July 23, 2016 by Stacy McDonald
A few years ago, I was asked to write a letter to a dear friend – a young woman who was getting ready to marry a pastor. As I wrote this letter, I was humbled and terrified all at once. How can you possibly prepare someone for the life of a pastor’s wife? The answer is that you can’t – not really. However, I do believe they should go into it with their eyes at least a little open, so there were a few things I could share.
Today, after talking to another young pastor’s wife who is struggling with the strains of ministry, it occurred to me that perhaps there are other new pastor’s wives out there who could use a letter like this, as they prepare to minister beside their husbands.
Note: Names and certain segments were removed to retain privacy.
Dear New Pastor’s Wife,
I was honored to receive your mother’s request to share with you my thoughts on being a pastor’s wife. However, my first few attempts to begin this letter resulted in a blank page, as I discovered I was at a loss for words (surprising, I know!). However, not so surprising to me, especially as I contemplated my husband’s and my own struggles in the ministry, was the fact that I also discovered a distinct lack of tangible wisdom to offer you.
How can I share advice on navigating the deep waters of ministry, when I feel so keenly my own need to still learn—my own shortcomings and failures? Yet, perhaps that is part of the answer. While every ministry and every marriage is different, I can share with you some of what I’ve learned.
I can tell you that, with all certainty, whether or not you ask for it, and whether or not you like it (which you won’t), people will often assume you are invincible.
Inadvertently, perhaps, they will behave as though they think that because you are a pastor’s wife you never hurt the way they hurt. They will assume, if only subconsciously, that you are always strong, that harsh words and judgment don’t sting your heart, that you never have moments where you feel unloved, forgotten, inadequate…sinful.
They may put you on a pedestal that you never wanted to be on; then, when they realize something you’ve known all along, that you are a sinner, they will swiftly kick it out from under you…and then watch with a critical eye as you crash to the ground.
You will have the awesome honor and burden of praying for and supporting your husband as he selflessly serves others for many hours—sometimes precious hours that are a sacrifice to you and your children. You will give of yourself and give of your husband to others.
You will sit alone with your children on Sundays and during special services while other families sit together. Nonetheless, while there will be times when you wish he were beside you in the pew, you will also be blessed to listen as he delivers God’s Word to you and to those you love.
Your husband will need you in a mighty way. He will look to you for support, love, edification, prayer, reassurance, comfort, encouragement, fellowship, intimacy, counsel, and respite. He will need you to believe in him when he doubts himself. You will feel helpless for this task unless you consistently remember and pursue the One from Whom your help (and his) comes (Psalm 121:2).
You will swell with joy when your husband boldly proclaims God’s Word and serves others in humility; and you will at times struggle with frustration when you see his inevitable pride and hidden weaknesses surface. It’s not always easy being married to your own pastor; not because other pastors are perfect, but because you can’t fool yourself into believing that yours is.
You will love, rejoice, pray, and grieve with the women in your midst—women to whom you’re called to love, teach, counsel, and help. However, there will be times when your efforts are misinterpreted—when despite your best intentions, people are offended, whether or not they ever tell you so. Sometimes you may even be hated (2 Corinthians 12:15).
When you blow it (and you will), you will be tempted to get discouraged. It’s usually easier to speak truth into the lives of others than to yourself; so, I have found it helpful to sit down, open my Bible, and pretend I’m ministering to someone else under the same circumstance. Sometimes I’ll even write it out. That’s where many of my articles come from—preaching to myself.
Part of the reason for this is because a pastor’s wife doesn’t always have anyone to go to for counsel. Depending upon the circumstances, even with other elders’ wives, it may be inappropriate or awkward to share her struggles.
So a pastor’s wife may feel alone at times. She has her husband, of course. But, depending upon her need, he isn’t always equipped to help or able to understand. I have talked to other pastor’s wives and this is the great dilemma; therefore, you will need older women in your life who are outside your own church to whom you can turn for counsel and encouragement—women who are trustworthy and wise.
And be sure to remember that the same grace that is extended to those to whom you minister is also available to you. Don’t forget that.
I thought Jennifer’s mother said it well recently:
On Saturday, I gave a devotional at a shower for my daughter, Jennifer, on the topic of wives respecting their husbands, as God commands in Ephesians 5. Afterward, I had a quiet moment when I could see the times and ways that I have not done that, and my heart was pierced as I thought, “I’m a hypocrite.” When I had a chance to tell my husband about this, his response was, “Now you know how a pastor feels every Sunday.”
Obviously, being a pastor’s wife, or any other type of teacher/leader, doesn’t mean you’ll never fail or sin—that you’ll never do the very things you encourage others not to do, or that you’ll never fail to do the good works you spur others on to do. It should mean that you’re not walking in sin and that you have a pattern of good works to show for your testimony; but, be assured that you will fall short each day. And that is why the grace of God and your daily immersion in His Word, and in prayer, will be so critical.
I hope I haven’t scared you! There are some things that I wish I had known ahead of time—things that would have better prepared me for the “hard” part of ministry. There are so many joys—you hardly need a warning for those!
You will find deep satisfaction in serving alongside your husband. You will find yourself yearning to be fruitful, not simply with children from your marriage, but with the spiritual children God gives you to encourage and nurture in the faith. You’ll have the joy of watching them grow and thrive in your midst.
You’ll discover that while your husband is charged with ministering to the saints, you are charged with ministering to your husband. As you bless and edify him, he will be better equipped and strengthened to bless others.
You will have your hands full! But that means you will never experience the dissatisfaction of having them empty (Proverbs 31:31)! Just be sure to remember that your family is your first ministry. Guard your family time. Never get so pulled into the busyness of ministry that you forget your children need you more than anyone else.
I pray that God would use you in a mighty way to bless your new husband, to bless the household He is establishing through you, and to bless the covenant community where God has called you to serve. Go and be fruitful! And enjoy!
With Much Love and Affection,
Stacy D. McDonald
That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God… (Colossians 1:10)
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