What Expectations Should You Place on Your Pastor’s Wife?

What Expectations Should You Place on Your Pastor’s Wife?

As the month of March has come to a close, so too has “Pastor’s Wife Appreciation Month.” Back in 2016, Crossway Publishing announced that throughout the month of March they would be celebrating, championing and encouraging pastor’s wives with a series of blog posts and promotional materials. 

As gimmicky as it was and is, this event, whether accidentally or purposely, also lines up with the month-long International Women’s Day celebration. As a pastor’s wife and woman in ministry, I appreciate the nod to pastor’s wives and the semblance of appreciation to the myriad of roles that we play within the church. However, I wonder if we’re actually going to appreciate pastoral spouses (including men married to women pastors), might we also discuss the reality of the expectations placed specifically upon women in those very roles. 

To better do this, it might be helpful to draw the stark contrast between men married to female pastors and women married to male pastors. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a one-and-done set expectations for men or women in the role of “pastor’s spouse.” However, as one-such female in the role of pastor’s wife, I can speak to the expectations I experienced placed upon myself and the other female pastor’s wives with whom I’ve built friendships and relationships. 

Here is a brief list of the requirements of men married to women in ministry, from my observation: 

Nope, there wasn’t an editing error, and no, text was not removed from the above list. The list of requirements for men married to women in ministry is surprisingly void of any actual requirement. In some congregations, perhaps there is a desire from the church and the staff as a whole that the husband’s of women in ministry participate at some level. However, the expectation of that is a substantial divergence from the expectations of women married to men in ministry. 

By contrast, here is a short and in no way exhaustive list of the expectations and sometimes even requirements of women married to pastors: 

  1. Serve faithfully and consistently in a particular area of ministry (often children’s or worship ministries).
  2. Be an extension of our husbands, always available for that extra dinner meeting, couples counseling sessions, you name it. 
  3. Jump in a serve as needed. 
      1. The toilet in the church’s lobby is backed up? No worries, the pastor’s wife can plunge it. 
      2. One of the children’s ministry volunteers called out sick? No problem, the pastor’s wife can cover that classroom. 
      3. A tech volunteer failed to show up Sunday morning? Guess what, your pastor’s wife is trained and ready to roll in ProPresenter, she’s got this. 

No, this list is not theoretical. I’ve experienced each of these scenarios first-hand, as have many of the pastor’s wives I know. Actually, their lists are massively longer than mine, most likely because they’ve been serving faithfully in ministry much longer than I have. 

In addition to those expectations and requirements of pastor’s wives, there is a whole other area of expectation that is often implied but perhaps not directly communicated. These implied expectations can be on a sliding-scale dependent upon the specific congregation, church culture, age and stage of life of the particular pastor’s wife and the church denomination. 

These expectations can range from the expectation that the pastor’s wife is always put together—Lord forbid that a pastor’s wife actually show up at church disheveled or stressed or showing any emotion at all for that matter—to the expectation that a pastor’s wife who works outside the home will quit her job to focus solely on raising a family and supporting her husband in ministry. No mind that most families these days require dual-incomes just to survive and often churches are unable to provide insurance and medical benefits or competitive salaries on track with cost of living.

There are expectations that a pastor’s wife is always friendly, available for conversation or counseling at the drop of a hat and even that the pastor’s wife will be a passthrough of information to her husband. 

Don’t like the current sermon series at your church, have an issue with something the pastor said, want to provide a little “input” or “feedback” for the pastor? The best way to handle this, of course, is to speak directly to the pastor’s wife. Surely, she’ll pass your information on to her husband, certainly leaving you anonymous and packaging your advice, thoughts, feedback and possibly even criticisms with the weight of her words and relational privilege. 

At the end of the day, there are a couple things that we might want to keep in mind when it comes to pastor’s wives. We might look at our pastor’s wives as real people who need love and prayer and grace just as much as any other person. We might also consider just how much our pastor’s wives do serve in ministry alongside their husband—whether that service is behind the scenes or in public view—and appreciate them for what they bring to the churches in which they serve. Additionally, we need to stop thinking of pastor’s wives as “two-fers” or the “freebie” that the church gains when hiring their husbands. Instead, we might consider what they bring to the table as a gift out of love for the Lord, their husbands and their church community. 

When we shift our perspective away from expectation and towards appreciation we can take the pressure off of our pastor’s wives and become partners in service together. We must remember that service to the body of Christ (i.e., the church) belongs to all of us who are in Christ. This means that we are a community, and yes while our community does thrive in organization, our faith community thrives even more so when we all share in the responsibility. 

So, consider your pastor’s wife as a gift. Remove the expectations that you’ve placed upon her, whether intentionally or inadvertently. Perhaps, you might even consider ways that you can care for your pastor’s wife, through prayer, acts of service and life-giving words of encouragement. 

Can you start praying for her and her husband and her family as a whole? Can you drop her a note and tell her that you see and appreciate her? How about gifting her and her husband to a dinner out? Or even, if you’re close, offering to help watch her kids for an evening (if she’s in that season of life). 

The next time you see your pastor’s wife in the trenches, consider how you can jump in there with her. Finally, if you find yourself wanting to place expectations upon her, before doing so, consider, “would I hold these same expectations upon a man married to a female pastor or woman in ministry?” If the answer to that question is “no” then perhaps those expectations shouldn’t apply to her either.

Rachel BakerRachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.