Real Pastor’s Wife, Real Answers
Posted: December 12, 2011 Filed under: Sem. Stuff | Tags: Learning to be Mrs. Pastor
As seminary wives, thinking about our future as pastor’s wives can be stressful. We all have heard the horror stories about issues that can arise in the ministry and how it can affect the wives, we all have feared the dreaded “perfect pastor’s wife.” And with four years to stew about the whole “pastor’s wife” label, it’s hard not to let the panic overtake us sometimes. Yet when we actually talk to current pastor’s wives, it quickly becomes clear that while these concerns are real and do happen, there is also much more that comes from being in that role.
Which brings me to the point of the post: Meet C*, a pastor’s wife who currently resides in Iowa. I went to her husband’s church for several years while living in Iowa and had the privilege of getting to know her. While you’ll find C sitting in the church pew with her children most Sundays, you’ll also find her doing unexpected things around the church like scheming with the college-aged members about the best way to prank the deaconess’s office or ranting about exactly why last week’s Michigan game was a load of hooey. Basically, C would never be categorized as a meek and mild pastor’s wife but is straightforward and honest in what she says and does. Because of this, I choose to do a Q and A with her and hope to past along her insights with you. Without further ado, here are C’s truths about being a pastor’s wife.
How long have you been a pastor’s wife?
My husband was ordained in 1996, so I guess that means I’ve been classified as a “pw” for 15 years.
In what types of congregations has your husband served?
My husband has been in both rural ministry and campus ministry.
How do you introduce yourself to church members?
I simply introduce myself by my first name. I don’t feel any need to advertise my relationship to the pastor. When I go to church, I am just another member there attending worship. If they stick around long enough, they’ll figure out that I’m his wife.
During seminary, how did you feel about becoming a pastor’s wife? Did you have any concerns? Did these concerns prove true and if so, how did you handle them?
Wow, seminary was more than a few years ago. Those old worries have all been replaced by “new and improved” ones! In all honesty, I think money was always an issue. That didn’t change once I became a pastor’s wife. I think my biggest worries at the sem were that we’d either end up in a part of the country we hated or that he’d be in a church that was a bad fit. Neither of these worries amounted to anything. Though we agreed that the seminary must use a different map than the one in my atlas (Iowa is not “North of the Mason-Dixon and East of the Mississippi” which were our criteria) we love it here and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. We have also been blessed that my husband has been very happy in the churches where he served and continues to serve.
Have you ever felt obligated to do something for the church (or elsewhere) simply because you’re the pastor’s wife? If so, how did you handle this situation?
Oh, how we all fear this at the seminary and as our husbands get established in their role as pastor.
Okay, what you have to know about me is I worked for a number of years as a design engineer for both a large corporation and then for a very small corporation. Dealing with constant pressure cooker situations successfully (“We are shutting down the production line unless you get out here and fix this NOW”) gave me enormous self confidence. Those jobs also forced me to quickly had to develop what my husband calls “the hide of the pachyderm” which means I did my job and couldn’t care less what people thought (I was literally called “Sugar” when I worked as engineer. Be proud of me – I did not punch the guy in the nose.) I took that confidence with me when my husband became a pastor. That confidence freed me to say yes to volunteer activities which interested me and would work in my schedule and also freed me to look people directly in the eye and tell them, “Thanks for thinking of me but I won’t be able to help/attend/lead/participate in that event.” I know pastor’s wives who never feel this freedom and I feel sorry for them. I guess I would say the best advice I could give is to establish yourself as an independent person the minute you walk into the parish. Be involved in what you would as any other church member if your husband was not the pastor. And don’t let people bully you. There are one or two people in each congregation that seem to feel it’s their job to direct the pastor’s wife. You’ll know who they are within days – if not hours — of landing at the church. Smile, be polite, and be firm. The only two people in that church who care about your personal needs and boundaries are you and your husband. Those are the only two opinions that matter. And realize that nobody ever left a church because the pastor’s wife refused to run the Advent bake sale or (gasp) passed on attending a midweek Bible study.
How do you find a balance between the church and family?
This will always be a battle. Part of it is just making family time a priority. We have 4 extremely active kids, I hold 3 different part time jobs, and my husband is a pastor. We made the decision that family dinners will be a priority. That sometimes means we are all sitting down to eat at 4:30 in the afternoon (we call it our “senior special” dinner) or 7:30 at night. After the meal, we have a brief devotion and pray as a family. The kids each get to pray one (or more) special petitions. Even though our kids are mostly teenagers now, they still look forward to our special time as a family.
What are some disadvantages of being a pastor’s wife?
You will never be a wealthy woman! At least, not in the way that the world views wealth. I think the hardest part is adjusting to the fact that there is never enough money. But having the opportunity to watch my husband fulfill his Calling is something that no money could buy. It’s all worth it.
What do you enjoy most about being a pastor’s wife?
I think the best part of being a pastor’s wife is the front row seat I get to seeing all of God’s abundant mercies and blessings. When a new baby is born, we are one of the first houses called, and a cheer goes up loud and long. Then I get to see God take that little sinner and turn that newborn into a child of God. As pastor’s wife, I am blessed to be invited to the weddings, and witness God join two people in holy matrimony, celebrating how he still does this is our sinful and fallen world. When someone dies, I can hug and cry and grieve with those who mourn, knowing surely that God will take their loved one to himself and keep him safe until the Last Day.
When, as a pastor’s wife, I see how much God acts on behalf of his people, when I see how much he extends his hand in love, when I see him going after the sheep that strayed and brings him back to the fold, I can only sit in awe of His abundant mercy. I would say that my faith has grown much stronger since becoming a pastor’s wife.
What do you feel is the most important piece of advice for a future pastor’s wife?
Keep part of your personal life separate from the church and church members. This includes having a group of friends completely separate from the church. None of my local cohorts have anything to do with the church where my husband is pastor. They do not relate to me at all as a pastor’s wife; only as another mom or friend. This is a terrific sanity saver. It’s also very difficult to do in rural ministry, which is where most first call pastors land. That brings me to my other point: if you have social media such as Facebook or Twitter, keep your personal friends and family separate from your church members. I strongly recommend creating a separate profile for those who you relate to in the church. Many professionals (i.e. lawyers, doctors, and business professions) do this, and it is wise to take a page from their playbook every once in a while.
Why do I say that? I was already a pastor’s wife when Facebook became part of everyday life. I kept one profile and accepted all friend requests, from family, college buddies, high school friends, and church members. If life handed me a do-over, I’d separate those. It’s both embarrassing and annoying when church members feel the need to “fix” you or your opinions. Your friends wonder who that person is – they know you and what you mean by different posts. Worse – your friends often make comments back to the church member which are not at all helpful. Talk about a sticky mess to sort out! It’s much wiser, and much less stress, to have a group where you can be yourself and a separate group where you can be “pastor’s wife.”
*I’m keeping my source anonymous but don’t worry, she’s a very real person. 🙂