Every church should do its best to avoid making the pastor's wife...
Lonely in the Parsonage
by David Amburgey
It’s a familiar scene repeated far too often in Free Will Baptist circles and beyond. A church hires a new pastor. He and his family move into the parsonage, and the pastor’s wife begins to decorate, to create a home. (Depending on the parsonage, this may prove to be quite a challenge.) She works tirelessly to make this strange, new place home for her family.
Her husband is away, for a new pastor hits the ground running. Perhaps he is out with a deacon to meet members of the church in their homes. He might be visiting a nearby nursing facility or making new contacts in the community. Maybe he is visiting church members who have trickled away from the congregation between pastors or became disgruntled with the previous pastor for a trivial reason. He quickly settles into the busy schedule that will continue as long as he remains at the church, and he still needs to prepare messages for the coming services. As he visits, he quietly hopes this new church will not need another Sunday School teacher. But if it does, well, he will make time for that too.
Back home, his wife continues working to create a home. Because the family moved during the summer, the kids are underfoot, running around, screaming, getting into things, exploring their new surroundings, and marking their new territory with crayons. Their mother promptly cleans up the marks and scolds them, telling them to respect their new home because it belongs to the church. She doesn’t want to mess up this house that doesn’t really belong to her and, in her mind, never will.
Perhaps she has a job. Many churches do not pay enough for a single income to support a growing family. Some churches cannot afford insurance, and so to make ends meet the pastor’s wife heads to work. She is glad to do so, for she knows that if her husband takes a job on the side, he will not be able to give himself fully to the work of the church.
As the leader of the church, the pastor comes under great scrutiny from his congregation and surrounding community. This is as it should be, for the Bible spells out the standards of pastoral behavior clearly. The scrutiny does not end with the pastor, however. Often, the same magnifying glass is turned to his wife and children with an unblinking gaze filled with unrealistic expectations.
We must remember that while God calls men to pastor churches, He does not call the wife into the same ministry. Allow a moment of explanation. The pastor’s wife is called to be just that—the pastor’s wife, the builder and caretaker of the home. Too often, congregations expect the pastor’s wife to be a co-pastor of sorts. We may cringe at that statement, but we often treat her as if she is held to the same standards as the pastor.
It may come as a surprise that the Word of God does not list the qualifications for a pastor’s wife. The list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 mentions her only in the phrase, “husband of one wife.” Further on, we find the qualifications for a deacon and the expectations of his wife. The simple point is this. If the Bible doesn’t hold the pastor’s wife to an unreasonable standard, why do we?
How often do we see the following scene played out in our communities? A woman sees a friend at a beauty salon. She is a member of another church in town. The friend asks, “How do you like your new pastor?”
The woman replies with a broad smile, “Oh, he’s wonderful—a good preacher, easy to get along with, and he even sings. Handsome too.” Then she frowns and says, “But his wife….” You can fill in the blank with just about anything, “She’s not friendly enough.” “She doesn’t talk to anybody.” “She just comes to church and goes home.” “She doesn’t play the piano.” “She doesn’t sing.” “She’s not like our last pastor’s wife.” “She doesn’t make those kids stay awake during the sermon.”
The list can go on forever. Such criticism is not fair to the pastor’s wife or the pastor. The quickest way to drive a pastor away from a church is to put unreasonable expectations on his family. He will take it personally, and he should.
Often, when a new family visits the church, people warmly welcome them—at least they should. Women swarm around the lady to invite her into their circles in order to make her feel a part of the church family, unless the woman happens to be the pastor’s wife. In many instances, churches expect the pastor’s wife to make the first move to embrace the church family.
Remember, the new pastor’s wife is no different than any other woman that is new to your church. She just happens to be married to the pastor. She is not June Cleaver, Wonder Woman, and Mother Theresa rolled up into a super saint. So, treat your pastor’s wife just like you would any other guest to your church. Embrace her. Welcome her to the family. Understand that the only people she knows live in her house, a house that may be owned by the church. Her own family may live far away. Don’t make her throw herself at your congregation to be accepted.
Don’t let the pastor’s wife become lonely in the parsonage. Accept her for who she is, and understand her role, which may be the most difficult in the church. She is the pastor’s wife, his confidant and sounding board. She prevents him from making horrible mistakes, saying the wrong things, or reacting in anger. Her job does not necessarily put her in the limelight. She often works quietly behind the scenes, but her role is far more important than most church members realize. She keeps the pastor’s house in order (and sometimes keeps him in order, or at least in check).
So when you see that quiet, or sometimes not so quiet, lady who supports the pastor more than anyone else in the congregation keeping to herself, take it as a signal to include her in the circles of the church. She needs to be loved as much as (or more than) every other church member. You never know when she may be lonely in the parsonage.
Keep this in mind: the pastors who stay at a church longer are often ones whose wives and children have been embraced fully by their congregation, without unreasonable expectations. As you welcome your new pastor, don’t forget to include his wife.
About the Writer: David Amburgey is a writer and a minister. Find information on his latest book, All Because of War at www.AuthorDavidAmburgey.com.