The Pastor’s Wife Is Simply a Wife

by Scott Thomas


I had a hard time finding in Scripture where it explains the role of a pastor’s wife. I dragged out every concordance I could find. I looked at my Greek and Hebrew Lexicon. Some day I might even get it off the shelf. I consulted Wikipedia (the academic version, of course), and even the urban dictionary, yo.  I couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe this idea of the pastor’s wife as a “First Lady” is a cultural thing and not really a biblical thing?

Women who are married to pastors often receive guilt-ridden traditions and rules and roles and associate pastor-like expectations. My wife has been married to a pastor for over 30 years. We met in church and I was licensed as a pastor a year before we got married and I have served as a pastor in a church for our entire marriage. She has known nothing else since she was 18 (yes, she got married at 18, get over it). My wife’s role in the church is not to lead women’s ministry (unless she wants) or children’s ministry (unless she wants) or serve on a committee (even if she wants). Her role in the church is to be a worshiper of Jesus, a faithful church member, to serve where she wants (except committees) and be my wife. She doesn’t have to count, copy, coordinate or collate anything. She doesn’t have to counsel anyone, cajole volunteers, and she especially does not confirm rumors about elder’s meetings—no matter how hard those same people ask.

My wife is the sweetest person I know. She has an infectious laugh and a persistent, compulsive dependence on chocolate (Pastor’s wives don’t have “addictions”). She is faithful, loyal, hard working, devoted to Jesus and the church but she was never good enough for a few older congregant’s inspired vantage point because she didn’t “act like a pastor’s wife.” That’s when I dragged out my research tools. I needed a biblical definition for pastor’s wife.

What I discovered was that there is no such thing as a “pastor’s wife.” Lists exist in Scripture for elders, for male deacons and for female deacons (deaconess, if you prefer) but nothing for pastor’s wives. I found lots of helpful principles for wives in Scripture. But these principles are also applicable to wives of plumbers, or attorneys, or salesmen, or businessmen, or congressmen, or even to pastors. Maybe all that God requires of wives who just happen to be married to pastors is to simply be a wife.

Jesus is portrayed in Scripture as the Bridegroom and the church is the bride. The bride does not earn the Bridegroom’s love by her actions. She receives it by grace. Her responsibility is to simply respond to the Bridegroom’s love. Wives of pastors do not have to earn the affection of the congregants. Don’t let others impose extra-biblical expectations on you. Your Bridegroom Jesus, your husband and your children already love you, even though you are not perfect, First-Lady-like. Be the wife to one pastor that God is calling you to be and stop trying to be the perfect pastor’s wife.

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About Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas is Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey Church in St Louis. He created the Gospel Coach Training and Certification system and has coached hundreds of pastors. Scott has served as President and Network Director of Acts 29 Network and as an elder at Mars Hill Church. Scott has an MA in Missional Leadership and has been married for 31 years to Jeannie, with whom he has two sons. He planted and replanted churches for 16 years as a lead pastor. Read More About Scott Thomas At His Author Page

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  • Domoina RATSIZAFY

    Thanks a lot for your article, it is a great encouragment to support my husband, who works a pastor of a virtual church of athletes in sports ministry. As a wife, I think that I am called not to be a church’s wife but to support my husband as ‘pastor’. I took the verses in I Thim 3:1-7 to know about how can I do to assume my responsibilities as elder’s wife. How can I help my husband to have a godly life as it is written there. I ask help from the Holy Spirit in daily life. Thanks again.

  • Cindy Baines

    AMEN ! ! AMEN ! ! AMEN ! ! !

    My mother was a pastor’s wife and she lived this out. However, at most places we were, they were as informed as to such. So there were lots of unreasonable expectations and judgements. But my sister and both our daughters are pastor’s wives. They are living examples of godly women, loving God, loving their family and serving in the church where God calls them. Thankfully, many churches have been taught these principles and my sister and daughters are not living under the oppression that my mother did. Praise the Lord!

