Monday, January 25, 2010

The Perfect Pastor’s Wife

from Susanne Dietze

As the wife of a pastor, I always enjoy reading books about clergy, from biographies to romances to Jan Karon’s Mitford series -- so it's no surprise that I've eagerly awaited the release of The Pastor’s Wife by Inkwell's own Jennifer AlLee. Jen (a generous friend, I should note, and a great writer) may not be a pastor’s wife herself, but she’s worked alongside clergy, and I know her story’s portrayal of the couple’s relationship will be authentic, as full of challenge as it is love, with a faith grounded in Jesus.

Challenge, love and Jesus. Being a pastor’s wife, like anything else in life, comes with an abundance of both struggle and grace, with the ever-present opportunity for God to be glorified through every situation.
Wedding ringsImage via Wikipedia

I don’t know about the other Inkies who are married to pastors (there are a few of us!), but I never daydreamed about becoming a pastor’s wife. The role came with the guy, however, and he was pretty cute. He’d already been called into ministry when we got together, and it became clear that God had called us to marriage, too.

Though I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, I am absolutely not a perfect pastor’s wife. Whatever that is. All I know to do is to lean on Jesus when it comes to this role I’m in, because there’s no handbook to form our understanding of what comprises such a paragon. If a how-to book indeed existed for us, we’d probably find that our situations, personalities, and gifts are too variable for a one-size-fits-all manual, anyway. Still, I sometimes wish there were something for us gals, with chapters like "Hair-dos and -don'ts for Pleasing Your Flock," "Potluck Planning for Pennies" and "Expectations and You."

Ah, the expectations. That's a chapter I could've used a long time ago.

They vary by denomination, congregation, and individual parishioners, but spoken or unspoken, they’re placed on pastor’s wives all the same. Some expectations I’ve heard of include looking put-together (well…), remembering everyone’s name (I try, honest), and knowing the exact location of everything in the church kitchen (forget that one.). She should model Christ’s love to all, be at ease with her husband's busy schedule, and bear a natural smile. And let’s not forget that her kids should be well-behaved and happy.

What about some other expectations? Can a pastor’s wife say no to serving on a committee? Or buy socks from a higher-end retailer? Can she write romance novels? Or “hide away” nursing a baby on a Sunday morning, when she’s a public persona? You may laugh, but I’ve been called out on these things (and many more). I’ve been hurt, and then I’ve asked God to help me discern if I’m in error, and if I’m not, to help me toughen my skin (which is an essential skill if I’m going to keep writing romance novels).

Then there are the blessings. No how-to manual on clergy life could've prepared me for those amazing gifts, either.

Being married to a pastor has enabled me to be part of people’s lives in a special way, because this unique position comes with a sense of trust and spiritual intimacy attached to it. I love my church family, and I’ve been honored and humbled to be present in some of the most important moments in a person’s life. I’ve held hours-old newborns and prayed during surgeries. I’ve been blessed to share God’s love in opportunities I might not have had if my husband hadn’t held the title of “pastor.”

Remembrance of one rainy morning never fails to humble me. I was a new mother, and the elderly wife of a parishioner was hospitalized, rapidly succumbing to cancer. “Sally” (we’ll call her) did not attend church with “Bob.” On this day, however, Sally finally agreed to let my husband visit her. They talked a long time about God’s grace.

Then she wanted to hear about our baby. “Sally loves babies,” Bob explained. “It’s too bad she never came to church. She could’ve seen your little one then. She always said she wanted to.”

When my husband related this to me, I called Bob. And with his excited permission, I dressed the baby like it was Easter Sunday and drove to the hospital. Baby in arms, I met Bob in the hallway, and we went into the hospital room.

Sally did not have much life in her. She could hardly speak, but her eyes sparked when she saw us. After pleasantries, I asked if I could set the baby on the bed with her, and she nodded, moving her fingers to show me where.
holding_baby_fingers-t1Image by ohadweb via Flickr

It was a bit awkward, propping the baby up on the bed as I squatted alongside, but Sally couldn’t take her eyes off of my little one, who, freshly nursed, was in an excellent mood, all smiles and gurgles. Sally’s fingers stroked the baby’s leg.

I chatted about the baby, and then found myself saying, “It will be all right. God loves you, and Bob too.”

Tears filled her eyes, and I realized that she was worried about Bob. I promised that we’d be there to help him through this. And I was able to tell her more about God’s grace and mercy.

More family arrived, and it was time for us to go. Sally’s eyes followed us out.

Bob called hours later. Sally had passed on. Some might find it presumptuous that I’d haul a baby to the hospital to visit a dying woman I’d never met, especially on her last day on earth. In fact, it seems to be just the sort of thing that would wind up on the "don't do" list in a clergy wife how-to manual (send casserole and pray, yes. Take baby to hospital, no.). I can say with certainty, though, that I believe God wanted me and my baby there, and I feel honored and thankful that God used me and my unique position to say something that perhaps Sally needed to hear.

