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Shedding the "Pastor's Wife" Label

By Sally Ferguson

Sally Ferguson has been a freelance writer for over 12 years, focusing on devotionals.  More than 60 of her devotionals have been published in Pathways to God (Warner Press). She has also been published in Chautauqua Mirror, Just Between Us, Adult Span Curriculum, and Busti Church of God Beacon. Her coloring book, What Will I Be When I Grow Up? (Warner Press) was released January 2006.  Retreat planner, women’s leader, children’s teacher, and speaker, Sally seeks to communicate God’s Word in fresh and encouraging way.

Why can't somebody call me by my name? Would people look at me differently if I were simply introduced as Sally? Why do pastors' wives inherit such broad titles? It seems that the images conjured up have more definitions than the role of the President of the United States. Yet, the pastor's wife was never elected.

Searching for ways to affirm my role by marriage, I sought to explore avenues of positive outlet.

A Christ Follower

First of all, I'm a Christian. That means I have to find out who I am and what I can contribute to the body of Christ. Romans 12:4-8 says that each Christian has particular gifts that contribute to the whole body. To assume that the minister's wife will automatically chair the board of Christian education is to ignore her particular gifts. Take a look at the varied expertise displayed by friends who are also in the pastorate:

  • Beverly loves working with puppets.
  • Ginger excels in music.
  • Michelle has a burden for youth.
  • Claudia hungers to disciple the young married women in her congregation.
  • DeeAnn thrills others with her gifts with crafts.

Vivé la difference! What a celebration to see women who take their call seriously to be Christians in a hurting world. If I tried to copy the pattern created by these women, Sally wouldn't exist anymore. I must pursue my own identity.

Unique Individual

In Home Sweet Fishbowl, Denise Turner affirms that "ministers' wives who realize their potentials are the ministers' wives who have broken free from all of those smothering molds."

Sometimes, the process of understanding my gifts involves trial and error. Teaching the 5th grade Sunday school class does not mean that other pastors' wives have to do the same. When I eliminate tasks I do not prefer, I am closer to discovering my own particular gifts.

Everyone hears stories of sour pastors' wives. Cynicism strikes any profession, and the ministry is not exempt. Any time there are relationships involved, there are bound to be expectations left unstated. The congregation expects things of their pastors and family (she plays the piano, he visits every household). The pastor's family expects things of the congregation (involvement in activities, attendance at all church functions). Someone will be disappointed at some point in time. In his book, Love's Unseen Enemy, Dr. Les Parrott II says, "Laying the blame on others is our attempt to take the blame off ourselves and shed our feelings of guilt." Learning to take responsibility for my own actions before God is an essential step toward nurturing healthy relationships within the congregation.

Learning to Serve

Taking responsibility for my attitude and actions also requires servanthood. However, being a servant is not always convenient. When I struggled with the decision to help with our church's Thanksgiving banquet, I knew it would require more time and energy than I felt able to give. Because the Lord nudged me to exercise my gift of hospitality, not because of feeling any obligation as the pastor's wife, I plunged in with both feet. Afterward, my aching feet were not jumping for joy, but in my heart I knew I had done the right thing.

Sometimes obeying the Lord is hard because the issues are not so cut and dried in the ministry. Who can complain about the workaholic husband? He's doing God's work. If I have a bitter spirit, I am only blocking my relationship with the Lord. True, my husband needs to find balance, but I have to be responsible for my own attitude.

Dependent on God

Psalm 19:8 says that obedience infuses joy. Now, joy is something I need more of. Hectic days become burdensome when I am unable to see God's hand at work. Maybe that is why servanthood rubs against human nature so much — because it requires giving up my self-sufficiency to depend on God's strength. In Thank You for Being a Friend, Jill Briscoe refers to wholehearted dependence on God as being more important than any task. When I adopt a willing attitude, God is enabled to do His work in me.

A Life of Privilege

One of the privileges of being in the ministry is that of using opportunities to help others realize their potential. What fun it is to see another gain new self-confidence while pursuing her God-given gifts. Believers need someone to come alongside them to encourage their fledgling efforts in ministry. As a pastor's wife, I am fortunate to be able to offer positive feedback in mentoring others. Paul used the example in 1 Thessalonians 2:11,12, of a parent "encouraging, comforting and urging" others to live lives set apart for God. I am able to build up the self-esteem of other Christians, as I steer them to a growing intimate relationship with God.

Because I am the pastor's wife, I am often thrown into leadership positions. I can choose one of two responses. I can become the Lone Ranger and "do it all myself," or I can learn to delegate and equip others to reach for their full potential. When I see myself as the only one who knows how to get the job done right, I cheat others out of the opportunity to develop their own gifts.

There is a fine line when it comes to taking on jobs in the church. On one hand, it is good to be involved, in order to feel the heartbeat of the church. On the other hand, hoarding leadership responsibilities leads to burnout. As I learn balance in my walk with the Lord, I gain discernment for the time to step in, and the time to bow out.


A Relatable Person

I am finding that people don't want a "perfect" pastor's wife, because they need someone to whom they can relate. On one occasion, when a parishioner dropped in unexpectedly, she found a house strewn with toys and the couch cushions arranged as a fort for my two preschoolers. "What a relief," she said, "to find out that you live like the rest of us!"

People are looking for down-to-earth leaders with real problems, who love them unconditionally. When they see how we deal with difficulties, it reaffirms that they can make it through hard times too. We could rewrite 1 Timothy 4:12 to say, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are a pastor's wife, but set an example for the believers in what you say, in your lifestyle, in how you love them, in your walk with the Lord, and in innocence."

In spite of preconceived notions of how a minister's wife should act, I am only responsible for my own behavior. It is not my job to fulfill a role expectation, but to be a model of how a Christian applies her faith to everyday life. What a blessing to be allowed to share intimacy with others not on the basis of what I can do for them, but built on the experience of what Christ has done for me.

Maybe the next time I am introduced as "the pastor's wife," I'll remember to just be myself, and we'll laugh over the preconceived notions of titles. What better way to begin as friends, than over the music of shared laughter?