What Is A Pastor’s Wife To Do?


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.”[1]

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.

[1] 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


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


What Is A Pastor’s Wife To Do? — 11 Comments

  1. However, a pastor’s wife still is under special scrutiny. What might be expected of her by the congregation, will often depend on the precedent set by other pastor’s wives. A pastor who walks into a church that thought the last pastor was the greatest ever, might very well have a difficult time. The same can be said for a pastors wife who was preceded by a pastors wife that was very well liked.

  2. The first congregation we joined in Texas had a pastor’s wife who stated plainly that she was a member of the congregation, and that’s all. It was, too.

    It happened that I knew a relative of the previous pastor, and when they visited Texas, we were invited to join them all at that pastor’s next call. So I found out that the wife had tried to do everything the [first] congregation expected of her, and nothing was enough. In addition, the women had criticized her hair style, her clothes and just about everything you can think of, till the pastor took the next call offered to get away from the harpies!

    I have known one Pastor in Houston for more than 30 years and worked with him in LWML for almost 10 of them. I wouldn’t recognize his wife if I met her on the street.

  3. I recall a Methodist pastor once telling me a story (perhaps an urban legend) about a bishop in his denomination who sent the qualifications for 3 candidates to a congregation needing to fill a vacancy. Two were married and were recent seminary grads. The third was single, a converted Jew, fluent in Greek and Hebrew and top grad from seminary ten years prior; surely the best candidate, at least on paper. The call committee wouldn’t even look at the last guy because he was unmarried.

    If you haven’t guessed already, the single pastor was a modernized resume the bishop created for the apostle Paul. . Supposedly, the bishop did this quite often just to gauge how important the pastor’s marital status was to a call committee.

    Again, I suspect an urban legend, but if so, probably has some basis of fact.

  4. Before we married my (now) wife wondered if she would make a good pastor’s wife. I told her that the job description was to be a good wife to a man who also happened to be a pastor.

    She has been a marvelous wife — and a wonderful pastor’s wife. She does so much more than she is required to do in the congregation just because she wants to. A good wife is a tremendous blessing from God, also for a pastor.

  5. @Marc from Cincy #3
    Again, I suspect an urban legend, but if so, probably has some basis of fact.

    It has a basis in fact.

    Not only among call committees. Single Pastors have been told by “brother” Pastors that they can work cheap because they don’t have to support a wife!

    Such married men have obviously not calculated the cost on the market of the services their wives provide, e.g., meals made, clothes washed and ironed, home cleaned, car taken to the shop, groceries and other necessaries shopped for, and much more. They don’t appreciate the time that is spent, that the single man must spend himself (or pay for the service out of that lesser salary).
    [And it’s a little insulting that equal or better education should work for less.]

    I’ll tell you another “urban legend”: one night a man came home to a trashed house, no supper but plenty of dirty dishes and a pile of laundry (with his white shirts at the bottom). He asked his wife what happened. She told him, “You always ask what I do all day. Today I didn’t.”

    When I was still doing all those things for a family, someone calculated the purchase price of all that a wife did. It was nearly what my spouse earned.

  6. Many pastor’s wives are also rostered members of Synod (teachers, DCEs, etc.) so teaching Sunday School and “doing all those things” might be considered part of their Lutheran vocation.

    The reputation of the pastor’s wife and their household also reflects on that of the pastor.

  7. My father was a pastor for 45 years and during that time his wife played the organ, taught Sunday school and VBS, active in LWML, faithfully attended bible classes, help raise 4 sons, spiritual role model for the ladies of the congregations that my father served, helped my father with youth ministry, often entertained members of the congregation in their home, often entertained circuit pastors and their wives in their home. As a baptized child of God her whole life as a pastor’s wife was dedicated to Mercy, Witness and Life Together.

  8. Well and good folks, but I wonder if the whole discussion of “pastors’ wives” doesn’t miss the broader point of AC XXIII. Pastors don’t marry as pastors, but as men, and in both the AC and Apology their right to marry is based on natural law. Making a special case of clerical marriage is precisely what the Confessions oppose. Just say no to the busybodies.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  9. Matthew Mills :Well and good folks, but I wonder if the whole discussion of “pastors’ wives” doesn’t miss the broader point of AC XXIII. Pastors don’t marry as pastors, but as men, and in both the AC and Apology their right to marry is based on natural law. Making a special case of clerical marriage is precisely what the Confessions oppose. Just say no to the busybodies.
    Pax Christi+,-Matt Mills

    The only point I’m missing is how you’re making a state of confession out of this.

  10. @TimS #9
    Was I “making a state of confession?” (Cool!)
    I was only trying to say that the category “Pastor’s wife” isn’t any more theologically necessary or Biblically grounded than the category “doctor’s wife” or “college professor’s husband,” and when pastors let people write extra-Biblical ecclesial job descriptions for their wives they are perpetuating a non-Lutheran theology of marriage. It’s their families that suffer though, not mine. Still, it’s neither necessary nor confessionally grounded.

  11. @Matthew Mills #10
    I was only trying to say that the category “Pastor’s wife” isn’t any more theologically necessary or Biblically grounded than the category “doctor’s wife” or “college professor’s husband,”

    Not so many pastors’ wives as formerly are fully occupied with raising their own six to a dozen children (although if you marry a Preus, that’s likely to be your vocation). 🙂

    Some pastors’ wives serve as organists or choir directors; if they can do it, an organist is a very handy thing for a pastor’s wife to be.

    Some in this generation have careers of their own; it’s no longer considered improper for women, including a pastor’s wife, to have a job outside the home. (She may have had a profession before he decided to go to seminary.)

    But some, sadly, think “pastor’s wife” is a position from which they can run the congregation.
    That doesn’t go down so well, especially with the women.

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