Not your average Pastor’s Wife

For Sunday morning, I wear dress pants. No skirts or dresses.

I don’t play the piano for Sunday morning. Or sing on the worship team.

While I volunteer in the nursery, working with children isn’t my life’s passion.

I work full-time and have a 40 minute commute each way.

Some people have no idea what all I do in the church. And yet, my involvement can feel like a part-time job.

I tend to serve where I see the greatest need. That’s the social worker in me.

I love to serve. But before I commit to something I ask myself, “would I do ____ if I wasn’t a pastor’s wife?”

I give my husband feedback on the service (not just his message) fairly often.

At society meetings and the like, I worry about voicing my opinion because of how it may come across as the Pastor’s wife. But I do speak up at times (and worry about it later!).

 

I can feel invisible at times in the presence of my husband when people want his thoughts or wish to praise him. But it helps keep me grounded.

Here’s just a few points about me. Can you relate to any? What about you?

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.  

The problem with the title “Pastor’s Wife”

Besides being married to the President and receiving the title of First Lady, there aren’t many professions where the spouse receives a title by default. The professor’s wife? Nope. Open Heart Surgeon’s wife? Never heard this. Even CEO’s wife has not graced my ears. Yet, there is one title that I hold simply by marrying a man who is a Minister – I’m often referred to as “The Pastor’s wife”.

“Pastor’s wife” is a title that carries with it certain expectations. Here are some (just to name a few): homemaker, hostess, piano player, children’s ministry worker, women’s ministry leader, dresses up often (but not so much that she seems rich or conceited), etc. Interesting that she is assumed to hold so many positions and yet the “Pastor’s wife” has never received any training to give her that title. She hasn’t been to school for pastor’s wifery. She also will never receive a paycheck for being “The Pastor’s wife”.

These days, many a “Pastor’s wife” works outside of the home. Often they are working 40+ hours a week and expected to fulfill their role as “Pastor’s Wife” at church. It’s understandable why “The Pastor’s wife” often feels as if she is failing (Why the Pastor’s Wife is the Most Vulnerable person in your church). She is given a title with no clear expectations, no support for it, and is supposed to thrive in making everyone happy.

I wonder if the title “Pastor’s wife” was no longer used if she’d feel less pressure to perform as a result. Instead of, “this is our Pastor’s wife”, what if people said, “this is Sally”. What if instead of, “our pastor’s wife is great”, people said, “Claire is a great person!”

I love being married to Derek. He’s my best friend. He’s also a pastor. I desire to support him, cherish him, and cheer him on. I also enjoy serving in the church, although I ask myself the following before committing: “would I do ________ if I wasn’t a Pastor’s Wife?”. I try to make decisions based on personal convictions and passions rather than what others may expect of me.  But it’s not always easy.

Maybe the wife of the pastor would feel less pressure if she was referred to as “Sally” instead of ” Sally the Pastor’s wife”.  Maybe the title “Pastor’s wife” holds more weight than we realize. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Pastoral Ministry: the Best and the Hardest

Being in pastoral ministry has its great moments and its challenging ones. Here’s my thoughts on the best and the hardest of them all.

The Best: Getting to know so many different people. Being a pastor’s wife gives me opportunities to meet new people (yay!) and our social network is greatly increased as a result.

The Hardest: Getting to know so many different people.

In regards to the hardest, I’m not talking about those with personality disorders or even the complaints people make (although these aren’t a walk in the park either). Rather, I find the hardest part of being a Pastor’s wife is that we are regularly  exposed to the sadness and suffering that others face. When your network is greatly increased by your husband’s profession as a pastor, you end up knowing more people who are diagnosed with cancer, marriages that are on the rocks, those dealing with childhood trauma, unexpected deaths and you attend funerals more frequently.

As a social worker, I can no longer live in naivety towards human suffering. My profession reminds me of the brokenness of this world on a regular basis. Also, as a pastor’s wife, I also can no longer live in naivety towards human suffering as there’s rarely a week that goes by where someone that we know (as a result of pastoral connections) isn’t heavy on our hearts.

You may be able to appreciate why the best thing about being a pastor’s wife for me is also the hardest. Being in ministry means that we trade some naivety for additional tears and sadness in this life. To know more people (the best) also requires to know more suffering (the hardest).

There you have it, that’s my answer to what’s the best and the hardest part of pastoral ministry as of July 11th, 2013.  If you have a thought, don’t be shy, would love to hear from you in a comment below.