In my years post-seminary, I have been a part of several different churches. They differed in worship and preaching style, ministry teams and programs, buildings and neighborhoods. Though each fell along similar denominational and theological lines, they were as different as the people who comprised them.
But one thing was eerily similar. Each church had a pastor’s wife, and each pastor’s wife felt complicated about her role in the church.
I don’t know if it was my Bible school and seminary background that perpetually made me reach out to the leadership wives in whatever church we were in. (I developed a knack for sniffing out ministry spouses in seminary, where women in classrooms were sparse — but the married student housing was filled with some of the best women you could hope to meet). And it didn’t take long for these ministry wives to share the burden they felt to fit into a particular “pastor’s wife role.” Whether it was imaginary or not, they all shared the same discouragement: the church expected something of them, and they were falling short.
I’ve been a woman in ministry for a while now, but I was recently surprised when someone introduced me to a new friend by saying, “I’d like you to meet Amy, she’s my pastor’s wife.” Gasp. Had it really happened? Was I really a pastor’s wife now? Of course, I knew I was married to a pastor (technically a church planter), but having done ministry side-by-side for years, the title of “pastor’s wife” had someone evaded me for years. But now, here it was. And it struck my heart with the same anxiety of expectation that my ministry spouse friends had voiced over the years.
This whole upheaval I my ministry identity has me thinking: what can we expect of pastors’ wives? Amidst the lists of things we know we can’t expect, what expectations are good and right and rooted in God’s Word? Here are 6 things I want my congregation to know they can expect of me, their pastor’s wife.
Expect her to be human.
This shouldn’t surprise us — except that sometimes it does. I myself have given in to the temptation to view those in ministry leadership on a pedestal, assuming they struggle less than average and have an above average capacity. But this simply isn’t the case.
We have weaknesses and frustrations and temptations and struggles. We get tired. We get weary. We have fussy babies and mouthy kids who sit next to us (or on us) during church. We will err and we will apologize, we will make the wrong recommendation or give the wrong advice — but we will seek the Lord and seek to make ourselves wholly available to him for his glory.
Expect her to be a disciple.
Before we are anything else, we are disciples. We follow Jesus before any one else can follow us. We are learning and growing and studying and reading as we walk through this life of discipleship. Don’t expect us to know it all now — we’re in process with you. Which is why it is so important to us that we get to be a part of the church, not just a part of the church leadership.
Expect her to crave real friendships.
We need friends who will ask us how we are, even as we ask them how they are doing. So many of our relationships will require a one-way frame of mind: there will be people that our family is called to pour into or invest in who aren’t able to pour back into us or invest in us. That’s totally fine and a part of the calling God has placed on our family. But we still need real friendships. We need people who will ask us if we’re getting good sleep postpartum, or if we’re navigating the new season of school life with our preteen. We need people to invest in being our friends.
Expect her to have a unique calling.
Each woman has been called by God to live her life in a certain way for his glory and the good of the world. In God’s good design, this looks vastly different for each woman, and each pastor’s wife. You may have seen one ministry wife who oversaw the kids ministry or sang on the worship team — that’s great. But that may not be my calling. I may be called to nursing or teaching or staying home with my kids or engineering or law. Please hear this well: I must follow God and obey his call on my life. This may not always align with your expectation of what tasks I will do in the church, and though I’m sad if I disappoint you, I can’t not follow God’s call on my life. You can expect this of me: I will keep a tender heart before God, I will seek his will and ways for my life (and my husband will be a part of this discernment process, just as I am a part of his), and I will give my all to follow his call on my life.
Expect her to be her husband’s greatest ally.
We’re in it together, that’s for certain. He’s my best friend and closest confidant. We protect and guard our marriage for God’s glory and the good of our family. I will foster a deep relationship with him, and I will support him as a person and as a pastor. I know him in and outside the church; in a way that you don’t, I see the whole him. And I love him.
This means I won’t speak poorly of my husband to others. I will champion him and speak kindly of him. When our marriage needs help (which it will), I will humbly go to a trusted friend or mentor and share honestly about where we are and how we need God’s help. But this is sacred territory to walk; not everyone is invited in. Please don’t ever come to me with your complaints about his preaching or ministry or decisions; you won’t find a co-complainer in me.
Expect her to need help.
We don’t know it all. We can’t do it all. We need others who will show us how to burp our new baby or introduce us to the best coffee shop in town. We need people who don’t look at needs in the church and assume that the “ministry family” will take care of it. We need helpers. We need people who see needs and meet them. I will have those needs sometimes. There will be weeks where I’m wrangling kids at church on my own from 8am set up to 12:30 post-service, and I will need help. You can love on my family by being an extra set of hands, holding open doors, or offering to watch my kids for that ministry meeting my husband has asked me to be part of.
I have been given the gift of a church who models these expectations exceptionally well. They don’t enforce human expectations on me, but they hold me instead to the high standard of God’s Word. And this is only right. As a ministry wife, I’m not bartering for the expectations to be lower, but to be different. To be set high in terms of character, rather than in terms of role; to better mirror God’s heart for his people than man’s model for ministry. That’s where we will all thrive — and the church will flourish.