Key Qualities of a Pastor’s Wife
One area that many men overlook when they sense a call to the ministry is how vital it is that his wife (or future wife) shares that sense of calling. As a part of being “one flesh,” the Lord entrusted both Adam and Eve with the task of ruling over the earth (Gen 1:27–28). In a similar way, even though the calling to pastoral leadership is restricted to men (1 Tim 2:12; 3:1), as one flesh with her husband, a woman shares in that calling in her role as a wife. As pastors, therefore, we must take time to consider not only our own qualifications and preparation for the ministry, but also the key qualities needed in a pastor’s wife. Here are just a few.
The Character of a Servant
It is safe to say that every pastor’s wife should, at a minimum, have the qualities that Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3:11: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” She must demonstrate high character in the areas of her public conduct, private conversations and overall management of information and responsibilities. These are simply the expressions of a servant attitude, in how she cares for others and seeks their interests above her own. In that sense, she is a true deaconess, a servant of Christ.
Beyond this broad description, we could identify some other important areas of maturity that are necessary in every pastor’s wife. We might begin with prayerfulness and teachability. Every pastor’s wife will be privy to information and burdens of the ministry beyond the scope of the average church member. That information, particularly during times of trial, will be either a source of sanctification or a source of cynicism and bitterness against the church. So a pastor’s wife must develop a robust life of prayer. As a “helper suitable” to the work of her husband, she needs to realize that this is one of the key areas of co-laboring with him in the work the Lord has called him to. Along with prayerfulness, she needs to have a constantly teachable spirit. Through the tests and triumphs of ministry, not only will you need to be constantly growing as a pastor, but you’ll need to be helping your wife to think biblically about these trials and triumphs, discipling her by “the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:26).
Not only must you have a wife who is teachable, but you must have one who teaches. That is not to say that she must lead the women’s ministry or be a dynamic public speaker. But as a virtuous woman, she needs to “open her mouth with wisdom” (Prov 31:26). She needs to speak with good counsel to others within the church, but just as importantly, she needs to speak faithful counsel to you. You will share many intimate burdens and struggles with your wife. She must be a woman who helps point you back to the Lord during times when you need to be reminded of His truth. If your wife is given to grumbling and complaining—or if she struggles to understand grace and forgiveness—these will become temptations to you as you share burdens with her.
Moreover, a part of her wisdom will consist of knowing what information to share and what information to guard. She must resist the “delicious morsels” of gossip (Prov 18:8) of which she can so easily partake because of the proximity she has to church leadership. You must have a wife who demonstrates self-control in this area and one who understands how to take the burdens on her heart to the Lord more quickly than she does to other people in the church.
One more aspect of her wisdom reveals itself in a contentment not to know all of the information regarding certain situations in the church. There will be people you counsel for whom your wife does not need to know all the details of their situation. If she would be impeded in her fellowship and ministry to them by knowing more, it would better that she not know the full details. There will be leadership situations for which she can do little to help, but which if she knew the details she may struggle with a sense of her helplessness. If the struggles involve disagreement or even attacks against you, she will feel those more deeply than you do. And in those types of situations, she will need to be content in not knowing the full details. Of course, we should never have personal secrets that we keep off limits to our wives. There needs to be a transparency in our marriage relationship. But in ministry situations, your wife needs to know that there are times when a situation is better served by the wisdom and counsel of other elders more than her wisdom and counsel.
A pastor is called to serve the Lord, not money. Paul warns that a love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10). He urges Timothy to be content with little more than food and clothing and warns him that those who desire to be rich fall into temptation (1 Tim 6:8–9). Then he instructs Timothy to flee from such love of money (1 Tim 6:11). A man who has been called of God will be compelled to serve the church regardless of whether it leads to personal gain or not. But if his wife does not share that same love and burden for the church, the financial sacrifices that often go along with ministry may become a source of bitterness for her. A pastor’s wife must focus on developing an attitude of contentment. She will have to watch other people in the church do things with their kids that she is not able to do. She will have to watch them decorate their homes in ways she cannot decorate. She will have to watch them purchasing things that she and her family cannot purchase. But she must understand that the rewards of ministry do not always come in tangible or monetary form. To be clear, Paul urges churches to generously support their pastors (1 Tim 5:17), but many churches will struggle to do that out of a lack of resources or a lack of maturity. And unless or until they grow in both of these areas, a pastor’s wife must guard herself against a materialistic outlook that fails to see the riches of joyful marriage and the privilege of serving others and instead places too much value on the riches of this world.
Pastors quickly learn that ministry is far from a Monday to Friday job. When ministry is done the right way, it is very demanding on one’s schedule. That is not to say that we cannot find a proper balance of personal, family and work schedules. But that schedule often looks very different from nearly everyone else’s schedule in the church. The weekend, which for most families is a time of relaxation and socialization, is often the busiest and weightiest time of the week for a pastor. A wife must understand this, and she must be willing to forgo some of the activities that many other families might participate in during weekends. Normally, as a pastor grows in his experience and maturity, he will have more capacity to do things on the weekend. But in the early years, especially as he is learning to preach, weekends can often be a stressful time when his mind is very preoccupied with the sermon. A pastor’s wife must understand this necessary process in the growth and ministry of her husband. She must understand that the preaching event is the most important single event in the life of the church each week. That means that the time in prayer and preparation leading up to that event must take priority over many other things. With good communication (often early communication) her husband can arrange his schedule on Fridays and Saturdays to participate in important events. But Saturday will not normally be filled with activity and levity the way it is for most other families. A pastor’s wife needs to embrace the responsibility and weightiness of the preaching event along with her husband.
A Well-Ordered Life
One of the qualities of an overseer is that he “manages his own household well” (1 Tim 3:4), but in the realities of life, much of the day-to-day management of a pastor’s household is carried out by his wife. She can greatly enhance her husband’s ministry by freeing him from the burdens of keeping the home (see Titus 2:5). She can create an environment that is both a great testimony to outsiders and a great haven to which he retreats at the end of each day; a place where he can feel his burdens lightened and he can forget many of the burdens of ministry for a while. She can help lift burdens on Sunday morning by having the clothing ready for her children Sunday morning and getting them out the door in a timely manner. She can help create an environment where her home becomes a natural and welcoming place for ministry and discipleship because she is always prepared to host others.
Love for the Church
A pastor’s wife needs to have genuine love for the church, which means a genuine love and burden for the people entrusted to the care of her husband and the elders. It is the kind of love that will not resent when she sends her husband off in the middle of the night or when he must take extra time in the evenings to counsel a couple or individual. Her love for God’s sheep gives her a joy because she loves the people God has given into the care of her husband. She doesn’t resent their need for his attention when necessary. Equally important, she may be the key person to communicate this kind of joy to her children so that they view these things not as a burden but as an opportunity to participate in the ministry of the church by sacrificing family time to serve the needs of people.
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov 18:22), and a church that finds a pastor with a well-prepared pastor’s wife finds a hidden treasure they were probably not even seeking. Too often it is not so much the pastor as it is his wife who indirectly makes or breaks his ministry. Ask any fruitful pastor about the keys to the strength of his ministry, and he will inevitably say that the Lord has granted him abundant grace by giving him a wife who has faithfully loved him and the church because she has supremely loved the Lord above all else.
Shane Koehler is one of our nine TES campus pastors, having served as teaching pastor at Faith Community Church in Woodstock, GA since 2003.