I Knew I Didn’t Want That Life
The years I spent working as a youth ministry intern and volunteering with high school students were some of the best of my life. But working so closely alongside my youth pastor, I saw firsthand the toll full-time ministry takes on a marriage and a family. I rarely saw his wife. I knew there were many nights he wasn’t home for dinner. I knew he was gone nearly four weeks of the summer while we went to camps and led mission trips. I knew she had to share him with the students and with the church. I knew I didn’t want that life.
One summer while co-leading a trip to San Diego with students, my dear friend, Gino, sat down with me over coffee and began asking me about my dreams for the future. He affirmed my gifts of leadership and passion for ministry before saying, “Ya know, you’d make an incredible pastor’s wife. I have a strong feeling you’ll end up marrying someone in full-time ministry.” My response? “NOPE.”
In addition to sharing their husbands with the church, I strongly assumed that pastors’ wives took a backseat to their husbands’ careers. The stereotype in my head was a wife that sat quietly in the front row every Sunday while her spouse soaked up the spotlight. I assumed a pastor’s wife was a behind-the-scenes personality. I believed they were all the same, servant-hearted and comfortable playing a supporting role. That wasn’t me. I knew I was gifted for leadership and teaching, and I just didn’t see how that would mesh well with the giftings of a pastor. There would be “too many cooks in the kitchen,” as they say. I thought I had to compromise who I am to be a pastor’s wife. I thought His calling to ministry would only threaten my own.
God Had Other Plans
When I first met Zach, we were taking a Youth Ministry class together in college. I liked him instantly. When I found out he was a junior high youth pastor, I headed straight for the door. I didn’t want to get pulled into youth ministry life, and certainly not with junior-highers. Fast forward four years later and guess where I was? Saying my marriage vows to a full-time pastor (while my friend Gino serenaded us on his guitar).
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” (Proverbs 19:21).
The first couple of years of marriage in ministry were rough for me. My husband envisioned me serving alongside him as he mentored and led junior high students. It was a far cry from the high school ministry I had worked so passionately with during my early college years. I struggled to find my place. As my struggle grew, so did my resentment. I knew I needed to find somewhere else to serve.
I remember seeking advice from fellow pastors’ wives at the time. I was feeling guilty for not sharing in my husband’s zeal for the tween demographic. The other wives were quick to assure me that marrying a pastor does NOT mean you need to surrender your gifts and passions. They encouraged me to find my niche, somewhere I could use my strengths of leadership, hospitality, and encouragement for God’s glory. I’m so grateful for their advice. It freed me.
Finding My Own Place
I stepped away from the junior high ministry that year, and in the years since I have found many other ways to serve that have allowed my gifts to shine. I’ve hosted countless volunteer meetings and small groups. I’ve launched a mom’s ministry. I’ve mentored college students. I lead Bible studies. I write a blog. I understand now that being a pastor’s wife doesn’t mean I am destined to stay in the shadows. I don’t have to compromise who I am to be a pastor’s wife. His calling to ministry only strengthens and compliments my own.
I’ve met many pastors’ wives and we all wear the hat in our unique way. There is no cookie-cutter pastor’s wife, but we all share our husband’s love for God’s church and His people. Zach and I are so very different, yet we are unified in our mission to love this world’s lost and broken people. We both lead with hearts that desire to see God’s kingdom abound. We just do it in our own way.
My impression of a pastor’s wife has changed drastically since I was a 20-year-old youth ministry intern. The notion of playing a supporting role used to put a sour taste in my mouth. Today I am profoundly humbled by the opportunity. Though I may not serve shoulder-to-shoulder with Zach in church, I support him in prayer, at home, and in life. I am still his ever-present partner.
The Calling of a Pastor and His Wife
The calling to become a pastor is not for everyone. No pastor will tell you he pursued a career in ministry for the money, the fame, or the stellar benefits. It’s a career of service, of daily dying to self. It’s a labor of love for God’s people. It’s also not a calling to take lightly. The Bible makes it clear that pastors are held to a higher standard.
1 Timothy 3:1-4, 7 says:
“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect […]He must also have a good reputation with outsiders.”
I read this list and see my role as a pastor’s wife is crucial. How can my husband hope to fulfill this calling without a wife who stands faithfully behind him? More than any other ministry I feel led to serve in, ministering to my husband is my first and foremost priority. It has to be.
We have many friends in full-time ministry and we have seen many of them stumble, some even crash and burn. It is hard work and hard work can quickly lead to burnout and vulnerability to the enemy. Our marriage has struggled through seasons of the same. The times I’ve seen Zach struggle, are often the same times I’ve dropped the ball in my supporting role.
I’ve learned I can help him thrive by:
- Staying present and engaged when he comes to me seeking wisdom and support. He thrives when I put down my phone and give him my full attention at the end of a difficult day.
- Staying diligent about covering Him in prayer every day. He thrives when I lift him up in prayer throughout the day. I pray over his daily schedule and for anything unexpected he may encounter. I ask him specifically how I can be praying for him.
- He thrives when he feels heard, respected, and safe in our home. I provide a sounding board, one without judgment or unsolicited advice. I empathize, validate, counsel, and encourage.
- Making our home a haven, a place of respite for my husband and our family.
- Affirming his calling as a pastor- speaking positively of his gifts, passions, and talents.
- Representing him well in any area of ministry I choose to serve in. My gifts and passions are unique to me, but how I use them is a reflection of my husband as well. We are a partnership.
When he thrives, our church thrives.
Zach can’t take his calling lightly, and neither can I. I’ve been in the spotlight many times. I’ve taken the stage and fulfilled leadership roles. It’s rewarding for sure, but nothing holds a candle to seeing my husband step in and embrace his calling as a pastor. Watching him love God’s church, shepherd the lost, and counsel the brokenhearted, gratifies my soul more than any personal pursuit. I don’t have to compromise who I am to be a pastor’s wife. His calling to ministry only strengthens and compliments my own. What a privilege and honor it is to be his wife.
This year we celebrated fifteen years of marriage. Remembering all the times I said I’d never want this life, I’ve never been happier to eat crow.