Role of the Pastor's Wife?

I've been thinking about the role of a "Pastor's wife" ... I wonder what you think.

keith drury


Keith Drury said...

I’ll kick off the comments with one of my own. The role of “pastor’s wife” is unusual—very much like the role of “first lady” in a nation. We’ve had first ladies who were pedestal models we simply watched; some who simply were a wife and did nothing else, some who were supportive and were quiet advisors; some who were almost co-Presidents; though we have not yet had a first lady who continued her own job and just came home to sleep. To what extent do our expectations and experiences with a nation’s first lady affect our expectation of a pastor’s wife? Or, in one recent example of what we would think of a President’s husband?

Keith Drury said...


ok...One more… here's a real practical issue that emerges from this discussion. What do denominations do when there is a pastor’s conference, or pastor’s retreat, or General Board or college Trustees meeting. What do you do with the wives (or “spouses” we now say)?

We left the pedestal wives at home while the hubby went to these conferences. We brought the supporting wives in and went shopping with them or otherwise entertained them while their husbands went to meetings. When we got a lot of yokemate wives we initiated training sessions in counseling or ministry. As we increased the number of ordained women we quit inviting the “traditional wives” at all or held “spouses events” [supposedly] for both men and women as more women were named as delegate and board members. Some argue there should be no separate events for meetings should be for those elected and not for spouses at all. If you were king what would you do? (Be serious—they’re reading this)

Kathy said...

As a pastors wife myself, I feel like the church has set the expectation for me. I have been in church planting feeling almost like a co-pastor, part of a small town small church in a conservative area where I felt the need to fit a different kind of role there, then to a large resort town church where I felt like I could do whatever I wanted with acceptance. Each church I have been in has changed that role for me.

Grateful said...

For what it's worth, I am in year 15 of my first and probably final pastorate. I am sure that one of the biggest reasons I am still here, is that in the initial interview not only did the board interview me but I also interviewed them. One question from the board was "what can we expect from your wife?" I said "you just answered your own question. You can expect her to me my wife. She is not a pastor's wife, she is my wife." The board was thrilled, but not as much as my wife, and especially not as much as me. Anything my wife does beyond being my wife is seen has something extra she does just because she loves God, her husband and the local church. No there's no perfect answer for all of this stuff, but we've found one realistic, right answer -- at least for us... so far. :-) ALL JOY!

P.S. And as a man, I love coming home to my wife... not a pastor's wife.

Pete Vecchi said...

In my adult life, prior to my becoming a pastor, I had 6 different senior pastors in the congregations to which I belonged. All of those pastors had wives. I currently have been serving as a senior pastor for about 4 1/2 years. I have a wife. Prior to my being a pastor, I served as a Nazarene Evangelist for about 9 years, where I had the opportunity to meet quite a number of pastors and their wives (and a few pastors' husbands, too).

While Keith's observations are accurate in many ways, I have found that more often than not (at least based on my personal observations and experiences), most pastors' wives are combinations of two or more of the 6 options Keith gave. In fact, I've often said that there's no such thing as a typical pastor's wife.

I know my wife is unique, and I am glad that she is just the way God made her.


Brian La Croix said...

My wife fits the last category at the main post.

I'm a second-career guy who came into the pastorate in his mid-30's and married almost 12 years with 5 kiddos.

During the interview, I made it very clear that my wife's main job was to be my wife and mom to the kids. She would serve only as her time and gifts allowed, and I would not allow her to be badgered into filling holes in ministry settings. She hates teaching kids so won't be leading a kids' Sunday school or Wednesday night class, etc.

This seems to have worked, because I am in my 9th year at this church, and my wife does not feel pressured by the church.


Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

I think there's often a double standard for pastors' wives: women in the church work outside the home, have professional careers or academic interests, but in smaller churches, when it comes to the pastor's wife - what does local leadership expect of her? Probably a more traditional role than that of many women in the congregation.

Here's another sticking point: when a congregation votes in a pastor, they're voting in a pastoral family; I think there's less pressure on spouses in denominations that have an appointment system.

At the end of the day, I think it boils down to two things: an individual couple's perception of the calling one or both of them has; and an individual couple's perspectives on gender roles. The healthy pastoral family will answer those questions themselves, and not allow a church to dictate to them. That being said, the "mommy wars" exist in every area of life - church included!


Anonymous said...