  • Elaine

    I love it that this husband supports and sticks up for his wife. Every man should do so, pastor or not.

  • Rachel

    I believe that there has been a lot of misunderstanding about what the role of a pastor’s wife is. This does not dismiss obligations placed on every believer by Christ. At the heart of the issue, if the role of the pastor is to ‘equip the saints for the working of the ministry,’ then the pastor’s wife should have a ministry that she is equipped to work within. She should not be a trophy wife. GOD’s trophies have always been HIS servants that do HIS will. If she is not working in some fashion to spread the gospel to those around her, then she is not fulfilling her role as a member of the body of Christ and is depending on the work of her husband to get her credits in Heaven. I agree that the work that she does doesn’t have to be in the church building, but we are all called to evangelize, prophesy and do the work of Christ outside of the four walls of the Church. She should also display fruit of the Spirit, like all believers, that expected of those in leadership roles, since a man and a woman who are married are one. Because of her position, she is also an example to the women in the body of Christ within the local church of how a wife should treat her husband. This is the same for all women of faith who are more mature in their relationship with Christ. These should be the guidelines by which all believers are known whether they wear a title or not and these requirements should not be excused because of places of authority. As the head of the house, the man is the covering for the woman and she shares in his ministry whether she signed up for it or not. The man is also part of the woman’s ministry whether he signed up for it or not. How can half of a person be effective in ministry? One should be the intercessory support for the other as they are ministering and visa versa. Labels, titles, and preconformed ideas should not stop us from fulfilling our destiny in Christ nor be expected to put on a cape and save the world singlehandedly. We should just do exactly what GOD has called us to and know that HE is happy and that is enough.

  • beth harmon

    It’s almost humorous how timely this is. wow. God is good and He talks to me!!!!

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  • http://www.notinmycity.org Chad

    Great article. I think the reason many churches have unrealistic expectations for Pastor’s wives is that Pastor’s often have unrealistic expectations of their wives when it comes to their role in the church. As a Pastor I fight hard to give my wife the freedom to serve where God calls her, not to simply be an extension of myself in ministry.

    So many Pastor’s rely on their wives to be a kind of Assistant Pastor in their ministry because they cannot or will not recruit and equip effective leaders. My wife served along side of me because she wanted to, not because if she didn’t the ministry would suffer. Most wives of Pastor’s I meet want to be involved in their husbands ministries, but a Pastor who doesn’t protect his wife will end up allowing her to be taken advantage of, and unfortunately it is often the ineffective leadership of the Pastor that ends up damaging his wife the most.

    In the end there is a season for everything, and there are seasons of ministry were couple’s know they will be doing much of the busy work that will eventually be delegated as you build a team. But it’s when this never actually happens that I think wives get burned, and I would encourage men in ministry to fight hard to be an effective leader of leaders so that this doesn’t happen in your marriage.

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  • http://www.bullcityvineyard.com Maggie

    I guess you’d also say there is no such thing as a pastor’s husband, but maybe for different reasons. I appreciate in the Vineyard movement the intentional use of “pastor’s spouse”. It works so much better for my husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the church and encourages her to live out her call to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ while planting a church in the city of Durham, NC.

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  • http://blog.transformingtruth.org jeff lyle

    Great – not to mention, biblical – stand on this one. Our church went into shock when the former pastor’s wife who was an empty-nester in her sixties was replaced by my wife who was a mother of young children in her twenties. She failed to show up at every funeral, every hospital visit, every prayer meeting and evangelistic opportunity. She had the audacity to be an exemplary wife and mother and church member but failed to be the second part of a 2 for 1 presumed deal. Ten years later, our church is biblically grounded and much clearer on Amy’s role. It’s no longer an issue (at least publicly). May God deliver all pastors from “the fear of the brethren” and empower the pastor to protect his wife and home from unbiblical expectations of others.

    • http://twitter.com/scottythom Scott Thomas

      Titus 2 calls for the younger women to minister in their homes while the older ladies (don’t call them that) can minister to the younger ladies.

