Ministry can be hard on families. The constant burden of loving and leading a local church is taxing, and the pressure a pastor feels inevitably impacts his wife. In recent years, my wife has frequently facilitated groups for pastor’s wives. As she has interacted with them, she has found the three most common challenges to be:
1. Dealing with criticism of my husband
In most professions, a wife doesn’t show up at the office or job site to hear random comments about her husband’s leadership. People from her husband’s work don’t approach her with a complaint about a decision or to “put a bug in your ear” with hopes she will pass along the information to her husband. Thus a pastor’s wife is constantly faced with the challenge of loving people who are disappointed in her husband, of deciding what to tell her husband, and casting the burden on the Lord so that she can worship and learn when she comes to a worship or group gathering.
Pastors, to help your wife with this tension, encourage her to ask those with a struggle to bring concerns to you (or the leader of that ministry). Assure her that she does not need to carry the burden of giving messages to you. Kaye often responded, “You will have to talk about that with Eric. We don’t have church staff meetings at home.”
2. Dealing with expectations
There are a few people who sensed they were “called to be a pastor’s wife,” but most (like my wife) simply sensed the Lord leading them into a relationship with their husband — whether the husband is a pastor or not. Kaye didn’t study or prepare to be a pastor’s wife; she was (thankfully) just excited to be my wife. Yet in some ministry contexts, there are implicit expectations placed on a pastor’s wife. She senses them, and she wrestles with if she should or how she should fulfill them.
Pastors, encourage your wife to plug into the church as the Lord leads her. To find a place of service that fits her, to engage with a group of people that encourage her, and to worship at the service she most enjoys. Don’t place expectations on her that you don’t put on another church member. If there are those in the church who believe “a church should get two for one” or “a de facto women’s ministry leader/piano player/children’s Sunday school teacher/etc.,” kindly but firmly share you will not allow those expectations to be placed on your wife.
3. Time with my husband
Sadly, many wives in ministry are neglected. They long to have more time with their husband, but often feel guilty asking for it because by asking they feel that they are insinuating that an important ministry priority be neglected.
Men — we must love and lead our wives before we love and lead the church. You will always disappoint someone; so choose to disappoint others and not the wife of your youth. The others will come and go. They will soon forget the disappointment you caused. They will likely one day forget about you, too. Your marriage is very different — it is “till death do us part.”