I am not a perfect pastor’s wife. But I serve a perfect Lord, who is always available for me to lean on. I’m thankful for His strength as I journey with my husband on the path God’s called us to walk.

Stay tuned all week as we celebrate our own Jennifer AlLee's The Pastor's Wife, available in February from your favorite local bookseller,,, and
When you hear “perfect pastor’s wife,” what images come to your mind? Do you have expectations of your pastor’s wife? Even I have a few pet expectations. I’ll share in a bit…

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  1. Great post!!!
    I LOVE our pastors' wives at Grace for their effort to be independent, interesting women yet "stand by their men."

    Hmmm. What do I like in a pastor's wife? A love for the peeps in the church. A willingness to be real and share struggles.

    Sigh. About The Pastor's Wife. Stayed up WAYYYY too late reading it and will bring somethin' to ya tomorrow about Jen and her great second novel.


  2. I've already read the Pastor's Wife. I'll be doing the review on Saturday, and I will give this away, it has a lot to do with those awful expectations and how one woman learned to navigate them.

    Honestly, I think the only "expectation" on a Pastor's Wife should be to be a good wife for her husband, whatever that means in their particular situation.

    Actually, one of my favorite pastor's wives I've had over the years was a quiet woman who came to church on Sunday morning, sat beside her husband, and was a working woman during the week. She was an intercessor but did so quietly on her own time. As I got to know the couple better, I realized that her husband often went to her for advice and counsel, but they mostly kept that to themselves. As it turned out, she was a very prophetic sort of woman. But she was not involved in church ministry at all. I thought she set a great example.

    Great post, Susanne. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  3. Thank you, Susanne! I'm a missionary wife and we face lots of the same challenges and joys. It has been my personal experience that overseas I have more freedom to define my role. The church is younger and doesn't have a certain image of what they expect. It can be a culture shock to return to the States and for everyone and their brother to simply assume that I play the piano and/or sing. I wish I could do those things, but believe me, it's not where my gifting lies!

    I think the expectations become wearing because they are so constant. Let down your 'persona' for one minute to make a midnight run to the grocery store for diapers and cough syrup and you are absolutely guaranteed to run into a parishoner. Sigh

    But, like Susie said there are some wonderful blessings that come with with this ministry. And yes, it is a ministry, even if only to your husband. We have so many opportunities to impact lives and do things that will matter not just here, but eternally.

  4. This was lovely, Susie. Everytime I read something like this, it gives me a new appreciation for wives in the ministry. Your story about taking the baby to see the dying woman was beautiful and it opened the way for you to give her assurance about her husband. What a precious moment.

    So, on a light note, have you read a book called Desperate Pastors Wives? I think that's the title. It's all about those expectations and these pastor's wives meet secretly once a week or once a month in a nearby town, just to relax and let their hair down so-to-speak. You might enjoy this. There was one particular scene that gave me the giggles so bad in the middle of the night that I had to leave the room so my husband wouldn't wake up. And though the book is humorous, there is a real truth to the heavy burdens we place on pastors' wives.

  5. This is great. I assume it would be a huge challenge to be the pastor wife or child. I need to pick up this book and take a peek into your world.

  6. This is a good way to start "The Week of Jen"! Thanks Susie.

    I sometimes thinking being the pastor's wife is the hardest role in the church.

    Here's to the first official Inktropolis Author Week!

  7. Good morning! Sorry I'm a bit late; it's been one of those days. Anyhoo, so glad to see you here. Isn't it exciting to have our first Author Week? Yay, Jen!

    I'm always curious to learn what people expect of their pastors' families. It's sometimes jarring what comes out of people's mouths, followed by, "for a pastor's kid" or "pastor's wife."

    Lisa, don't you know that all of us sing and play piano? LOL. That's chapter one in my clergy wife handbook! :-) I hear you girlfriend. I love to sing but no one who's ever heard me has then insisted I join the choir.

    I am so fortunate that in my community, I don't feel I have to wear "full makeup" everywhere I go, but I have friends who do. And then again, it seems everytime I go out feeling less than fabulous, shall we say, I run into people. But I think that's Murphy's Law for all of us. Friday night we went out to celebrate great report cards. I'd been outside all afternoon in the rain, working the kids' end of quarter play day, and with my wet stringy hair I resembled Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Of course, we ran into 3 sets of parishioners and another pastor family.

    I said I'd share my own personal, pet expectation for pastor's wives and here it is: confidentiality. I would think it should be something all Christians would strive for, but it grieves me when clergy and spouses air someone else's laundry.

  8. Dina, I agree that a pastor's wife should support her husband. He absolutely needs it.

    Patti, you are so right about loving the congregation. Have you ever experienced a pastor's wife who doesn't seem to care? I have, and it's sad. I am so blessed to be part of my church family.

