Recently I posted a response to the pastor’s wife who wrote me to say, “I can understand why pastors and wives aren’t given a secret handbook when ordained, but I really wish we got one.”
My first post in response to this was directed to pastors. This one is takes into consideration their spouses, which in my context where only men are pastors, means their wives. I’m sure it applies in both directions.
This was written for and printed in Florida’s The Bradenton Herald, at a time when the Gulf oil spill dominated the news.
A friend who speaks at conferences in all kinds of churches used to tell me that pastoring the local church was the hardest job in the world. I don’t know. Those trying to contain the Gulf oil spill might put up a good counter-argument, as might many others.
Recently he told me that he had changed his mind and elevated single motherhood to the top spot. This is a wise adjustment.
Married male pastors, however, know they can’t lay claim to second place. That ‘honor’ belongs to the often thankless role assumed by their wives.
The ‘job’ of pastor’s wife comes with no job description, no pay, and plenty of unwritten expectations from church and husband. She is to lead, teach, and be outgoing. She is to do anything and be at everything. And she is to have perfect children.
Some avoid these expectations, but there is a weight she carries that cannot be avoided.
When pastors struggle with pastoral issues, it is the wife who watches, often helplessly. When he comes home enveloped in the dark cloud of concern for the flock, she sees. Concern for confidentiality prevents his letting her in. She can do nothing.
When others aim criticism at her husband, the arrows strike her heart, too. Other wives might find comfort in the body of the church, a balm often denied the pastor’s wife, who cannot share with other women her concern for her husband.
When someone leaves a church, the pastor is often the focus of that decision. Though those leaving may maintain relationships with others in the church, the pastor is often cut off. The wife becomes collateral damage and can grow fearful of pouring her heart into the next relationship for fear of it being crushed all over again. Many minister out of a broken heart.
Her role is not all heartache. There is much joy. Even those capping oil wells get to go for a swim in exotic waters. Most pastor’s wives would not change ‘jobs’ for another. So don’t cry for her. Pray for her. Love her. Encourage her.
This may not be the hardest job in the world, or even the second. But if there is a list of unseen and under-appreciated jobs, “pastor’s wife” will certainly lurk about the top.