This is a weird post for me to write. I don’t presume to know anything about pastors’ wives. Or about women, for that matter. I am not a pastor, so there are many things I’ll never know about a pastor’s wife. But on the other hand, my detachment from the situation gives me an advantage. On a regular basis, every pastor has to make a choice between standing up for his wife or biting his tongue. So let me, as an outsider, share some of the concerns that many of my pastor friends have with regard to the way their wives are viewed.
Churches aren’t fair to the wives of their pastors. For one thing, the pastor, his wife, and their children live in a fishbowl. Everyone looks in and watches everything they do. There is a healthy side to this. We should consider the way our leaders conduct themselves (Heb. 13:7). But more often than not, we do this critically and with a spirit of judgment. I have heard of pastors’ wives being criticized for their hair being too shiny, their hair not being shiny enough, and for sitting down while ironing. And I’m not joking or exaggerating any of those.
When people are in sin, we have a biblical responsibility to confront them (see Matt. 18). But when it comes to preference issues (i.e., issues not clearly defined in the Bible), then our judgmental spirit means that we are in sin. So if you don’t like the type of nail polish your pastor’s wife wears, then feel free to choose a different color for yourself. But don’t flaunt your pride by gossiping about hers.
The other major concern I have about the way we view pastors’ wives is the assumption that she has to be the women’s ministry director. Or the children’s ministry director. Or at least be a major player in the ministries of your church. When a new pastor is hired, many churches see it as a two-for-the-price-of-one kind of a thing. We’re getting two pastors here, but we only have to pay the salary of one, and we have every right to complain if the pastor’s wife isn’t spearheading at least a couple of major programs in our church.
Many pastors’ wives are gifted, willing, and effective in leading all sorts of ministries in the church. But to simply assume that the pastor’s wife is gifted to lead a ministry because she married a pastor is extremely wrongheaded. It ignores Paul’s description of spiritual gifting in 1 Corinthians 12. The fact of the matter is that every member of the body has been given gifts by God. And each person’s gifts differ from those of others. The Spirit distributes these according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11), not according to our desires or expectations.
Believe it or not, God sometimes allows people with pastoral gifts to marry people who have other gifts. This means that demanding your pastor’s wife to lead a specific ministry is presumptive at best, and at worst it is dangerous to her and to the life of your church.
I’m not saying that we need to treat pastors’ wives as angels or let them run around with a sense of entitlement and never confront them. I’m sure that your pastor’s wife is weird in at least 100 ways. I’m sure that she does things differently than you expect her to and differently than you would do them yourself. But that’s okay. She is who God made her to be. She has struggles and blindspots just like you do. So let’s give her grace. Let’s expect her to be an essential member of your church body, but let’s not expect her to have the same gifts as her husband or as the previous pastor’s wife. Let’s love her and encourage her rather than suspecting her and slandering her.