Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Being the Pastor's Wife

I have always had an interesting relationship with my role as a pastor’s wife. Some days I like it –mostly those are days when the role has felt fulfilling, when I get to speak into the life of our church, when the role has given me an opportunity to help or pray with someone in pain. Other days, the role feels like a shoe that just doesn’t fit. A shoe that gives you blisters or squeezes your toes too hard. A shoe that stinks.

Every pastor’s wife I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot) has struggled with the dual nature of the pastor’s wife role. It’s simultaneously exciting and fulfilling and really, really hard. Pastor’s wives discuss these things when they are alone with other pastor’s wives. Tomorrow, I’m teaching a series of workshops (with my good friend and fellow pastor’s wife, Neely) at the Northwest Ministry Conference  - for pastor’s wives. We taught it last year (not that we have this thing wired – we are seriously a pair of the least likely pastor’s wives one could imagine) and were astounded by how isolated and depressed many pastor’s wives feel on a daily basis. Well, not astounded exactly. Having had our own moments of struggling in the role, we identified with them in a big way.

Things that contribute to the pain inherent in the pastor’s wife role vary. But, the list that follows is what we heard from a packed room of pastor’s wives last year. Here goes:

There are expectations from members of the congregation and community that the pastor’s wife will be a certain way, that her children will behave a certain way, and that she will never struggle or hurt. These expectations are not always spoken – usually they are implied. She is to dress a certain way, smile a certain way and meet needs she has no clue are there. There’s little room to express individuality. Often pastor’s wives feel pressure to meet expectations without having any real authority within the church context. One woman called it “impotent authority.” Also, they report struggling with guilt when they grow tired of hearing praises about their husbands while no one knows their name. The most honest in the group of pastor’s wives said that being “the wind beneath their husband’s wings” was great, but not all there was.  Almost every pastor’s wife had experienced some kind of severely wounding betrayal brought on by lost friendship or church politics gone badly. It was also reported that there are many people who want to befriend pastor’s wives in order to know the pastor or simply be close to what they perceive as power. And, mind you, the pastor’s wife job– in most denominations – is not a paid position.

In short, this is a hurting group of women.

The core message I hope to communicate to other pastor’s wives tomorrow, and one that I still re-learn on a daily basis, is that your primary role in life is NOT to be an exemplary pastor’s wife. Your role is NOT to meet the expectations of your congregation, friends, or husband. Your role is to simply let God love you. Your role, as is the role of any Christian, is to serve out of your unique passion and giftedness. This sounds so simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. Whether the church a pastor’s wife is in is big or small, people are constantly watching. This pressure can feel stifling, restricting and lonely. And, when it comes down to it, exhausting.

I’ve never really fit the mold of the 1950’s pastor’s wife. And, actually, I’m quite proud of that. I have opinions on politics and theology that can be very different than my husband’s (gasp!). I am an INDIVIDUAL with my own complicated, intense faith.  From the beginning of our ministry journey, I’ve set pretty clear boundaries about family time and have tried to participate in ministry as I felt God calling me to – instead of basing my service on other people’s expectations. Well, most of the time.  Avoiding other people’s expectations can be a hard one. Especially when you are a people pleaser.

I wanted to blog about this because I wanted people to know that pastors and pastor’s wives (who have names!) are real people. Real people with hurts, hang-ups, dreams, issues, and spiritual struggles. Real people who don’t want to be put up on that impossible pedestal. Real people who sometimes fight with each other. Real people who will disappoint you ('cuz we're not Jesus).

Lest anyone interpret this honest post the wrong way, let me qualify some of the complaining with this - I love my husband and believe wholeheartedly in his gifting. I am a committed follower of Christ who is daily working out her salvation with fear and trembling. And, I am content to live in the tension.


  1. Well said! My wife's brother is a pastor in Colorado and she goes through some of the same. People just can't seem to give grace in their assessments, judgements and actions. I believe it comes out of their own insecurity and doubt which, in the end, can only be resolved in their relationship with Christ and then living life as He demonstrated. We are members at OCC and have been at the church since 1989. I am so glad you are an individual and not a clone of Mike {;o) Best wishes and blessings as you seek/try, John O.

  2. We attend a non-traditional church attended by a lot of people who have not grown up in the church. I only occasionally feel the pressures of being the "pastor's wife" (in my case, the youth pastor's wife) from others because many of them did not grow up with the traditional example. I do find myself setting up expectations for myself, especially when it comes to my involvement with our youth ministry. I'd be curious to know if any of the women you speak with feel this way - setting up unrealistic "pastor's wife" expectations for ourselves. I am guessing I'm not alone.

  3. HI K,

    You are SO not alone. Just got home from teaching the PW track today and that was actually one of the topics of conversation.... We talked about both internal and external expectations and the GUILT that ensues when we feel we're not measuring up. We all decided that guilt is never productive, and never ever never from God. Thanks for the comment!

  4. As an attender of Overlake, I wanted to thank you for sharing your story Jodie. I have always wondered what that must feel or be like to be in the position you are in. It is so encouraging and enlightening to know that the church I attend has leadership from "real" people, not leaders that put on a front or a false image that they are perfect. This false image that gives the illusion of superiority or of celebrity status, I feel, creates negative boundaries between the people within the church. This image has always bothered me within churches, but this is why I love Overlake and I love the humble leadership that is there. From the minute I walk in I feel there is an equality throughout, which feels so great. This church is unlike many others that I have visited. I love how Mike walks around the mall-way before and after services just talking with people and engaging in conversation, I love how the church recognizes that kids are kids, that there isn't an expectation for them to be perfect or for our families to be perfect. I love the stories that Mike shares about your family, whether they are sad, amazing, special, or frustrating. It is so nice to be able to relate with you guys, you guys make life real. Every family has faults, we all have fights now and then, our kids misbehave now and then, and we all struggle with our relationship and faith with God. I just want you to know that I do see you as a real person with real feelings and that you are not alone. I am amazed how women in your position are able to keep it together, it is comforting and encouraging for me to know and that the leadership in my church are not afraid to speak about their real life. This creates a feeling that I am not alone, that to God we are all the same, and we all have fears or problems in this life. Thanks again for sharing Jodie, maybe I'll see you around sometime :)

  5. One of the strongest women in my life was a pastor's wife. The abuse she endured by our small town church in the late 80s was heartbreaking. It took such a toll on their family that the pastor eventually left our church. I recently got in touch with him to find out if he had left the ministry.

    I am thankful that there are women (and men) out there who are able to withstand the negative in order to support their spouse's calling!

  6. Hi Jodie!
    I just heard you speak at the summit break out and appreciated your your wisdom and willingness to share your story. I am a pastors wife as well and understand this post completely! this is a newer role for me and I still struggle with finding my place. Thanks for being real!

  7. Ditto what Shell said. :) I loved getting to hear your heart on the topic of street kids at Summit. And I love reading your heart for (and encouragement to) pastor's wives. We need all the Gospel-reminding we can get. ;)


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