December 24, 2012

Ministry Wives Need Ministry, Advice from the Archives

Megan and her father willingly start difficult dialogs in the interest of bringing truth to light, even when some of the response is negative. I admire that quality in them. This archived posting from July highlights a deep need that most people avoid because it could get messy.

I know more than one pastor’s wife who secretly receives weekly professional counseling.

The stress of ministry life, compounded over the years by a near-monastic silence about problems, has created a situation where these women need help to speak freely and regain a realistic, God-glorifying perspective.

These pastors’ wives are struggling. And their story is not as unusual as the average layman might think.

I can name dear sisters in ministry who have climbed some very steep mountains. They have been diagnosed with mental illness and have been afraid to tell anyone. They have been so poor the jokes beginning with that line are no longer funny. They have quietly supported their husbands through severe depression. They have even lost their husbands to moral failure. And, mostly, they have climbed alone, revealing their vulnerability only on the other side. . .if at all.

Recently, I read an article by a seminary director of alumni. In his post, entitled “Getting Ready for Someone’s Last General Assembly,” Joel Hathaway bemoans the lack of peer support for pastors who are faltering.

His concern is that pastors are so busy with the work that they forget the fellowship. They can tend to buzz past one another, focused on the to-do-list of ministry, and fail to help a brother in need. Men who are all but defeated by discouragement, sin, and spiritual apathy get scant attention from their fellow workers whose souls are (momentarily at least) healthier.

In my mind, each of the unnamed men he mentions is paired with an even more anonymous wife. And if the pastor’s concerns are neglected, surely his wife’s are, too.

Silence is the pastor’s wife’s default.

Why do we do this? I think that saying “the expectations are too high,” does us a disservice. The pastors’ wives I know, down to the last woman, are concerned for God’s glory and for the good of His bride, the church. They would give anything (some of them have given everything) for the kingdom.

We don’t put on a good face because of a prideful conviction that we must have perfect hair or people will tsk-tsk behind our backs.

Instead, I believe most of us minimize our own problems because we think revealing them would be harmful to the kingdom. We keep quiet to protect our husbands, to spare the church additional burdens, and sometimes just because nobody thinks to ask.

And, in many cases, silence and prayer—becoming nothing that Christ might be exalted—is the God-honoring path.

But when pastors’ wives are seriously discouraged, or their marriages are struggling, or their financial needs are acute, I think other Christians need to be intentional about helping them.

This is good for pastors’ wives, but it’s also good for the church.

I jokingly say that my job description as a pastor’s wife is two-task simple: be a good church member, and keep the pastor alive.

But if I’m spiritually depressed, if I’m crippled by sin, if I’m anxious or sexually tempted or angry, I can’t do my job. And when one portion of the Body gives up, all parts are affected.

A hurting pastor’s wife is a hurting church member. She needs the Body to minister to her, just like any other Christian woman. And, because her situation is slightly different, she may also need a different kind of help.

Here, I propose five suggestions to help the forgotten pastor’s wife. Some of them, we wives can do for one another. Some, the church will have to do for us.

1. Prioritize fellowship among wives. Learn to see ministry to other wives as valuable ministry. By making friends with a pastor’s wife, you will have opportunity to help the kingdom.

2. Designate an elder in the local church to “pastor” each wife. That elder should regularly make contact. Only by building a relationship over time will a pastor’s wife feel comfortable enough to seek help in time of need.

3. Destigmatize getting help. My friends who slink off secretly to professional counseling, should be able to do so openly. We should assist pastors’ wives to find and use godly counsel wherever it is available, whether professional or informal.

4. On a presbytery level, make the shepherding committee a household name. When the pastor struggles, his wife does, too. And the local church isn’t always the best place for help. Wives whose husbands are faltering need to know which of their husband’s peers they can call.

5. Don’t let go. In some cases, these struggling women will find themselves no longer pastors’ wives. Through death, divorce, or lack of call, their lives will change radically, and they will need these supports more than ever. We must not forget them.

