The Pastor’s Wife: Help-Fit, Yet Sometimes Helpless
Recently a dear pastor’s wife went home to be with the Lord. She was a faithful wife to her husband for over 50 years and for 48 of those years she was a pastor’s wife. Yes that brother is still faithfully pastoring the same church he planted 48 years ago.
His wife was a loving mother of four children, two of which they adopted. She was a registered nurse for many years and then retired as a schoolteacher. All this she did while being a faithful “pastor’s wife.” This sister was indeed a great example of faithful service to the Lord, her husband, her family, and the body of Christ. She will be missed greatly.
Shortly after I heard of her illness, I began to think a lot about the role my wife plays particularly and role of most pastors’ wives in general, especially as it relates to the church. I thought about the many conversations I’ve had with my wife and her sisters (blood) who are married to pastors. I called to mind the times we’ve shared with other pastors and their wives.
As I considered these times, I remembered several recurring threads making their way into our conversations. Here’s a partial list.
- Assumed shared giftedness with her husband pastor
- Backbone to her husband’s ministry
- Misunderstood and disregarded
- Expected to be unusually thick-skinned
- Extra baggage on her husband’s ministry
- Extreme, sometimes nearly unbearable loneliness
I’m sure I’ve forgotten other items that could go on the list of struggles pastor’s wives have. These represent those that readily come to my mind because they are probably the ones I hear the most.
Of course I’m talking about the downside, brothers and sisters. For sure, at least I’m hoping and praying, all is not doom and gloom for pastor’s wives. As a matter of fact I often hear of the joy and satisfaction sisters experience in sharing alongside their pastor husbands in ministry. Especially when you have members in the congregation who care for the pastor’s wife and are always looking for ways to demonstrate love to her and encouragement. Praise God for those kinds of saints. We all should be on the lookout, making it our aim to show love and to encourage one another (cf. ; ).
Yet sometimes the life of a pastor’s wife can be difficult and I think even more so because of the position she is in. I’m sensing many pastor’s wives resonate with the list above because her position makes her particularly vulnerable to the kinds of issues mentioned, leaving her for the most part without any recourse, i.e. helpless. I’m thinking it’s time to take some of the pressure off of the pastor’s wife.
Too many from my little vantage point need some relief. Well, sisters and brothers, here are a few words of relief that I trust will be useful in cutting the sister some slack.
1. Disregard the old adage, “When God calls a man, He calls his wife too”.
This well-meaning motto has caused many a sister undue heartache. My sisters and brothers, God has not called men’s wives to pastoral ministry. To do so would violate His Word (). He has called her to be a good help-fit for her husband whether he is in ministry or not. Most pastors will readily acknowledge the importance and necessity of his wife’s role in his ministry. Please know her responsibilities can be done without placing upon her unbiblical requirements.
2. “Pastor’s Wife” is not a biblical office.
This is the main reason she has no biblical counsel or recourse and is often left helpless. There’s no such category. 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter and other passages are loaded with instructions for pastors, elders, overseers, and deacons, because these are the only biblical offices in the church. For a larger discussion on this see Thabiti’s Reviving the Black Church, pgs. 125-135. We have done sisters married to pastors a great disservice in treating her role as a biblical office. Some churches have even gone as far as giving her an office right next to his. We’ve hung this made-up office on pastor’s wives accompanied by unattainable expectations, expectations mind you the Scriptures never placed upon her as a wife. Then when it seems she’s not meeting these expectations in her made up office, she has to face scorn, slander, etc. which by the way, she is supposed to just accept, because after all she is “the pastor’s wife”. I’m sure most sisters married to pastors would say it’s already tough enough without expecting them to occupy an unauthorized office in the church.
I’m sensing there are many believers who sincerely desire to see our sisters fully functioning in our churches. However, could it be we have set many of them up for biblical unfaithfulness by operating as though the pastor’s wife is a biblically authorized office in the church? Is not the road to women pastors, elders, bishops, apostles, etc. traveled by many a pastor’s wife? Many of them are perhaps persuaded they belong alongside their husbands in church leadership, simply because she’s his wife. Just something to think about.
3. The pastor’s wife is not automatically the women’s leader and chief instructor.
Most people who know me also know that my wife Jamie is a gifted teacher. She was gifted before she met me and certainly before we got married. The Lord has been pleased to use her giftedness in teaching and in leading our women’s ministry in a remarkably fruitful way. Jamie is a solid example of a godly woman and wife who happens to be married to a pastor. Her mom and other godly older women taught her how to be a supportive wife years before we got married and before I became a pastor.
Sometimes teaching and leading ministries are done to compensate for assumed inadequacies mentioned above. Sisters and brothers, please don’t put undue pressure on your pastor’s wife to teach, speak at women’s events, lead women’s ministry, etc. Those might not be her areas of giftedness and that’s okay. There are so many areas in the church where she can serve and be effective.
4. The pastor’s wife should not be alone.
The singling out of pastor’s wives is made easy by the unhealthy and unbiblical practice of the single pastor in many churches. Thabiti writes in Reviving the Black Church, pg. 99, many pastors “labor under a crushing load of guilt, inadequacy, exhaustion, stress and brokenness”. Many pastors labor under these conditions all alone. Aside from a few associate preachers and deacons, the pastor in many of our churches serve all by himself. This is not the biblical model, it hurts him, does not serve the church well, and puts insurmountable pressure on his lone wife. I wonder how many pastor’s ministries and marriages would have survived if they served under the biblical model of a plurality of elders. Again Thabiti gives a fuller treatment of this in Reviving the Black Church, pgs. 121-123. Those who have come to embrace the biblical model of plural church leadership (; ; ; ; ) often cite the benefits for the pastors, the church, etc. I’m suggesting the one person who will benefit immensely and who is often overlooked, even though at some level she goes through many of the things her husband goes through, is his wife. Increase her tribe in your churches by the biblical modal of plurality of church leadership.
These four areas have left the pastor’s wife who in many cases is a godly help-fit helpless. I say we come in with our bibles and some common sense and rescue these sisters. I’m certain her life, her husband, her family and the life of the Church will benefit in ways we haven’t even thought about.
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (ESV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (ESV)
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; (ESV)
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. (ESV)
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (ESV)
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (ESV)
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (ESV)
5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (ESV)