Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Special Needs of a Pastoral Spouse

I've never been a pastor or been married to a man in the ministry. But I have served as a secretary for two senior pastors in two different churches. Over the years I spent working with them, I came to be good friends with their spouses. This gave me a unique perspective on the life of a pastor's wife and her special challenges. In fact, it's what inspired me to write The Pastor's Wife (which, in case you haven't heard, releases February 2010 from Abingdon Press... we now return you to your previously scheduled post, already in progress...)

Being the wife of a pastor means...
  • You will be expected to oversee the Women's Ministry, even if you have no interest in doing so.
  • Most folks will know how to raise your children better than you, and they will tell you about it.... in detail.
  • If you go to the market without makeup on, you will run into the head tender of the church grapevine who will then tell everyone how tired you looked.
  • You will sometimes dread the arrival of Christmas and Easter, the two most hectic and exhausting times of the year for those who work in the church.
You think I'm kidding, but I learned all that stuff from spending time with my friends. The good news is, not everybody in a church body is like that. For the most part, people really do want to take good care of pastors and their families. Many just don't know how to do it.

So what can you do to support your pastor's wife?

Pray for her - She doesn't even need to know you're doing it, but feel free to ask her if she has any prayer needs. Don't offer them up for her. "Sally, I'm praying that God will lift your depression" might come as quite a surprise to Sally, who had no idea she was depressed.

Support her - What can you do to make her life easier? If she has children, you might offer to watch them some evening so she can have time to herself, or be alone with her husband. Don't be offended, however, if she doesn't take you up on your offer. She has her reasons, but you can be certain that the offer will warm her heart.

Squash the gossip - We should do this with anybody, but it's especially important with our church leadership. If someone tries to draw you into a catty discussion about what Sally is doing wrong, stop it right there. Encourage the person to pray for Sally instead of gossiping about her. Then you need to pray for both of them.

By the way, I realize that pastors come in both male and female genders, but for the sake of pronoun simplicity (and because the pastors I've worked for have been men) this post refers to supporting pastors' wives. If your pastor is a woman, please extend the same love of God to her husband.

To enter today's giveaway...
To mix things up a little, I'm giving away a $10 Target gift card. You can use it for yourself or, if you're so inclined, you can bless your pastor's spouse with it. To be entered, just leave a comment on this blog. Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address). I'll pick a winner at random on October 3rd. Remember, all comments left today will also be entered in our grand prize drawing on November 1st.


  1. What a beautiful purpose God has laid on your heart to write about and affirm Pastors and their families. I had to smile when I read your list, because they sure hit home! I think the hardest part for me is that it is expected that I be at the church every time the doors are open. Sure, it is my husband's job, but most careers are not a two-for-one deal. :)

    Great post! I've enjoyed the series this week.


  2. Yep, marvelous advice, Jen. You hit is spot on. May I add one more? If you attend a church that believes in tithing, don't ask your pastor's wife if she used 'your' tithes to buy that fancy new dress she's sporting.

    It's not in good taste.

  3. Thanks Jen. I wanted to add a thought to the "squash the gossip" tip.

    (Love)keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    One lesson I've learned very well at my current church is that love always requires us to assume the best about people. I'm sure my friends are sick of me saying things like, "Maybe you misunderstood," or, "I'm sure they meant well," or, "Maybe you hurt their feelings without knowing it and they were responding," or "Maybe something else is going on with them right now. We should pray."

    I think I could probably do a better job of looking for practical ways to serve my pastor and his wife.


  4. Great thoughts and suggestions! Thanks for sharing. Congrats on your book!

  5. Another wonderful post on how to serve those who serve us--and our Lord.

    Thanks, Jen! Lookin' forward to that ARC!!!!!!!!!!!


  6. Jen, you made me think! How could you?

    In all seriousness, I have been mulling over this post and I wanted to add one thing. Assume good intentions. This cuts both ways. People in the church can get up in arms because the pastor's wife did or said something they didn't like. On the other hand, a pastor's wife can become either an embittered martyr, or a timid church mouse because of the things said/done by members of the congregation.

    For the most part if assume good intentions from the people around us, we are able to forgive and move on with our lives, with a minimum of fuss.

    Oh, and the best part about it, is that if someone didn't have good intentions, well, you've robbed them of their power to hurt you. They will be baffled. Heh, heh, heh.

  7. Jen, this was beautiful.

    I love your expression: the head tender of the church grapevine. LOL!

    I'm feeling quite sad after reading your post, and I know it wasn't your intent. But my pastor's wife, a dear sweet woman with two beautiful young girls, passed away in June of cancer. My heart still breaks whenever I think of her. I know she's resting in our dear Father's hands, but I miss her.

  8. Your post made me smile, Jen, and reminded me of two funny stories:
    1. The day my car died in the middle of the street and I had just enough momentum to roll into the parking lot of the local liquor store. Had messages on my machine wanting to know what the pastor's wife was doing at the liquor store by the time I got home. (Note, they SAW my car and recognized it, but it never occurred to anyone to STOP!!!)
    2. The sweet prayer warrior who informed me I was carrying a terrible burden and needed it lifted. I spent WEEKS trying to find that burden!
    Ha ha. Thanks... I bet you've got all sorts of fun church secretary stories tucked away, don't you?

  9. Excellent post, Jen. We once belonged to a church in a bigger town that had outgrown the building. Instead of building a new place, the church decided to buy an older church building in the smaller community down the road. We lived between the 2 communities and had our choice to stay with the old or help build the congregation of the new. We choice the latter.

