How Being a Pastor’s Wife Is Different (and How It Isn’t)

TLC has a reality show called The Sisterhood. It follows the lives of pastors’ wives in Atlanta, Georgia. These “first ladies” are on display for not only their congregations, but for world as well. Why would the lives of pastors’ wives be interesting enough for a TV audience? This “honor” is usually reserved for duck hunters, crocodile catchers, mothers of sextuplets, and housewives of the rich and famous. How is the life of a pastor’s wife so different from the lives of other wives?


Laura Ortberg Turner points out that “[A]s congregants, community members, readers, and Facebook fans elevate their views of a pastor, that exerts further expectations on his wife. We have to remember: it is a job, just like any other job. A person is no more holy for being a pastor than he is for being a plumber, and to value one more than the other is not only foolish, it is tantamount to blasphemy.”

I agree, a pastor is no more holy than a plumber, or any other person. But it is also true my husband’s life as a pastor and my life as a pastor’s wife are very different from that of a plumber (or teacher, accountant, restaurant owner, IT guy, farmer, doctor . . .). You don’t call your plumber when your marriage is in trouble. You don’t ask your accountant to officiate your wedding. You don’t expect your IT guy to visit you in the hospital after surgery. You don’t count on your farmer to preside over your funeral.

Scripture speaks differently of pastors. 1 Timothy chapter 3 gives the call, “If anyone aspired to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task,” (1 Timothy 3:1). It also gives the qualifications of being above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, and on and on. One can argue these are characteristics all Christians should aspire to and I believe that is correct. But God gives these instructions specifically to pastors for a reason. James 3:1 says, “you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Being a pastor is different from most other professions. But does that mean being a pastor’s wife should be different too?

I didn’t set out to be a pastor’s wife. I went to seminary to earn my own degree and get my own office at a church. I even told my now husband I didn’t want to date while in seminary so no one could accuse me of being there to find a man. But, I did find a man. A man who wanted to be a pastor. And knowing that changed my perspective on how our life together would be.

I knew he would come home with burdens most other men don’t carry. I  knew he would be on call all the time so our church members wouldn’t have to experience life-changing events alone. I knew our Saturdays would be focused on preparing for Sunday, not preparing for a late night out. I knew we would talk more about the implications of chapters and verses than most couples because he isn’t only applying them to his own life, but he is presenting their application to our church family as well.

And unlike most other professions, I have to spend time with my husband’s coworkers and the people he’s called to care for. Doctors’ wives don’t spend time each week with their husband’s patients. Accountants’ wives don’t have to sit in meetings where their husband’s salaries are discussed. It is an amazing privilege to get to do life with our church family. It’s lovely and messy at the same time. I don’t take that lightly.

Let’s just be honest, there are certain expectations of the pastor’s wife. In our church search, I was asked more about my ability to play the piano than how I would use my seminary education. (Of course, we didn’t end up at any of the churches who asked primarily about my musical abilities). But, as pastor’s wives, we chose to accept or reject those expectations. We take them on as pressure or we let them go in freedom.

This is where I strongly believe my role in the church is no different than any other woman. I am free to use my gifts in the specific ways God is calling me to use them. I am also free to say no to the opportunities God is not calling me to and has not gifted me for. I teach a woman’s Sunday school class because that is my gift. I don’t teach the preschool class. I meet with a small group of women to mentor and learn. I don’t sing in the choir. I do get asked why I wasn’t at a certain meeting or why I didn’t make it to an activity, but I don’t worry about offending with the answers because I ultimately answer to God for how I spend my time and use my gifts.

Even though I’m not getting any phone calls from TLC to feature my life in a reality show, I know in some ways my life is different from my friends’ lives. And in some ways it isn’t. I’m thankful for the job my husband has and even for the implications that has on our marriage and family.

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8 thoughts on “How Being a Pastor’s Wife Is Different (and How It Isn’t)

    • Loved your article. However one point is disagreed with is that we choose or reject people’s expectations of us as pastors’ wives. Being an introverted pastor’s wife can be the death knell for your husband’s ministry precisely because you don’t live up to people’s expectations.

  1. I love this explanation and perspective.

    When our church was in the process of hiring a new pastor several years ago, our interim did a few sermons where he advised us on what to look for in our new pastor. And then he reminded us that we were hiring a pastor, not a pastor and his wife. I think this distinction has been important for our church family, as our new pastor’s wife has not been able to be incredibly involved at the church over the past few years due to other priorities that God has given her. I know it helped me in correcting my own thinking when it came to my expectations of “a pastor’s wife.”

    I love how you said it above, your role is no different from that of any other layperson in the church. You are to use your gifts as God prompts you, without feeling the pressure to “do it all,” just because you are married to the man in the pulpit.

    • Such wise advice from your interim. I’m sure your current pastor’s wife is thankful for the grace you give her as she does what she’s called to do!

  2. I think this is something that has to be lived to be understood…because I don’t understand and I suspect that people would probably say “That’s because you haven’t been there,” but I think the reality of the situation is that we’re all living different lives. Other pastor’s wives can relate to the positives and negatives of that particular life. Other SAHM”s can relate to the positives and negatives of that particular choice, and wives of husbands doing X, Y, Z can as well. I don’t really understand the singling out. I mean, yes the wife of a pastor’s wife might be different from their friends in ways, but others are different in ways as well. You may not call the plumber when your marriage is in trouble, but you also wouldn’t call your pastor when the woods are on fire (which is the middle-of-the-night calls that we get). We all have things that set us apart from one another, just as we all have things in common with some others.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic. I completely agree that there are some differences and some similarities, but I think that’s true for everyone 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Crystal! I agree it depends on your perspective and experience. If we were all too alike, that would be boring, right? 🙂

  3. Sandra!

    OH MY GOODNESS! I can’t believe I found you! I have always hoped I could meet someone that fit the same category as me…BOTH a
    pastors wife AND the mom of a special needs child! Yes, that is me! And i so love to have now found someone, YOU:)
    So glad I came upon you though a friend of mines post on FB about the “7 things…” piece of yours.

    I would love to be able to connect!
    I tried to email you but it was sent back, but hopefully we can connect this way?!
    I am hoping to order your special needs devotional book:)

    Much love and blessings!

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