Every pastor's wife knows the stereotype — a stay-at-home mom, active in multiple ministries (Sunday school teacher, pianist, and Bible study leader — at the very least) and always available. But the reality is that some pastors' wives often have to work outside the churches their husbands pastor, making them less available for ministry.
Often the reason that pastors' wives work is financial. There just seems to be no way to make it on a pastor's salary alone.
Mary, wife of a former youth pastor and current church planter in Ohio, says people didn't understand that her working was based on need rather than a desire for a career. "No one seemed to 'get it' — that I was working because [many] were not being faithful to God's call to tithe," she says.
In spite of some sideways glances from congregation members, most pastors' wives realize that they've made the right choice for themselves and their families. "It is my life," says Suzanne, wife of a senior pastor in Pennsylvania. "Sometimes the people in churches feel that the pastor and his wife are to be there only for them. But they need to realize that we're human and need to have other outside interests."
Jada, a worship pastor's wife in Washington, echoes that sentiment. "My husband was hired at the church, not me. God has called him to be a pastor, and God called me to be his wife. I believe in not compartmentalizing your life into 'sacred' and 'secular.' Ministry takes place at my place of employment , just as much, if not more, than what takes place in many churches. I was called to do what I do, just as my husband was called to be a pastor."
Pastor's wives actually see many benefits from jobs outside the church. They are able to make other friends. They're seen as individuals, not as an extension of the pastor. They're not expected to have every answer, and they're not dragged into church politics as much, simply because they aren't available. Work gives them an outlet for their gifts and energies, and provides a mission field for them to share their faith.
"When I went to work, I gained new confidence in my skills and my abilities," Mary says. "[Working] created a self-discipline that was not there before. I have been able to apply my business knowledge to some problems in the church, which has been very helpful."
Even if they're not at the church six days a week, pastors' wives still have an important ministry role, as Jada points out. "I support my husband through prayer, encouragement and being his biggest advocate and supporter, his cheerleader. Just because I am a PW doesn't mean I have to wear every hat in the church. My main area of service God has called me to is to 'minister to the minister.' "
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.