This is just a beginning. There are years of un-held conversations about encouraging Christ’s struggling workers and their wives. Let’s talk.


  1. I have always hoped that pastors and their wives would be open about their struggles. I think most believers in the body see the pastor and his family as fellow servants in the fight and not as untouchable examples. And I think most feel honored to come alongside and support as best they can. I hope your comments make ministry people feel more comfortable about participating in the one anothering that should go on in the church.

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  3. I can't remember if I posted this on the original publishing of this article or not, but a thought leapt to my mind in reading this: missionary wives, too! When missionary wives come home on furlough or special assignment, or whatever their mission agency calls it, the schedule is usually relentless; most of the people in the church don't understand some of the struggles that the family can't even articulate; reverse culture shock often blindsides; in an odd way, your heart now lives in two places.
    I can say that one of the Sunday Women who writes this blog (and I'm sure her mother would be this way, too) was such a help to me more and more as I got to know her. I felt free to talk to her about strange things that I wasn't comfortable to discuss with other people. Even when it wasn't a topic she could personally relate to, she always listened well (when our children allowed us!) and always took me back to the gospel and encouraged me in my walk with Christ.
    Not being a pastor's wife, I wouldn't know for sure, but I'm assuming that this same relationship would greatly benefit a pastor's wife. It takes work, though, but it's sooooo worth it!

  4. I appreciate that you (both) are not afraid to talk about the 'hard' issues. I have been extremely blessed in the past (while going through very tough church times) by a prov 31/titus 3 mature older Christian woman who encouraged me, rebuked me, listened to me and provided me with practical help. I was reminded once again during that time that God NEVER lets you down and HE provided her for me in this difficult and challenging time! Unfortunately I don't know of many 'wise Christian' women. May we all strive to be like her!

  5. I just quoted Megan's "[Our] job is to be good church members" to another pastor's wife today. I heard her say it at a Mrs. in Ministry meeting during my husband's first year in seminary. Now in our second year of ministry to three small PCA churches, it is even more meaningful!

    "Keep the pastor alive"—that's good too!

    Melinda Speece

    1. Thanks, Melinda! Glad it was helpful. Sounds like if you are in your second year with three churches, you've done a great job of keeping him alive!

  6. Is anyone still posting on this article. If so let me know. My husband has just lost his position in the church. He plans to change his profession after 28 years of ministry. He is happy with his choice. I however am lost. As a couple we had decided my son and I would continue to attend the church and after a new minister was established he would worship there as well. This decision was made when he was planning to leave the church after he found a new job. Well the church got tired of waiting and fired him. They ignored his call agreement that requires the church give him 90 days written notice to terminated his call. They came in took his keys packed up his stuff and said he was out of the church effective immediately. This was executed by a very few people with the remainder of the church having no idea that this was happening or that it even could happen. So now you have a really upset congregation. People are speculating something really terrible must have happen some impropriety or something to require such drastic measures. Not really, just the usual numbers game and some founding member stating they would leave the church if the new council did not get rid of my husband. My question is where do I go from here. All this could have been avoided if things had been handled differently. My husband would have been happy to resign or quit or come to some agreement If they had allow the church and our family to have some closure. It is so frustrating. Now you have a broken church and I am so miserable. Why is it that a church has no clue how to be a Christian when it comes to the minister and his family. Especially the wife. I have done nothing wrong but I have to pay the price. I am not welcomed to attend the church as they need to heal.

    1. Anonymous, I am sorry to hear about your current difficulty. Is there someone you can enlist to be your advocate? Some denominations have representatives who foster pastoral and congregational relations. This won't solve everything, but it will be a starting place for clearing up ongoing misinformation in the congregation about what really happened.
      It may be that there is not enough closure for you personally, but you need to move forward.
      This is something that I hope you and your husband can face together. He needs to live with you in an understanding way so you need to communicate your feelings in this. This will require discussing your joint future and steps to take in the future.
      I hope that good will emerge in spite of the pain you now feel. Patsy


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