What is… A Pastor’s Wife?

What is a pastor’s wife?  Well, she’s a wife.  Duh.  In most church circles, there is an expectation thrust upon the woman who is married to the pastor.  We call it “the pastor’s wife”.  In some circles she’s known as “the First Lady”.  In other circles, she’s “Pastor” herself by virtue of being married to the Senior Pastor.  Whatever title you want to apply, it’s clear that in most churches these days the pastor’s wife is a position that comes with being married to the pastor.  Yet in scripture we see nothing of the kind.  It’s sad to me that the woman who decides to marry the man she loves, because he is a pastor must submit to a rigorous set of expectations by the church in which her husband serves.  I tell my wife all the time: “You are not the pastor’s wife!  You are a woman who married a man who happens to be a pastor”.  Therefore I have no expectations of my wife beyond being my wife…and my love.

So why do churches heap responsibility on the wives of pastors?  Somewhere along the line, things got a little out of whack, probably because of the pedestal congregants tend to put their pastors on.  But what’s probably an even greater contributor to this phenomena is the perceived “role” of pastor’s wives in small churches.  In small churches, there is a greater need for the wife of the pastor to get involved to help her husband in the ministry.  And in most small churches it’s expected that she’ll be there to counsel, teach, lead the women’s group, run the nursery…whatever.  I call this “the Get-One-Free”.  But the wife of the man who happens to be the pastor is NOT the get-one-free.  I’m not saying we’re having this problem at Refuge… we might, but I haven’t heard much of it yet.  Nevertheless, it’s a real problem in many if not most churches.  In church culture the wife is expected to serve in certain ways.  It’s evolved over time to the point where many wives of pastors now want recognition and position, and they struggle to feel valued if they don’t get it.  They’ve been duped by a church culture that in my opinion couldn’t be more wrong about what the wife of a pastor is supposed to be.  In addition that part of the problem, she’s expected to behave in certain ways too!  It’s this part of the problem that I really want to talk about because it’s so unfair and represents a terrible double standard that most pastor’s wives really have a hard time living up to from what I can observe.

Over and over again during the past 20 years or so, I have heard people state what they felt was “appropriate” behavior for a “pastor’s wife”, as though there is a completely different standard than for any other woman of God.  I don’t believe this is a biblical perspective.  When speaking about the wives of deacons, elders, and overseers, the guidelines Paul gives in the Epistles are the same as would be appropriate for any Christian woman.  No more…no less.  Yet in church culture, we seem to feel the burden is greater on the wife of the pastor to make sure they don’t in any way embarrass the church or its leader.  I challenge that whole concept.  First and foremost the wife of the pastor is a woman of God.  She’s the same as any other woman in the church who professes the same.  I don’t see anywhere in the bible where she is supposed to be be held to a higher standard of behavior than any other Christian woman.  I’ve heard church people criticize a wife of a pastor because of her dress or sense of humor.  Yet in most cases, the critics either behave the same way or don’t apply that standard to their other lady friends in the church.  I find this double standard unfair at best.  Where do we get these ideas?  How did we decide that it’s not ok for the wife of the pastor to have a sense of humor?  Where did we get the idea that she can’t desire to be beautiful?  Where did we come up with the notion that the wife of the pastor isn’t allowed to have the same flaws as any other woman in the church?

When I hear people say “that’s not appropriate for a pastor’s wife”, it really bothers me because if it’s not appropriate for a Christian woman, that’s one thing…but a higher standard for the wife of a pastor is unfair.  My wife once asked me if she should dial back her personality a bit now that she’s the wife of a pastor.  I told her “absolutely not!”  I love my wife exactly the way she is and wouldn’t want her to change a thing, especially to placate those who want to heap additional expectations upon her because of her perceived “position”.  The only “position” my wife has is to be my wife.  And she excels in that position I can assure you.  She is a woman of God first and foremost.  She loves the Lord and doesn’t need to change a thing about herself to convince me of that.  Nor does she need to serve in the church to prove it.

Whatever your standards are for the wife of a pastor, I’d challenge you to consider whether they’re your standards or God’s.  Once you do that, I’d challenge you again about whether or not you have the right to force your opinion upon her.  From time to time we all tend to sit in God’s seat and attempt to do His judging for Him.  But sadly, I think the wife of the pastor gets more of this than perhaps any other person in the church.  If you’re the wife of a pastor, I hope you’ll consider breaking free from the standards of man concerning your place in the church.  You aren’t the get-one-free.  And you aren’t the one who is responsible for representing the “ideal” woman or wife.  That is NOT your role or your responsibility!  In fact, you don’t have a role other than to be your husband’s wife.  Love him, love God… and be yourself.  If anyone doesn’t like it, well…they’ll either get over it or go find a more legalistic church to be a part of.  Either way, don’t ever allow the unfair demands of church culture burn you out.  You deserve better.  You are a woman and wife first.  You just happened to marry the pastor.  But actually you didn’t marry the pastor… you married the man.  You didn’t marry his job or his position.  You don’t owe the church anything…and the church doesn’t owe you a position unless God calls you to one.  They should care for you more than most though because you’re probably the most beat up person in the whole church.  But you are appreciated, valued, and needed, more than you can every know.