Being a pastor’s wife isn’t always easy.
I’ve heard a number of pastors and pastors’ wives say that a pastor and his wife should never become close friends with members of their congregation. I’ve been told that if/when you’re completely honest about yourself with members, then that information can (and perhaps will) be used against you. A number of pastors’ wives that I know have been burned in that way, and so I’ve learned not to put myself into that situation. It doesn’t mean one can’t be friends or be friendly with one’s congregation; a pastor and his wife should be approachable and hospitable and friendly. But the true, close friends of a pastor and his wife probably should not be members of their own congregation. And sometimes, that’s frustrating.
One can’t ever completely trust people in the congregation, because you just never know what might happen. Members may turn out to be involved in some sin, big or small, and once you find out about it, it changes your opinion of them. Or after a while they may stop coming to church as frequently, and then your husband has to try to track them down and discover the reason. Or they may turn out to be causing problems and headaches for your husband in other ways. It’s no big surprise that all the members of a church are sinners, but often times their sins greatly impact your husband’s ministry.
As a pastor’s wife, there are also expectations of things you should do — or should not do. I’ll never forget one of my first Sunday mornings at our church when a member came up to me and informed me that the previous pastor’s wife had always put on a pot of coffee before the morning Bible class. “That was very nice of her,” I informed the member, “but I don’t drink coffee.” I smiled politely and walked away. Other pastors’ wives I know of haven’t been so lucky, and have been coerced into doing things at their church that they really didn’t want to do. Some pastors’ wives feel a desire to be greatly involved in the church, and then get criticized for it. Other wives don’t care to be too involved in the church, and they also get criticized for not being involved enough.
If a pastor and his family are in a situation where they live on or next to the church property, as the pastor’s wife you inevitable find out things that you probably weren’t meant to. You run into people, you can tell who’s on the church property by whose cars are parked in the lot, and when you’re in a church with only one service on Sunday morning, you know who is and who isn’t in church on a regular basis. You don’t go looking for that information, but when you live on the church property, it’s there all the time.
And, if a pastor and his family live in the parsonaage (a home provided by the church), then that can create it’s own set of problems. I have heard stories from other pastors’ wives of congregational members walking into the parsonage without knocking (sometimes catching people in … well, awkward moments), forbidding the pastor and his family to put nails in on which to hang up pictures, or to paint walls, and even verbally judging the pastor’s wife’s housekeeping. I’ve also heard stories of congregations refusing to fix major problems in the parsonage, because “the pastor should just be happy that we’ve given him a house at all.” I have to confess that I was shocked at the stories I heard at a recent district-wide gathering of pastors’ wives. In this regard, my husband and I have been very blessed at our church.
All of this means that pastors and their wives have to maintain a tricky balancing act. And when members of the church assume the worst about the pastor and his wife in a given situation, that makes things even worse (which also has happened to people I’ve known). As the wife of a pastor, you may know just how much work your husband puts in during an average week (not to mention unusual weeks!) However, since members only see what happens on Sunday morning, some may question what your husband does all week, or they may think that adding more tasks to the pastor’s workload is no big deal. Then, as the wife of your dejected and de-moralized pastor/husband, you have the job of trying to figure out just what happened during that meeting to make your husband feel so down, and then if he allows himself to tell you what really happened, you have to try to put your own feelings aside to help build your husband’s confidence levels back up.
But, it’s not all bad. There are good things to being a pastor’s wife, too. Every time you have a theological question, you have someone readily available to answer your question. Every time your husband does marital counseling, he comes home a better husband to you than he was before. When people have leftover food after a church function, they often give it to you. A certain amount of respect is accorded to you as the wife of the pastor. (That one took me a bit to get used to at first.) Your husband probably works more evenings than most people, but he also can have a more flexible schedule when needed, such as when you’ve just had a baby and he makes you big, healthy breakfasts every morning. He will probably take his day off during the week, and local sites of interest are usually a lot less crowded on a weekday. He may discuss various points of the Bible Class or the sermon with you, and sometimes those discussions bring up interesting thoughts of your own, and once in a while, he uses those thoughts of yours in Bible Class or in the sermon, which makes you feel smart and useful. And finally, it’s a weighty priviledge to know that your husband is an important tool that God uses to bring people to faith and keep them in faith.
I’m not sorry I became a pastor’s wife. I’m glad I married the man I did, and I firmly believe that God wants us to be together. In fact, from my teenage years forward, I always pictured myself marrying a pastor or teacher. I grew up with two teachers for parents, and I understand what it’s like to live in a called worker’s family. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, and there is much I enjoy about being a pastor’s wife. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a husband who had no expectations about what a pastor’s wife should or should not do. When I was a brand-new pastor’s wife, I asked my husband how I should be and what I should do to be a good pastor’s wife, and he wisely told me, “Do however much or little you want. Just be yourself.” So, that’s what I’ve tried to do. Sometimes I do more, sometimes I do less. Things I want to get involved in, I do, and things I don’t really want to do, I don’t.
Being a pastor’s wife is an unusual path in life, and only people who have done it or are doing it really understand what it’s like. Others may think they understand, and other career paths may be similar in their roles and expectations, but there’s nothing quite like the ups and downs of being a pastor’s wife.