What Not To Say (And What To Say) To Your Pastor's Wife
Pastors' wives can at at times have a weird give and take with their churches. Sometimes a church, almost without realizing it, can have unrealistic expectations of their pastor's wife--what she should do, how she should respond, or how she should relate to everyone.
And then there's the pastor's wife herself.
Sometimes we put expectations on ourselves, we know. But what you should know is that us pastor's wives, like everyone else, want to be known and understood. We want people to recognize the unique challenges we face, but--and here is the weird give and take--there seems to be a self-imposed unspoken rule that we shouldn't talk about these challenges with people in our churches. Perhaps it's that we feel it'd be received as whining, ungratefulness, selfishness, or drawing attention to ourselves. Or perhaps it's just the blurred and confusing nature of the role: we're friends and we're community, but my husband is also your pastor.
Whatever it is, church members, we want to understand you. We try to love you and to walk in your shoes. I confess for us all that we don't do this perfectly and it's 100% likely that we never will. But do you know that we also dream that you'd consider us and what our role is like? We typically want this from you in our worst, tantrum-y moments, so that's why we don't say anything, because we risk offending, ranting, or complaining and it's just better to keep a tight reign over ourselves.
I'm saying this because you, church member, have an opportunity to minister to us, and it's primarily through your words. Here's what's not helpful to say and what is helpful to say to your pastor's wife, especially if you don't know her that well:
Not helpful to say: Just what is it that your husband does all day?
My internal answer to this question is, "You'll find out when you have a crisis in your life." The real answer goes way beyond crises, but the point is this question assumes that he doesn't do much beyond Sunday mornings. In fact, he pours out his life for the church.
Helpful to say: Tell me about your husband's job. What all does it entail?
Not helpful to say: I don't feel like I know you.
I'm not sure how to respond when someone says this to me--"I'm sorry?" This is a statement weighted with expectation, the expectation that I should know everyone and, even more, be vulnerable with everyone. Is it something you would say to any acquaintance? Probably not, and I've found that it's meaning is more along these lines: "I want to be known by you because your husband is my pastor."
Helpful to say: I'd love to hang out sometime. Would you like to get coffee?
Not helpful to say: Oh, I didn't ask/invite you/initiate with you because I know you're so busy/have tons of friends/know everyone.
One of the most frustrating things about being pastor's wives is that very few people initiate friendship or include us in social activities, because they make assumptions about our schedule or our relationships. This is why many pastor's wives are extremely lonely; they initiate constantly and receive little in return.
Helpful to say: Would you like to come?
Not helpful to say: Could you tell your husband something for me?
This is like going to your friend who is a banker's wife and asking her to make a loan request of him for you. Or going to the doctor's wife with your child's symptoms and asking her to get a diagnosis for you. Please know that I don't always know the details of what is going on at church, so I prefer not to become a go-between and get involved in things I have no business getting involved in. It's difficult enough to keep church from invading our marriage and family, and we prefer to keep firm lines.
Helpful to say: (Nothing. Go straight to the source.)
Not helpful to say: I heard that you _______________.
Do school this way. Shop at this store. Said this. Like this. Don't like that. Did this. Went there last week. Fill-in-the-blank with anything, hear it from enough people, and paranoia sets in. Who told them that? Why were they talking about me? And then the worst thought: What else were they talking about in my regard? I'd just prefer that you talk to me directly and get to know me and not form opinions about me before you do so. You might have heard wrong.
Helpful to say: Ask me anything you want to know. I'll be happy to share.
Not helpful to say: (in answer to my introducing myself to you at church) Oh, you've already met me several times before.
It's really embarrassing for me when I've forgotten that we've met once before or I've forgotten your name. Please refresh my memory without taking offense. I promise I try to remember.
Helpful to say: My name is ______. Don't worry, I know you have so many names to remember!
Not helpful to say: (at church on Sunday morning) Do you have a moment to talk?
I wish so much that I did have a moment to talk on Sunday morning, and sometimes I do and will gladly say yes. But on Sundays, I am solely responsible for my children, I may be responsible for something ministry-related that morning, and I can't give you my undivided attention. This also applies to telling me something I need to remember or asking me to commit to plans right then. I have trouble remembering the things that you talk to me about on Sunday mornings.
Helpful to say: I have something I'd like to talk to you about. I'm going to email you this week.
Not helpful to say: I expected to see you at that event.
I know when people say this they are being nice, but it feels like pressure to me. I can't be at everything and do everything, but I also struggle with feeling like I'm disappointing people when I don't go.
Helpful to say: I missed you at that event!
Not helpful to say: Could you a) give me the name of a babysitter, b) find me a roommate, c) house my girlfriend for the weekend, d) fill this hole in the church, or e) find me a (vocation) job or find someone for this job?
My answer is no, but how do I say that without hurting your feelings? Please don't put me in that no-win situation.
Helpful to say: (Nothing. This is never something you should say.)
Not helpful to say: (assuming you don't know her well) Nothing at all.
The worst thing you can do is to remain aloof from your pastor's wife. My favorite people are those who are comfortable around me, come up to me and say hi, give me a hug, ask me questions, and are genuinely glad to see me. I appreciate when people make an effort to get to know me rather than just coming to me when they need something.
Helpful to say: Hi! I'm so glad to see you.
Even better: speak an encouraging word of how you see God using her. That is water to her soul.
I just broke every unwritten rule that pastor's wives feel they must uphold in relation to their churches, and, honestly, it feels kind of whiny, complainy, and uncomfortable. But I don't mean it like that at all. I simply hope it helps you, church member, to understand your pastor's wife and to minister to her in her role. And please know that, no matter what is said or not said, it's our goal to love you and extend grace to you, just as we hope for grace in return.
I'd love to hear from you! I think it would be helpful for both church members and pastor's wives to jump in here at this point.
Church members, what do you want pastor's wives to know about your relationship with them? What would you like them to understand about you?
Pastors' wives, don't leave me hanging out here by myself! What do you want church members to know about how best they can relate with you?
Christine Hoover, the girl who sleeps with the pastor (Charlottesville, VA)