What Is the Role of the Pastor's Wife? Part 1

What Is a Pastor’s Wife Supposed to Do?

Shepherding the flock of God can prove one of the most exciting, enriching, and satisfying duties a man can undertake on this side of heaven. Yet shepherding the flock of God is not a particularly safe enterprise. It is a life-work that exposes the man of God to a multiplicity of trials, deep disappointments, searing heartaches, and haunting questions from within and without.

The pastor serves God’s people as leader, preacher, teacher, counselor, overseer and chief intercessor. He must perform spiritual surgery and apply healing balm to the souls of his people on a daily basis. And in all of this, the undershepherd bears the unrelenting burden of his accountability to the Lord of the universe for the spiritual watchcare of a flock for whom the Good Shepherd laid down His own life.

Brothers, we are not sufficient for these things, and we know it. A proud pastor is an oxymoron—or a moronic ox, if you will. None of us is either worthy or capable of such an undertaking. But God is rich in mercy. Jesus has sent the Comforter to aid us in our frailty—to counsel, encourage, strengthen and help us in the great cause to which we have been called. And for most pastors, God also graciously provides a human helper—a woman—to walk at her husband’s side as his covenant helper in this grand mission to exercise stewardship of God’s flock.

The pastor’s wife is certainly a rare species with a very peculiar calling. She is one flesh with the pastor. And if he is worthy of the title, this means she is one flesh with a difficult man. If she is worthy of her calling, it also means she has laid down the “normal life” on the altar and slit its throat in sacrifice to God.

The pastor’s wife will often keep her husband’s long hours, shoulder his pressures, feel his disappointments, and suffer his defeats—often as profoundly and as deeply as he does. She will be thrust into the role of chief analyst of both his sermons and his administrative innovations. She may well be called upon to catch grammatical errors and to sniff out inconsistencies in his letters to the church, to befriend that woman in the assembly others prefer to avoid and to brainstorm solutions to problems no one else can solve.

She is often the single human agent of God who can accurately evaluate her husband from God’s perspective—the single voice that helps him navigate safely through the beclouding opinions of those, on the one hand, who see not a single weakness in him; and those, on the other hand, who cannot bring themselves to admit he has a single redeeming quality. God only knows how many days a few well-chosen words of encouragement from her lips are all that stand between her husband’s perseverance in the pastorate and his permanent resignation from the ministry.

I do not think pastor’s wives are to be pitied, nor is pity what most of them seek. I do not propose to shield her from her responsibilities nor to eliminate the painful experiences she is called to endure for the glory of God. Such trials are intended by the Great Shepherd to deepen her faith and character. Let us make no vain attempt to exempt her from the Refiner’s fire.

Yet it is fitting to recognize that her relationship to her husband places her in a uniquely vulnerable position—a reality that will concern those who genuinely love the church of Jesus Christ and long for its health. She is one flesh with the pastor, yet she is not a pastor. She is a member of the flock, yet uniquely susceptible to the pressures the shepherd of that flock endures. In this unique position she is exposed to peculiar pressures, and to not a few stray bullets.

But I submit that one of the most significant trials many pastor’s wives suffer is a needless trial for which her well meaning husband is ultimately responsible. Many a pastor places upon his wife, or permits others to place upon her, ministry expectations that are not rooted in the wisdom of Scripture but are staked in the quicksand of human tradition and our cultural milieu.

The Bible pointedly addresses the functional ministry of the pastor. He is to be a man—a “one-woman man.” He is to lead the flock of God, to protect it, to care for it, and to feed it. He is to restore the fallen, to seek the lost, and to pursue the spiritual health of the assembly he serves. But what specifically does God want his wife to do?

I exhort those who shepherd, or someday will shepherd, the flock of God to faithfully shepherd your wife by purposefully and biblically steering her ministry in the local church you serve. By extension, I also challenge those who are actively involved in a local church to embrace a biblical philosophy regarding the ministry of the pastor’s wife and to influence your assembly in that direction. I exhort you to do this for the glory of Christ and for the health of his church.

In pursuit of this goal, we ask the question: What is a pastor’s wife supposed to do? What specifically is her divine calling in her unique role?

A Popular but Deficient Job Description

The majority of pastors around the world carry out their ministries in smaller churches. The discussion at hand may prove less applicable to those serving in larger church settings. But in smaller churches a fairly entrenched, if somewhat fuzzy, list of ministry expectations awaits the new pastor’s wife upon her arrival. This unwritten job description is generally assumed. It is seldom, if ever, rationally defended. This description will vary from church to church, but basically it is the notion that she is to serve as the assistant pastor to the women.

No one, of course, will articulate this expectation, for when it is stated so baldly it rings hollow in our biblically trained ears. In fact, few if any will have ever zeroed a critical thought upon the matter. Yet many parishioners will default to the base-line expectation that the pastor’s wife should shepherd the women of the assembly.

Accordingly, her unwritten job description will ape that of her husband’s. She will be expected to serve as director of women’s ministries; that is, to guide and provide visionary leadership to the ewes of the flock, serving as ex-officio member of all women’s committees. She will be expected to function in some capacity as a teacher—to feed God’s Word to the ewes or to the lambs of the flock, and preferably to both. She will be expected to soothe the weary, protect the vulnerable, bind up the wounded, seek the lost and rescue the wandering. In a word, she will be expected to serve as the shepherdess of the church. To contemporize the metaphor, she will be expected to to function as the first lady or vice president of the assembly.

For young husbands who will assume your first pastorate in the near future, I implore you to enter your post armed with the assumption that an unwritten job description awaits your wife at the door. If this assumption proves wrong, happily discard your assumption and take your wife out for dinner! But if this assumption proves right, you must be prepared to actively steer your wife’s ministry against the stream of expectations, perhaps less as a pastor and more as a husband who longs to honor God by loving his wife. If you do not exercise honorable leadership in this matter, your wife’s ministry will undoubtedly be swept along by traditional expectations and that can lead to tragedy.

Please further understand that such leadership will prove necessary not only at the start of a pastorate but for its duration. New members will join the church with an assumed job description in mind. And if their expectations are frustrated by your wife’s actual function in the assembly, tensions may arise and threaten the health of the church. An ongoing educational process will prove necessary.

A Biblical Perspective of Her Responsibilities

As noted, the Bible clearly delineates what a pastor is to do and reveals the nature of his work—a work that distinguishes him from other men in the assembly. For instance, he must be able to teach and he must faithfully feed God’s truth to the flock by means of biblical discourse. Other men in the assembly may also teach God’s Word, but this is not a moral obligation. In fact, men who are not “able to teach” will be gifted by God to minister in other capacities. For such men it can be a matter of loyalty to Christ not to teach.

But does God’s Word similarly distinguish the role of the pastor’s wife from the function of other women in the assembly? What does the Bible say about the nature of her work as the pastor’s wife?

Proposition #1: The Bible only implicitly addresses this issue.

The obvious answer to the preceding questions is that the Bible says nothing at all! At least nothing explicitly. Unlike that of her husband, the Scriptures suggest no unique job description or peculiar function for the pastor’s wife within the assembly. Since the revelation regarding ecclesiology does not explicitly address her role in the church, I would suggest that we work from the base of biblical anthropology, inferring from that body of revelation what should be expected of her as a pastor’s wife.

Dan has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.