I’m from the South. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but I grew up with the very idea of a pastor’s wife being freighted with expectations and assumptions. When my husband was in seminary in the South– before we were married–I went to a “how to be a pastor’s wife” meeting, hosted by an area pastor’s wife, and it was full of advice like, “don’t have friends in the congregation, don’t look too perfect but don’t tell all your issues.” During this meeting, I was horrified. I still don’t think you should be fake around the people in your church, but after eight years in, I don’t disregard the impulse for self-preservation. Your dear friends can leave the church. Being honest about your struggles can get your husband prayed for in passive-aggressive ways. The congregation may expect you to lead Bible studies or be in charge of the kitchen, or manage the sick and needy list.
You, on the other hand, may be sick and needy yourself. You may have young children who need almost all the resources you have. You may struggle with depression but not want everyone in the church to ask you about it between Sunday school and church. And you know what? That’s okay. That requirement for elders doesn’t say “the husband of one wife (who can do all the things the church asks her to do and sustain her own mental health.)” All you need to do is be “one wife” and keep your church membership vows. Go to church. Love your husband and nurture your babies. Use your spiritual gifts.
Whatever the congregation may expect of you (and hopefully this is a thing you discussed and got an accurate picture of when your husband was hired) even if you can’t meet those expectations, God will provide for the needs of his church. And he will do this by using other women or maybe even men.
One of the biggest problems with the pastor’s wife’s iron cloak of expectations is that it takes away from other women’s ability to use their gifts. You may not be cut out for teaching Bible studies or Sunday school, but because you live with the pastor, some might wrongly assume that this automatically makes you gifted in this area. Not only is this unfair to you, it can mean that women who are actually gifted to teach and would love to teach are excluded. There may be other men or women in the church who can cope better with the children’s Sunday school curriculum than you can.
You may be called to lead by valuing the gifts and abilities of the individuals in your church n and helping them find ways to use their gifts to serve the church, both in paid and voluntary positions. And one way you may have to do that is by admitting your own inadequacies and being publicly thankful for the folks God has provided to meet the needs of his people. It takes humility to say things like “I’m not a good teacher, but I’m so thankful for Ms. Sarah who has just blessed us so much by teaching our Genesis class.” Or, “Listen, I can barely keep my own kitchen clean–I’m so thankful for Julia’s organizational skills.”
Get involved in the life of your church however you can by faithfully attending and participating in the life and ministry of your local church. If that means making chili for the cook-off, picking up donuts, or something else, be intentional and do it. Listen to and pray with your husband. Be an advocate for the issues you care about the most. Teach your kids about Jesus. Remind your kids to bring their Bibles to church on Sunday.
You may have a job and that takes you away from the life of your local church. Do your job well and advocate for other women working and serving in your local church. Even as you work, don’t feel like your work is unimportant as if you aren’t doing what you could at your local church. Serve the world, tithe, and buy that fried chicken guilt-free for the next church fellowship meal.
And while you encourage the leaders in your church, feel free to encourage the leaders in your home, too. Other wives may be able to maintain an instagram-worthy house at all times–more power to them! But if you need your husband or your kids or maybe even a faithful church member to help you, be thankful (publicly) and not ashamed. Sometimes it feels like I am trying to be Mary and Martha at the same time–and failing at all of it. If you need help, ask. Our house would be disgusting if my husband didn’t tidy up and sweep, because I haven’t yet wrestled my ADHD into noticing messes the way a typical brain does. He does laundry when I’ve fallen into bed exhausted. His servant-leadership is not confined to our church.
I really want to be the perfect pastor’s wife, the woman who can do it all–the woman everyone admires (I realize this is selfishly motivated), the woman whose kids remember their childhood with fondness, and whose recipes are in demand. But over and over instead, I’m forced to accept the grace that comes from being fully loved despite failure and insufficiency. That grace is not only in Jesus and his work, but for the members of his body, picking up where I have left off, reminding me that God is at work, that his strength is revealed in my weakness. This lady who is married to the pastor–her best doesn’t even have to be enough, because Jesus is enough.
Emily Hubbard is a white Mississippian now living in St. Louis, MO. She has four kids and a pastor husband, as well as degrees in English and sociology. She is a public school advocate, loves to discuss birth, and in her spare time enjoys crocheting, gardening, and reading. She has an essay in the collection Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage.