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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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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When I was a new pastor serving a two-point charge, my husband and I attended an anniversary celebration at another church in our district and there we met a couple former pastors and their wives. One of the ladies shared with us that when her husband was first appointed, the bishop’s wife met with all the new pastors’ wives to inform them of the expectations. She told the wives, “Hang a mirror by the front door and keep a skirt with an elastic waistband nearby so that if someone stops by and you are cleaning the house, you can check your hair and make-up and pull on a skirt before answering the door.” When the laughter subsided, I turned to my husband and said, “I think I have a skirt that will fit you, but you have to buy your own make-up.” TImes have certainly changed.
I have been both a pastor’s secretary and a pastor’s wife. I have witnessed many painful things said and done to me personally and to my husband. I have considered writing a blog or a book to help those just beginning their journeys of God’s calling in their lives but I’m afraid it would be perceived as negative. But how can you warn your sisters in Christ of what they may encounter and how to handle it in a Christlike manner without mentioning the negatives? It takes years of experience to understand and learn how to deal with difficult people, while meanwhile you are struggling to remain joyful, spiritual, and prayerful. The road can become weary at times. I will stop here before this does become a book. LOL! I will end with this question. Do you think there is a need for this type of book or blog? I feel The Lord “may be” leading me to write it but I am seeking His confirmation. God Bless!
Trisha, you asked the question, “Do you think there is a need for this type of book or blog?” The answer is, Yes!
I believe that you have already started by responding to Thom’s blog!
I have authored 2 blogs that lift up pastors wives and remind all of us that we are not alone. Let God show you how He wants it done. Then do it.
One piece of advice I would offer in this: Pastor’s, fight for your wives. My wife got yelled at one time, unjustly, and I was headed down the street to get fired. She wouldn’t let me go, but later told me it meant so much to her that I was willing to get fired for her honor. Fight for your wives. Be willing to get fired for them.
Yes. That is really the key issue there. Your wife is right. A lot of pastors are so afraid they will get fired that they find it is easier to dump huge expectations onto their wives rather than to face unhappy church members. Kudos to you for being prepared to face a firing on behalf of your wife.
Bravo! Better yet, make it clear at the outset that you will not tolerate attacks on your wife.
I am a pastor’s wife. I appreciate the intent of the article to make church members aware of unbiblical expectations, and I have benefited from this blog.
But I’d also like to mention that some of these issues are actually symptoms of a bigger, self-inflicted problem. We pastor’s wives need to be careful that we do not train our church folks into treating us this way by accepting jobs and tasks that we don’t feel are from the Lord. If eleven people want to give us messages for our husbands after church, we don’t have to smile and say, “Ok, I’ll let him know!” I tend to think that some of the lay-people mentioned in this article did not mean to be unkind and would be surprised to know that they injured their pastor’s wife. Pastor’s wives, we are often our own worst task-masters. Be honest. Say no. Ask people to call your husband if they have a message or a question for him. And let go of what other people might be thinking. We really can (and should) set our own parameters.
Wise words, Kristie. Thank you.
If she is expected to play the piano, lead worship or be the children’s pastor she should get paid the same amount employees would be paid. If her make up has to be just right then she needs a paid personal makeup artist. But then how real would that be?
Yep. Probably not.
I’ve been married to my pastoring husband for almost 15 years. We consider ourselves a team, but he is the paid church employee and the one in charge. Regardless of our situation, Ephesians 2:10 calls us to find the good works that God has planned for us to do. I serve because that’s to where God has called me. And God has met every need and been faithful to us.
As a Southern Baptist and Director of Missions for an association, my wife is there to help the Pastor’s wives in our association. Since most Pastor’s wives usually have no one to turn to, in our association my wife befriends all the Pastor’s wives in our association. I am considered the Pastor to all my association’s Pastors and my wife has taken on the unofficial position as the confident and friend to all the Pastor’s wives in our association. She is there to listen to, give advise, laugh and cry with all our Pastor’s wives. All our children are grown and out of the house, so my wife has the time she needs to visit with and support all our Pastor’s wives.
When my dad received a call to a small inner city Baptist church in1948, in his acceptance “speech” if his wife & children were gifted in an area it was the responsibility of the congregation to encourage not discourage & not be judgmental. It is the responsibility of the pastor to set the ‘tone’ when he accepts a call. When women through the years have come to me (why I don’t know) to complain about some of the wives of staff members I just remind them we did not hire the wives, besides many of our staff wives have small children. A woman from another church wanted to “warn” me about our new pastor saying his wife was very matriarchal & he would be helping with the 4 children, as if that was a bad thing! 3 of staff have 4 children & 1 has 2 & we expect our men staff to be involved with their children.
Well said, Doranna.
Growing movement is for clergy spouse (pastor’s wife is quite outdated in most denominations) to attend a different church and some of my clergy family friends even different denomination.
My son is a pastor about 2100 miles away … and I am the business administrator of my local church. So I get these 10 points – presented well . But how about what are the 10 Reasonable Expectations of a Pastor’s wife? Setting “boundary’s” seems very tough for me.
Not an official list but some things that come to mind:
1. It is reasonable for a pastor’s spouse to participate in, or not participate in, ministries of their choosing. Like any other member of the church.
2. It is reasonable for a pastor’s spouse to not be a worship leader, reader, or musician/vocalist in the church. Unless those are their calling.
3. It is reasonable to expect a pastor’s spouse to participate in the life of the church as much as possible. Through regular attendance at worship; study classes and groups; small groups; and fellowship events. Just like any other member of the church.
4. It is reasonable for a pastor’s spouse to “simply sit” in the pew for worship and to have the normal emotional life of a human being. Just like any other member of the church.
The common refrain appears to be “like any other member of the church.” My wife was not hired by my parish and it was made clear that she is not the secretary, treasurer, or “First Lady”. She’s simply the pastor’s wife.
As the mother of young pastors and as a pastor’s daughter, I have witnessed much criticism of pastors and their wives. I have heard “I pay my tithes here; I have the right for my voice to be heard,” and once, after a young pastor’s wife posted a slang word in a text to her young friends, she was scathingly reprimanded by one of those friends for the use of the slang word. She called me weeping, not realizing that the oft-used word would offend anyone. I am grateful for the perfect example of our precious Lord in forgiving others, and for His precious Holy Spirit that lives in us Who enables us to offer undeserved forgiveness as well. Thank you for this ministry!
You have a great ministry helping these women, Pat.
Yup. You didn’t mention number 11—must play the piano. Just kidding, somewhat. The pastors I have been part of hiring/calling have addressed this. The first one I remember addressed this right up front saying “you are calling me not my wife. She will have her ministry within the church and she feels that she has a calling outside the church so do not have certain expectations for her within the church except what you expect from every member “. I thought that wise to address up front. Every interview since then I bring it up to make it clear that is the expectation moving forward with all staff spouses.