I hadn’t even arrived at the church my husband was going to pastor, but already, leaders in the women’s ministry had plans for me. They listed things they hoped I would do, how I would be, what kind of involvement I’d have. And all of this was before they even met me; before I was more to them than a name. Already, from a distance, I was being expected of and assumed upon. Not under a microscope, because to be under a microscope you must already be relatively close to something. Instead, I was being viewed through a telescope – examined and studied from a distance.
From a Telescope to a Microscope
As a lead pastor’s wife, we all experience some sort of scrutiny. Somewhere in the congregation is at least one woman furiously taking notes each Sunday, not about the pastor’s sermon, but what his wife wore, who she talked to, how her children behaved (or didn’t behave), and how she worshipped. Amongst others is an insatiable desire to be “in the know” so they sidle up and befriend, hoping for a sneak peek into what’s to come at church or get some inside angle with their pastor. Then there are those who view the pastor’s wife with indifference – just another person in the crowd. Finally, there are those with a genuine heart to love the pastor and his family well.
The actual proportion of these people in your church vary largely on your context, whether or not you planted the church, and your involvement in ministries in the church. And of course you won’t know who is who until you get to know them – the individuals and groups of ladies who approach you on your very first Sunday and the weeks that follow. So how do you prevent yourself from getting caught up in the extra eyes and walk confidently, and with humility, in the ever-changing role God has for you in his church?
Know Your Place
This statement has such a negative connotation, but it’s meant to be a help. Let’s look to Christ as our example here. In John 6, Jesus had just fed the 5000 and the people where excited. They were ready for their King! But Jesus knew the timing was not God’s so he withdrew. He removed himself from the situation (John 6:15) so he could carry on with the plan God had for him.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see the people wanting and expecting Jesus to do what they wanted, yet he stayed faithful to the timing and plan the Father had for him. For the pastor’s wife, her first ministry to the church is actually to its pastor: her husband. After that, it’s her children. Should you and your husband decide to make use of your gifts in the church as well, that’s great, but it isn’t a requirement. With each season or life change, how and how much we serve the church will likely change. Trust and honor God’s timing for you and don’t get caught up in what others seem to want.
Know the People
I have a friend who is a lead pastor’s wife at another church who views every congregant as a potential best friend. I am the opposite. The reality is, not everyone in the congregation will be your best friend and not everyone in the congregation will only be a congregant to you. You will never know who is who unless you actually interact and engage. Listen well in these conversations, use good discernment, keep boundaries up over your personal life until you can more accurately determine who is a friend and who will likely remain someone you greet warmly on Sundays. Depending on the size of your church, this could take a few weeks or maybe even a few years (and truly, you don’t have to meet everyone). Regardless, treat others with the same respect you want and don’t assume – the lady seemingly giving you a side eye may really want to get to know you but thinks you’re too busy to engage.
Know Who You Are in Christ
This should be our answer to everything, but unfortunately, the Gospel and who we are because of it, is easy to forget. In Christ, you are his follower first. Any other identity, while still your identity, isn’t even a close second. Those other identities are so far back there, they’re in a completely different race. We most easily remember this when we spend time in God’s Word, have regular time in prayer, and practice the spiritual discipline of journaling – particularly of the times we have seen God’s faithfulness. Not only is keeping the journal important but reading it as well so those reminders stay close. Staying true to who God made you in humility, not haughtiness, lessens the sting of the busybody and fills the void when true friendship is wanting.
Know Other Pastor’s Wives
The fellowship and commiseration with pastor’s wives in other churches is invaluable when navigating situations that are unique to this role. Your husband may be an awesome listener, but he doesn’t have this firsthand experience. When you find other lead pastor’s wives, make a point of getting together, even if just by phone, to ask questions, laugh (or sometimes weep) at your own mistakes, and be open in the shared experiences. To be clear, this isn’t a place for gossip, but a place to encourage and build one another up; to learn from each other and pray for one another.
“Lead Pastor’s Wife” is not an easy job, and thankfully, there are thousands of women around the world seeking the same thing you are: true fellowship in Christ and endurance to faithfully serve their husband, and the church, well.
Stand confidently in who you are in Christ and the priorities of your roles at home, work, and the church. God sees you even more than the scrutinizing eyes of others and knows your heart even more than you do.