Being a Pastor’s Wife is HARD: Then and Now

Disclaimer: while I don’t like the term Pastor’s wife for several reasons, I’ll be using this title in this post. 

While visiting my grandmother earlier this week, she reminded me of some of the difficulties of being a Pastor’s wife in her day and age. Today, while being married to a pastor can still be hard, I remember my grandmother’s generation and how much more difficult it was then.

Being a Pastor’s wife THEN (1950’s to the 1980’s):

1. Church members would state their opinions at society meetings and other places re: what they felt the pastor’s wife should be doing. She would be told where she should serve and where she should not serve in the church. This was done without asking her thoughts or opinions and with no regard to her comfort level or giftedness. She was often given the jobs that no one else in the church wanted to do. She was not compensated in any way, nor did a pastor with a wife get paid more than a single pastor.

2. It was quite common to be given mixed messages back then re: appearance and being a pastor’s wife. Many in this generation were told not to wear jewelry, not even their wedding band, for fear that they may be seen as vain. Yet, at the same time, they were expected to dress up for every church event, to create an image that they were well off even when most were dirt poor.

3. The church came first, the family second. No exceptions. Dad was always gone. He often knew far more about his parishioners than he did about his own wife and children. And church members often had a key to the pastorate and stopped in unannounced to “check on”things. There was rarely respect shown for family time and privacy.

Being a pastor’s wife NOW:

1. Some congregants continue to have strong opinions on what the pastor’s wife should be doing. The mentality re: getting a 2-for-1 package deal when the pastor is married still exists in some congregations today. Many churches still ask the pastor’s wife to be present during the interview process and sometimes interview her.

2. There continues to be a preconceived notion re: what the pastor’s wife should dress like. How sad that a woman said to me, “I could never marry a pastor, I could never wear dresses and skirts all the time!” This was said in 2010!

3. In regards to priorities as a Minister, family time has begun to take higher priority in recent years. There’s now been generations of PK’s (pastor’s kids) who have left the church as a result of their father devoting his life to the parishioners while neglecting his family. In scripture it says, “what good is it to gain the whole world yet lose your soul” – Mark 8:36. In a similar regard, pastors are wrestling with making family more of a priority these days. For what good is it to gain the congregation while losing your family?

There’s more that could be said re: the challenges of this non paid, no training role (Pastor’s wife). It was hard in my grandmother’s generation. It remains hard today but there are glimmers of hope, evidence of change. There’s still a long way to go, but change is a process. It takes time.

P.S. We are happy at our church, fyi! 🙂 This post was inspired from the conversations that I’ve had with pastor’s wives over the years. It’s remarkable just how common these themes are despite the different contexts.  

8 thoughts on “Being a Pastor’s Wife is HARD: Then and Now”

  1. It’s so interesting to see the progress we’ve made, yet also so disheartening to see what families had to go through before all the progress, and how that must have affected their relationship with God and their relationship with the church. As far as your points in the second half of your post:

    1. Yes. This happened to me and totally took me off guard. Husband was interviewing for a position and I was brought in with him. I was asked a ton of questions, and then also asked where I was planning to serve in the church and what I would be involved in. The tone was what was hard though… it was as if anything less than a huge time and serving commitment would be hugely frowned upon.

    2. Yup! My skinny jeans did not go over well.

    3. So true. And precisely why we left. The church commitments and expectations were way more than we were led to believe initially, and it was totally sucking every last ounce out of our marriage. That experience taught us so much, and now one of the huge things we value in a church (and advise others if they ask) is how a church values family and marriage. In my (humble) opinion, a church that does not value these things is not a church I want to be a part of.

  2. was required to attend all recruitment dinners so they could check me out as well as him. Talk about nerve racking! And of course my husband’s work comes first, always. His pager never leaves his side, which I’m not sure I’ll ever be okay with… Hopefully as the years pass and you ‘move up in the ranks’ so to speak, you can change the norms and expectations for good!

    1. OOPs, here is what I meant to post!

      This brings back so many memories for me… My first husband was a fire fighter, and as a condition of employment, the fire chief came to our home to interview both of us separately and together! We divorced, probably because of his long shifts, and now I’m married to a surgeon. Similar story though. I was required to attend all recruitment dinners so they could check me out as well as him. Talk about nerve racking! And of course my husband’s work comes first, always. His pager never leaves his side, which I’m not sure I’ll ever be okay with… Hopefully as the years pass and you ‘move up in the ranks’ so to speak, you can change the norms and expectations for good!

      1. Wow, I thought pastor’s wives were the only ones interviewed when their PARTNER was applying for a position. I also had the separate interview and the one together. When you stop to think about it, there’s very little that makes sense about this. I actually wonder if it’s crossing some basic HR lines, like not asking about age, if you plan to get pregnant, etc.

      2. Yes, so true. I have no idea how my looks, actions, what I order for dinner, etc., has any bearing on my husband’s medical skills. Sadly though, they do base hiring on such. In fact, his contract requires we participate in specific community organizations. Talk about painting a pretty picture! At the recruitment dinners I always felt like the bow that completed the package. Somewhere along the way we lost track of what’s really important in life.

    2. Just wanted to add that your situation is a reminder that being in the ministry isn’t the only position that demands work first, family second, unfortunately 😦

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