by Shari Thomas
What misconceptions do people have about the pastor’s wife? Shari Thomas has been the daughter of a church planter, the wife of a church planter, and founder of a ministry for church planter spouses, called Parakaleo, which partners with City to City. This blog was first posted at Sharithomas.org.
The Top Ten Things the Woman Married to Your Pastor Wants You to Know:
10. She’s her own person.
She is not an appendage of the pastor. She might even have differing political, social and biblical views than her spouse. She is in a position where sharing those views could negatively effect her husband’s job. You might be surprised and delighted to discover how different she may be from what you previously thought.
9. She has a calling.
It might not be what you expect and she may still be figuring it out. Many women consider their husband’s call to a specific pastoral position a joint calling for both of them. Others do not. And some women are hoping someone, anyone, will tell them what their ministry should be, in hopes of not disappointing others. Confused? So are we. After years of serving in pastoral ministry, some women confess a sense of loss, of not even knowing themselves. They were too busy serving where needed. On the other hand, others may be minimally involved in church ministry with a calling focused outside of the church.
8. She may struggle financially.
In one of our local Parakaleo groups, we were discussing financial hardships and laughing over the ingenious ways we’ve stretched a dollar. I asked how many had ever been on food stamps because of ministry salaries. Half the women raised their hands. I was reminded of how delicate the financial situation is for many women in ministry. Consider checking to see if your pastor has a reasonable salary package.
7. She shares her husband with the whole church.
Depending on the size of a church and whether there are other competent staff members, pastors can be on call 24/7. Family dinners, holidays, and vacations are routinely interrupted by crisis situations. While some of this can be the result of unhealthy boundaries in the pastoral home, ministry constantly involves crises. Especially in high risk areas, the pastor is often the first person called during suicide attempts, when someone is jailed, when a church attendee is in an abusive relationship, when a marriage is breaking up and so forth. Even the celebratory events such as weddings, sporting events and baptisms, all of which form a community, still take time away from the pastor’s family unit. Pastoral couples are honored to be involved in their congregants lives in this way. Just be aware that their time is limited for good reason.
6. She is harmed by gossip.
Definition: idle talk or rumors especially about the personal or private affairs of others. Gossip doesn’t have to be malicious. A simple rule of thumb is to not tell other people’s stories. Let them be the purveyor of their own information. If you hear information from someone about another person, consider a kind way to stop the gossip chain. “You know, I bet Marjorie would want to tell that story herself.” If it’s malicious gossip, take a hard stand. “Regardless of how bad this situation has become, I don’t want to participate in gossip. Will you go with me back to the person speaking about this and help me stop it?” While I can laugh about it now, I at times discovered things about myself at church that even I didn’t know.
5. She’s living with unrealistic expectations from others but most often from herself.
Well, who isn’t? Whether it’s our moms, kids, boss or difficult neighbors, we all experience the pressure of expectations. But consider if you were also living with the expectations of being at church every time the doors were open. What about being told how you should dress? How your children should act? What is appropriate to say or not to say? How you should spend your money? Or questioned for not inviting more people to your home for dinner? You would be surprised how often this still happens! Many women married to pastors also work full time, participate in several church ministries, meet with couples for premarital or pastoral counseling, and attend community functions. It’s already a full life. Your pastor’s wife often needs to be reminded that the only audience that really matters is the audience of one–her Heavenly Father.
4. She probably finds friendships in the church tricky to navigate.
It’s virtually impossible for her to know if church friendships exist because two people are drawn to each other or because of her husband’s role. Many women discover when their husband leaves his pastoral position that the people they thought were their friends really aren’t. They assumed the Christmas cards, the social invites, the long conversations over coffee or trips to the beach were due to friendships. It’s devastating to discover that without his role, the friendship was never really there. The same happens in the reverse. Congregants may think they were closer friends with the pastoral couple and discover a similar scenario when the pastor and family leave. It’s painful for all involved. Rich friendships can still be had. But it requires maturity and an understanding that some topics are off limits.
3. She’s harmed by criticism of her husband.
Pastors have been told they don’t work hard enough, don’t disciple enough, don’t preach well enough, don’t visit congregants enough…. everyone has his or her own job description of what a pastor should do. Hey, I’ve even been criticized for these things and I wasn’t even hired by the church. Almost no one realizes the impossibility of meeting these expectations. How many hours should a pastor work? 50? 80? There’s plenty to be done and usually no one stopping him except his wife. Pastors often share with their wives the disgruntled leader’s comments or what was said in a contentious meeting. She is not part of the conversation when a situation is solved, often doesn’t even know if it is resolved, and is left without a safe space where she can process the situation. And unlike spouses in many other professions, these are the same people with whom she worships, has dinner with, and whose children play together. When you meet a pastor’s wife who seems unusually wise, is her own person, and can speak truth in kindness, you are in the presence of a woman who has come through fire. Learn all you can from her even if it’s just through observation.
2. She regularly lives with stress and ambiguity.
Ambiguity is endemic ministry. For the pastoral family, the system is not clear. All members of the family participate either directly or indirectly in the church. There is some role expectation from the congregation, which must be fulfilled by the pastor, the spouse, and even the children. This level of ambiguity causes high levels of stress for clergy spouses. Consider showing her the same compassion you would extend to someone who has recently received hard news. Why? Because this has most likely been her experience on any given day. However, unlike others experiencing sorrow, she probably is unable to share the event, its impact, or process it with others in the church. Hearing that a trusted staff member plans on resigning, that a key church leader is having an affair, that the church cannot pay its bills, that her husband’s job is in jeopardy, that her closest friend decided to no longer attend the church, are types of revelations women in ministry face on a regular basis.
Not every woman married to a pastor experiences all of the above. Many enjoy a wonderful, caring church community. And most of the pastors’ wives I know enjoy working in tandem with their husbands to see God’s kingdom expand in their city. Regardless of the differences, the item every pastor’s wife has in common is #1.
1. She, like you and me, doesn’t get her righteousness from measuring up to the standards of others, from her church attendance, from knowing scripture, or from how much money she does or doesn’t spend on her wardrobe.
In God’s courtroom, the verdict has been given. Her flaws, mistakes, shame and sin as well as all her goodness was placed on Jesus Christ. He took on himself what she deserved. And what’s more, God gave her Christ’s righteousness. She has been given the verdict of righteous, beloved daughter.
Parakaleo’s mission is to come alongside women in church planting with the gospel and our lives. We equip women with practical, tangible tools to help them face the complex world of ministry and provide a grid for viewing and living life through the gospel. Parakaleo’s interactive training and tools are firmly based in gospel theology, informed by educational theory and influenced by ongoing research.
Among the many plans Shari Thomas had for her life, being a catalyst for change in church planting was not one of them! Yet after doing almost everything wrong in the church planting spousal relationship, Shari researched and then started what is becoming a global ministry of training, support, healing, and change. With an educational background in theology, education and international church planting, Shari co-founded Parakaleo in 2005. She and her husband John (Senior Director of Training at City to City) reside in Manhattan.