I normally don't read your column but was referred to this one by my husband. If I were to identify with one of these categories, it would be #3.
I am the wife of an ordained minister. We stayed in one church for 18 years and both really grew with the church. Now that we are in transition (having resigned), we have found that is very hard finding one church that will let us function as a "yoke". I did get commissioned as a special worker but didn't go on to ordination.
So, I will either out of necessity become a #6 OR maybe find a job in another church (once my husband finds a church)(lol). Prayers appreciated.

Sharon Payne said...

The Role of a Pastor's Wife... of which I am one. If I have to choose any of these I would choose between roles 2 and 3, but I would rather add a 7th role. For those of us whose husbands entered ministry as second career pastors our roles are sometimes quite unique. And there are a growning number of us. We have already established our identity outside of the church. When God called us into ministry, and we both knew He was, as we had been open to full time service for Him. So when we came into this I was already a wife, mother, part time worker. I have worked in our church where ever needed. I have started group studies for women, but I still work outside the home. My identity is not in the church, it is not in the ministry, it is not in demoniation, it is not in ordination, it is the joy of being who I am and God using that to His glory. I was confident in my relationship with God before ministry and I will be if ministry ended.

Anonymous said...

How about the role of the youth pastor's wife? Often we are expected to work with the youth - no matter what our gifts are. I find it incredibly annoying to be pushed into a role just because my husband is gifted with teens.

Robin said...

In observing what was expected of my mother as a pastor's wife, compared to myself, I would say there is definitely a shift in the expectations. I don't think my mom COULD have been a #6. I feel blessed to be at a church where I could be what fits best for me.

I have been most of the above, depending on the church and the expectations given. I have worked full-time at a church with no paycheck. I have held other non-church jobs, and helped out part-time (still, no paycheck). And I've been the full-time church employee and my husband has volunteered. My husband is currently a staff pastor at a church where there are little expectations on pastor's wives, and so I can feel free to fit in where my gifts are. I mostly serve alongside him, because we share the same interests, but have branched out to be involved in areas apart from him. My own current full-time job fulfills my own calling, as I teach and "shepherd" at a Christian college; and my husband serves alongside me there, doing devotionals for classes, and participating in projects with students, when appropriate. We don't see either of our jobs as his job or my job. We see our jobs as OUR jobs. After all, that's what we spend the majority of our day doing, so it seems only natural to care about what our mate is called to. We're fortunate that we can both be comfortably involved in each other's callings.

As far as pastor's conferences and retreats go, I would not want to go to a separate event from my husband. I'd like to learn alongside my husband, so we can experience it together. In all honesty, I'd likely not go to anything "for the wives."(If it's a Trustees or Board meeting, that is a whole different story. If it's a policy-making event, and I have no vote, I'd want to know where the nearest Starbucks is.)

Pam Argot said...

I would like to thank you Keith for writing about the Pastor's wife. I grew up as a Pastor's Kid. I have also been a pastor's wife for 11 years now. Since we have been in the ministry my role as a pastor's wife has changed as our children have gotten older. One is in college. One is a senior and will be going to college and one is in 6th grade. My role has also changed with the needs of the church. Our first church I was in the support to my husband -- he was on staff. I took care of the nursery during choir. The next church Dale worked two jobs outside the church, so I took care of the jobs at church which I could do with any training as a pastor and served as the unpaid administrator.

Many times while we served there the district office would call to arrange or change dates or ask questions about the church. In most of those cases they never talked to my husband, instead I answered the questions or made the arrangements. Very few times did we have the arrangements because my husband and I were on the same page.

I am in the process of changing roles again. I have felt God's call into the ministry to work beside my husband in ministry and am taking classes through FLAME to be ordained. I am excited to see where God is leading me.

J & D Freed said...

Well, I would call myself a 3.5. I'm not ordained, but I am paid to be on staff. I'm considering getting a lay minister credential, as I have had a clear calling to the Local Church as strong as my husbands. We love to work together, we love to share an office, we love to dream together, we love to work side by side, even when it's hard. I feel blessed to be in my sweet spot in my marriage and in my job...but I know I'm not the norm. Many people have pictures of a pastors wife that includes some of the descriptions mentioned, and if you aren't what they expect, you are wrong!! It's such a strange role that we fill and it's hard because people make opinions, whether negative or positive, as to how you "fill the role" they see you fit for!! It's a hard place for a "people pleaser" like myself to be because if there are people all throughout our church who carry these varied pictures of what a Pastors wife is, you'll always be sure to be letting someone down if you aren't living up to what they want you to be!! Oh the joys of being a pastor's wife! Even though I have my own title as a paid staff member at my church, I personally am just as happy to be called "The Youth Pastor's Wife"...it's a good life!!:)

Cathy said...

