Pastor’s Wife Syndrome, is it real or imagined? Honoring the Pastor is evidenced in the form of financial bonuses, Pastor’s Appreciation Days, recognition of his years served, and so on. The Pastor’s wife, at best, receives the adulation through her husband. Absorbing praise given to someone else is somewhat hollow and could engage feelings that she must be an extension of the Pastor. Of course, all wives appreciate their husband being acknowledged but is the Pastor’s wife role vastly different from being the wife of a CEO or other business manager?
One Pastor’s wife blogs, “it is very easy today to develop PWS – Pastor’s Wife Syndrome. You know that trap where every title comes with its own expectations and in order to be known by that title you must change and live up to every single expectation that comes with it.”[i] As the wife of a business executive, would she be required to attend board meetings, provide refreshments, visit ill employees, host the annual Christmas Party? Probably, she would not.
Recently, a reporter interviewed five Pastor’s wives for the Christian Post. [ii] In the interviews the wives revealed that friendships were difficult in the church because they were not sure of the motivation behind the friendship. One Pastor’s wife felt that there was often a “get close to the Pastor’s wife so you can get close to the Pastor” motive. Another felt that all her friends were connected to the church, making the relationships somewhat guarded. Of course, that also means she will most likely loose those friends should her Pastor husband move to another church. Relationships can become tentative, at best. Another prominent topic in the interview was the Pastor’s wife feeling she had to fit into a stereotype. Would the congregation think less of her if she were not the best cook, head up the nursery, play the piano or hold a job of her own? That level of stress can only add to an already harried wife and mother.
Jani Ortlund writes an impassioned open letter to Pastors in Christian Counseling and Education.[iii] She encourages Pastor’s to recognize that when they leave early to prepare for the Sunday service, they often leave a wife to feed and dress their children, get them hustled off to their various Sunday classes, while preparing for her own class she will be teaching. Congregants message her with “I know the Pastor is busy, so…” leaving her feeling like the church expects an “I got two for one”. She has no choice in whether she is part of her husband’s church. She can’t quit.
Pastor’s can serve their wives by recognizing the unique position they are in. Support their feelings when they reveal their frustrations. Check in on their spiritual fitness. Be helpful at home with children and chores. Allow her to be herself in her role and not push her into positions she is not comfortable with, nor trained for. In this, you will be faithful to her (Titus 1:6)
Church, don’t expect your Pastor’s wife to be the perfect image you have created for her. Allow her to serve where the Lord guides her. I Peter 4:10 tells us “each has received a gift”. Do not expect her to be or do more than you would expect to do yourself. Do not use her as a sounding board or bridge to get to her husband. Keep your friendships with her genuine and support her decisions. Appreciate your Pastor’s wife as a sister in Christ.