In honor of pastor's spouse appreciation month...
If there's one regret I have over answering the call to ordained ministry it wouldn't be the long hours, being on call 24/7, having to constantly put out fires, always having to field complaints, or even having to live in someone else's house. If I had one regret about answering the call to ordained ministry it would be the effect it has had on my family...in particular, my wife.
Since March is "Pastor's Spouse Appreciation Month," I've come up with a little list of things I wish members of every congregation would remember about the pastor's spouse. Forgive the gender language, as I know not all pastor's are male, nor are all pastor's spouses female.
1) Your pastor was called into the ministry, called to serve the church as a vocation...she wasn't.
This one is listed first because I feel it to be the single most important thing we need to remember about the pastor's spouse. She also went. She followed her husband into the unknown because she loved him...and she loved God.
2) She has sacrificed a sense of home to follow your pastor where God has lead.
One of the toughest decisions we have made as a clergy family is the decision to sell the home we built for our retirement. We built the house we wanted, hoped to be able to live in it at least part time, and dreamed of rocking grandbabies on the front porch. Then reality hit and we knew there was no way we would be able to live in it until after retirement. So she said goodbye to her dream. Many pastor's spouses have said goodbye to dreams.
3) When things are not going as well as they should for your pastor, she is usually the one left trying to encourage him and remind him of God's presence even now.
When a meeting goes bad, rumors begin to fly, and complaints come from every direction, she will be the one who has your pastor's back...every time. Sometimes, the only one. When your pastor begins to feel the symptoms of burn out, she will be the one to make sure he takes care of himself, so that he can serve you better. Unfortunately, there is seldom support in place for her, and she's left carrying more weight than she should have to.
4) She does not usually complain about interrupted family time or rearranged vacations because she knows it just comes with the job.
Your pastor is on call 24/7/365 and as a pastor, doesn't mind. She knows that your pastor works weekends. She understands that his people will need him at any time of day or night, and knows that sometimes the needs of the church must come first. As a result, she and the kids eat supper by themselves many nights...and vacations...when they happen...usually have to be scheduled around church activities.
5) When she calls to check on you, or comes to visit you in the hospital, it's because she loves you and not because she has to.
Your pastor is the one responsible for your spiritual care, for visiting you in the hospital and checking on you when your world crumbles...not your pastor's spouse. She loves you and loves the church...so when she calls you, sends a text, or stops by to check on you it is that love that drives her...not the requirements of her position. Likewise, if she doesn't for some reason, it's not because she doesn't care, but probably because she is balancing her own career with the extra responsibilities at home since your pastor is probably in a meeting somewhere.
6) It's not a package deal.
Let me repeat that one...it's not a package deal. Your pastor was the one appointed or hired to serve your congregation, not his spouse. This means she doesn't automatically have to play the piano during worship, organize VBS, or lead the women's auxiliary. If she chooses to do those things, again, it's out of her love for you and for the church. She is a volunteer just like everyone else.
7) She has feelings, too.
This one is big. Pastors have to develop thicker skin simply to survive. She doesn't...and shouldn't have to. She hears the whispers, rumors, and gossip about her husband...she is told about the complaints...she knows when things are going well and when they're not. She just wants to be accepted for who she is and loved the way she loves you.
8) She suffers from loneliness in the church probably more than your pastor does.
It is a lonely life, and not one she asked for. When your pastor told her that he was feeling called to the ministry, her life was changed forever. Trust is a huge issue for her, so her circle of friends is infinitely small. When...if...she can develop a close friendship with members of the church, let her have that. She needs it. She needs the support of people within the congregation that she knows she can trust. When she's with her friends, she's not being stuck up, or snobbish, or aloof...she's recharging for God only knows what's coming next.
9) She is trying to balance the demands of her own career with the often implied demands of the associate pastor position.
She probably has her own career, with it's own responsibilities. She is just as tired from work as anyone else, and like most others, still has to fix supper and take care of the kids. She doesn't need or want to be on every committee at church. She will do all she can to support your pastor and your church, but to expect or demand those things from her simply because of who she's married to is disrespectful and unrealistic. Let her be her own person.
10) She just wants to be herself, and serve God in her way.
Your pastor's spouse is her own creation, lovingly formed by the Almighty, and given her own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. To force her into a mold of what the church thinks she should be is unfair, and sometimes dishonors her creation. Ask her what she enjoys doing. Find out where she would really like to serve, instead of where the church thinks she should. Give her permission to be who she is and not what the church expects her to be. I guarantee that if you do this, your pastor's spouse will blossom and give more to the church than you ever dreamed.
11) She's not your pastor.
Hear that one...she's not your pastor. If you're a CPA, and I take my taxes to you, I would never expect your spouse to file them for me...unless she were also a CPA. The same goes for the ministry. Unrealistic expectations do harm to clergy spouses that, sometimes, can never be undone. Demanding more of her than you would any other volunteer in the church is unacceptable. More than likely, there are days she secretly wishes her spouse wasn't your pastor, but she'd never voice that. Not to you. Not to them. Instead, she paints on a smile, and goes on.
12) She loves you.
Really, she does. She probably wishes she could do more, but life for her is insane sometimes. She is proud to be your pastor's spouse...really. She will wear the church T-shirts and tell people, "This is my church." She loves you and she loves the God you worship together. All she asks is that she be loved in return.
So...twelve little things we should all remember about our pastor's spouse. If you're a pastor, take your spouse out to dinner and leave the phone in the car. They need your undivided attention sometimes. If you're a pastor's spouse...God bless you...thank you for your support and love. If you're a member of a church who has a pastor, love his/her spouse, and let them know you love them.
At the end of the day, your pastor's spouse wants to do all they can to support your pastor's ministry and your church...but they're not your pastor. Let them be themselves...beloved of the Almighty...the rock that holds your pastor up...child of God.