“...the husband of one wife…” — Titus 1:6
There it is. For all the importance our church cultures might place upon the role of the pastor’s wife, the major biblical issue is simple — the pastor can only have one of them.
The Bible doesn't say too much about the pastor's wife. We can derive principles by studying leadership, women, and wives in Scripture. But the New Testament “position” of a pastor’s wife is conspicuously absent.
Obviously, she has a ministry to her husband that no one else in the congregation can fulfill. Her love, companionship, and friendship is vital to his strength in ministry. That said, I would like to focus my time here on the role of the pastor’s wife in the church itself.
With an aim towards working out our own salvation, here are a few different versions of the pastor’s wife I have observed:
This woman sees herself as a matriarchal figure to the entire church, but especially to the women. This enables her to speak boldly, if not awkwardly at times, into the lives of the congregation. This works for those who see the pastor and his wife in a parental kind of role. For those who don't, this could be confusing. Those of older or similar age — and those who already have good parents — might be put off by this model.
The First Lady:
Some will look politically to the role of the First Lady for a model. When she speaks, people listen. She stands for causes. She has a particular agenda and runs with it. Perhaps she even has staff to aid her in her mission. This model could work, unless of course the mission of the “church first lady” causes marital or parental neglect.
The biblical standard is clear: male pastoral leadership. Some do not share that view, which is where this next view gains traction. This “co-pastor” model presents a ministry team responsible for decision making in the church. While at times similar to the “Mother” approach, this takes leadership a step further. This can be confusing to a church as they attempt to discern who the “real” leader is and petition one spouse or the other with their desires for the church. Additionally, for the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to have a family, a home, or go on romantic dates with my associate pastor.
The Pastor of Women (i.e. “Shepherdess”):
Perhaps this title isn’t used, but often this is the functional reality. Rather than look for women with the gifts, calling, and experience needed to function as mentors for women, the pastor’s wife is given the position. Sometimes this leads to a strong and healthy women’s ministry. But sometimes a standalone female church is produced — complete with a functional women’s eldership, corporate worship services, children’s ministry, and ancillary ministries. All the while the men’s ministry eats pancakes.
The Strict Homemaker:
The development of a home and children is an important role for any mother. But this pastor’s wife is unwilling to partake in any ministry activity outside her home. At times she might use her home or children as an excuse to keep from engaging in the work of God. The pastor might be happy having someone care for him in this way, but his wife will become dissatisfied. She is suppressing other gifts and callings God has given her.
The Passionate, Gifted, and Called Woman of God:
This pastor’s wife is free to color outside the restrictive lines of church expectation. She colors within the beautiful lines of God’s Word.
She is devoted to Christ above the Church. She is concerned about God’s calling more than peoples’ expectation. She longs to serve from passion rather than artificial interest. She mentors other women because she is a mature believer and that’s what mature believers do. But she doesn’t feel an overwhelming need to head up a women’s ministry.
She speaks with discernment, because she understands people's tendency to put weight upon her words. But she doesn’t feel she has the responsibility her pastor-husband possesses.
She is free to explore the gifts the Holy Spirit has given her. This inevitably influences the church in some way. At times this even plays out like one of the aforementioned models. Obviously, this is where I lean/land.
It is of utmost importance to remember the seasons of life we all face. A 23 year old church planting pastor’s wife fresh out of college with no children and time on her hands will have a different role in the church than the 33 year old mother of 4 small children. Likewise the 65 year old grandmother pastor’s wife will have a different ministry than the 40 year old mother with a mentally disabled child. The newlywed is likely new to ministry life altogether, while the ministry veteran has something different to offer.
When I became Calvary Monterey's pastor, I told them Christina wouldn’t lead the women's ministry. With three daughters aged 4, 2, and 3 months her hands were already full with her own little women’s ministry. Now in a different season of life, my wife explores her gifts and callings outside of the home. It is a continual discovery process, but she always arrives in a great spot because of her deep love for God and insistence on His will in her life.
For this pastor, this is a practical and God-honoring path to take.
If you are a pastor's wife, I would encourage you to remember how valuable your passion for the church is to your husband. If you love the mission of the church, and his mission in it, it will mean the world to him. I love watching Christina use her gifts, but it means so much to me that she cares about the work of the church. She is just as, if not more, passionate for God to work in our community as I am. This means so much to me. I likely means so much to your husband, as well.