More than ten years ago, on the Sunday when my husband—newly graduated from seminary—was being ordained as a pastor, a godly older man approached us. “Well,” he said to my husband gravely, “today is the day you marry this church.”
My heart sank. I was ready to be the pastor’s wife. But I wasn’t ready to be the pastor’s other wife.
I’m so thankful I don’t have to be.
Since that day, I have often heard the same myth repeated in various forms: “It must be hard to be married to a guy who is married to the church.” “Thanks for sharing your husband with us. We’re glad he’s the husband of the whole church.” “A pastor’s wife has to realize that her husband has two wives, and she can’t expect him to focus much on her.”
I’m not sure where this myth comes from—I suspect it’s a Protestant adaptation of the Roman Catholic teaching that priests renounce human marriage and are instead married to the church—but it isn’t true.
In Scripture, the apostles refer to the members of the church as their brothers and sisters (ex. Phil. 4:1), as their children (ex. I John 2:1), even as their loved ones (ex. Phil. 2:12). They never call the church their wife.
The church is a bride, and she is going to be married to a man. This is one of the great glories of the gospel. But, as Paul makes it clear, the church has only one husband—“I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2) One exceptionally fine day, the church will marry the God-man, and her pastor is just the matchmaker.
Exposing this myth as a fallacy frees pastors’ (real!) wives in 3 marvelous ways:
(1) You are free to expect your husband to be your husband.
Obviously, a pastor’s wife is called to share her husband’s time and energy (just like many other wives of men in many other professions). And her cheerful and generous sacrifice—during late-night session meetings or interrupted family vacations—is precious in Christ’s sight. But as the pastor’s wife—as his only wife—she is also free to expect him to be her only husband and to fulfill his responsibilities of love and service toward her. This is not only her right, but it is good for the church, who will see pictured in their human relationship the joyful, tender, and mutual love of Christ and his bride.
(2) You are free to love your church without resentment.
From Rachel and Leah to Hannah and Peninnah, we see in Scripture that having two wives never works out very well. The two are rarely at peace with one another; instead, their relationship is characterized by spite, jealousy, and covetousness. And as long as a pastor’s wife thinks the church is her husband’s other wife, she will find it difficult to love her. In this zero-sum arrangement, every attention her husband pays the church is attention taken from her, every effort for the church’s good is effort which subtracts from her own good. But, thanks be to God, Christ alone is the church’s husband. The pastor and his wife, then, are working together toward a mutual goal: Christ's glory and the good of his bride.
(3) You are free to cast your church on Jesus.
If, on the day of his ordination, my husband had actually married the church, I doubt either of us would be alive today. The responsibility of being married to the church—the necessary demands of making her holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27)—is a task far beyond human ability. No mere man could ever perfect this stubborn and rebellious bride in time for her wedding. The burden (and our weakness) would have crushed us both long ago. But the truth that Christ marries the church, that Christ sanctifies her, that Christ makes her pure, frees the pastor’s wife to cast the church on Jesus. She can pray for her husband and she can pray for her church, knowing that the well-being of the church does not depend on feeble and faltering human labor but on the once-for-all labor of the sinless bridegroom: Jesus.
_______Other Ministry Myths:
Your Children Will Reject the Church
You Must Know All, See All
You Must Have Musical Talent or Teaching Gifts
You Can't Have Close Friends in Your Church