A pastor’s wife exists in a unique position in the church. Here’s what a few ministry wives shared about the worst advice they’ve been given.
By Lynley Mandrell and Marissa Postell Sullivan
My dad was my soccer coach every season from the time I (Marissa) was five years old until I graduated high school. On award nights, my dad would tell the other players and families that I had the hardest position on the field—coach’s daughter. And it was true. I loved playing soccer for my dad, but I experienced some challenges no one else on the team experienced.
If that was true for an elementary-aged girl playing soccer for her dad, how much truer could it be for pastors’ wives? Alongside their husbands, pastors’ wives live and raise kids in a “glass house”—an environment where they’re vulnerable to the stress of ministry, the criticism of others, and the spotlight on their personal weaknesses.
And while ministry wives need friends to come alongside them, the advice they receive can, at times, be unhelpful. We asked a few ministry wives about the worst advice they’ve received. Here’s what they said.
Friendships in the church
“You can’t have friends in the church because then it will form cliques.”
“Worst advice: ‘Don’t have friends at your church.’ I understand they probably gave that advice to protect and caution against a multitude of issues, but maybe they should have said more specifically to be careful about what details you share within those friendships or to be cautious of those who want to be friends because of who you or your husband are.”
“A pastor’s wife of 40 plus years told me, ‘Be sure to not make any friends in the church. Meet people outside of the church and find friends elsewhere.’ I was terrified of friendship for several years. The Lord was placing wonderful people right in front of me whom I refused to let in.”
“I’ve heard this advice several times: ‘Don’t become close friends with women within your congregation.’ I disagree! I think women could be missing out on incredible friendships by not letting their walls down and letting the right people in.”“I think women could be missing out on incredible friendships by not letting their walls down and letting the right people in.” — a pastor's wife Click To Tweet
“‘I’ve been given the spirit of prophecy…’ followed by a change they think should be made within the church or your family.”
“The worst advice I ever received was to constantly ‘do more and be available.’ While it sounds good for [some], that’ll put me in the grave.”
“When church people start conversations with phrases like ‘I just wanted to let you know…’ or ‘I know you probably heard…,’ I’ve learned to be careful how I proceed. This usually becomes a church complaint or a search for church gossip to be confirmed—neither of which I want any part in.”
Being a pastor’s wife
“I was once told that it’s helpful to write your husband’s sermons if he is going through a rough season.”
“My husband and I started a new group where older couples led the class and mentored younger couples. I remember saying: ‘I wonder whom we should start meeting with.’ And one of the older wives said, in all seriousness, ‘We can’t meet with y’all. You are a pastor and pastor’s wife.’ I was a new mom in a new place with sins and struggles like everyone else. But it was eye-opening to me that women young and old were watching and looking to me for leadership.”
“You can’t wear clothes like that at our church.”
“I often lead worship with my husband on the platform. Early in our ministry together, a church member approached me for a face-to-face conversation for the first time. In our conversation, she said, ‘I’m so glad to see you have eyebrows. From a distance, you look like you don’t have any.’ I laughed it off in the moment, but I was embarrassed, hurt, and a little angry. It was one of the first times I realized people have opinions about everything—even the way I look!”
“Why don’t you play the piano? All of our pastors’ wives have played the piano.”
“People often question why I go with my husband to do visitations, conferences, serve at local missions, etc. At our first church, the head pastor was transitioning out after 23 years of ministry there. His wife and I had breakfast together, and she told me ‘If you’re not getting a paycheck from them for it, don’t do it.’ I was stunned. Many things have made me feel like I should have taken her advice. But so many more times I’m thankful I didn’t.”“When church people start conversations with phrases like ‘I just wanted to let you know…’ or ‘I know you probably heard…,’ I’ve learned to be careful how I proceed.” — a pastor's wife Click To Tweet
“You all need to get a TV. You’ve got too many kids.”
“I have this great book on weight loss. You should read it, or I can loan you my personal copy.”
“I would love to get together soon, but let’s make sure we go walking because I think that’s what you need right now.”
Living in a unique position
There’s something unique about the position of pastor’s wife. No one else experiences church life quite like she does. And no matter how much she loves being a pastor’s wife or feels called to serve alongside her husband in ministry, she holds what can often be the hardest position in the church.“No matter how much she loves being a pastor’s wife or feels called to serve alongside her husband in ministry, she holds what can often be the hardest position in the church.” — @marissapostell Click To Tweet
I (Marissa) am sure most of my teammates and their families hadn’t thought about “coach’s daughter” being a difficult position on the team before my dad pointed it out. To an even greater degree, how many people in our churches are regularly considering the role their pastor’s wife plays in the life of the church? How many recognize her unique position and its challenges and difficulties?
Most pastors’ wives don’t want an announcement from the stage that they have “the hardest role in the church.” But what if a few more people around her sought to better understand her role? What if a few more people recognized the awkwardness of being the pastor’s wife? Or what if a few more people saw her for who she is, not the role she plays?
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Lynley is married to Ben Mandrell, the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Before coming to Lifeway, Ben and Lynley spent five years in Denver, Colorado, planting a church designed to reach the unchurched. She is a mother of four and co-host of “The Glass House” podcast, which shines a light on the challenges of leading in the local church.
Marissa Postell Sullivan
Marissa is the managing editor for LifewayResearch.com.