    • http://twitter.com/scottythom Scott Thomas

      Titus 2 calls for the younger women to minister in their homes while the older ladies (don’t call them that) can minister to the younger ladies.

  • http://faithbaptistmonroe.org Chris Conner

    I am so thankful for the many Godly Pastor’s wives that I have had the priviledge of knowing. However, my wife and I found that we had a different perspective from many others in the body of Christ concerning Pastor’s wives. My wife and I were married at the age of 20, and were serving in lay leadership roles at a church plant from the age of 19. She taught 10-12 yr.old girls and then we moved on after marriage to working with youth in a volunteer capacity. She worked outside the home as I did and served the Lord as he calls all of us, to use the gifts that He gives us to be a light for a lost world. At the age of 37, I felt the Lord calling me into full-time ministry and began the journey of bible college, full time job and serving as the Lord called me as a volunteer in the local church and my community. As we had the opportunity to go on the main campus of a seminary, since I was involved in axtension center, for a weekend marriage retreat; my wife came out of the wives sessions in shock. In her own words “there must be a conspiracy to keep wives of pastors from finding the joy of the Lord and his purpose for their lives. The word was out among the many younger wives- “God didn’t call me for the church, but to be a wife and a mom.” God called all of us to fulfill the duties with our family and our spouse. However, that doesn’t excuse any of us from using His gifts in our lives for His Glory. When we use the gifts that He gifted us with, we experience fulfillment in our lives and, as Eric Liddel told his sister, in the movie “Chariots of Fire” “God created me to run and when I run, I feel His Pleasure”, We feel His pleasure when we do what God created us to do. My wife then asked me, “If its not the job of the pastors wife to take brownies to a fellowship, why is it the job of a deacons wife, or a teachers wife, a choir members wife, or a man who brings brownies?” “There are some things we do not out of duty but out of love for others and the opportunity for fellowship.” Today we call it building community. My wife has sung in the choir, taught S.S., spoken at Ladies retreats around the Southeaast, driven a van, worked in V.B.S, served on the hostess committee and other things and for the last 18 years been a pastors wife, who continued serving. Never did she do those things because she felt pressured by people or the church. She did them for the glory of God and she found God’s pleasure. Also, she raised two children, today our daughter is an Assistant V.P. with a nation wide bank, who, along with her husband, have an awesome ministry to college students, and our son is a Youth and children’s pastor. My Point: don’t let people or your own insecurites, or your husband’s job or your laziness, rob you of the joy of serving the Lord and feeling His pleasure as you use YOUR gifts. Thank God, that there are many wives and mothers teaching, serving as missionaries, using their gifts for the glory of God. If all women quit serving the Lord in our communities and churches,because they are wives and mothers, our world and our churches would be in a mess.

    • http://www.tellstart.com Phil Spry

      Good word, Chris. Some pastors have elevated patriarchy to an art form. They dominate their wives to such a degree that she loses any independent thought or ministry. God has gifted our wives independently of their relationship to us. To the degree that we suppress that call in their lives we will grieve the Holy Spirit and abbreviate the ministry of our churches. I suspect that those who most loudly affirm the duty of the wife to be a responsive and submissive partner in the home only rarely give her the same level of priority they demand from her. Has it been suggested earlier in this thread that only a male in professional ministry can adequately serve? If so, we are forfeiting half of our work force.

      Surely, some (perhaps many) churches have abused pastor’s wives. Expectations, defined and implied, have often made ministry real drudgery for some wives. The victims of such unreasonable expectations will probably resonate most vigorously with the observations that started this thread. When it does happen it is, in my judgment, the responsibility of the pastor to straighten it out. Our wives should not have to defend themselves or their actions. In the hierarchy outlined in Scripture they report to their husbands, not the church board.

