There’s an old stereotype of Pastors’ and Ministry wives that I hope is fully out of fashion. I don’t see it, but I also know that I’m not in a highly traditional setting. I’ve also been pretty intentional in all of our ministry settings to not allow the expectations of others steer where I serve. But it has been a rudder that I’ve always had my hand on. Otherwise, my boat drifts into waters where I don’t want to be.
Here’s the picture of a Pastor’s/Ministry wife from say, 25+ years ago.
  • She plays the piano (and is available at a moments notice to fill in)
  • She leads Bible studies (and loves Women’s Ministry)
  • She likes tea (and all the fruffee stuff that goes with it)
  • She freezes casseroles for unexpected visitors (there’s a whole chapter about this in a book on being a PW – honest!)
  • She shows up to everything
  • She’s expected to sit on the front row with her kids
The list goes on and on – you can probably add some of your own.
This description comes from expectations that congregations have had in the past and that PWs have felt the pressure to live under. But where did these expectations come from? I think they have come from the never-ending quest that we all have to feel valued. Years ago, the ministry wife looked around and saw needs in the lives of those around her and figured out that these “tactics” met their needs – and made them feel loved. Problem is, these “tactics” no longer match up with the primary needs of our congregations. So, they don’t communicate love like they once did. So we need to re-evaluate and allow the expectations that we have of ourselves (because we all have them) are God-given and line up with what our communities need.
But first, a little heart check.
You know me, I’m a question asker. I was a science teacher for awhile so I trained kids to ask a healthy question – “why?”  For the most part, adults have forgotten how to make make space for curiosity in our quest to keep up, keep the peace and keep succeeding. But questions invite the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and prevent us from soaking in any more content before we’ve opened our hearts to the Lord’s careful molding, and let Him apply what we’ve learned.
So here are a few questions to bring to the Lord (even in this moment) to check your heart before we go on.
  • If I’m feeling weighed down by the expectations of others:
  • Do I know for sure that these expectations are real? (Have they actually been said to me?)
  • Am I willing to have conversations about what others (my husband, my kids, ministry leadership) have of me so that I can discern the real from the imagined?
If your gut is telling you that you need to press into this, check out this resource that we use in one of our Alongside Cohorts – Managing Messy Relationships. It’s called “What ARE the expectations?” and it walks through discerning the real expectations versus the imagined, from many different sources.
  • Do I live under this old picture of a pastor’s wife just to “keep the peace”? Am I exacerbating the problem by continuing to live this out?
  • Is God calling me to experience Him and His moving through my life with greater freedom?
The longing of every congregation, when it comes to their Pastor’s wife, is that she love her husband well and that she love them. We all know about love languages (if not, check this out) and its obvious that its impossible for us to love each of our congregants according to their individual love language. That’s not only unrealistic- its unhealthy. But what if, as a whole Body, they could understand that they are loved simply by seeing that we are engaged.
Seeing that we are open to connecting with them communicates value. It says, “You are worth my time and energy and I want to know you.”  Now, there are always some that we’d like to know more than others. Of course. But making a healthy effort, with some wise guidelines, goes a long way towards helping your congregation feel loved. And most of the time, I do for one what I wish I could do for all – and trust the Lord to use it.
Here are some guidelines or boundaries around connecting that I’ve watched work well for other PWs and some that have worked well for me:
  • Meet at a neutral location, so that you have an exit
  • Set a time limit when you set it up (I say 45 minutes, unless it is a crisis)
  • Let them know that you have to set an alarm on your phone at the beginning. Tell them that you tend to lose track of time because you get absorbed in conversation (they matter too much for you to be checking your watch/phone)
  • Suggest people use Facebook messenger to contact you. I struggled with this a long time (because I don’t spend time on Facebook). After too many instances of regretting giving out my cell, I have started using Messenger, at least for initial contact, and it works much better. I’m getting a lot less people trying to contact me late at night or too often.
  • YOU CAN’T and SHOULDN’T ATTEND EVERYTHING. It sets unrealistic expectations that can’t and shouldn’t be met, especially if something unplanned changes in your life. Sit down with your husband and decide which events are most important for you to be at, for the month. Voice that you can’t do everything but want to do the ones that are most critical and communicate the most support to him and others.
  • DECIDE TOGETHER how you can best love him and your congregation during those events. Is it by sharing the weight of meeting people, by serving in an area of need, or by doing what you’ve both discovered is the way God shows up through you – your unique gifting? (If you want to dig into this, sign up for Embracing Your Calling Cohort)
  • Learn how to discern a genuine crisis from drama. You interact with issues that are truly life and death at times, so learn to weed out the ones that are not.
  • Get a team in place around you. Find a counselor that can be on call for you to “consult” with.  Start building a list of “referrals” (start with a Christian trauma counselor, local women’s shelter, food pantry). This helps you share the weight. Find others that can (and like to!) meet physical needs (like the casseroles for new babies). Start thinking about doing what “only you can do.”
There’s so much more to navigating expectations in this role. But hopefully this gives you some intentional ways to think about being accessible while staying healthy and allowing you to see the Lord working through you in ways that only He can.