A few months back, I wrote a post about how you can support your pastor’s wife. In it, I mentioned that because the role of the pastor’s wife comes with so many challenging aspects, there could be a field manual for women about to square up with the task. In place of a field manual, though, I thought I’d offer more insight via a few dedicated blog posts. Here’s the second of three.
Last time, we peered into the realities of seminary life—that very first hurdle for a couple headed toward the ministry. Ready for more? Today we will look at something that can be an ongoing (or even recurring) hurdle: The Role™ of the pastor’s wife in the congregation.
My goal remains only to equip and edify, not scare. Furthermore, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers out there in the attempt. However, there are several pervasive misconceptions about what exactly a pastor’s wife should be and do once her husband takes a call to a congregation. And I would posit that most expectations of this imposed variety are neither legitimate nor reasonable.
Hear me out—I know how it sounds. But here’s the truth: the pastor’s wife did not, by accident of marrying her husband, become an employee of the congregation once he received the call. WDTM? It means that once a church calls a new pastor, it does not automatically gain a new Sunday School teacher, choir director, instrumentalist, VBS coordinator, women’s Bible study leader, church secretary, or active LWML member in the bargain. Aside from what is expected of any Christian person in the Body of Christ, the vocation of wife—or vocations of wife and mother—should be the only “requirement” of a pastor’s wife, and nobody should compel, shame, or wheedle her volunteerism.
Mind you, if a pastor’s wife is a church worker in her own right or thrives on being actively plugged into the life of her church, that is a very different story. But please know that this is not always the case. Not every woman who marries a pastor is a church worker by trade. Not every woman who marries a pastor is comfortable putting herself out there. Not every woman has the mental space, spare time, or motivation to serve in extra ways. And that is okay.
I remember a discussion on The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge podcast Facebook page a while back that asked, “What does it take to be the ‘perfect’ seminary (or pastor’s) wife?” There was a lot of fantastic conversation that arose from the topic. Here are my two cents from that online thread:
In terms of the expectations of sem wives/pastor’s wives, the best buffer against unrealistic expectations from congregations is twofold.
- The knowledge that the seminarian’s wife/pastor’s wife has one or two primary vocations that come ahead of everything else—wife and possibly mother. Often, these vocations will override a woman’s availability or energy for any involvement within the church that might be “expected” and are, especially in terms of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation, the priority.
But Wait—There’s More
That second buffer against unrealistic expectations I mentioned is this (continued from that thread):
- Your husband’s understanding that volunteering you for anything at the congregation’s behest without your knowledge is grounds for cutting him.
I followed this Facebook response with a knife emoji and a laughing emoji to signify lightheartedness. I say this lest anyone think I endorse spousal murder. I definitely don’t! Even after that one time my own husband, fresh out of seminary, volunteered me for something at church without running it by me first. Hoooo boy. But rest assured, he lives.
So not only should churches not expect a pastor’s wife to be a bonus employee or a free fix for whatever position happens to be vacant, but neither should a pastor offer up his wife’s time or talents without discussion first. One step further: a pastor should never feel pressured to do so. Clear communication between husband and wife on these boundaries will only ever be a benefit to ensure you’re both on the same page—as with so many other things in a healthy marriage. I highly recommend it.
The Moral of the Story
Ladies, the reality is that some congregation members will expect things of you wherever you go. But the extended reality is that you are not obliged to meet these expectations, neither by dint of scriptural decree nor fine print in your husband’s call documents. They may be well-intentioned expectations or somewhat presumptuous—but you should always aim to meet them with your clear boundaries. And with your husband’s backup.
Once again, not every story is the same. I have only confronted a small handful of such expectations in the eleven years I have spent as a pastor’s wife, and the lovely things about the role have far outweighed any impositions. Some of the best things you will experience as a pastor’s wife are the love and support of the congregation. These, paired with the ability to define your availability and direct your service as suits you best, will make your time with a congregation joyful.
Learn about how you can support your church workers.