    What you said about being real with people is something I agree with 100%, but it's been an interesting struggle for me to be open and truly myself with everyone, yet draw an appropriate line in order to protect my family. I will never share things that I couldn't say with my husband present, or that might hurt his career or our family in some way. This seems like common sense, but it's actually difficult for me.

  9. Suzie, I have not seen that book. Sounds awesome! I'm going to have to hunt for it.

    Thanks for coming by, T Anne! Jen's book will be available soon, and it's also being given away on several blogs in the next few weeks, including a few of the Inkies' blogs. I hope you enjoy it! Have a wonderful day.

  10. As one of the Inkies who is also a pastor's wife, I struggled with my new identity when we started. Help came in the form of an elderly lady I cleaned house for whose husband had been an Episcopal priest. We were chatting about the expectations placed on pastors' wives, and her answer STILL makes me laugh. When asked by a church board what she considered her role to be, she answered, with a straight face, "My job is to sleep with the pastor."
    That simplifies things. : )

  11. Hey Susanne,
    Fun post! I think Niki summed it up best with the words of the Episcopal priest's wife: "My job is to sleep with the pastor." :) LOVE IT!

    I'd add, set a good example by taking care of yourself, and setting boundaries to protect your time.

  12. Being a pastor's wife is a special calling and I respect those of you who are called. For me, I wouldn't even think of dating a guy who intended to become a pastor, though my undergrad, Asbury College, was full of them. It's kind of like Caesar's wife being above reproach or something like that.

    Yet the most precious pastor's wife in a church I've attended is a woman who has an amazing testimony about depression, attempted suicide, and recovery, a testimony that has helped others in the church to heal.

    Yes, God certainly uses the imperfect who don't follow the rule book. God bless you, Suzanne, Gina, and the other pastor's wives Inkies. You need an extra helping of Grace.

  13. Great job with the post, Susie! Beautiful story about you bringing the baby in... you followed your heart and became a vessel for God's use. Awesome!

    Yup, I love Niki's story, too.

    My sister is a pastor's wife and her stories floor me when I hear of some parishioner's expectations. You're right - it's like they assume you've been given a book of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) and know instinctively how to react in any given situation. Phooey! How many people would attend a church with perfect leaders? Or at least leaders who speak of themselves as being perfect? Or let themselves be 'doormats'? I certainly wouldn't.

  14. Hello Ladies! Sorry to join the party so late. I'm battling a nasty headcold, but I'm making my way back to healthy.

    This was a great post, Susie. I have so much respect for those who have married into ministry. As for my expectations of a pastor's wife, I expect the same thing I do of myself and any other Christian: to live her faith and share the love of Christ. How she chooses to do that and to what extent she wants to be involved in church activities is up to her.

    Susie, thanks so much for sharing the story of "Sally." That's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. You were moved by compassion and you acted on it. It's the kind of thing any Christian could have done, yet your status as the pastor's wife gave you access others might not have. What a blessing you and your sweet baby were to that woman.

  15. Niki, your story cracked me up. I can just see her standing there and saying, "Well, it's true!" What a hoot. Let me know if you get to try that line out on anyone. I'll keep it in my back pocket, too!

    Laurie Alice, the pastor's wife you described sounds like a true woman of faith. I am sure that I'm not alone in being moved by her testimony, without even knowing the details other than what you've shared. What a beacon she is, drawing others to our strong and victorious God.

  16. Anita, I love the idea of a SOP. I almost want to write one with tongue in cheek directions on what to wear on every occasion, how much you're allowed to spend on haircuts, etc. Send your sister a hug from me!

    Jen, you poor thing. Here it's your week and you're down with a cold. God bless you today, and I hope you can get some rest. Thanks for popping by to share your thoughts. I love your expectations: to live her faith and share the love of Christ. Amen.

  17. When I was in Bible college, the running joke was that the pastor's wife had to play piano, sing alto and look good at Pastors' Conferences. Thankfully my church gives our pastors' wives the freedom to do what fits their strengths and giftings.
    The book Desperate Pastors Wives is a good read as are the two books following it!
    Elaine King

  18. Good post - loved the story, too! I can only imagine the challenges of being a pastor's wife. Will pray for you:) Thanks so much for sharing this.

  19. Elaine, thanks for coming by. Isn't that joke the truth? LOL. The truth is, like every other role in life, we ultimately have an Audience of One. I try to keep that in mind.

    I'm glad you've read that book, too. I'm definitely going to have to get my hands on it.

    Karen, I covet your prayers! Thanks for your offer, and for visiting today. God bless you!

  20. Thanks for sharing! I've long said that the pastor's wife has a harder calling than the pastor!

  21. Karl, thanks for coming by today. I always appreciate your thoughtfulness.


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