Pastors’ Wives

In May, our thoughts turn to Mother’s Day. My thoughts this month turn to pastors’ wives, many of whom are also moms. I don’t claim to be an expert on pastors’ wives, but I am married to one. What’s more, a lot of my time as district president is spent not just with pastors, but also with their spouses, who struggle on many levels as they love, support and encourage their husbands.

This article was actually prompted by a new reality show on the TLC network called The Sisterhood, which follows the lives of five pastors’ wives in Atlanta. I’ve never caught a complete episode, but I have to say I don’t recommend the program.

It’s a strange genre, these reality shows — from The Bachelor to Teen Mom; and now to pastors’ wives? They look and dress more like “desperate housewives.” They also seem pretty full of themselves. I know some African-American churches’ members refer to their pastor’s wife as “first lady,” but when these five use the term in reference to themselves, it’s hard to take.

It’s challenging to find clear Scriptural wisdom on the role of a pastor’s wife. We know Peter was married, but we learn nothing about his wife. It’s very unlikely Paul was married. If he was, I’d pity the woman. If the guy was ever at home, he had to have been hard to live with! The only clear reference we have to a pastor’s wife is Paul telling Timothy that a pastor should have only one of them (1 Tim. 3:2). Otherwise, pastors’ wives are left to themselves to create a job description for the role they take in their husband’s congregation.

I have a bold and innovative suggestion to make: what if the standards we hold our pastors’ wives to would be the same standards to which we hold all Christian women, including wives and mothers? Oh, the pastor for sure has a higher bar than the average Christian. Read 1 Tim. 3:1-7. It’s quite a list of qualifications. Tucked in the middle of it are his responsibilities to his family, which become a measure of his capacity to manage his congregation.

Being a pastor’s wife, though, is not holding an office in the church, like associate pastor. People may put extra expectations on her, but her identity and role in the church are not determined by others’ expectations or even by falling in love with and marrying a preacher. Who she is and what she does flow from God’s grace.

That said, pastors’ wives, like all Christian women, will find plenty in the Scriptures to guide their role as wife and mother; for example, Prov. 31:10-31, Eph. 5:22-24 and Col. 3:18-21. Their role in the church, like every other Christian, is driven best by their particular set of gifts and talents. Churches do best to honor their pastor’s wife by letting her be who she is and do what she is gifted to do. Some pastors’ wives are great musicians, others are great teachers and still others are loving caregivers. Not a one is meant to do it all.

Many pastors’ spouses have careers of their own and they still manage to help raise the kids and contribute significantly to their congregation’s life together and mission. All have made sacrifices and most spend far too much time away from their shepherding husbands.

As we honor faithful wives and moms this month, take a moment to thank your pastor’s wife for being who she is and using the gifts God gave her. If being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs on earth, consider being married to one!