In Praise of the Pastor's Wife
If 2020 has been challenging for pastors, consider the toll that it has taken on the pastor's wife. She is one of the unsung heroes of the church. The pastor's wife sacrifices unmeasurable and unrecognized time and energy to support the ministry to which her husband has been called--often without the support she needs. In many instances, she is indispensable to the ministry, since her husband's ministry will rarely outlast her support.
Having parachute planted a church in a military town in which we had four hundred percent turnover in ten years, I can honestly say that I wouldn't have been able to continue in ministry that long if my wife, Anna, were not the superlatively strong and supportive woman God has made her to be.
From the start of the church plant, Anna opened our home several times a week to host small groups, dinner parties, play dates, or to watch other people's children. She poured herself out in the service of the kingdom of Christ. She made sure that meals were being taken to those in need in the church. She served in the nursery or whereever there was a need in the church. She did all this while simultaneously bearing the burdens that I bore, as I poured myself out to lead a church forward without adequate resources or assistance. Many pastor's wives have the same experience in their weekly schedules.
Though I have always sought to protect Anna from knowing everything about congregants, she sees the burdens I carry on my face, and in my heart, and feels the burden with me. Countless hours of her prayers and encouragement have passed in our home. When church planting, she kept track of the many needs of the congregants--frequently reminding me of those for whom I needed to pray or to check in on others when I had forgotten about what they were going through.
The pastor's wife not only bears the burdens of her husband's ministry, she bears the burdens of her husband's sin. She sees all of his sinful shortcomings. She is subject to the high calling to which he is called, and, therefore, is subject to the consequences of his sinful failings. She prayers with and for him in this regard. She seeks to encourage him. She bears long with him.
Add to this that my wife brought up three young boys throughout that ten-year period (homeschooling for four of those years), driving them to events, taking them to the doctor, leading them in devotions when I was not home, and disciplining them. She cared for the needs of our home--preparing meals, cleaning, paying bills, and carrying out many other tasks for the management and upkeep of our family. If I was travelling for speaking engagements or away for denominational related business, she would have to manage everything on her own. The pastor's wife is called to sacrificially share her husband with a congregation and with the church at large. Of course, sometimes she has to lovingly encourage him to pull back from ministry to focus on the needs of the members of his family.
Beyond her labors in the home, my wife has long run a business in which she buys and resells high-end thrifted clothing. She does this to help us offset our expenses. Though she finds this enjoyable, it is, nevertheless, an extra sacrifice for the family. Many pastor's wives are laboring on the side to help provide for the financial needs of her family. I suppose if one were to tally up the cumulative hours that she spends carrying for her husband, children, the management of the home, and outside labors, the pastor's wife is working the equivalent of three to four jobs.
On top of all this, most pastors' wives never receive the suitable support that they need. Congregants--while appreciative of them--are afraid to get close to the pastor's wife. This is partly due to the fact that they may not want their own sin and struggles exposed to the pastor through her (which ought to be merely a perception). It may also be partly owning to the way in which some fear becoming an extra burden to a woman they see as already carrying a heavy load. In many cases, the pastor's wife never receives the pastoral care of the other pastors or elders in the church. In most cases, she is left to bear the burdens of her husband, family, church, and friends alone.
While we find ourselves in a different season of ministry--with considerably less burdens than we carried while church planting--my wife continues to be an extraordinary woman who gives continual support. While so much more can be said about the pastor's wife in general, this much I can say of my own: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29). I encourage all pastors and congregants to remember, to support, and to give due honor to the pastor's wife.
[Editorial Note] Not many books address the experiential aspects of the ministry of a pastor's wife to her husband. However, Catherine Stewart's edited compilation volume, Letters to Pastors' Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins and Gloria Furman's The Pastor's Wife are two worthwhile treatments of this subject.