I might not know your wife personally, but we are connected through our shared membership in a unique club. You might not have heard of this club before, if your wife doesn’t want you to know she belongs to it. It’s the “Help! I’m a Pastor’s Wife and I’m Struggling Club.” There are no membership fees, no annual meetings, and no way of leaving this club—unless you leave the ministry, which she doesn’t want! Having been a pastor’s wife for many years, let me share with you some of the struggles your wife may be dealing with.
Sunday mornings are hard for a pastor’s wife. She might look chipper enough as she kisses you goodbye when you leave home early for your final Sunday morning prep, but after you leave, she takes a deep breath and then hurries to get the kids fed and dressed and in the car without your help. She might be serving in the children’s ministry or with the worship team and looking to her own prep ahead of her. Once she gets to church and drops off the kids, she will enter into worship—usually alone—while you lead the service and preach. And as she participates, she will be listening for ways she can encourage you when you ask for her feedback about the service on Sunday afternoon. After church you will be busy meeting and greeting people and connecting with staff members while she rounds up the kids and heads home to prepare a meal for her hungry family. And along the way, some of your flock may even stop her to get a message through to you because they “know how busy our pastor is and wouldn’t want to bother him.” Believe me, Sunday mornings are hard for pastor wives.
What can you do to help? Ask your wife what Sunday mornings are like for her! What does she enjoy about them? What does she find hard? Is there anything you can do that would help your wife rejoice in her decision to marry a pastor? Try to make it work for both of you.
Your wife deeply identifies with the ups and downs of your ministry. She sees behind the scenes. She knows how hard you work six days each week—and also on Christmas Eve and Good Friday and Easter and for funerals and weddings and other special services—and she tries to happily fit into your busy schedule. She responds to cries for help that arise from your flock. She hurts over the distance that is growing between her and that couple you married and invested deeply in who now, for some inexplicable reason, have left your fellowship for a different church. She hears the fatigue in your voice on Monday mornings after you have given your all and still struggle with feelings of failure. She sees the questions in your eyes after the elders’ meeting to discuss the staff firing you must carry out.
Your wife is committed to you and your ministry, and she feels just as much a failure as you do at times—way down deep. She wants to encourage you and lift you up, but she doesn’t know how.
You can teach her how. Ray needed to teach me. I still remember that Sunday evening, after he had preached for two services in the morning and then a different sermon for the evening service. We were discussing how the day went and I was going on and on about two suggestions for him from a couple of our people. Eventually, he came towards me and took me in his arms. He held my attention with his tender but intense Ortlund stare until I finally stopped chattering about the correct way to pronounce that missionary’s name—or whatever the issue was for that particular Sunday. Then he said something I’ll never forget: “Darling, every man on the face of this earth needs someone who believes in him, who isn’t trying to change him or fix him, who likes him just the way he is. I wonder, would you be willing to be that person for me?” Boy, was I! But I needed Ray’s coaching.
So, gently coach your wife. You can start by asking her, “Can I tell you something that really works for me?” And then share how you two can be a winning team in this calling from Christ. Give her words to say that help you. And then thank her in meaningful ways when she uses them!
The pastor’s wife sometimes feels like the church got “two-for-the-price-of-one.” Your wife wants to help you in your ministry. But in how many other occupations is the wife called upon as often as in the pastorate? She can grow weary. Maybe you’ve asked her to proof your sermon or listen to your new podcast. Perhaps it is the new member’s dinner she hosts four times a year, or the missionary family that needs to stay with you the week they are candidating, or the couple struggling in their marriage who want to talk with you both, or the staff Christmas party you’d like to host in your home. The list goes on. Even the most devoted pastor’s wife does not have endless energy.
Make this gently clear: You can’t imagine your ministry—indeed your very life—without her.
What might help her? Show her that it’s not all on her. Get cheerfully involved in practical ways. Does she need help with a Costco run? What about set-up ahead of time and clean-up afterwards? Give her a break the next day with a light supper out, or free her to pamper herself at the nail salon or her favorite coffee shop. Show her how much you appreciate the extra work she puts in and tell her how beautiful you find her loving service to the King.
Your wife might be intimidated by your theological expertise. Did your wife work to help put you through seminary? Or was she home with young children while you attended classes? She may hesitate to talk with you about her cares and concerns because she feels a gap between her mastery of the Bible and yours. I used to find it hard to discuss with Ray certain ideas I had because I felt he was smarter than I was. I was too timid to make my voice heard for fear of looking stupid or becoming too emotional. So, I would just clam up and withdraw—and stew. But I couldn’t resist for very long Ray’s gentle requests that I open up. He would say, “Let’s make this a win-win, darling. Please tell me how I can be a better husband for you.” He absorbed my fear of looking spiritually immature and helped me feel accepted for my real self. He asked questions and listened to me, proving he was interested in learning from me. I felt so valued, so safe.
It’s not what you want, but your wife may feel afraid to be vulnerable with you, her husband and pastor. She might think that surely, if you really knew her way down deep, you’d be disappointed you chose her to be your wife. Be gentle with her. She might need to be assured over and over again that you love her as she is, you need her, you want her, and you can learn from her. Make this gently clear: You can’t imagine your ministry—indeed your very life—without her.
Remember that your wife, too, is one of your “flock.” Your wife has one pastor—you! Sometimes it’s hard for a woman to be married to her pastor. What if she doesn’t approve of something that’s going on in her church? What if the sermon wasn’t all that scintillating? What if she’s lonely because others assume the pastor’s wife wouldn’t want—or need—their friendship? These are burdens difficult to bear. But you can help her!
As her pastor, how do you think your wife is doing spiritually? Does she have honest, open fellowship with a close friend—someone with whom she can share the cares of her heart? Does she have someone to pray with? Why not ask her and find out how she’s really doing. Come to her aid, tenderly, cheerfully. As one of your church members—and the one you love the most—she needs your pastoring. And she deserves it.
May God bless you and your wife as you serve the Lord together through all the ups and downs of ministry. He is with you in it all. We serve the God who remembers: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have shown for his name in serving the saints as you still do” (Heb. 6:10).
Jani Ortlund is the author of Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those Who Love Them.
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