The Pastors Wife Case Study

I receive volumes of blog comments, emails, and social media communications every day. On occasion, one of those comments will stop me in my tracks, like this recent blog post comment.

I am providing it to you almost completely unedited. I made a few edits to protect the identity of the writer.

I respectfully request you not to lecture this lady, but to offer prayer and encouragement. The headings are mine, but the words are hers.

The Lonely Pastor’s Wife

“Please allow me to share my feelings about the last many years of being a pastor’s wife. I tried on many occasions to talk to my husband about it (loneliness, neglect, wanting at least one evening a week together, lack of dating, etc.). We’ve gone to marriage seminars, talked to mentor ministry couples, and, still, things don’t change.”

The Pastor with the Messed Up Priorities

“He never schedules time for investing in our marriage and works all week in the office and then up all night on Saturdays getting his sermon ready. He leaves early Sunday mornings for preparations for the service and, by the time he gets home in the afternoon, he’s exhausted and definitely doesn’t feel like doing anything active or fun with the kids and me. He just wants to veg out on the couch.”

The Pastor Who Does Not Listen

“When I try to talk about my feelings, I’m “complaining” and not “following the call for my life.” I’m so tired of the cycle of neglect, loneliness, rejection, and hurt that, I hate going to church, don’t read my Bible anymore, and have to fight thoughts of divorce every single day. The church definitely feels like his mistress. I’m so hopeless and feel that I’m trapped. The one place I should be able to turn to, the church, is what is killing me on the inside.”

The Plea for Help

“If anyone has a recommendation for a fair and reasonable counselor in the Houston area who is used to working discreetly with people in my and my husband’s position, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m down to my last resort before bailing.”

My Reason for Sharing This Information

Any time I hear about a marriage failing, I feel sick to stomach. It happens too often. And it happens too often with those who are in vocational ministry. Of course, it is not limited to the role of pastor. Such cries of hurt are emanating from the spouses of all kinds of church staff.

So I offered her words to you with the hope that it could be a caution for all of us in vocational ministry. Love your spouses. Love your family. Take care of them. Give them the priority mandated by Scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-5).

And please pray for this pastor’s wife. She is truly hurting.

Bertha and her husband Gary were young and just getting started in the Lord’s work. Gary would sometimes be invited to preach in a church and at other times sing. This particular Sunday, after the service Bertha waited while her young groom stood near the piano talking with one of the women in the church.

The woman’s daughter, perhaps 9 years old, stood nearby staring at Bertha. At length, she spoke up.

“Do you sing?” she asked.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t sing,” said Bertha.

The child was quiet a long moment. Then, “Do you play the piano?”

“No,” Bertha answered. “I don’t play the piano.”

The child stared at her while processing this information. Finally, she blurted out, “Don’t you do anything?”

Ask any pastor’s wife. The expectations on her can be enormous. One would think that it was she who was being employed by the church and not her husband.

In time, Bertha found her “job” in the church. In addition to taking very good care of the pastor (she cut Gary’s hair and shined his shoes on Saturday nights!) and their two children, she became the unofficial greeter in churches they served. On Sundays she roamed the congregation greeting people, hugging the young and old, welcoming newcomers, and ministering to the seniors. She provided a depth of warmth and personalness which a pastor can only dream of having.

To this day, Bertha–my bride of nine months–can be found all over the churches where I preach. As a schoolteacher all her adult life, she has no trouble meeting strangers, and roams up and down the aisles talking to everyone. When the service ends and we are heading for the parking lot, it’s she who gets stopped by everyone and hugged and invited back. They hardly know I’m there.

And I love it.

When Larry and Sandy went to their big church, we were excited for them. Larry was a fine preacher and a solid leader “with his head on straight.” Sandy would play the organ for the church whenever she was there.

Sandy was a nurse. She worked in a large hospital in the downtown area. And from time to time, this required her to work weekends. So, there were times when the pastor’s wife was not in church, but on duty at the local medical center caring for people in crisis.

The criticism was immediate. How dare the pastor’s wife not be in church every Sunday? Why, when Pastor Elrod was here, his wife was president of the missionary union? And she knew every child’s name by heart. Isn’t the pastor’s wife sort of the hospitality leader of the church? I know it’s not spelled out in the personnel manual anywhere, but isn’t that just assumed?

And then, something happened to stop the criticism.

A church leader found himself having surgery, the life-threatening kind that puts the fear of the Lord into a person. And when he looked up and saw that the nurse was his pastor’s wife, that sweet and lovely lady who often played the organ for worship, his heart jumped for joy. The comfort of her presence was immeasurable.

You’re a pastor’s wife. What will you do?

Every spouse of every minister gets asked this question. So, you may as well come up with a stock answer for it and have it ready.

“I take care of the pastor so he can take care of you.” That’s a good response. And all that is necessary.

Most people who ask that question–even the search committees–are not making demands on you, and they are definitely not trying to “start something.” This is simply their way of inquiring how you see your role in the church. So, do not overreact.

Do. Not. Overreact.

Just have a simple, sweet answer ready. Say it, smile big, and be quiet.

In most cases, they will be fine with that.

There was a day, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when enormous expectations were placed on the wife of the pastor. Perfect kids, dressed to the nines every Sunday, leadership in missions, and ready to bring an inspirational talk on the spur of the moment. They’re not doing that any more, to my knowledge. More and more, pastors’ wives are being allowed to find their niche and decide for themselves what the Lord has for them in that church.

Here’s a verse for you, pastor’s wife…

“Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves. But our sufficiency is of God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5)

I’ve never met a pastor’s wife who felt capable and adequate for the responsibility thrust upon her, particularly at first. But in time, the reality of 2 Corinthians 3:5 sets in and they find that the Lord is not only with her husband when he goes about the work of the shepherd, but He is just as much on the job with her. The real joy comes when she sees how God is using “my little bit.” Those words of love and encouragement, her ministry of prayer, the loaves of banana bread she bakes (eight at a time!) and distributes to certain ones in the congregation, and such.

God bless all pastors’ wives. And yes, the husbands of pastors also.

It’s the greatest life there is. But I cannot leave this matter there. Please read Matthew 10 starting with verse 16 and going through the end of the chapter. This is the fine print on the call God has given you and your spouse. So, don’t be surprised when the best people act in the worst way, my friend. Keep your eyes on the Lord and not on man.

People will let you down; He never will. Your sufficiency is of Christ and only Him.

Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/tapgoodimages

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