When I was starting out in ministry I wish I knew that your spouse will often feel left out. My wife and I work together in ministry as well as anyone I know. But that has often not been enough to prevent my wife from feeling like she doesn’t fit in anywhere.
My wife is very talented musically and has been involved with some aspect of music ministry in every church in which I have pastored. She has led many, many Ladies Bible Studies and does well at this ministry. She has led Wednesday night Children’s ministries, she has worked as a youth sponsor for many years, she has led Women’s ministries, she has worked as the secretary for the church and has always tried to get people connected to other people in the church. I am probably leaving out a few areas of ministry in which she has served. The point is, she is not a mild, hide in the corner type of person, and still she feels like she doesn’t have a place in which she fits.
I vividly remember the first time I felt the impact of her pain. We were attending a ministry conference. In one of the general sessions the speaker asked for all senior pastors to stand, then all staff ministers to stand and then for all laypersons to stand. The speaker asked us to look around us and see that everyone is standing and that it takes all of these people for the church to be the church. I began to look around and saw that my wife was not standing. In fact as she remained seated I noticed that she was crying. I sat down beside her and asked what was wrong, and why she wasn’t standing. (Did I mention that I don’t have the gift of discernment?) Her answer baffled me at first then it hit me hard. She said “I don’t fit in anywhere. I am not a senior pastor, I am not a staff pastor and I am not a layperson. Where do I fit?”
As you read this, some of you might be trying to argue that my wife should feel like a pastor, or a staff minister. Many of you would attempt to argue that she is a very involved layperson. You would be wrong. She certainly ministers and fills huge ministry needs, but she would not be considered a pastor and I believe that any pastor’s spouse would agree that they do not consider themselves a layperson. Are you getting the picture? Can you begin to feel her pain at all?
People often have high expectations for the spouse of a pastor. Many of those expectations are not realistic, but they are evident nonetheless. People view the pastor’s spouse differently than they view each other. These feelings for my wife are more intense whenever we have changed churches. It takes a while for her to find her bearings in a new place. I have adjustments when I am new at a church, but I know where I fit, I am the pastor. I might need to learn how things work in this church, or who the influencers are, how they make decisions, and whether I am expected to clean the cobwebs (seriously this has been an issue) or shovel the sidewalks in the winter. But even with all of those adjustments, I know I am the pastor, and the congregation knows I am the pastor. Where does my wife fit? Not what ministry will she serve in? But how does this group consider her? Can she have friends in this church, or is she held at arm’s length? Does she have to look a certain way, or will they accept her for her? When our children were still at home that brought in many other concerns for how some people considered her.
The point is that the spouse of a pastor does not fit neatly into any category, or at least not one that very many people understand. I wish I would have known this truth when I was starting out and I wish more pastors and spouses would be willing to talk about this phenomenon.
How do you view this issue? Here’s hoping you know where you fit.