In a Facebook conversation the other day a person said,
“Evangelicals are notorious for having impossibly high expectations for the pastor’s wife. Does the same happen in Lutheran circles? Is there a cure for this?”
Indeed, there can be some very unrealistic expectations put on a pastor’s wife. Take the following humorous example:
“HELP WANTED: Pastor’s wife. Must sing, play music, lead youth groups, raise seraphic children, entertain church notables, minister to other wives, have ability to recite Bible backward and choreograph Christmas pageant. Must keep pastor sated, peaceful and out of trouble. Difficult colleagues, demanding customers, erratic hours. Pay: $0.”
Back to the original question though. Do Lutheran churches have the same apparent unrealistic expectations upon the pastor’s wife? In my humble opinion and generally speaking, no they do not.
My theory to why Lutheran churches do not have the same expectations upon the pastor’s wife compared to Evangelical churches has to do with the doctrine of the ‘keys’ and the doctrine of the ‘office of pastor.’ Let me explain.
I believe that a low view or ignorance of the ‘office of keys/office of pastor’ will directly result in higher expectations upon the pastor’s wife to function as some sort of unspoken/unofficial co-pastor. Whereas, a high view or proper understanding of the ‘office of keys/office of pastor’ will result in the church seeing the pastor’s wife as another parishioner. I believe there is a correlation between the church’s theology of the pastoral office and the expectations placed on the pastor’s wife. Therefore, because American Evangelicals do not have a strong doctrine of the ‘office of the keys/office of pastor’ I believe it to be the case, generally speaking, that expectation upon the pastor’s wife may be higher and more unrealistic compared to the expectations and understanding of the pastor’s wife in Lutheran churches that understand the keys and the office of pastor.
Keep in mind that the office of the ministry is a ‘public office’ of the church where a pastor is called to publicly exercise the office of the keys and administer the blessed Sacraments to the congregation. The reason why this is important to understand is that it is just the pastor that is called to this office, not his wife. The wife does not recite the installation vows and the wife is not ordained. She is not called to the public ministry of applying Law and Gospel from the pulpit and administering the Sacraments; being the church’s pastor is not her vocation. What this means is that the pastor’s wife is neither an extension of the pastoral office, nor is she some sort of shepherd to the women’s ministry group, for she has not been entrusted with the public application of the ‘keys’ or called to administer the blessed ‘Sacraments.’ According to our theology of the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ she is simply another church parishioner who receives the Gospel, confesses Christ crucified, serves and loves others in the congregation… and happens to be married to the called and ordained pastor.
This all makes sense, when we properly understand the ‘office of keys/office of pastor.’ However, things can go tragically wrong when the ‘office of keys/office of pastor’ is not recognized or properly understood by churches. Think about the catch-22 situation that many pastors’ wives are put in. They are not ordained or called to the office of pastor, yet churches may expect them to function as a co-pastor. This is a sure recipe for burnout; having expectations for something, but not given the means and authority to accomplish that expectation. Indeed if one disregards the ‘office of the keys/pastoral office’ as the main thrust of ministry in the church and fails to see that vocation being placed upon the pastor alone, one can place just about any unrealistic and often unspoken expectation upon the pastor’s wife.
So, if the pastor’s wife is not a co-pastor of the church, who is she and what is she called to? Simple, she is called to the vocation of being a wife, mother, congregant, and neighbor. She comes to church not because she is the pastor’s wife, but comes as a sinner to receive the body and blood of her Lord and hear the words of absolution from the pastor with the fellow saints of the church. Yes, she is a forgiven sinner in the church who loves, serves, and participates in the life of the church just like every other parishioner.
A word to both pastors’ wives and congregations.
Pastors’ wives, there is no unique title or role for you to fulfill other than your vocations of wife, mother, congregant, and neighbor. Therefore, my sister’s in Christ, who are married to pastors, you are free to serve God and the congregations that you are a part of, not because of unspoken expectations or unique claims on your time and energy. You are not the pastor, but a baptized member of Christ’s church. It is from your identify, as a baptized saint that you live, move, and walk in your vocations.
Congregations, remember who you called, ordained, and who you have asked to administer the Sacraments and publicly implement the keys. Was it not your pastor? Remember that the pastoral office does not extend to the pastor’s wife; it is not a dual-call. She is not the one administering the Sacraments to you and she is not the one who hears your public confession of sin and publicly absolves you in the stead and command of Jesus Christ. She is your sister in Christ, one who receives absolution and communion alongside of you. She is among the priesthood of all believers. She lives, moves, and walks in her vocations, as you do so in yours.
 Cullen, Lisa Takeuchi. (March 29, 2007) Pastors’ Wives Come Together. January 28, 2011
To read more on this subject, may I suggest:
Understanding the Role of the Pastor