Do you ever feel like you are saddled with the weight of other people’s expectations on top of your own burdens? I do. But imagine what it would be like to have everyone watching you—seeking your advice but also witnessing your failures. Needing your family’s help but judging their every move. Loving you but expecting more than you have to offer.
I am not a pastor’s wife, although in my own ministry, as an author, I’ve seen something similar. But today I’m talking to you as a close friend of the wife of a pastor, sharing some of the insights I’ve had from observing and talking to her and others in her position. Most pastors’ wives I know are widely loved by their churches and treated with kindness and good intentions, but that role may be paired with unreasonable expectations, quick judgment, and a heavy burden to carry.
Think about it. If the pastor’s wife gets involved in every situation people bring to her, she’s controlling. If she tries to correct someone, she’s abrasive. If she doesn’t show her insecurities, we think she’s “all that” and too good for us, and if she lets us see her flaws and mistakes, we judge her for not being holy enough. If she guards time with her family, she may be seen as selfish and unavailable, and if she doesn’t, she’s judged for her wifely and motherly failures.
And yet the pastors’ wives I’ve known tend to be deeply spiritual—this is not just their husband’s faith, but their own source of strength. They work hard, often behind the scenes without the credit and acclaim given to their husbands, and have the added responsibility of being his sounding board and helper. They open up their homes and their families to the church (and many outside of the church)—as well as to our intense scrutiny.
So what can we do to help them? To put actions behind our words of appreciation? To show our love and respect? Your pastor’s wife might never ask for these things, yet I believe giving them to her will enable her to serve with joy and gladness.
1. Remember that each woman is different, and that there are many ways to successfully serve God and the Church as the wife of a pastor.
Give her the gift of allowing her to be exactly who she is, without pretense. If she’s musical, let her sing. If she’s not, don’t force her. If she’s an introvert, don’t throw her in front of huge crowds unexpectedly, and if she’s an extrovert, don’t forbid her to reach out to people. She may be similar to the last pastor’s wife—or the polar opposite. But that’s okay because God gave us all different gifts and personalities. Let her be the woman God made her to be, and don’t try to force her into your image of what that should look like.
2. She needs worship time as much as anyone. Let her have it.
Don’t assault her with problems and petty complaints when she walks in the church doors, and unless it’s urgent, don’t pull her out of the church service to tell her details of your latest drama. If you can, give her time to come before God on her own. To let God renew and refresh her, and to allow her to unburden herself of the week’s worries.
She carries more than you probably realize—so many people’s secrets and fears and ugly realities—and she knows that God is the only One who can equip her to serve with a pure heart. Give her this time to worship God in whatever way she chooses—whether expressively or quietly, whether from the front of the stage or in the back row of the pews. Her personal faith is immensely important, and just like the rest of us, she has to devote herself to finding intimacy with God—in church and at home.
3. Love her family.
Just as she doesn’t need the weight of unreasonable expectations, neither does her family. Her kids will make mistakes. They might act out or make poor decisions at times, and she and her husband might have struggles in their own relationship or extended families. This is just the way life is, not a reflection of your pastor’s ministry or walk with God. When these things happen, embrace her family just as they are, and encourage them like you would anyone else.
On the flip side, don’t make her feel guilty when things are going smoothly—when they receive financial blessings, or have a happy marriage, or their kids excel. Life is a series of ups and downs, and God is present in both the trials and the triumphs. Their blessings don’t diminish what God has for you, nor is God’s will in their lives better or more valuable than what He will do in yours.
However, in order to have a good family life—and in order to have the strength to do their jobs well—they need time together. Alone. Make sure to keep their vacation time uninterrupted, and encourage your pastor and his wife to do things together, just the two of them. She needs his attention, too.
4. Don’t put her on a pedestal.
She deserves your respect, but she is flawed, just like we are. If you demand too much—or build her up too much—it is likely that she will fall. She has insecurities, and she can be hurt by your words and actions and judgments. Offer her grace if she forgets your name, or doesn’t choose your idea for a fundraiser, or picks a Bible study you don’t like, or reprimands your child, or just wears a really unflattering outfit.
It’s hard enough for any of us to juggle our personal faith lives, the demands of family, and the responsibilities of work. Remember that she’s doing it all while everyone else watches. Be quick to offer help and slow to profess judgment, because she’s doing the best she can. She will likely do many amazing things, but if—when—she falls short, she needs your love and acceptance.
5. Let her have close friends.
She needs a safe place to vent, an outlet where she can laugh and be silly or sit and weep over her burdens. People within the church may be jealous of her close friendships, but she needs time to be herself—without the title or responsibilities of her position. Don’t assume that she’s telling her friends your secrets; trust her integrity. But be glad for her when she can find time to have fun, and don’t criticize her if she’s not always available.
If you’re one of her close friends, offer her a listening ear and lots of laughter. She may not want advice; she just needs a friend to share her wild and crazy, difficult and demanding, absurd and wonderful life with. Pray for her and appreciate her, but don’t get possessive. Chances are, she is in control of very little of her time, so say yes when she finds a few minutes to offer you.
Pray with me?
Dear Lord, it is an honor and a privilege to serve You. But some roles, like that of a pastor and his wife, come with weighty expectations. Help me not to place unreasonable expectations on those who serve You, and replace my judgment and criticism with passionate prayer and generosity of spirit. Thank You for the dedication of my pastor’s wife. Thank You for the woman she is—the good and bad, the strong and the weak. Show me how to love her just as she is, and teach me to appreciate the particular ways You have designed her to fulfill it. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she’s also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
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