I’ve been a pastor’s wife for 25 years. Truth be told, I wrestled with the notion for a long time because I observed the pressures (and judgement) people tended to have for our pastor’s family growing up. Honestly, I really believed that only sweet petite soft-spoken ladies who played the organ and never expressed opinions could be pastor’s wives. My problem was this: I was most certainly not that lady! Over six years of dating and several proposals later, I finally said yes to my husband…and to God. It’s been a wild ride.
For the last 20 years, I’ve also been a pastor alongside of him in ministry. Together we have served in urban, suburban and rural settings, all bringing with them their unique flavor of culture and perspectives. This has fleshed out differently as the seasons of our lives have flowed into different ministry settings. Many years this meant being on paid staff, while other years I worked jobs in the marketplace and pursued ministry within the community directly.
Many pastors’ spouses feel misunderstood and often their distinctive needs remain hidden in their hearts. There are blessings for sure, but there are also heavy burdens. This calling is not a cake walk, but you can actively play a part to help make it easier. If you desire to support your pastor’s spouse, consider these five ways to begin. If you are already in process of living these things out, thank you!
1. Pray for Them, Their Marriage and Their Kids.
Working on the spiritual front lines comes with constant attacks on every side. It seems that if the enemy can’t win by attacking one part of our lives he tries another. Prayer is the primary front line offensive! Pray for the protection of their hearts and minds, and for the Holy Spirit to be a very present help to them every day.
2. Free Them to Live Out Their True Selves.
Integrity is living in truth. When you live in truth, you are truly free to be who you are.
Allowing them to live this out means honoring their choices, what they agree or not agree to do, and embracing real messy life with them. They are sinners saved by grace too, which means they will make mistakes like every other human on the planet. They might be cranky in the morning, enjoy activities you can’t stand, or occasionally choose alone time instead of being social.
- Love them for who they are today, and who God is shaping them to be. They are not you, nor should they be pressured to conform to what everyone else thinks they should be.
- Encourage them to serve out of their passion, whether or not it matches up with your expectations. This will be their happy place of service. Celebrate it!
- Honor their limits, and allow them to set their own healthy boundaries. Recognize that there are seasons of life when they can give more and other times give less.
- Understand they are not extensions of your pastor. They are uniquely created by God to live out His purpose for His glory. While they support their spouse in 1000 ways, they are not the pastor’s personal secretary, nor do they know every detail about what’s happening at church.
3. Resist Blowing Second Hand Smoke.
Second hand smoke is another way to describe when people place unfair expectations or guilt trips on you. Their “smoke” blows in your direction and you can’t breathe. Everyone experiences this to some degree, but for pastor’s spouses it often hits them very personally, or in a passive-aggressive way behind their backs. The better way is to allow God to speak to them, and let Him lead them into how they will commit. Here’s a challenge: if you are tempted to think “the pastor’s spouse really should do _____ or attend _____,” stop to consider maybe God is actually calling you to do it.
4. Support the Role of the Family
The healthiest perspective of the pastor’s family is to embrace this idea: God has entrusted their spouse and children to the pastor’s care first and foremost. They are the pastor’s number one priority as resident spiritual shepherds. Love on their kids, no matter how they behave. When you love their kids unconditionally, you love them too. Grant them space and time to take care of their family, and be okay with the phone going to voicemail. Remember, there is only one God and your pastor is not Him.
5. Welcome Them Warmly into Your Tribe.
Being the pastor’s spouse can often be lonely. Everyone needs a place where they are accepted and understood for who they are. Most people assume the church is automatically their tribe, but sadly it is sometimes the opposite. I’ve talked with pastor’s spouses who feel like a 2-for-1 deal and treated like an employee, others feel they will never fit in with the congregation’s culture no matter how much they try, and plenty who struggle to have their own identity. (i.e. pastor’s spouses have names!)
Pastor’s spouses often wonder who, if anyone, they can trust with their heart. They not only wrestle with what others say about them, but bear the burden of hearing criticism about their husband and worse, their children. The weight of it can be crushing. They need you to be a true and faithful friend, the kind Jesus describes.
Sit with them in church. Invite them out with you or the group to simply have fun. Refuse to listen to or offer gossip, instead offer your support. If they entrust their heart to you, don’t betray their trust. There are deep wells there, and sometimes they can share while other times they cannot. Trust is fragile and is earned or burned over time. The level of their vulnerability will be determined by how safe they feel. Some things are sacred, between only them and their Savior.
Pastor’s spouses serve but also need people to minister to them. You can be a part of building them up! Trust me, it means the world.