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.