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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  • Jonathan God says on

    How about: Every pastor’s wife is expected to be a gifted public speaker.

  • This is so on point. I’ve often said that being a pastor or a pastor’s spouse is like being a dog at a whistlers’ convention. I do think that things are better in larger congregations, at least in the experience that my wife and I have had.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      “Dog in a whistlers’ convention.” Now that’s a keeper.

      • I agree. I had never heard the phrase, and it is a keeper. I remember one member that chastised our pastor because he did not visit him in the hospital. The pastor asked if he had told him he was going into the hospital, and he said no. The pastor asked him how was he supposed to know.
        I visited the member, and he told me the same story, and I reacted the same way the pastor did. He told me he “should have known.” I told him there was no way the pastor should have known.

      • What? You didn’t know pastors were supposed to have mental telepathy???? 😉 I didn’t know it, either, but that seems to be the expectation of some members.

  • Thanks for this post. We need to remember that pastor’s wives are human just like us.

  • Rev. Kim Osborn says on

    I am FLABBERGASTED that in 2017 we are still hearing concerns about the “pastor’s wife.” Isn’t it about time that we speak about the “pastor’s spouse”? I have been a pastor for 17 years, and I am sick and tired of not being included in these conversations because in my context, the pastor is female and happens to have a husband. And don’t think for one minute that the same expectations are not placed on the husband. He is expected to attend and participate in everything I do. They even tried to interview him as part of the call process, which I absolutely refused to allow. Come on, folks. Be more sensitive AND inclusive of your readers.

    • Marguerite Colson says on

      Rev. Kim –

      1. Thom clearly explained why he wrote this post as he did.
      2. Instead of being so self-centered and politically correct, why don’t you see how many ladies this post has helped?
      3. You need to get over yourself.

      • Rev. Kim Osborn says on


        Thanks for allowing some room for a dissenting opinion.

        And thanks for proving my point.

    • Rev. Kim,
      There are also Christian people who sadly treat the male pastor’s wife differently than they would the female pastor’s husband. Dr. Rainer is trying to draw attention to the unChristian behavior and the problem. I am sure he and most people here would love if that blog post did not need writing.

    • I sometimes wonder how people would react if I went to the blog of a female pastor and started lecturing her on why it’s not scriptural for women to serve in that position? Many of them would probably regard such actions as obnoxious. I feel the same way about people who come on Dr. Rainer’s blog and, instead of respecting his beliefs on this issue, demand that he yield to theirs.

  • My wife has always set firm boundaries and all of the churches I have served at have been very good. At my previous church, because our two children with severe autism were still living with us, my wife was only able to attend worship a few times a year. While they missed her, there was no condemnation or criticism.

  • I am really sad to read the above comments. Supposedly you are all Christians have you read the Bible? If so, why is everyone being so mean?

    • Who’s being mean? Most of the comments are about the meanness people have experienced from so-called Christians.

      • They are very mean spirited toward congregations and people therein. I don’t think that type of bashing is appropriate for ANY church members.

  • Thank you, Thom for these. I reviewed them with my husband and we agreed that most of these don’t apply to most churches that we have served. The one that does applies to us also applied to a lot of Christians – that we need to be emotionally together. If we aren’t then the culture uses that as a reason not to attend church. Great article!!

  • Thank you for sharing. Even though unspoken there definitely is a stereotype of expectations of the pastor’s wife which is sad.

    Bringing awareness as you have done is so very important.

  • Elsie Wiles Stukes says on

    Thank you so much for sharing the comments I just read. My husband and I ministered together for 51 years until his death. Alot of these comments certainly were true and if you are or have been a pastor’s wife, you will relate to many of these incidents. God bless all the pastors and their wife and family.

  • My husband is a music minister. When we first got married he was working part time at a church while finishing up his masters, and I worked full time for the seminary. At that church no one ever said an unkind word to me, but every Monday the pastor chewed my husband out about me – I skipped Sunday school to fix the church projector, I wasn’t dressed right, I missed church because I was working at an evangelism conference, I went to the wrong Sunday school class, I sat on the wrong end of the pew……. and because of all this I was going to be the death of his ministry. He told my husband that he might as well give up and find a different profession. The pastor never once had a conversation with me that went beyond him saying “How are you….good, good.” It was incredibly hard for us to deal with as newlyweds. I’m just grateful we survived.

  • Re #8. My husband got fired because I slammed the door to the offices after the senior pastor was mean to a church member. Truth. Granted, I shouldn’t have slammed the door in anger, but to fire my husband because he “couldn’t control me” is pretty bad.
    And that church no longer exists. There were deep, deep problems there.

  • Dave Holmgren says on

    I love this post Dr. Rainer. It is very relevant for today. I cannot tell you how many times during interview processes for pastoral ministry I get asked the same question and that is “Is your wife part of your ministry?” She usually give the same response and that is “my wife supports my ministry and me however she may not always be in my ministry as she has other callings and purposes in her life.” When going through this process many churches sometimes look at hiring a package deal. Just because my heart and passion is Student Ministry does not mean that it is my wife’s. I love the way my wife responds to people that question her and her role. She simply says “My ministry is to God first and then my family second and all church ministry falls behind that.” Pastor wife’s should not be placed on a pedestal, be a messenger, or be expected to live up to please everyone in the church.