Kay Warren, the wife of Saddleback Church founder and best-selling author Rick Warren, has described being a pastor’s wife as “one of the most challenging endeavors a woman can face.” She goes on to describe the life of a pastor’s wife as a journey through tears, trials, struggles, heartaches, triumphs, and joys.” She is absolutely right! I can imagine no calling so wrought with challenge as the calling of a pastor’s wife. A retired Southern Baptist pastor and author, Joe McKeever, says that a pastor’s wife “can be hurt in a hundred ways—through attacks on her husband, her children, herself.” He goes on to say that “her pain is magnified by one great reality: She cannot fight back.” Pastors’ wives are expected to be the embodiment of grace, gentleness, and forgiveness. It’s no exaggeration to say that it takes a super-human Christian to be a pastor’s wife! Of course, the problem with this is that most pastors’ wives are just like the rest of us—you cut them and they bleed.
I thank God every day for bringing my wife into my life almost twenty-five years ago. I cannot begin to imagine where I would be today were it not for my wife. I would certainly not be in pastoral ministry. In almost twenty years of church leadership she has been my confidant, confessor, counselor, support, encouragement, and inspiration. She has lifted me up when I was down, encouraged me when I was discouraged, and stood by me through all the joys and struggles of daily ministry. When things are going well people give me the credit for ministry successes; she stands in the background praising God for His faithfulness. When the church and I are struggling, she lifts us both up in prayer and, as a faithful servant, does what she can to bring renewal. I suspect that when the final trumpet is sounded and Christians receive their rewards for their faithfulness, more than a few pastors’ wives will be at the front of the line.
In the meantime, in an online article, Joe McKeever suggests five “gifts” [my term, not his] that a church can give to their pastor’s wife today:
1. The gift of allowing her to be herself: The heaviest burden that a pastor’s wife bears is not the burden placed on her by God but by church people. Just as every church person has their own thoughts as to what a pastor should be so do they have their own ideas and expectations of a pastor’s wife. Let me encourage you to put aside those expectations. Allow your pastor’s wife to decide for herself where she wants to serve. Let her experience the joy of hearing God’s call to a ministry without the static of a thousand expectations. Focus on being supportive and understanding no matter what she chooses to do (or not do) in the church.
2. The gift of your love and gratitude: I’ll never forget a comment made to me one night during a particularly busy time in the life of our church. I had just been to my fourth evening meeting in four nights (not a good habit over the long haul) and at the end of the final meeting one church member said to me: “Please thank your wife and kids for their willingness to share you with us. I know it’s been a busy week for you and I appreciate their sacrifice.” That simple comment meant the world to me and to my family. It meant so much to my family to have their sacrifice acknowledged. Take time to remember and acknowledge the sacrifice that the families of pastors make for the sake of ministry.
3. The gift of your prayers: Joe McKeever writes, “While the Father alone knows her heart, the pastor may be the only person who knows her burdens.” How true that is! You may not know her burdens, but you can pray regularly for your pastor’s wife’s health, her safety, the health of her marriage, protection for her from evil people, and protection from the Evil One. It is the prayers of our people that have sustained my wife and me over almost twenty years of ministry.
4. The gift of practical care: Years ago when my daughter was just a baby my wife hurt her back quite badly leaning over to pick her up. We didn’t know what we were going to do. I was on my way out of town for a conference and my wife was stretched out on her back. I needn’t have worried. My church stepped into the breach looking after my daughter, preparing meals, even tidying up around the house. Their care and practical concern for us at a difficult time showed us what it truly means to be a church family.
5. The gift of speaking up: Pastors and their families are easy targets for destructive people because they are reluctant to “fight back” when attacked. It is at those moments that they need someone to speak up for them. The typical reaction of most church people when their pastor’s wife is attacked is . . . silence. Don’t be like most church people! Speak up for her! Express your appreciation for her and your support of her. Indeed, you don’t even have to wait until she is attacked to speak up for her. Express your appreciation of her privately and publicly. And be specific! Give examples of how your pastor’s wife has been a blessing to you and your church.
At the best of times being a pastor’s wife is a daunting call. I have yet to meet one who feels up to the challenge. These few simple guidelines, however, can go a long way towards lightening the load your pastor’s wife bears. Give your pastor’s wife the gift of your support and encouragement. It will mean the world to her—and to her husband.