The Spiritual Care of Pastors’ Wives

I’ve been at the Pacific Southwest District Convention for the last couple of days as our congregation’s lay-delegate. It’s been a fascinating experience and surprisingly pleasant.

I’ve enjoyed learning about the activities of our district, connecting with friends and acquaintances (and my in-laws!), and participating in the democratic process of the Synod.

One Speech Gave Me Pause

In the closing remarks of his speech, one of the presidential nominees gave a nod to pastor’s wives by mentioning the sacrifices that we make. He also observed that the pastor’s wife is probably the only one in the congregation without a pastor.

My pastor in college told Jeff “Don’t try to be your wife’s pastor.” He got that from Robert Preus and it’s been repeated many many times. The only time I’ve ever heard it contradicted was in a dinner discussion with Dr. Kenneth Korby who insisted that was bull and that he has been his wife’s pastor for 45 years.

But How We Define “Pastor…”

Lutherans define the role of pastor as the man who is called to administer the Word and Sacraments to God’s people in the congregation.

At some point…maybe about a decade in, I looked at the advice that we received so often and it didn’t make sense to me anymore. Every Sunday, my husband forgives my sins in the corporate confession and absolution, preaches God’s Word to me, and feeds me Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  How is he not my pastor?

Many members go through their entire lives without taking advantage of private confession and absolution and many also never seek out pastoral counseling. In the end, even if I sought out private confession and absolution or counseling from another pastor, as important as these things are, they don’t trump the daily and weekly faithful service that my husband fulfills constantly.

There are exceptions


And I do admit, I would find it very difficult to confess privately to my husband, and as wonderful as he is, when I’ve needed any kind of counseling, it’s been because of a rough spot in our relationship.

But that doesn’t mean my husband isn’t my pastor, it only means that our marriage creates an additional dynamic.

There were times after my husband was ordained that it was very difficult to hear the gospel from him when I knew so intimately what his faults were — and wasn’t quite as focused on my own.

But in the end, I’m not a Donatist. My husband’s flaws do not take away from the gospel he proclaims. They do not diminish the forgiveness I receive from his mouth and his hands.

I have a pastor.


And This is Where I Think the Issue Truly Is

I can’t get past this idea: if my husband, who has been called to the congregation that I belong to isn’t my pastor, then I’m not really a member of my congregation.

My struggle as a pastor’s wife, and often the struggle I hear from other pastors’ wives isn’t about the nature of our relationship with our husbands, it’s the struggle the congregation has with us. 

One of the hardest parts of being a pastor’s wife for me is when I haven’t been treated like I’m really a member of the congregation.

I make it a point to be admitted to membership in any congregation my husband has pastored. I stand up before them and vow to be a part of them. But how the congregation has treated me and my children has often been inconsistent with really being a member.

  • Even in congregations where elders were assigned members under their care, I’ve never had an elder actually contact me and check up on me.
  • I’ve gone into congregations that have had unspoken expectations about what I should be doing in the congregation and opinions about what I am actually doing in the congregation — but that never quite reach my ears until much later, from someone else.
  • My kids have been held to different standards of behavior.
  • Our family decisions haven’t been respected.
  • Even when I’ve had pastors because my husband was not serving a parish, it was basically assumed that we really didn’t need anything, even when I specifically asked for help.


What Do You Think?

So for me, I would say I have almost never struggled with the idea of not having a pastor because I was married to one, what I’ve struggled with is being denied the fellowship of all believers because I was married to the pastor.

I’m thinking of exploring this further, maybe with a survey or more articles so I would love to hear your thoughts here or on my Facebook page.





One thought on “The Spiritual Care of Pastors’ Wives

  1. I agree. The hardest parts of being a pastors wife for me (and at times for my marriage) have been because of the unspoken expectation of my family. My husband is an associate pastor and we are getting ready to move across the country where he will become a lead pastor. We have been in ministry for 5 years and I have struggled to find my identity and place within the church. I am currently finishing my Masters in Social Work and we will be welcoming our second little girl into the world late August so these transitions will be met with a new sense of developing identity. I have felt my calling as a mother and a social worker for just as long as my husband has felt his call into ministry yet the political ramifications of my profession and how that may or may not reflect on my husband has been a constant tension. I have no problem sitting down and sharing with anyone in the congregation my heart but rarely, if ever, have I been asked. I feel more judgement from congregants than support which wears on our family and my marriage. My hope for our new transition is to be transparent from the beginning but we will see how everything plays out. Thank you for starting this conversation.

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