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A Pastor’s Reflections: First Lady?

October 15, 2013


One of the pressures that a new pastor quickly discovers is that there are a lot of unspoken expectations about how the pastor’s wife should conduct herself. In a word, many people think the pastor’s wife serves a role akin to the first lady, the president’s wife. The first lady usually has some sort of PR initiative (Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign or Michelle Obama’s healthy food initiative). Moreover, the first lady is expected to host events, make press appearances, speeches, and the like. On a similar track, many people in the church expect that the pastor’s wife should host and lead Bible studies, play the piano, take the lead for social functions, or teach children’s Sunday school, etc. As common as this might be, I have serious concerns and reservations about such expectations.

I spent a number of years as a bachelor while I was in the pastorate, which meant that I was able to prepare my wife-to-be for some of the ins-and-outs of the ministry before we were married. One of the things that I told her was, “You are not the first lady of the church. You will be another member of the congregation. Pray and consider where you might serve in the church, but follow Christ’s leading on this and not the pressures and expectations of people in the church.” I firmly believe this was and is sound counsel for at least two reasons.

First, when the church calls a pastor, they call the minister, not his wife. As common a practice as it might be to interview the pastor and his wife, I personally do not believe such a practice is valid. Yes, a search committee needs to get to know the pastor’s family, but that can be done over a meal or social gathering, not a formal interview. Moreover, the church is paying the pastor a salary, not his wife. They do not have the moral right to expect work from the pastor’s wife any more than they would any other member of the congregation.

Second, the pastor’s wife is supposed to help him first and foremost, not the church. When churches place undue pressure upon a pastor’s wife, things at home can begin to suffer. I think this type of pressure contributes to the PK phenomenon (PKs are “preacher’s kids,” and they have a reputation as being troubled, immature, and disobedient). The pastor and his wife are too busy to care for their own household and children, and as a result, the PKs suffer. It very well may be that the pastor’s wife will have little to no time to serve the church because she has to tend to her own household matters, work, or raising small children.

Now in the interest of fairness and balance, for those who are pastor’s wives, or who will play this role in the future, do be sensitive to these expectations, as unfair as they can be at times. Don’t simply ignore them, and do what you can to be an asset to your husband’s ministry to the church. I think that as a pastor’s wife a person can set an excellent example of what it means to be a good church member simply by attending church, morning and evening worship, not hiding out in the nursery, and participating, when possible, in the broader life of the church. The pastor’s wife, for example, does not have to lead a Bible study, but simply attend it. Such members are often in short supply. But in the end, follow the Lord’s leading on how and when you should serve the church—do not allow others to play the role of the Holy Spirit in trying to convict you to serve. Pray, discuss it with your husband, and serve the Lord wherever that may be.