Scripture does not explicitly state the role of a pastor’s wife. Instructions from Timothy and Paul tell women to be submissive to their husbands and to remain quiet in the synagogue. Proverbs present a contrast between the good wife and the contentious wife, but not for the spouse of a religious leader specifically. What can pastor’s wives glean from Scripture?
The Wife’s Top Priority Is Her Husband
A pastor’s wife is like the other wives in a congregation in terms of the challenges she faces and the calling upon her life.
Nancy Wilson explains that “her God-given priority is to minister to her husband and the children God has given her. […] Hers is not the special calling of the pastor’s wife, but of all Christian wives.”
Yet, there is more pressure on the pastor’s wife than on other women in the church. Not every pastor and his wife will have children, but the church is his flock, so they partner in caring for that flock as they would care for their own family.
She supports his leadership from behind the scenes, both in areas of ministry and by caring for him more personally. Together, they set an example for the marriages under their pastoral care.
1. Influencing Church Culture
Her activities outside of the church have to align with church values. For example, palm reading or seances are not merely a bit of fun — they contradict God’s Word directly. “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers” (Leviticus 19:31).
The pastor and his family “contribute (for good or ill) to his overall impact on the church” (Ibid.). That is, the church is influenced by the health of that marriage; by the way a wife interacts with her husband.
A spotlight is shone on the family life of a pastor and his wife, so the way this couple interacts with each other, and their kids will set a certain example and influence how others behave within their congregation.
David Prince argues that “a family-equipping church seeks to champion both family and church. Marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and the church, and the family unit pictures the family of God — the church, the household of faith.”
In his article, “The Pastor’s Home as Paradigm for the Church’s Family Ministry,” Prince speaks primarily about the pastor as leader of his home, but a wife is integral to his work.
Together, they impact the ideas of marriage and childrearing, which a church will hold. They also directly influence the picture their congregation forms of the marriage between the church and Christ.
Statistically speaking, Pew Research notes that “examples of social contagion run the gamut from adolescent sexual behavior to the spread of phantom diseases in a workplace.” Healthy marriages and divorce are also reflected by these statistics.
How much more influential, then, is the way a wife supports her husband and raises their kids to respect his calling simply because she is so visible?
Gloria Furman asks, “Are you a quarrelsome and fretful wife? Are you the common denominator of dissension and strife in your home? Or are you a supportive and helpful wife? Are you building your home by God’s grace in order to bring it under the headship of your husband to the glory of Jesus?”
The pastor’s burden is enormous, but there is a lot of weight on his wife’s shoulders to genuinely uphold, love, and support her husband; to be an obedient servant of Christ. Marrying a pastor is no small undertaking.
2. Support and Friendship
The study by Pew Research also indicates that friendship is important to the health of a marriage. Women with a strong support network are able to “weather inevitable marital stresses.” Some of her friends might happen to be the wives of her church’s other leaders, but this is not required.
A pastor’s wife is not the husband’s female equivalent, ready to act as shepherd to the women at any time. Their callings are not the same. “She doesn’t want the congregation to hold her at arm’s length or be intimidated by her.”
Wilson cautions that the pastor’s wife “is not a conduit for the congregation to send suggestions or criticisms to the pastor. Instead, she indicates the proper channels via which one can make a complaint or a suggestion” (Ibid.).
The wife is as much a student under the pastor’s teaching and leadership as everyone else, but if he says something the church does not like, the pastor’s wife is not responsible.
Gloria Furman says that “many wives feel pressure (or even a desire) to become an honorary elder or unpaid staff member of the church.” Good and godly friends help her to know what her responsibility is and what she can and should let go of.
3. Going Where He Goes
The wife supports her pastoring husband whether he leads a church at home or travels overseas as a missionary. “Though the pastor’s wife shares the same wifely duties as all the married women in her congregation […], her ministry to her husband is of course connected to his particular calling as a minister.”
She witnesses her husband’s challenges and needs more closely than anyone else, enabling her to pray and offer practical support like no one else. She might work alongside her husband in certain facets of service such as counseling or dishing up hot dogs.
“A minister’s wife can’t opt out of what God calls her to do. Trusting him and following him is never guaranteed to be easy or comfortable” (Ibid.). Her work might go unseen by everyone but her husband.
This is not to say that God has called her to the same ministry like his, but the wife’s first priority is her family. That is common to all wives.
She will help him where she can, but as Wilson points out, this does not mean she co-pastors and co-leads. Her specific calling might be different but will never interfere with her husband’s.
4. Supporting Scripture for Pastor’s Wives
What is she aiming for? Like all women who follow Christ, she seeks to fulfill the Proverbs 31 description. A pastor’s wife will be strong, wise, hard-working, and conscientious.
A Proverbs 31 woman is generous and creative, and she fears the Lord. This is a woman who capably manages her home in such a way as to evoke warmth, respect, and praise from her children and her husband.
“She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:27-28).
This is a description to aspire to, one which has everything to do with character and nothing to do with appearances.
Her loveliness is directly related to her love for and obedience to Christ, the fruit of which will also affect the way she treats her husband and how others view him.
If his wife’s heart is so sweet, and she is so devoted to both her God and her husband, this says good things about both of them.
For All Wives
All men and all women are sinners. Pastors and their wives carry a peculiar burden in that they want to reflect Christ in the fullest way possible, but they are hampered by their humanness.
Scripture has provided instruction for women, which is not specific to the wives of leaders in the church. With time and maturity, all women can grow into their role as wives knowing there is grace and forgiveness for their mistakes.
A pastor’s wife is not disqualified by sin from carefully nurturing her husband’s position as the shepherd of the flock Christ has entrusted to him.
Her special gift, however, is the opportunity to demonstrate the gospel at work as she confesses, repents, and submits to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Her willingness to accept discipline, to behave with humility, and to be an authentic Christ-follower, is a stronger witness than unrealistic, unlikely, superficially good behavior.
For All Husbands
Ephesians 5:22 indeed tells women to submit to their husbands, but they do this in obedience to Christ according to the example he set when he obeyed the Father. Scripture does not ask women to be doormats.
1 Samuel 25 recounts how Abigail prevented bloodshed by going directly to David before he slaughtered her and her husband, their laborers, and their livestock.
Nabal had been foolish, but she saved the situation with her wise and humble intervention. “Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!”
A pastor cannot expect his wife to follow his leadership and support him in all he does if he is not seeking God’s will; if he is unwilling to also follow Paul’s instruction: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Christ never abused his power; he never neglected his calling or rejected his Father. Pastors’ wives: follow and support your husbands, but by all means call on them to themselves be led by the gentle, truthful, and merciful example of Christ.
Yours is a special calling, but you are still marriage partners. In order to follow him, your husband must be a leader in Christ.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.