Arguably, pastor’s wives are the most under-appreciated, stereotyped, overworked, unpaid people within any church paradigm. Pastor’s wives are especially vulnerable to criticism, attack, disrespect, and general impoliteness. And we aren’t even talking about the stresses her husband faces that bleed over into their marriage.
Far too often, Pastor’s wives live under the umbrella of insinuated and sometimes overtly stated congregational demands. Unrealistic expectations abound along with contradictory requests that defy logic. Dress to perfection, raise impeccable children, always smile, be the church secretary, have unlimited time for everyone, lead every ladies ministry, attend every nuanced church function, host lavishly, entertain pleasantly, sing, play an instrument, teach Sunday School, be the ideal wife to the pastor, remember every detail, work, clean, organize, decorate the church, keep a model home, babysit, teach, and in some cases they are expected (or forced by necessity) to work a secular job as well.
Pastor’s wives dwell in a glass house and live with the constant realization that their every move is scrutinized. Beyond that, they are criticized by people with opposing judgments. For example, if they dress too fancy they are unapproachable, but if they dress too plain they are embarrassing. Those same conflated standards are usually applied to their house, their car, and their children’s clothing. Furthermore, if they lead too many programs they are accused of not making room for other leaders, but if they don’t lead enough programs they aren’t pulling their weight according to the critics. This is especially true if they are musical. Most of this negative information is filtered back to pastor’s wives via the “well-meaning” grapevine.
To be clear, there are blessings and benefits that come along with being a pastor’s wife. In ideal situations, they are treated with extra courtesy, respect, kindness, generosity, grace, understanding, and consideration.
Usually, there is a mixed bag of goodness from some and ugliness from others towards the pastor’s wife. Hopefully, kindness outweighs the critical or tremendous emotional pain is inflicted on her heart. It goes without saying, this will also adversely impact her husband’s ability to minister effectively.
The spoken and unspoken pressures take a toll. Usually with very little external evidence. I’ve spent my whole life in and around ministry so I know this to be true instinctively, however, surveys corroborate my anecdotal experiences.
Most of this tension comes from a general lack of biblical understanding regarding pastor’s wives. Furthermore, I believe this stems from the startling reality that the Bible has almost nothing to say directly about the role of a pastor’s wife. Leaving many to simply insert their own version of what they believe a pastor’s wife should be into their churches culture, structure, and tradition. This creates a rigid performance template that many pastor’s wives find soul-crushing because it doesn’t take their individual giftings into consideration.
Although the Bible doesn’t provide explicit teaching directed to the role of pastor’s wife, it does not deny a pastor’s wife a ministry role within the church. Certainly, there are other important ministry roles in local churches that the Bible doesn’t spell out instructions for, like Outreach Director, Youth Pastor, Sunday School Director, or Children’s Ministry Director just to name a few.
The Biblical role of being a pastor’s wife is best understood from what Scripture teaches about being a woman, a wife and mother, and a Christ-follower with God-given gifts.
Biblically speaking, a pastor’s wife’s main role is to be the wife of the pastor. I know, that sounds a little too simplistic, but that is her first role in God’s eyes.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)”
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)”
In Hebrew, the word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”), and it is always used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. The majority of its twenty-one occurrences in the Old Testament depict God helping human beings. Since God Himself can be a “helper” it is clear that neither the word ezer nor the role of “helper” implies any sort of inherent inferiority (Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 33:20, Hosea 13:9). What it does imply is that the “helper” plays a supporting role, rather than bearing primary responsibility for a task.
In the Hebrew text, “helper” is modified by the “suitable for him” (kenegdo), which seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides. The word denotes function: Designed as the perfect counterpart for the man, the woman was neither inferior nor superior, but she was alike and equal to the man in her personhood while different and unique in her function. The function of Eve is not less valuable to the maintenance of the Garden or to the furthering of humankind, but the shared responsibilities involve each accomplishing complimentary tasks.
The usage of the Hebrew term ezer denotes far more than the English term helper can offer. The term indicates an “indispensable companion”. Defining the specific divinely inspired purpose for a woman is vital for understanding her role as a wife because the two are unmistakably intertwined.
In light of Genesis 2:18, a pastor’s wife is called to be an indispensable companion and helper to her husband. Meaning, the role of a pastor’s wife will gradate based on the particular strengths, needs, and personalities of the couple (read more about pastoral personalities and styles here).
Of course, a pastor’s wife must adhere to the same biblical standards as all other Christian women. She serves God and family while leading in various influential roles (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her virtue is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:28-31). Most importantly, she is one who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30). Because she reverences the Lord she will walk in the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). Godly women must be “given to hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). She must “walk in the Spirit” and not the flesh (Romans 8:1).
Now that we have a basic biblical understanding of womanhood we can discuss nine ways to support your local pastor’s wife.
1. Graciously allow her to prioritize her family. Although she loves you and cares for your soul the needs of her family are and should be her primary concern. Don’t resent her for concentrating on the needs of her family above yours.
2. Appreciate her for who she is in Christ. Avoid the painful trap of comparison. God has given her gifts and abilities that are specific to her and her alone. Don’t constantly hold her up against someone else or against some elusive idea of the perfect pastor’s wife.
3. Celebrate her strengths and be understanding of her weaknesses. She strives for perfection and excellence, but like everyone else, she will not always obtain it. Rather than exploit or criticize her weaknesses do your best to lift burdens off her shoulders that do not fall within her areas of expertise.
4. Give her the benefit of the doubt just as you would have others do for you (Luke 6:31).
5. Love her children and/or grandchildren in spite of their imperfections (read more about how to help preacher’s kids here).
6. Do not belittle or speak critically about her husband to her or anyone else. If you have a problem with the pastor speak with the pastor.
7. Refuse to speak critically about her behind her back. If someone else tries to engage in negativity kindly remove yourself from the conversation. Idle words almost always filter back to the offended party. If you have a legitimate grievance, constructive suggestion, or concern broach it with her privately.
8. Advocate on her behalf and speak positively into her life at every possible opportunity. I promise you, she doesn’t receive nearly as much positive affirmation as you might assume. Choose to be an encourager, not a discourager.
9. Pray for her on a regular basis and intercede with God to give her strength. Your prayer cover will have a tremendous spiritual impact on her heart (Ephesians 6:18).
By supporting your pastor’s wife you are creating an atmosphere of peace and unity. It encourages your pastor and gives him a sense of stability. All of this contributes to a climate of revival and goodwill. God will bless you because you are a blessing (Proverbs 11:25).