I am a young pastor’s wife—my husband is the senior pastor. Recently an assistant pastor joined part-time. He is married and has four children, ages 5-12. But his family does not come to church.
The wife attends services only rarely and is not involved otherwise. They go to a nearby church on Sabbath evenings as a family, saying that their children like it better.
Our church has several families with children. We had a children’s class when this new pastor began, but he changed it to a nursery for babies only. Now his family says there’s nothing for their kids to do. I asked the wife to join the volunteers serving in the nursery, but since her children don’t attend, she declined. She says she wants to be involved but won’t force her children to come to church when there is nothing for them, so she has to stay home unless she has a babysitter.
I’m ten years younger and have much smaller children (my oldest is 3). We attend every service unless we’re sick, and I do my best to mentor the young women, even though I’m not much older than most of them.
Is it normal for pastors’ wives to be this invisible? She says she isn’t used to being attached to her husband’s hip in ministry. But how can he fully invest himself if his wife isn’t around?
I wish she would share the vision of the body and be part of it. Many people have asked my husband and me why she doesn’t attend. We don’t know what to say. My husband hesitates to trust the other pastor’s commitment without his family’s investment.
I don’t want to be legalistic. But I see that the church has a hard time respecting this leadership style. What would you do?
Frustrated and Disappointed
First, let’s talk about you. You are making service a priority at the cost of your own comfort and convenience, especially with small children. Kudos to you for publicly supporting your husband and setting such a great ministry example for your kids!
But here’s a tough question. How much of your frustration at this PW comes from feeling that she should be doing at least as much as you are? After all, she is older and her children are not so small, right? Has she shattered your dreams of gaining a ministry buddy? Are you sure you’re not the tiniest bit jealous that she is invisible while you are working so hard? I’m not condoning her absence—just making sure that you have searched your heart and that your motive isn’t rooted in envy or a similar negative emotion.
Now, about her. Do you know her story? Was she involved in their last district but got burnt out? Is there a private health issue? Does she see this as a season where she is most needed at home? Were expectations different in her husband’s last church? Is she clueless?
It can be good to protect our children from being overburdened as pastors’ kids. But every child (if they want to be a successful adult) must learn that we serve others whether or not it seems “fun” or is designed for our convenience. Going to church with people of all ages and backgrounds is one great way to teach children that we do many things for the good of others. (The book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Twenge and Campbell, has some excellent scientific support for this.)
Sadly, there is a growing trend of faceless pastors’ wives who feel OK about not supporting their husband’s ministry. Shared ministry looks different for every pastoral couple (check out Karen Holford’s article in this issue), but the basics of loving people and being willing to use one’s gifts are absolutely imperative.
When a pastor’s wife is consistently absent, the church body naturally grows concerned. Is the pastor’s marriage OK? Does she have an undisclosed illness? Does she hate us? Have we offended her? Can her husband be trusted? (Check out this issue’s “Perspectives” column on this subject.) When members ask, I suggest telling them to go and talk to her husband directly. At the least, you will be discouraging gossip.
Every pastor’s wife should hold herself to the same (if not higher) standard of attendance and involvement that is expected of any active member. Scripture places an imperative on female leaders to engage in mentoring and teaching younger women by example (see Titus 2:3-5). No pastor can effectively lead a church or convince members to serve sacrificially if his own wife refuses to even attend.
This may be a matter for your husband to address with her husband. Scripture implies that the state of a church leader’s family is crucially connected to their eligibility to serve (see 1 Timothy 3:2 5). Has your husband had a frank conversation with his assistant pastor about the negative impact of his wife’s absence?
If open communication reveals a legitimate reason for her absence (such as a private illness or severe depression), then her situation could be tactfully expressed to the church in a way that engages their prayers without compromising her privacy.
May God bless you and your husband as you prayerfully consider how to communicate so that scriptural principle isn’t compromised, while the needs of both the congregation and the pastoral families are fulfilled.