      I think we have to keep in mind that God calls a couple – not a man into full time service. I have seen what happens to church plants when only one partner is on board. Having said that, most church planters start small, have no staff, and only a handful of volunteers. There is not a lot said about ministry partnerships in the NT. Pricilla and Aquila may be the best example. Their cooperation may be a good model for every planting couple. A husband who maintains that his wife has no other significant calling but to serve him gives the enemies of Christ a lot of ammunition. My wife has been at my ministry side for 38 years now. I wouldn’t have accomplished a thing without her active participation.
      Phil Spry

    • Sandra

      Wow. You must be married to a confident competent wife. What a true blessing that is. After reading this I feel sick to my stomach. Not because it was wrong but because of the lack of grace. It is brilliant that your wife came out of the meeting shocked. It shows where you two are. That is where every Pastor’s wife wants to be. Strong, confident, doing as our Lord leads. I too have been in ministry with my husband for many years. When I read she was shocked I think may she was blind in this area. Blind because it’s easy for her. When areas of our lives are easy it’s easy to judge others in that area. Again your not wrong but something hasn’t been conveyed with what you wrote. I like being the Pastor’s wife. I love serving the Lord. I don’t like the unspoken judgment or reprimand. Not for myself but for those who are struggling with being a Pastor’s wife.

    • Joyce

      Chris, I believe in what you are saying. A pastors wife can also be called to ministry and it is upto her to go before The Lord and ask Him, “Lord where would you have me serving”?I recently got married to a bishop and that has been my prayer because, before I got married, I was already serving in church. I don’t want to stop serving because I am married now. Thank you for your great post. Joyce

  • http://www.amylovesit.com Amy

    As a full-time (youth) pastor’s wife, I really appreciate this. I married my husband before he was ever called to ministry (so I was not one to ever go “looking for” a pastor husband). I’m sure I don’t live up to a lot of people’s expectations, but I just can’t bring myself to care much. I am who I am because God made me that way, and between working from home (and AT home, lol!) and homeschooling my 3 littles if I can just be a good wife and Christian, that’s enough for me right now. Being a good “pastor’s wife” comes second (and third and fourth) to what I feel are MY callings in life.

    -Amy

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.s.thomas.10 Kevin S Thomas

    Hi, I wanted to say I appreciate your viewpoint and agree with your stance. However I wanted to say one thing that I feel needs to be corrected. It is no ones role in the church to do “as they want”. The roles or callings in a church are ordained by God and it is not up to us to pick and choose what we want to do. In fact this is causing huge problems in the church today. We are one body with many parts but some of us are either not fulfilling our role at all or we are trying to function in the wrong role. We all need to follow the leading of the Holy spirit, if he calls you to be a worker in the church and mop the floors then rejoice and fulfill your calling on your life. We can not all be mouthpieces for God. In Love

    Kevin SCOTT Thomas

    • http://twitter.com/scottythom Scott Thomas

      I think you understand the point being made. According to John MacArthur, when you are walking closely with God, his will is clear and your choices are his choices. God gives you the desires of your heart. The desires that you have when you are close to God are his desires for you.

  • Tony

    I wish I had followed this early on and then maybe I would still be in ministry. As always I see that our Christian brethren and sisters want to make this a debate, but I think the point is this…protect-protect-protect.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1044289260 Scott Thomas

      You are spot on, Tony. A husband must shepherd his family by feeding, leading, and protecting his family, especially his wife.

  • mainpain

    we can always stick with the one title we should all desire, “good and faithful servant”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1044289260 Scott Thomas

      Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

      (Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV)

  • Elizabeth

    I believe that the role of the wife of a pastor is set to be more than an example of a mature woman of God, a friend to her husband, and a mother to her children. If she has spiritual gifts, she can used them for the body of Christ, to encourage the brethren and to strengthen the young people in the church. All married women are wives of a man and there is no specialty before God unless we put ourselves in God’s service. Proverbs 31:10-31 speaks about the virtuous woman. This bible verse does not speak of the woman being a pastor’s wife, but a married women. Today’s society uses titles to impress the world, the devil does not care if your are a pastor’s wife or not; what’s scares him is if you know who you are in Christ. If we are using God’s authority to rebuke satan, if we shun evil and fear God. God bless

    • Scott Thomas

      Elizabeth,
      Keep on serving the King!