    Now here's where it gets interesting... when the Asst Pastor was at the 'big' church, I didn't realize his wife was an introvert. I mean I'd met her and everything but she wasn't a member of the worship team and mostly sat in the congregation. But when we started the 'little' church, suddenly she was in the spotlight. I remember attending the first women's night. We sat in a circle and everyone turned to her. I can't remember if she started to talk first or shake first but after a couple seconds, her words were shaking as well as her complete body. I wished so much to ease her struggle but was at a loss what to do. Somehow, we got through the evening. We were posted soon after that and I don't remember attending another women's night there so I don't know if she led another or not. But I always think she must've loved her husband very much to put herself in that position.

    God bless all the spouses of our ministers who support their loved ones with such care.

  10. A young wife like me can learn a lot from this blog! Thanks for the hard work and thanks for the reading recommendation P.L. : )

  11. When I was teaching at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, I advised students that when they interviewed for pastoral positions they should specifically raise the question of expectations of their spouse. The pastor's wife (or husband) is not paid for overseeing women's ministries, praying at every meeting the women have, playing the piano for Sunday School, etc. And she (or he) may not be gifted for or interested in that. On the other hand, there are some pastoral spouses who would be disappointed not to be asked to serve as a partner in the ministry. My Uncle Aaron and Aunt Margaret Webber, who were missionaries in Puerto Rico wrote a book entitled TWO FOR ONE - which meant that both of them were for the ONE, namely Christ, but also that the mission board got two of them for the price of one! Aunt Margaret felt called to work with women and children, and to serve in other ways.

    It is better to put these issues on the table right at the beginning.

    Wilda Morris

  12. Hi Everybody!

    Your comments and added suggestions have been great. Lots of good stuff to think about and ponder.

    Sherrinda, you're so right! Being a pastor is one of the few occupations where the spouse is expected to come with the package. (The only other one I can think of is politician).

    Niki, you got me laughing with your stories. BTW, your post earlier this week was awesome!

    Lisa, I love your advice to assume the best. That's so true, on both sides of the pew.

    Anita, the introverted pastor's wife does have an extra burden. Any introvert who's ever gone to a conference and had to be "on" for 4 days straight knows what we're talking about. Imagine having to be "on" every day!

    Dina, I love that scripture from II Corinthians. It's so true, and sometimes so hard to live by!

    Suzie, I'm so sorry about the loss of your sweet friend. She obviously made a great impact during her time on earth.

  13. Another great post Jen- and the ever insightful Inky Commenters.

    And I'm thrilled to see new faces and names.

    Remember to leave your email addresses (safely, as described at the bottom of each post) so you can be in the drawing for today's prize as well as our grand prize.

    I recall a friend (a pastor's wife ) saying that when she went to bible college she kept telling herself, 'the last thing i want to be is a pastor's wife'. Oops.

    I wonder if it isn't harder than being the pastor!

    When it comes down to it, like Wilda said, it's really a matter of serving as one and we must respect the boundaries that the couple needs to have.

  14. After being an elder's wife for many years, I can only imagine how much even harder it must be for a minister's wife. I think we should do everything possible to support them and show them our love. Thanks for this reminder.

  15. Wilda, great advice. That's one of the big issues in The Pastor's Wife - unspoken expectations on both sides and the havoc that creates.

    Rose, great to see you. I didn't know you were and elder's wife... I'll bet you were a great one :+}

  16. Great post, Jen, and some thought-provoking (and hilarious) comments. Praise God for those who lift pastors and their families before the Lord in prayer and befriend them! Great, practical advice here.

    Suzie, I am so sorry about your loss. How sad it is for us, even when we know our loved ones are in the arms of the Lord.

  17. When I was an undergrad at Asbury College, I steered clear of guys who wanted to be pastors. Even if God wanted me to be a pastor's wife, I was going to make sure it didn't happen. Girls who came to college in search of a future pastor to marry absolutely baffled me.

    I do think it's a calling, as much as any ministry.

    Y'all know my e-mail address.

  18. Wonderful post. Mind a few more?

    Don't assume anything new--from a hair bow to a house--was purchased with your money, especially if the pastor and/or his wife have a career beyond the church.

    Don't assume the pastor's wife can, or would be willing to, introduce you to your future spouse. (I can't tell you how many times I'd been asked to do this.)

    Lastly, think. Is your issue really dire enough for a phone call to the pastor's home, interrupting dinner, disturbing the children's bedtime, or waking the household from sleep? Is it really okay for you to drop by just because you know where the pastor lives and it's on your way to (fill in the blank)? Funny how people do to their pastor's what they would never do to their friends or family.

    Thankfully, the vast majority of church members, in my experience, truly care about not only the pastor but his entire family.

  19. I found the comments about assuming things were bought with your tithe money really interesting. I don't think I've been involved in a congregation that was that petty, although of course I've heard of such things.

    Depending on the type of church this must be very confusing. Some churches want their pastors poor while others want them to maintain a certain image and decorum. I guess that's another expectation that would be helpful to figure out before hand and clarify if necessary.

  20. Great post! Some wonderful advice was provided. I think we all need to be reminded of this no matter what position we hold in church.


  21. Jen: Thank you for this wisdom.
    When I married my pastor husband thirty-five years ago, I had no idea...

    If I had, I would've started a universal 24/7 prayer team for all pator's families.

    The most painful thing to bear is hearing people criticize my husband, misjudging his motives. If only they could listen in on our concern-filled conversations and prayers for them...


  22. Our winner for this post is Jeanette! Congrats, and thanks to all who stopped by.


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We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.