I never thought of the connection between Michella Obama's role as First Lady and that of a Pastor's Wife. It has made me feel a tiny bit better at how some people put expecations on me tho mostly they are really nice and understanding.

Erin Crisp said...

I just wanted to echo what Robin said about being involved with my husband at retreats, workshops etc. My role as a (youth) pastor's wife has been many things- from unpaid volunteer, to almost completely uninvolved (when our babies were little), to paid staff member.

I remember one particular workshop we attended where the pastor's wives were ushered off to our own little session about the tribulations of being a pastor's wife. I think it will be the last "pastor's wives" session I'll ever attend. Now, I choose to tag along with my husband, learning alongside him whether I'm particularly invited or not.

I don't know what my role will be in the future (I know what I DON'T want it to be), but I know for the good of our marriage relationship, we are happiest when we are growing and learning together. It's a shared activity for us- like some couples go to concerts or ball games- we learn stuff- attend doctrinal symposiums, listen to lectures, audit classes, listen to chapel podcasts from seminaries, stuff like that. I guess mostly, I just want the freedom to choose where and how to serve without feeling pressured into a hole that doesn't fit me. AND, I want real friendships with people who don't have unrealistic expectations of me because I'm the pastor's wife.

Gwen said...

I didn't grow up in a pastoral family, nor did I ever imagine that I would be a pastor's wife. I did believe that God had something in full-time Christian service for me and this was my heart's desire. In a round about way I ended up at Marion College (IWU). I had no idea what a Wesleyan was. During my freshmen year I began to connect with a young man who was studying for the ministry... fell in love... got married ... began a family... now 30 years later still in love and we continue to serve in ministry.

And so, because I married a pastor, I then became a pastor's wife. I embraced this role with joy and engaged in various ministries throughout the years.

I do remember when we were two years into ministry considering church planting (mid 20's), I began to feel inadequate to be a pastor's wife. The typical pastor's wife appeared to have certain talents that I didn't have. Like playing the piano/organ, soloist, leading the woman's ministries; all of which I had no desire or talent. Over a tearful lunch (during the week of the church planting interview), my husband pulled out a piece of paper and asked me to name off the characteristics that described me. I hesitantly began to name off character qualities that he wrote down. By the time we finished I had 27 qualities listed. My husband lovingly said, "This is why I married you." It was a good reminder that I needed to be exactly who I was made to be.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the years serving along side of my husband in ministry. Thankfully, the churches we have been a part of had no or little expectations for the pastor's wife. They accepted me for who I was and encouraged me in the roles I played that fit my gifts and strengths.

I think certain expectations are determined by the size of the congregation. It's easy to get lost in the midst of a larger church setting (if you want to). Smaller congregations tend to have pastor's wives duties already lined up for them.

I've never wanted to be #1. I definitely was #2 to some extent. I mostly am #3. I'm considering #4. I probably will never be #5. And, I like to function partly as #6 (for I am a lay member), but I sense more of a commitment and loyalty to the work of the church than your description states for #6.

Thanks for the column! Good thoughts. Oh, and I'd rather attend my husband's training sessions, workshops, conference, etc. than something specific for the wives.

Anonymous said...

my wife's role (she works outside the home) has changed over the years, primarily based on three things:

** the size of the congregation

** my role as pastor, whether senior or assistant

** the current (or previous) pastor's wife

as an assistant pastor, my wife didn't face much pressure from the congregation i served; as a senior pastor, however, there seemed to be greater expectation from the congregation (and notably, other staff members' wives).

as an assistant pastor at a small church, people seemed to simply enjoy me and my wife without expectation; as an assistant pastor at a large church, most pressure placed on my wife regarding her role came not from the congregation but from the senior pastor's wife.

as a senior pastor of a medium-sized church, i had to articulate and re-articulate to the board, staff, and key ministry leaders what my wife's role was and was not. after a few years they seemed to get it, but it took time, patience, and consistent communication.

who you follow matters, too. follow a multi-talented senior pastor's wife, and greater expectations seem to follow. follow a wallflower, and anything you do is golden. we have followed both kinds, in senior and assisting roles.

my wife works outside the home, but whether i've been an assistant or senior pastor, she's always been more than "just my wife." certainly she's a wonderful wife, but she's also supportive, encouraging, instructive, and challenging. she serves in HER areas of giftedness, and she serves as she can depending on how much time is available after her own work and family priorities have been fulfilled.

