I have spoken to many pastor’s wives all over the country, and there is a common problem that comes up often. This problem can basically be defined as expectations—what others expect of you compared to what you realistically can do and be.
Expectations can be real or they can be assumed. They can be self-imposed and misunderstood. They can be unreasonable and intimidating. But they are real, and they are a real problem in the ministry. No normal human being can live up to them all. Trying to meet the expectations of others can cause malaise, despondency, pessimism, bewilderment, resentment, and even outright defeat.
So for the next few issues we are going to look at this area of expectations. I want to try to answer some questions that ladies have in this area. To start out with, this month I want to look at some things that you are NOT to do or to be.
Not a Superwoman
You as a woman in Christian service are not to be superwoman, running here and there, killing yourself while trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. Outlandish expectations for pastor’s wives are nothing new. They have been around a long time. For example, an old book published around 1800 advised that a pastor’s wife should be 50 percent timid, 50 percent tidy, and 100 percent covered up. 🙂
Many times, a pastor’s wife is more valued for what she can do for the congregation than for who she is. One pulpit committee member, weary of all the silly questions being asked of the pastoral candidate asked cynically, “Can your wife play the piano while sitting on a pedestal, shooting a .22, and living in a fishbowl?” That is extreme, but it shows just how ridiculous some congregations can be in what they expect of the pastor and his wife.
In a 1993 survey, 53 percent of pastor’s wives believed that unrealistic expectations were the biggest problem that their family faced in the ministry. Horror stories abound about wives with too much to do, too many people to please and too many burdens to bear. Here are some of the expectations that were mentioned that caused the most problems for the minister and his family:
* Pressure to live up to others’ ideals of family or lifestyle.
* Feeling there is no room for mistakes.
* Keeping up a middle-class appearance on a poverty salary.
* People who regularly invade your privacy.
* Church members who want you to be a regular Jane, down-to-earth person, but they also want you to be classy and dignified and well-dressed.
* Church members who expect children to be perfect.
So what is a wife to do? The best advice for a pastor’s wife: just relax and be yourself. Don’t try to put on airs or try to imitate someone else. The most important expectations that you need to be concerned about are those from God and from your husband. We will talk more about this later.
Not the Assistant Pastor
Second, the pastor’s wife is not the assistant pastor. She is the wife of the pastor. As such, her duties are basically that of any other godly woman in the church, as outlined in Titus 2:4-5. God does not give a special list of requirements for the pastor’s wife, as He does the pastor. She is to be a good Christian, a virtuous woman, a keeper at home, a lover of her husband and her children, etc. but she is not supposed to try to take on the job of assistant pastor. Neither should the church view her in that way.
A few women bring this problem on themselves because they indeed act like they are the assistant pastor. They feel that since they are the pastor’s wife, it means they have to be in charge of everything. Some come to this place after they have entrusted another with some area of responsibility, only to have that person drop the ball. Then they are left to pick up the pieces. I must admit—it is always easier to do something myself, because I know it will get done the right way. But as a mentor, I need to be helping others to grow by giving them responsibilities. You as a leader’s wife need to get others involved. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Sometimes, church members will come to you with questions that your husband should be answering. This happens for a number of reasons. Maybe your husband is seen as being “too busy” so they don’t want to bother him with the question. Or since you are his wife, they will think that coming through you is a good way to get to him.
Sometimes people will ask you the question since you are privy to a lot of information, so they figure you surely know the answer. And indeed you might know the answer. But if it is a question that your husband as a spiritual leader in authority should be answering, don’t give in to the temptation to answer it. Smile nicely and point them to your husband.
Not the Holy Spirit
Thirdly, some women whose husbands are in the ministry feel that it is their job to get their husband in line. After all, you as a wife know your husband better than anyone else. You know his good points—and you know his weaknesses. So there are some ladies who feel that God has appointed them as the “Holy Spirit” for their husband—to show their husband what is wrong in his life and to feel guilty so he will change.
This is wrong for any wife, but it is especially wrong for a minister’s wife. Any woman who views herself in this way will not be able to respect her husband. She will feel that she is spiritually superior to him and therefore in a place to correct him. If you put yourself in that position, you will cause major problems in your marriage, as well as in the church.
Ladies, remember that God made you to be a helpmeet to your husband, not the one who tries to correct him. That is God’s job, and God doesn’t need your help. He is well able to chastise your husband if he is doing wrong. As a wife, you need to love and respect your husband—not correct him. Leave that job for the true Holy Spirit.
Beverly is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She and Doug Hammett have been married for over 35 years. Since her father was a pastor and her husband was already a pastor when she married him, she is well acquainted with the blessings as well as the problems of the ministry! Bev’s favorite things to do are read and spend time with her family.
In Autumn of 2010, Doug stepped aside from his position as senior pastor at LVBC to reach and train men in Botswana and South Africa. Beverly continues to write for our ladies publication, giving her unique perspective of life in the ministry, and now life on the mission field. You can read more about their ministry here.