5 Common Myths About Being a Pastor’s Wife
Editor’s Note: This article was written by the wife of an American clergyman. There are enough similarities in the role between the UK and U
For many years I’ve been married to a pastor, and it’s been a great life! But as a pastor’s wife, I have had to live with some myths common among Christians today. Here are five.
Myth #1: My pastor’s wife is biblically educated.
How every pastor’s wife wishes this were true! It would make feedback on her husband’s Sunday sermon so much easier. It would help when she is asked to bring the devotional at the next baby shower, or to teach the 8th grade girls Sunday School class, or to lead the new Bible study for the women’s ministry.
But most of us ministry wives worked to put our husbands through seminary or were home caring for little children. Many seminaries do have a student wives ministry, which is tremendously beneficial to us. Dr. Howie Hendricks taught a student wives class on “The Christian Home” each Thursday night for a semester when Ray studied at Dallas Theological Seminary. I found it so valuable. And Dr. Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Survey gave me a foundation for understanding the Bible that I still draw upon all these decades later. What a gift these professors gave us wives after spending themselves all day in the classroom with our husbands! I am deeply grateful for these classes and others that I was able to participate in.
But I also remember many evenings during those seminary years when I would fight envy as Ray studied his Greek and Hebrew texts or wrote a paper on some fascinating theological question while I worked on correcting papers and revising lesson plans for my second-grade class. It is the rare pastor’s wife who has access to the years of biblical training that her husband has had. Your pastor’s wife may not be as scripturally deep as you would wish but show her grace by recognizing that we all are growing together (Col. 1:19). She, too, is a pilgrim on her pathway to Heaven, learning and deepening as she travels with you. Give her the freedom to mature along the way.
Myth #2: My pastor’s wife has spiritual gifts that she will use publicly in our church.
Perhaps your previous pastor’s wife was a gifted musician or an engaging Bible teacher or particularly good with children, and you are hoping—maybe even expecting—to benefit from the spiritual gifts of your present pastor’s wife. While it is true that “each has his own gift from God,” that verse goes on to say, “one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7). Bless your pastor’s wife by freeing her to serve her King with the specific gift he has granted her. Whatever her spiritual gift is, it may be invisible to many in the congregation. I believe the greatest spiritual gift she can give to her church is to love and care for her pastor-husband in all the ways that only a strong, Spirit-filled wife can. What a gift that will be to her husband and children, to her congregation and beyond, as you free her from comparison with other ministry wives.
Myth #3: It is easy for my pastor’s wife to build a family superior to mine.
We all hope that building a strong Christian family is within reach, and we search our Christian community for proof that it just might be possible. In that search, most eyes come to rest on the pastor’s home, trusting that this is one family we can look to for assurance that it can be done! After all, “If they can’t get it right, how can I?” And so, we scrutinize, and even judge, what we see in their marriage and among their children when we find something less than stellar.
Rest assured that your pastor’s wife can feel the unintended but real pressures from her church family to have a sparkling marriage and exemplary children. Let me give you a peek into her heart because these pressures require her to confront some unique challenges.
Your pastor’s wife loves and serves the flock her husband leads, yet at the same time needs to protect their children from the inevitable criticism that filters down to her about them. She wants to teach her children to please the Lord Jesus Christ above anyone else—even members of their church—because following him is the best way to live, but that is not always easy in a group setting. She also tries to persuade her children that they are more important to her and their father than any church member is, while at the same time teaching them that ministry is a glorious privilege! It is hard to strike a balance here. She could use your help! Offer her the space she needs as she raises her family to love Christ first while under public gaze.
One final thought. It is perfect when your pastor’s wife does not have the perfect family! What every congregation really needs to see is a family serving God with wholehearted devotion while dealing with the realities of sinful parents raising sinful children in this broken and confusing world. That authenticity and vulnerability will be a more convincing witness for Christ than building a “perfect” family.
Myth #4: My pastor’s wife doesn’t care about me because she doesn’t remember my name.
Granted, names are important—very important, especially to the name-bearer. But try to give your pastor’s wife the benefit of the doubt here. Surely this doesn’t need to feel like a moral offense against you personally. She probably feels worse about it than you do! I can tell you from personal experience that she wants to know everyone in the congregation by name. After all, her husband wouldn’t have a ministry without you all. She and her husband are investing their whole lives in you. But sometimes, especially if your church is growing, it is just impossible to keep up with all the names.
How can you help her? Just smile at her as you look her straight in the eye and say, “I can’t imagine how many names you have to keep up with. I’m Jane Smith and I’m happy to tell you every time we meet if that would help lift any burden from your overloaded shoulders.” And then do tell her your name the next time and the next and the next. I’m pretty sure that your understanding and kindness will help her remember you!
Myth #5: My pastor’s wife is so well-connected at church she doesn’t need me.
Don’t believe this myth for a minute! She may look well-connected, but too many wives of pastors live a solitary and somewhat lonely life. Her husband usually works on Saturdays when other families are spending time together. Sunday mornings and holiday services usually find the pastor leaving home earlier than his wife and children, so your pastor’s wife is probably getting the children ready for church on her own. After getting everyone there, she will most likely sit alone. It is not easy for her. So, go ahead and initiate friendship toward her. I find it very endearing when a church member reaches out to me.
Every church has its own subculture, and you could be a bridge for her to understand the intangibles of your church. Ask if you could take her out for coffee or bring some cookies by and get to know her better. And then, without prying, ask her about herself: how she came to faith, what her family is like, what she likes to do in her spare time. In other words, get to know her as a real person and a friend, not just as your pastor’s wife. Tell her what you love about your church. If you can, think of reasons why you are glad God called her family to serve Christ at your church.
Some ministry wives find it hard to develop deep friendships because in the past they have experienced repeated loss through the transitory nature of some church relationships. Believe me, your pastor’s wife needs you. She needs a friend. She needs a woman with whom she can be authentic and vulnerable, for whom she doesn’t have to be perfect. She will never be too well-connected for that kind of relationship. Go ahead and reach out to her. You both will be glad you did!
Let’s lay these myths to rest. Our fellowships will be sweeter, and our churches will be stronger for God’s greater glory and our greater joy!
Jani Ortlund is the author of Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those Who Love Them. Used with permission from Crossway.