I am currently proof-reading my husband’s master’s thesis on pastoral transitions, and I started to think again about the biblical role of a pastor’s wife. As I read through his paper, I saw a good pattern for establishing a biblical perspective on a debated issue. The role of a pastor’s wife has been debated by many for years. Even in 1914, a pastor had to clarify,
“A minister’s wife has no more call to public duty than any Christian woman in the congregation.”
So, I thought I would use the pattern I saw my husband using in regard to what Scripture has to say about a pastor’s wife. First, I looked for any texts directly addressing them. Next, I looked for examples of pastors’ wives. Since deacons and pastors are the two offices in the church, I briefly looked at what Scripture says about deacons’ wives. I then touched on a pastor’s wife in her roles as a wife, a woman, a member of the church, and a believer.
Pastor’s Wife: Direct texts
Pastor’s Wife: Biblical examples
No pastor’s wife in Scripture is named, but it is interesting to me that many other women in the church are named by name, none of them being married to a pastor to my knowledge. (Cf. Tabitha/Dorcas—Acts 9:36-42; Mary the mother of John Mark—Acts 12:12; Rhoda—Acts 12:13-15; Eunice & Lois—2 Timothy 1:5; Lydia—Acts 16:11-15, 40; Damaris—Acts 17:34; Priscilla—Acts 18:2-3, 18-20, 24-26; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19; Phoebe—Romans 16:1-2; Mary in Rome—Romans 16:6; Junia (or Junias?)—Romans 16:7; Tryphaena, Tryphosa, & Persis—Romans 16:12; mother of Rufus—Romans 16:13; Julia & sister of Nereus—Romans 16:15; Chloe—1 Corinthians 1:11; Euodia & Syntyche—Philippians 4:1-2; Claudia—2 Timothy 4:21; Apphia—Philemon 1:2; and Nympha—Colossians 4:15.)
Deacon’s Wife: An inference for pastors’ wives
Though the understanding of whom the text is discussing is debated, 1 Timothy 3:11 says that deacons’ wives should be dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, and faithful in all things. Though not addressing a pastor’s wife, these characteristics should certainly be true of a pastor’s wife as well.
Pastor’s Wife: A helper to her own husband
Any wife is to help her husband in whatever role in life he has. (Genesis 2:18, 20)
Wives are to be subject to their own husbands. (1 Peter 3:1)
- above reproach,
- the husband of one wife,
- able to teach,
- not a drunkard,
- not violent but gentle,
- not quarrelsome,
- not a lover of money.
- He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
- He must not be a recent convert,
- he must be well thought of by outsiders.
- his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination,
- He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain
- a lover of good,
- and disciplined.
- He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
If the wife is to be a helper to her pastor-husband, she has plenty of opportunity to help her husband manage their household, train their children, be hospitable, grow in character, etc. Beyond helping him personally in these ways, any further help that the pastor may request of her in the church is simply his prerogative (as opposed to help that is expected of her by the members of the church).
Pastor’s Wife: A woman in the church
“3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5 ESV).
A pastor’s wife may be young or old, and her role in the church will vary depending on her age and stage in life. If she is older, she should be an example of godly character and teach younger women the practicalities of being godly wives and mothers. If she is a younger woman, she is to learn from the older godly women in her church and follow their example and instruction.
Pastor’s Wife: A member of the church
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ESV).
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV).
“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-27 ESV).
Just like every other member of the church, the pastor’s wife is a member of the body of Christ. Just like them, she has her various gifts given to her by God that enable her to serve and care for the body out of love for the body.
Pastor’s Wife: A believer in Christ
The fundamental identity of a pastor’s wife is that of any believer—she is in Christ (Colossians 3:3-4). Thus, as a believer, she should put to death what is earthly and
“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:10-11 ESV).
Here there is neither pastor’s wife nor “just a member of the church,” but Christ is all in all.
She lives a life that is characterized by
“Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Colossians 3:12-15 ESV).
She does this not because she is a pastor’s wife who should set an example, but because she is in Christ and loves her Savior and the body of Christ.
I am still young-ish (40 next year) and have been a pastor’s wife for only about 9 years. I have never been held up as “first lady” or my husband’s “assistant.” I’ve never been degraded because I can’t play the piano. I’ve enjoyed friendships within my church, some closer than others. I have rarely felt pressure from others inside the church to be anything more than I have been. Perhaps the greatest pressure comes from my imagined expectations that others have of me and my own awareness of my shortcomings and weaknesses. I can be encouraged to know that God has gifted me to serve the church and my family as he sees fit, and I can do that to the best of my ability.
I will close by allowing another to speak for me.
“Since there is no special office of ‘pastor’s wife’, it is easy for a pastor’s wife to inherit a set of (undefined) expectations from her congregation, and because she lacks the self-assurance that comes from having a clear sense of her identity in Christ, she feels duty bound to ‘just accept’ all the roles she thinks others expect her to play. As a result, she labours under a burden too heavy for her to bear, and forfeits the joy of serving Christ in the way He created her to serve. . . . If a pastor’s wife finds her identity in Christ, it will set her free from external pressures to serve Him as He created her to do, that is, in keeping with her God-given spiritual gifts. As she becomes aware and confident of her identity as a woman of God, she is free to use the unique personality and special gifting.”
“The ideal, from a biblical perspective, for the pastor’s wife is that of any woman who is specifically influential in her conduct, to function effectively as a woman of God, to support her husband, and be an active member of the local church. Older women would have much to offer the younger pastor’s wife in equipping her with the knowledge of homemaking. The older pastor’s wife would have much to offer younger women within the church as a mentor or advisor. This ministry is valuable and necessary.”
For further reading. . .
 Anna Droke, The Diary of a Minister’s Wife (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1914):61–62, quoted in Leschenne Rebuli and Kevin Gary Smith, “The Role of the Pastor’s Wife: What Does the Bible Teach?”Conspectus 7 (2009): 113.
 Rebuli and Smith, “The Role of the Pastor’s Wife,” 110.
 Ibid., 114.