“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”- II Corinthians 12:9
“Do you think YOU could be a pastor’s wife?”
Like a random highway rock smacks your windshield unexpectedly, those words jolted me thirty years ago and still shake me. They came at me in my own house. They came at me from my own mother.
“Well, I don’t know,” I stammered and turned away from her piercing look. “Michael wants to be a pastor. I am his wife. I guess I’ll figure it out.”
Not very convincing to her, I could tell. I wasn’t convinced myself at this time. We had left gainful employment with a company car and our own home and moved halfway across the country with three little children and not enough money saved to do this career-change-thing easily. We chose a seminary intentionally close to my parents to promote family connections.
Closer connections also invited opinions which my parents never lacked.
Truthfully, she did know me well. My personality is strong, my communication style is direct, and my pattern is certainly not avoidance or quiet submission. She had known lots of pastors’ wives in her church experience, and I was not fitting her ideal. Mine either.
The Ideal Pastor’s Wife
In the Bible you can read passages about stellar female behavior, like Proverbs 31:10-31. Many scholars doubt this is a description of a real woman, more a composite snapshot of common roles filled by respectable wives and mothers of that day and time. The list was created to show a young man what to look for in a potential marriage partner.
Other passages dictate how women should respond to their husbands (Col 3:18; I Peter 3:1-2) and act in public (Titus 2:3-5; I Timothy 2:9-10). No record of attributes for a pastor’s wife is found in the Bible. No formula to follow. And yet, expectations for pastors’ wives crop up everywhere from everyone, even your own mother.
What makes the ideal pastor’s wife?
My own naive image of a pastor’s wife was:
- Perpetually kind, sensitive, easy-going, self-controlled
- Always wearing a beautiful, sincere smile.
- Bible educated, physically attractive, socially at ease
- Consistently in love with her pastor-man and children
- Available to give wise counsel or prayer at any moment to anyone in need
- Tastefully decorated house kept in order for drop-ins
- Possibly working outside the home, but mainly focusing on ministry with her husband
Trapped in My Weaknesses
Would my unique set of strengths and, yes, weaknesses permit me to become a successful pastor’s wife? Could I really depend on Paul’s words in II Corinthians 12:9-10?
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
During the four years my husband attended Regent University seminary in Virginia Beach I became the co-leader of the Student Wives Fellowship. Women with husbands in the varied graduate degree programs gathered monthly for worship and encouragement. We united under the same daunting challenge, to become effective helpmates for spouses studying to become lawyers, ministers, missionaries, counselors, businessmen, administrators, and leaders around the world.
We leaned on and learned from each other, sharing our fears, past mistakes, and hopes for the future. Many faculty wives invested in us during our annual weekend retreat, dispensing wisdom and empathy during workshops designed to help propel us along the path toward confidence.
I met all kinds of wives with all kinds of personalities during our time at Regent. Hope began to seep into my heart that there could be a place in the pastors’ wives club for a member like me.
Facing Expectations and Rejections
After graduation from seminary, we returned to the Midwest, the heartland of America. This part of the country is known for conservative gender role traditions, unlike the East Coast culture I grew up in which accepted strong women more easily.
Michael became a lay leader in our Missouri church home. He found full time work in a Christian company and planned to rebuild our finances and then pursue a ministry or missions position in a couple years. I began to teach at the small Christian school connected to the church and our three elementary children settled happily into their new circle of friends. I joined a ladies’ Bible study and soon became the leader. Then I hit a wall, a male pastor wall.
I was not like his wife. I was not like the other two pastors’ wives in our church. They were talented women – one in music ministry, one given to regular hospitality with a large family, and one in the season of pregnancy-childbirth focused on homelife and part-time nursing work. None of them desired the teaching-leading-type roles that drew me and attracted other women with similar personalities to my groups. Lives were being impacted and personal counseling with me was being requested. Apparently the positive testimonies linked to my name (although God was always the source of blessings and transformation) became a thorn to the senior pastor.
One fateful day I was called into his office.
“I want you to stop teaching and counseling. You are not the model we want for women in this church. I will have one of the pastor’s wives take over your group.”
I fled home in tears and pain. My tender hearted husband let me pour out the story and grew furious, but determined we could work this out peacefully. We tried in every way we knew for months and months. I was put under ministry restriction except to teach in the school.
Creating Space for Grace
We left that church, long after most of our friends and half the membership. I was not the only problem for the pastor. He had many leadership issues and eventually left the ministry altogether. Another church in our town welcomed us with open arms and tended to our healing. Soon the senior pastor offered both of us opportunities to utilize our training, God-given gifts, and long-held passions for building up the Body of Christ.
Here I observed six pastor’s wives, distinct and free. One was a fiery red-headed elementary teacher who sang with her worship leader husband. A couple wives made regular weekly appearances at services with smiles and hugs but spent their weekdays at consuming jobs outside the church. The senior pastor’s wife met many characteristics of my original ideal image, but not perfectly. All women were different. All seemed content in a slot that fit their unique profiles.
In a couple years my husband joined the pastoral staff. By then I knew there was room for me, with my strengths and weaknesses. I led women’s ministry and Bible study groups at church while teaching at the large community Christian school. Michael and I did personal and couple counseling and led mission trips. We both grew in our faith journey under the mature leadership of the senior pastor and spiritually healthy church friends and mentors.
God Made Me Into a Pastor’s Wife
After several years overseas, I am now a pastor’s wife again. I make mistakes and fall short of my own ideal, the one God designed and gave me as I learned and listened to His voice over the past years. I try not to compare myself to other women and ask God to continue His good work in me as He promised in Philippians 1:6 (ESV):
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
If you find yourself wondering if you can be a pastor’s wife, ask your loving Heavenly Father. The answer is, “Yes, you can!” and the good news is – He will help.
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