Navigating the Life of a Pastor’s Wife

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September 3, 2019

Navigating the Life of a Pastor’s Wife


The life of a pastor’s wife (PW) has, for the longest time, been popularly known as a life of self-sacrifice, of discouragement, disillusionment and hurt. With Pastors’ Wives conferences or retreat themes like “From Bitter to Better,” “Embracing My Role as a Pastor’s Wife,” “Enjoying the Ride,” “Overcoming,” “Responding to Trials,” etc, it would thus seem that for most of her life, she is in an embattled situation,
facing problems and difficulties on a regular basis with members of the church, other women and even with herself – situations that make it difficult for her to enjoy her life and calling. While there are those who are able to weave through and eventually discover the joy of being a pastor’s wife, even serving alongside her husband with passion, it still is not free of the hard path that needed to be taken to
get there.

Pastors’ Wives who have been in ministry long will testify to the not so easy road, while the ones just starting struggles with fears and insecurities about the role she will soon assume.There are many factors that contribute to these situations. Here are some of the most common ones.

1. The Fishbowl Life.
One PW disagreed with this. She said she lives in an aquarium! I lost the argument. The life of a pastor’s wife and her family is oftentimes compared to living in a fishbowl (or aquarium, if it applies). It is a spectator-prone kind of life. It can be crazy, but that’s reality. No matter how she may try to scurry away from the prying, overly inquisitive eyes of people, it is often without much success. If there is a way
out, it may not always a favorable one, like leaving the ministry. For many, leaving the ministry would almost always be the only option.

2. The Unrealistic Expectations.

The PW is almost always expected to conform to the standard mold set by the church (and for different churches, there are different molds). Generally, she is expected to be quiet and without any qualms, prim and proper, sober and spiritual, available and amicable, compassionate and charming. She must be a wonderful hostess, a talented musician, an exceptional children’s ministry director, a strong
women’s ministry leader, a softhearted outreach director…and the list could go on. Sometimes a PW with little experience in life, marriage, and ministry is thrust into leadership roles simply by association with her husband. That alone can be a scary thought! There is an expectation for her in each and every nook and cranny in ministry life. These are good traits, and really useful skills to have in the church, but
to put them all on one woman, who has a home to manage and children to take care of, and often, even a job/career to keep, is not the way to go.

3. The Lonely Life.

One pastor’s wife I counseled would echo the cries of many like her, that they are in a place of their own, and often alone. She longs for genuine friendships or just to chat around the table with other ladies about life without having to worry about putting on the “super spiritual” demeanor. She longs for
someone to hear her out, in both her joys and her heartaches without passing judgment on her for not knowing where to go in the Bible. But this, too, seems elusive to her.

4. The Identity Crisis.

Who am I? Who says only the adolescents experience a phase of searching for identity? Even the pastor’s wife, at some point, will also find herself getting lost in the web of identities she has adapted to, and in the end wondering which one is she, really! Is she a counselor, a teacher, a mom, a wife, a friend, a mentor, a discipler, a musician, a leader, a follower, a support, an advocate, a cook,
an office manager, an accountant, or a preacher?

What does she do now?

Throwing in the towel may be the most sensible solution, but it may not always be the right one. Pastor’s wife, God placed you in this position or role for a very important reason.


1. She is a wife.

Pastor’s wife, remember that, first and foremost, you are your husband’s wife. You want to focus on fulfilling that role before anything else in or outside of the church. The husband-wife partnership is the first partnership to be nurtured and to flourish. The other partnership-roles that may come after should happen following your role as wife to your husband. A funny, but true story. A young couple came to my
husband and I one day, to formally ask us to be one of the principal sponsors at their wedding. My husband asked a simple question – why do you want to get married? The man’s answer was, “to have a partner in ministry.” Needless to say, the advice we gave for that answer was long and preachy for the young couple. A response like that may sound righteous or biblically-right, even satisfying to the ones who would rather hear a practical answer rather than a romantic one. But the truth of the matter is, man and woman get married because they love each other. And it is because of this love for each other that we are able to support each other, come to one another’s aide when needed, watch the other’s back, be our spouse’s biggest cheerleader and staunchest critic at the same time. A partner in life would be more encompassing of who we are to our spouse, not just a partner in ministry.

2. You are his Ezer.
Let’s be reminded of Genesis 2:18, when God created a suitable helper or helpmeet for man. The word for helpmeet is from the Hebrew, ezer kenegdo. Ezer simply means “helper” (and kenegdo, “suitable”) but when you dig deeper to it’s usage, we will find that it means more than just an assistant or aide, and that it is never even close to servant! Ezer appears in the Old Testament 21 times – twice for woman in
Genesis 2:18 and 20, three times for the nations Israel turned to for military assistance when they were under attack, and 16 times for God. So what does this information reveal to us? We were created to be our husband’s strongest ally, a strong and dependable warrior by his side. If for this reason alone, it is clear that our husband needs his wife at his side.


3. You are his most important prayer warrior.
Many people do pray for our husband-pastor, like his board of elders, his leadership team, his pastoral staff, his colleagues, his men’s group, his fellow pastors, and his church. But they cannot pray for your husband as deep and as intimately as his wife can.

As his wife, you know his deepest insecurities or fears, what hurts him the most, how he honestly feels about a problem the church is facing, how a remark has offended him. You know the smallest things that make him happy, his dreams and aspirations for the ministry. You know them all, and you are the only one who can pray to God with these matters, coming from the heart of a wife who loves her husband. No one else can do that but you.

3. You are his number one encourager.
Here’s the thing. Your husband may be happy and even really excited about the thumbs up he gets from other people, but at the end of the day, his heart desires the affirmation and appreciation of only one person – his wife. Even a man who is strong in his faith and deeply connected with God longs for the smile of approval from his wife. Even if he made a really bad decision that is tearing him apart, the
simple words from his wife like, “you did what you thought was best” or “I still love you” are like soothing balm on his heart and soul.

So maybe you have begun to wonder whether all the sacrifices are worth it, whether it is worth traveling this road less travelled. If you are thinking of the sacrifices you have made, or are going to make for others, maybe you need to think it through some more. But if you are weighing the sacrifices you have made, or will make in relation to being your husband’s wife, ezer, prayer warrior and encourager- I would say, yes. It is so worth it, simply because it is what God has equipped me to do to
support the man God has called to this incredible thing called ministry.

To the wives: tell us how you we can encourage you in this most unique and important calling. To the husbands: how can you encourage your wife in her role today?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Donna Tan, from the Philippines, is a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a pastor’s kid, a counselor, resource speaker, blogger, professional editor (academic and popular writing), and a published author. Her passion is to minister to women, particularly to women in ministry such as pastor’s wives and women pastors. She has a flourishing mentoring ministry among these women in the Philippines.

Donna’s ministry experiences span ages and cultures; having led youth and women ministries in the Philippines, as well as women ministries in the US. Donna is married to Dr. Jason Richard Tan (Ph.D.), and they have two children – Joshua (17) and Elisha (13). They have been married for 20 years. Jason and Donna are missionaries with GlobalGrace Fellowship (Monrovia, CA) serving globally from their home-base in the Philippines. She is the Admin Director of Great Commission Missionary Training Center. You can connect with Donna through her blog or through her FaceBook Page: Donna Castillo-Tan.


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