My wife, Grace, is both a pastor’s daughter and a pastor’s wife. Her daddy graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with men like Chuck Swindoll. He planted a church before she was born, and remained there for over forty years. In conversations with her over the years, I’ve gleaned a lot about the cost a family pays to be in ministry.
In a few mainly prosperity-oriented, religious-type churches, the pastor’s wife is treated as the first lady, with an over-the-top amount of power and deference. However, in most small churches, the pastor’s wife is treated as the last lady, with an over-the-top lack of love and consideration. As a result, she’s the last lady to sit down for a church meal because she’s in the kitchen, the last one to make it in to hear her husband’s sermon because she’s getting hen-pecked by the needy and religious women, the last person to get help when she’s in need because she’s busy looking after everyone else, and the last person to get her husband’s undivided attention because his phone is always ringing with someone who has randomly decided they are more important than her.
Many pastors have children. On Sundays, the pastor’s wife is basically a single mother. She gets up early to cook a nice breakfast, chat with her husband, and pray for him before sending him off to preach. She then has to get the kids up and ready, get herself ready, and get the family out the door early enough to not be late to church, because everyone will talk if she’s late. She often does not have a designated parking spot as she should, and upon entering the church she is continually interrupted by people wanting to chat—often including rude people, demanding people, and critics of her husband. She tries to keep an eye on her kids during all of this while carrying a diaper bag and other belongings, and eventually she makes her way into the church service, where it is likely she does not have a seat saved for her. Surely the church can do better than this.
Many churches do not factor into the pastor’s compensation the thousands of dollars his family pours back into the ministry. If you want the pastor to live near the church, have a home big enough to entertain, have an extra room for guests, have lots of people over for meetings and meals, and tithe generously to the church, all of that costs money.
On top of that, consider how many birthday, wedding, baby, anniversary, and Christmas presents the pastor’s family has to buy each year. When our church was very young, we spent literally thousands of dollars a year on these expenses, even though the church was not paying us. We had a few thousand people in our home every year and interns living with us, plus a home office. We did so gladly, because we love the church. But we did go into some debt since we had no reserves, and if a car with over two hundred thousand miles broke down, the credit card was our only option.
If your pastor does not work hard and does not give generously, fire him. If he does work hard and does give generously, then compensate him decently and free his family up to be more generous and productive.
On Sundays, the pastor’s wife is basically a single mother.”
One of the worst examples I have seen comes from a small church. The pastor was not paid a full salary because their giving was low. His wife worked a job to make ends meet, and the two of them gave all of their life to the service of that church. One of their elders who ran their books asked me to offer consult to the church, as they had not grown in many years. The first thing I asked for was the giving record of the elders. Only two of the six elders had given any money of any decent amount over the entire year—the lead pastor and the bookkeeper. The other four men on the board—all with decent, steady jobs—gave nothing or next to it. But year after year they were fine with letting the pastor’s wife work a taxing job to make ends meet and open up her home week after week to feed and serve people. She was one of the top givers in the church. It was criminal. It is common.
To be sure, most churches do not have a lot of money. Still, even an effort to take care of the pastor and his family means a lot.
Days off, vacations, and holidays
In the Bible, God commands all of his people to take a day off, called a Sabbath. Certainly, people can and do get legalistic and religious about this issue, but the simple fact is if we do not take a voluntary Sabbath, we will eventually take an involuntary Sabbath, as we break down and end up sick and/or hospitalized. For a pastor, Sunday is a workday. This is doubly true if he has evening services on Saturday or Sunday night. He has to set aside another time as his Sabbath.
So, when it’s his day off or his vacation time with his family (which is so vital), someone else needs to be on call to answer his phone, deal with emergencies, and tend to the flock. A handful of high-drama, demanding church people can ruin an entire pastoral family by constantly calling, dropping by, and otherwise interrupting without due cause during dinner time, days off, and vacations. Such people are selfish and do not understand that when a shepherd has a little flock of family and a big flock of church, he cannot give all his time to one sheep who is just lonely. Such sheep need to hang with the other sheep and give the shepherd a break.
Holidays are also tough times for the pastor’s wife. Unlike most of the women in the church, she cannot enjoy Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and other such holidays by having her family all together and going to church. Why? Because her husband has to work on those days every single year. So, pray for her, thank her, and be sympathetic to the continual sacrifice she makes for the good of the whole church.
Those women are legion. Those women are pushy, demanding, and masters at guilt. They try to make the pastor’s wife be their friend, expect her to be at every church event, have some job description they have dreamed up for her (like running the women’s ministry), demand personal email and cellphone access, expect to be in the pastor’s home whenever they like, and seek to get their hand on the rudder of the church through manipulating the pastor’s wife. Those women tend to be quite religious and difficult to deal with.
The truth is, the Bible has no office or job description called “pastor’s wife.” This is because the pastor’s wife is simply to be a Christian church member like everyone else. Her first priorities are to be a godly woman, godly wife, and then godly mother, after which all other duties fall. If she is busy with her family and the ministry she and her husband have, to their children, and the guests they entertain, her plate is more than full. If she desires to use certain gifts to serve in the church and she and her husband think it’s a good idea, then that is fine, but not to be expected. Perhaps, as her children grow up, she may have more time to be involved in more ministry, if that is what she and her husband desire and feel called to.
The Bible has no job description called “pastor's wife.” The pastor’s wife is simply to be a Christian church member like everyone else.”
I am blessed to have married a woman who loves both Jesus and the church. She has no desire to work after our children are raised, but she does want to teach and train women more than she is able to today. Today, she is busy with five young children and has only a little time for training women and other ministry in the church. When our children are grown she will give more time to formal ministry in the church as an unpaid church member, just like everyone else, as we agree that’s what God has called her to.
Those women need to know that a pastor’s wife is to be friendly toward all people, but should not be expected to be friends with all people. She, like everyone else, has a right to choose her friends. Whom she spends time with, opens her heart to, invites to her birthday party, and allows into her home is her choice to make.
In conclusion, I am urging people who love their church and its leaders to pray for and care for the pastor’s wife, whose ministry is so vital, yet overlooked or assumed. Gifts are a good practical way to love the pastor’s wife, but it is even more thoughtful and loving to give her cash or a gift card so she can get what she needs or wants. The purpose of gifts is defeated if her house is filled with a bunch of things she cannot use but feels obligated to display so that when you come over she doesn’t feel rude. Beyond gifts, tell her thanks. Write her thank you cards. Look for ways to ensure she is served and helped on Sundays.
Thankfully, after some painful years in ministry, Mars Hill Church has matured to a wonderful place where Grace and I are well loved and supported. So, this blog post is filled with things we do not need. Yet many pastors’ wives still do need them, and I am hoping that some of you can help be that blessing.