  • Maria

    Absolutely wonderfully put. I encourage other younger pastors wives along these lines and was blessed early on in ministry to have a husband who had been encouraged to place no specific expectations on me other than to fulfill my roles as you have laid out and to use my gifts to encourage the body after that. I would say that there are unique pressures and circumstances that pws must face in this role that might make successfully navigating it as a faithful follower of Christ tricky and challenging at times. More than a dozen times have women frankly said “I wouldn’t want your role” or “I have always thought being a pw would be so difficult.” Still not sure if that’s some backhanded compliment lol. I am often puzzled by such comments bc as difficult as it can be (and has been) its been a role that I’ve loved and have learned so much in. I’ve learned so much about grace and have been taught to extend grace in ways and to people I would not have so easily been willing to otherwise. What breaks my heart is that there are many women living under a performance driven rather than purpose driven ministry existence. I have often battled that myself and have seen how this left unchallenged has caused many a pw to erect walls and become superficial in their interactions with the body they worship among. Thanks for your post. I’ll be sharing it with many newbie pws! :)

    • Scott Thomas

      Thank you, Maria. You are a wonderful p-dub (Pastor’s wife) with wonderful PK’s. Keep following the King and showing a little more grace than you are comfortable. He stretches us.

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  • Discouraged

    I sure wish our pastor’s wife would be just that – his wife. Instead she hustles and bustles around the church, meddling in things she shouldn’t, micro-managing people right out of ministry. Instead of living the fruits of the spirit, she instead lives in a state of frenzy, and instead of ministering to other women, she has offended so many on out of our church. Even I’m hanging on by a thread – and I’ve been with this church since it started – much much longer that our current pastor and his wife. Totally discouraged.

    • Scott Thomas

      Dear Discouraged,
      Please try to take her out to lunch and love on her, assuring her of your care for her and her family. Then offer an alternative way to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Use much grace. Most people normally just get upset and leave the church without “caring enough to communicate.” She may be trying to do her best and she probably thinks she is helping the church with her “ministry.” Speak the truth with love. She needs your perspective. Shepherd her heart through this.

  • Virtuous Lady

    Being a wife of the pastor is not an easy task. However that doesn’t give me license to pick and choose in ministry as I please. Like it or not we are called to serve. The title First Lady is not scriptural, it is used out of respect for the woman of God. As a pastor’s wife we do have duties, number one is pray for your husband. We are to pray also for the ministry and for the people of God. As a pastor’s wife it is important to stand by the man of God and encourage him. Next the gifts that God has given the woman of God, needs to be operated within the church. Unfortunately we can’t choose what we want. What ever gifts you have and burden God has placed in your heart is required for you to do. This is usually out of your comfort zone. At some point because you are the woman of God you minister to the women in your ministry. Something’s are inappropriate for the man of God to speak to another woman about.

    I find it odd that it is the job of women within the church, to minister to the needs of the women. Not saying other women can’t reach out to women in the church, but it is the sole responsibility of the woman of God. I have seen churches where the First Lady didn’t do anything, or didn’t operate in ministering to the women. The other women in the church took on the responsibility. This can be very dangerous. Please don’t misinterpret. I’m not saying the women can’t encourage each other, but like it or not they need a role model on how to carry themselves and they need godly advice. The scriptures tell us how we are to instruct the women in the church. One is located in Titus 2:3-5. It speaks of the mature woman, spiritual mature to teach the women.

    If the woman of God don’t assume responsibility, you will definitely deal with many rising up trying to fulfill this roll. I ganrantee most will mislead them the wrong way.There are times you may have to work in areas you may not be gifted in. When there is a need as a help meet you help in the ministry as needed. This is not a position I desired or wanted. It is totally out of my comfort zone. I fought against everything I’m telling you. It was so uncomfortable, but I had a choice. I could choose to obey or not.