The Lonely Journey of a Pastor's Wife
I am composing this post with immense trepidation because people suspect your motivations. Am I writing this to gain popularity? NO! Do I write to advance my career? NO! I write because I love writing and I see a group that is affected, sometimes negatively, by the toll of ministry. How this group operates under the weight will have a great impact on people’s lives in some amazing ways and could change the way people think about ministry. I write to encourage you. The issues addressed in this series are real. The hurt, burnout, and loneliness are widespread. It is time to take a deep look at a problem that has gone unresolved. This series on church workers comes from my heart and my personal ministry pain.
Some of my congregations in the past had a long history of clergy abuses and moral failures, which led to a lack of trust in the pastoral office. It made the life of any pastor or his family who followed an emotionally cold and lonely place to serve. There was not a culture of care, a spirit of love and support, there was instead distrust and distance. Church work is hard enough without attaching the cloud of generations of past sins and brokenness.
Just recently, my previous post on supporting the pastor went viral. I wrote it to help the church see the role of the pastor and wife differently and honestly in all church workers’ families. What hit me as I watched the numbers tick up at an alarming rate is that there is a deep hurt that the church is probably completely unaware exists. But the problems are not just contained in the pastoral office. It spreads to how the church cares for teachers, church musicians, and support staff.
With that in mind, this is the follow-up. I begin with an open letter to the church.
Dear Saints, Let me introduce myself. You may believe you know me because I am in your midst often, but I don’t think you actually know me. I am an individual person. I have a name and an identity apart from my husband, your pastor. It is so easy for me to get lost in his shadow. They have put me into a position, into a role, that I am not gifted at nor have the desire to fulfill. They place expectations on me that has grown and been developed by the ghosts of the former pastor’s wives. Some were incredible servants and gifted. These expectations are often a combination of all the things you like about every other woman who has been here before me. To be honest, I feel set up to fail. If I tried to be all things to all people, I would only succeed in losing my identity and my sanity. And worst yet, if I pull that off, I am only setting up the poor woman who follows me for complete and total failure. It is a no-win situation. Who am I? I am the woman who married the pastor, not the pastor’s wife. I pray this letter will help you see me as the woman I am, not the woman you think I should be. Signed
A woman married to the pastor.
I wonder how many women struggle with the role of the pastor’s wife. It is an excellent opportunity to serve God and His church, but like the role of the pastor, it also comes at a great personal cost. Pastor’s wives often face unreal expectations. Here is a list of just a few off the top of my head.
Profile of the Perfect Pastor’s wife:
She is an excellent cook
Is the Sunday School leader who has single-handedly grown the numbers to record highs.
She plays the organ while also leading the voice and bell choirs.
She is a super volunteer who not only is at every event but recruits leaders like Nick Saban recruits world-class football players.
She is an exceptional mother in that her children are well-behaved and do nothing wrong.
Her house is always spotless, and she is impeccably dressed because, on a pastor’s budget, she has time to sew her clothes.
She accomplishes all this while her husband is an absentee father and husband because he is trying to live up to similar unrealistic expectations on the other side of the spectrum.
Who is the Pastor’s wife, really? Like you, she struggles to balance life while being a good wife, and mother and living out her calling as a child of God. She gets overwhelmed by the crazy pace of life, its stresses, and heartbreaks. Her house, like yours, gets messed and her children are far from perfect. That imperfection is not a direct reflection of her parenting skills, it reflects the fact that we live in a sinful and broken world. She wants the church to see her as a person who needs encouragement, acceptance for who she is, not what you want her to be, and, at times, help. She is not a superwoman, just a woman who is married to the called man of God in that place. I pray this will help you see the woman married to the pastor differently and all church workers and their families more compassionately.
Here are some statistics for you to study.
Pastor’s Wife Statistics
Statistics from surveys of pastors’ wives highlight the stress they experience in their role and the need they have for support.
Pastors’ wives need safe, soul friends. Many have shared vulnerably with certain women in their church and felt their trust was violated.
80% feel left out and unappreciated by church members
56% say they have no close friends in the church
Pastors’ wives may feel like “unpaid assistants” in the church. And yet, many have so much more to offer in their ministry. All need encouragement for their important role.
84% feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles
80% feel pressured to serve in ways that do not fit their gifts
60% expressed the need to further their training so they could serve better
Being married to a pastor can be challenging!
80% believe their spouse is overworked
80% wish their spouse would choose another profession
40% of their husbands have had an extramarital affair while serving as a pastor
50% of their marriages will end in divorce Family
The pastor’s spouse and children live in a fishbowl. Family time often gets compromised, particularly when family meals are rushed so that the pastor can make evening meetings.
94% of clergy families feel the pressures of pastoral ministry
The majority of pastor’s wives said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry
(Statistics were gathered from HB London, Jr., Pastornet.net, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Global Pastors Network.)
Discussion questions to have with your Church Leadership.
Discuss ways to support the pastor and his wife.
Think of ways to create a supportive culture for her and other women.
Discuss expectations. Are your expectations realistic?
Nothing meaningful changes unless you plan so here is an encouragement. Set a meeting in the next three months and the number one agenda item is how will we support our church workers.