it clear she was her own person; even in the face of the commanding officer’s wife who read her the riot act for not having our telephone book listing as LT and Mrs. Les Ferguson (it was Kathy and Les – she set up the phone account and paid the bills because she was home more regularly than I was).

      That carried forward into my ordained ministry. She made it clear that she would participate as she was able and where she felt called but that she was not “Mrs. Rev.” At least in the Episcopal tradition it is much easier to put your foot down like that. There are some who expect her to serve as an extension of me but I won’t let it happen.

    • That’s why I so love and appreciate my pastor husband for freeing me when he accepted the call to the pastorate! At the beginning, I asked, “Honey, what are your expectations of me?” He responded, “Continue to be my helpmeet/wife! You are not married to this church. You are married to me! Beyond that…. Walk out your Kngdom assignment of who God called you to be. Minister in the area(s) you feel passionate about, not what others want you to do! I don’t want you to be like the pastor’s wife across town, or down the street. Be YOU, Babe!”
      Can’t get much better than that!

  • I think Adrian Rogers said it as well as anyone: “A pastor’s wife has to put up with everything the pastor puts up with, and she has to put up with the pastor, too.”

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      So true.

      • Rev DENESE Schellink says on

        I do not agree with this post. It is insulting to my intelligence that you would continue with this outdated thinking and speaking: pastors spouses is SO much more inclusive. Please rewrite it

      • Esther Broadbent says on

        DENESE –

        Thom stated his reasons for writing the post as he did very well:

        “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.”

        You are insulting his intelligence and all of us who read this article when you demand he re-write it. I am weary of fellow female ministers who take on this victim mentality.

      • Brian Tubbs says on

        Dr. Rainer is with the Southern Baptist Convention – an organization that still respects biblical inerrancy and believes that I Timothy 2:11-15 applies today. You might consider the Bible You may disagree with Dr. Rainer and the SBC. And that’s fine. But don’t “insult” our “intelligence” and don’t pitch a fit because other people might (God forbid) see things differently than you.

      • You are perfectly within your rights to disagree with Dr. Rainer’s views on women in the pastorate. However, since this is his blog, it seems to me you should respect his convictions instead of demanding that he yield to yours.

      • Marguerite Colson says on

        Denese –

        Why don’t you look at the responses in this blog post? Why don’t you see how many women are being ministered to? Why don’t you see Thom’s ministry as being FOR women? Why does it have to be about you and your demands?

      • whisperingsage says on

        Why don’t you write a list of the things you think should be in there and compare them with the bible?

      • Ruth E Vaughan says on

        I assume you’re referring to the term “wife”? If so, if a church is following the New Testament, there are several places in Scripture that refer to a pastor as being a man, not a woman. Churches that have “woman pastors” are going against biblical teaching.

    • Oh wow! This really struck a chord with me! So true, even after 25 years in the ministry.

      • Boy howdy!! After 25 years in ministry with my husband, I think I’ve heard them all. As I’ve gotten older, maybe healthier, I’ve learned to not care about such pettiness. Maybe I’ve grown immune to the absurdity. Or maybe I’ve just calloused myself to the completely unrealistic expectations of gossips and busybodies. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m exhausted. But for the last several years I’ve lost the ability to care about the church-drama and politics. Maybe I’ve officially hit that place of ministry-wife burnout. Most days I just don’t feel anything anymore. When it got to the point of needing to take a homeopathic distress remedy just to walk in the doors of church, I knew the last straw finally broke me. No joke, folks. It’s a spiritual battle. Some days you just don’t win.

        I do not see myself as a victim in any way. I’ve just learned that over the years in ministry– that sheep bite.

        Our lives have been forever changed by the ministry…. for better and worse….but it is sure not for the faint of heart!

        In our 25 years in ministry we have lived through our daughter being raped at 10-years-old by a children’s ministry worker. She is 23 now and we are still trying to help her gather all the pieces. She has absolutely no trust that the church is a real expression of God anymore and she even doubts that God is real.

        In the years I battled a chronic illness– there was the unrelenting questioning of the “secret sin” that must be hidden in my life as I should be healed after all the prayers said for me…I learned to be content and lean on God’s timing in those years and I did finally reach a place of remission. God was faithful through it all.

        There were times the requirements of the ministry felt as if “the ministry” were the mistress in our marriage and it definitely made some dents in the relationship until we leared to draw hard line boundaries and protect ourselves and our family.

        We saw the faithful hand of God heal our marriage and our family… but still sheep bite. We know this. And we choose to minister on.

        But there is an emotional toll to pay. I am trusting God in all things and just trying to catch my breath and wait for the second wind. Quitting is not an option. But most days I really begin to wonder if the way we do church has become so consumer oriented that people feel the need to leave messages or complaints about my husband for me to deliver to him. I refuse. I tell them that they need to speak to him on those matters. I will not allow the enemy to use me as the source of discouragement for my dear husband.

        I’m pretty sure I have hit burn out….. and just waiting for the refreshing to come again. It always does because HE is faithful.

      • Dawn,
        My heart hurts for you. Where you are at is a hard place to be. I will be praying for you as you wait for the time of refreshing. Please feel free to email me if you need an ear. Part of my ministry is reaching out to the ministry wives in my community.
        Praying for healing sister,

      • Goodness! I’ve been a pastor for 22 years, and I’ve experienced my share of heartaches, but nothing like the kind you described. I’ve been tempted to quit the ministry a few times, but my reasons for doing so are quite petty in comparison to what you’ve experienced. Thank you for sharing this. Your perseverance is a true inspiration.

      • You just described my life completely.

      • I may be late in posting but I sincerely hope you see this Dawn. You and I have never met and may never meet on this earth but 1 day we will. When that day comes we will know each other like we are, Sisters, just as Christ Jesus says we will know Him when we see Him. I say all of that only to tell you how much you testimony, not just a post, Your Story, inspires and encourages me. I have been hurt by many in the church or as you put it, bitten by the flock of sheep. I truly understand the meaning wolves in sheep’s clothing. Be careful who you pet, get close to, feed, invite home, etc. Only the Shephard knows His flock. I’m not perfect, I’m saved by Grace, living 1 day at a time, trusting, believeing, and faithfully waiting for His return or to call me home. Love in Christ Jesus. ????

      • Thom S Rainer says on

        Thanks, Lauri.

      • I have to agree with Laura. 26 years in ministry and it doesn’t get easier.

      • I’m so sorry to hear of your heartaches and experiences. Thank you for stating that God is faithful. I am not a pastor’s wife; my husband has been an elder for several years. We have seen the attacks and have tried to step between when we can, and are learning to do so better. A pastor’s family is definitely a target. I appreciate our pastor and his wife and family.
        May I add that pastors’ wives are a scary entity to me? I’ve been bit hard several times by a PW who, for one reason or another, decided what my intentions were in a conversation or an action (these intentions were news to me)–and even fabricated actions on my part, and told her husband about it. A good husband will stand up for his wife; but oh, that he would stand up to her sometimes. Frankly, it’s terrifying. Pastor’s don’t realize the power they have, and how they can sway whole congregations on an unfounded accusation from his wife.
        I have known two of these women. Neither of them have been willing to accept that maybe they were wrong, and certainly would not apologize.

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