The yellowing leaves of ancient trees shivered in the early autumn breeze. The picnic food was gone, but the church people lingered to chat. A woman with a troubled expression pulled up her chair next to mine. Intensely lowering her voice, she shared her concern. “We’ve been trying to find a pastor for a while, but there is disagreement among the women as to what the job of the pastor’s wife actually is. Some people think we should be interviewing the wife as well as the pastoral candidate to find out if she is the kind of pastor’s wife we want. What do you think?” Before climbing into our van at the end of the picnic, several others had thrown their ideas into the cauldron.
“We just want a pastor’s wife who can help us know how to raise our kids and love our husbands.”
“Shouldn’t the pastor’s wife be able to counsel the women in the church?”
“We don’t have a ladies’ ministry at our church. When we do get a pastor, we want his wife to lead the church women.”
What does the Bible have to say about the pastor’s wife?
Not much really. We do know that the pastor is to have only one of them, and we can probably assume that she helps him with hospitality and in managing the household well (1 Timothy 3). Other than that, very little is said about the role of the pastor’s wife per se. Titus 2’s instructions to all women in the church, older and younger, obviously apply to her as well as all the other women in the church. But should she have a special role in the church, noticeably different from others?
I think not.
Tradition has taught us that the pastor’s wife is a woman with a distinct role in the church. Depending on our personal observations of pastor’s wives, our personal picture of her role may vary. But most agree that the pastor’s wife ministers in a unique “pastor’s wifely” fashion. However, contrary to the assumptions of many, the position of pastor’s wife does not require her to teach Sunday school, or run the ladies’ Bible study, or offer personal counselling at all hours, or plan meals for new mums, or organise a playgroup, or clean the church bathrooms, or superintend the Christmas banquet, or visit the elderly, or sing in the choir, and or play the piano. Nor should she face the pressure of constantly keeping her brood of children under perfect control at the risk of censure by the church gossips. Any woman, even the superhero wife of your pastor, who must constantly hold herself accountable to the expectations of others is doomed for exhaustion and failure! The pastor’s wife, like all members of the body of Christ, needs freedom to flourish in the community of grace in relation to her individual calling (which may be very different from what others expect of her). Like all disciples of Christ, she should be pursuing godliness and contributing to the church community according to her spiritual gifting. But her personal walk with God and her personal ministry portfolio should be no more subject to public scrutiny than that of any other church member. Instead of piling up her to-do list, ask yourself what you yourself are contributing to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). Then give your pastor’s wife the liberty to do the same without the pressure of church tradition’s guilt trip.
What are you doing to encourage your pastor’s wife to be herself in the role that God—not people’s expectations—has given her?