Being a pastor’s wife can feel like being a solo traveler on a long trip in a foreign country. There is the rush that comes from the adventure of learning to traverse different terrain, experimenting with new cuisine, and taking time to understand the values and avoid the landmines of another culture.
But there are also difficulties — experiencing the loneliness that may be caused by language barriers, navigating the risks involved in attempting new things, or even neglecting to build authentic relationships with local people in the community. While it’s one of the sweetest gifts we inherit in Christ, navigating community can be a similar experience.
As believers, we gain community through the local church that should provide security and direction. Through it, we can observe and participate in the journey to Christian maturity. Immersing ourselves in healthy relationships should help us to find joy in the mundane seasons of life and see the right perspective when navigating tough ones. Our church community, created to refine, encourage, and train us, pushes us as we grow to be more like Christ. These same gifts are available to the pastor’s wife, as a fellow church member, but landmines often prohibit her from receiving them.
Finding a balance
As a Christian woman, I’ve found the life-giving, faith-building relationships I enjoy within my Christian sisterhood are invaluable. Through wisdom, we allow each other access into each other’s lives. In faith, we build trust through the investment of time. And with humility, we allow each other to speak truth into our broken spaces. Having been a pastor’s wife, I understand the tension that can come from both wanting to have these types of relationships and feeling the need to guard yourself. The drive to protect is almost a reflex.
In time, I’ve come to learn that every discerning woman — pastor’s wife or not — must strike an intentional balance. On one side, we share honesty when we embrace the freedom that allows us to put our flaws on display. And then, as we openly process through the ebbs and flow of victories and losses, we can choose to use those flaws to point others to Christ. On the other side, we have a responsibility to exercise wisdom in what we share and why we share it as we seek to care for our relationships, health, spiritual development, and integrity. This wisdom is a mark of true Christian maturity.
Many women in churches today are processing their struggles alone and living closed off from others. They’re filtering their thoughts through clouded messaging about the ways they can invest their lives and use their gifts. Witnessing their church leaders’ humanity practically reproduces the model Jesus provided. Paul says it clearly, “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB). Transparency invites the congregant in. This is the currency through which trust is brokered, and operating in wisdom ultimately pays the dividends.
The role of the church
The “pastor’s wife” is not a biblical office; it’s a mission. It is a built-in leadership opportunity to model the role of community in the life of the Christian as a woman and as a wife. So, the question is not should she be transparent, but how can she safely live in transparency in her community? The responsibility for this is not hers alone. The church must be willing to do its part too.
Churches must be careful to allow their pastoral families to come to church and worship as Christian community members. Traditionally, churches have loaded the wife of the pastor with as much responsibility as the pastor himself. Members expect her to serve and give of herself in ways they themselves are unwilling to. Or they put pastors’ wives on a pedestal and give them automatic credit for a certain super-level of spiritual maturity based solely on the fact that they are married to the pastor. Both are unfair to her and potentially dishonest to the congregation.
The church misses out on a gift when they don’t encourage her to walk both confidently in who God has made her to be and honestly on the days that she needs help in her own spiritual walk. There should not be pressure to perform.
The role of the pastor’s wife
As a pastor’s wife gracefully embraces her mission while living in community with other believers, she pushes against the idea that she experiences “special” troubles or unrelatable issues. Hopefully, this will dispel the notion that the pastor’s wife is supposed to be segregated from or set above the life of the church and its community.
While there are genuine concerns that are unique to leaders and their families, appropriate levels of transparency allow everyone in the church, but women in particular, to see a pastor’s wife as an everyday Christian whose life is put on display. Her openness can demonstrate how God is personally at work in her life, showing the positive effects of God challenging her in ministry, how He is pushing her forward in Him, and lastly, how God is requiring her obedience just as He does every person’s in the pew.