her talents are not my talents, and she has very different spiritual gifts and skill sets than me. it seems that people occasionally expect her to share the same precise passions i possess, but educating and informing people over time seems to help that quite a bit.

all that being said, it seems i still have to remind her a little too often that we ultimately answer to an audience of ONE. your post reminds me that though that's true, congregations and fellow staff members/spouses can certainly attempt to influence or even confound the vital ministry she brings to me and to the church.

in fact, reading your post prompts me to say: God bless ALL the women who are attempting to follow God and be who He has created them to be as they serve either as Christian wives or workers (or both). the expectations must certainly drive them crazy at times, but hopefully they'll find themselves affirmed by the ONE who made them, as well as the one who married them!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a Nazarene parsonage and watched my mother "slave away" as the Supportive Preacher's Wife --- teaching Sunday School classes, serving as a counselor to the women in the church, serving as the pastor's secretary, entertaining visiting evangelists --- all while rearing three children and keeping an immaculate house.

It was with great delight, after I left home, to hear the new pastor at my church in Albuquerque introduce his spouse to the congregation as "my wife.....not my unpaid assistant". What a pleasure to see her in the role as the Wife of a Pastor, unencumbered by expectations, but allowed to grow in her spiritual journey like any other church member, and doing things that matched her gifts and interests. That's how it should be!

Beth Stradling said...

I actually have a man in our church who calls me the "first lady." :)
I've been in ministry now for 16 years or so and absoulty love being the wife of a pastor. Through the good times and through the bad times.
I've noticed that my role has changed over the years at the different churches we have served in and in the different "seasons" of my own journy.

Pastor Ray said...

My wife and I were ordained together in the Church of the Nazarene and have always functioned as full partners in ministry. She is the educated one, having three Bachelor's degrees in ministry, while I am merely 'Institute-trained'. We have never had a problem with this situation up til now. Our present church, where we served as interim staff for 1.5 years, just hired us as permanent co-pastors. We each have full and separate job descriptions. The church has never had co-pastors, nor a female pastor, before this. So it is a process of education. Interestingly it is the District that is having the most trouble. Since I am the "lead' pastor (leading board meetings, etc.), I tend to get the news, the mailings, invited to pastoral training events and meetings. I pass this all along to her, but the sense of being a 'second-class' pastor is still there. It affects me as well because I am the one who has to deal with it. Technically we could BOTH go to Pastoral retreats AND both go to Spouse retreats. Because of our situation we tend to go to neither, feeling a bit out of place in either setting.

Julie said...

My husband and I are packing up to move to his first full time position as a parish pastor. I was glad to see that the thread here is still running.

Our first job in ministry, and I should explain that we are native Michiganders, was in Latin America in the 1970's. We lived and worked in three different countries over the next 12 years. So we made a major shift culturally and choose to live and speak in a second language. I added Spanish speaker to who I was.

Back in the states he became a chaplain, and worked in jails and co-led a church for recovering people for 18 years. Being a Spanish speaker was helpful.

Now we are moving from a urban inner city ministry to a rural ministry with a very small church in one of the poorest counties of the state.

We have found that the culture and traditions of the place you are called to shapes both the pastor's role and his wife's. Unless you are going to serve in the church you grew up in or attended long enough to take on that culture you will be participating in a new culture. In Latin America I learned, as an adaptable young person, to look around and see who I was in that culture. I could not change who others believed I was. I learned that I am the "me" with my skills, talents, and calling that God had made me. And if I was willing, deliberate and lovingly careful; observation and listening to the advice of Godly cultural informants, I could learn to be a servant, Christ's face and hand and feet in very diverse locations.

I can't wait to see who I will be in this new ministry. I am leaving my job teaching at Calvin College and working to add to our income, because I must. I will join with this congregation in this new culture and live God's will for us there as He reveals it. I may be a prophet or priest or hold the door with a smile; confident that it's not my kingdom I am building and that God provides what His church and kingdom needs and my hands are willing. I may now be just a tad to old to learn a new language. But love is easily translated in any culture.

Keith Drury said...

Julie... you have done an excellent job of addressing this issue with an intercultural approach... "All ministry is intercultural" isn’t it? (except maybe going back to your home church--and even that may be a changed culture from when we grew up there).

I wonder how much more successful ministry would be if all ministers took the intercultural approach-- rather then starting with ourselves, who we are, what we prefer…what if we started with the culture and adapted like missionaries do? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Now you got me thinking about a column on this in the future!