The Pastor’s Wife and Vulnerability as a Ministry
A few months ago, a sweet church member kept all four of our kids for the whole day.
They swam, baked cookies, watched movies, and had a fantastic day.
I reveled in the silence and had lunch with my husband at a restaurant and wasn’t embarrassed by my children. I picked them up feeling totally refreshed.
As I turned to hug her after loading the kids up, she said the dreaded words, “I have to tell you something.”
My heart immediately sank as my mind ran through the myriad of atrocities my children could have committed in her beautiful child free home.
She continued, “It’s not a big deal, but one of your kids said, ‘What the hell” and I just wanted you to know.”
And then my heart sank even further because I knew exactly where they’d heard that.
I’d yelled it at one of them after they jumped down the stairs and onto their dad’s fingers while he was holding a hammer. At the time, we were pretty sure two of his fingers were broken. I’m also pretty sure I’ve told the kids to not jump down the stairs at least 562 times in the three weeks that we had lived in this house.
So as I stood there red-faced looking at one of our church members, I was faced with a decision – own up to it or brush it off.
It would have been easy to say, “I don’t know where in the world he heard that!”
But instead, I fessed up to being a horrible example in his life and confessed that I really struggle with profanity.
I didn’t have a great home life growing up, and foul language was used casually and often.
That’s not an excuse for my word choice now, but when I don’t keep a tight guard on my mouth, ugly words often come out.
And then our sweet, new friend waved her hand, dismissed it, and gave me a hug as I left.
And there was no fall out from it.
I kind of assumed that when the pastor’s kid cussed at a church member’s house and then his wife confessed to being the one to say bad words, it would come back on me.
But it didn’t.
In fact, it truly wasn’t a big deal to her.
Not because she’s a sailor who works on a ship with scallywags who use profanities all day, but because she knows that I am a human who makes mistakes.
She told me a few weeks later that it meant a lot to her that I trusted her enough to tell her my son heard the bad word from me and then she told me a funny story about a time when her son was younger and he cussed at school.
Being vulnerable was scary, but it was true.
And true is always worth it, even when you’re a pastor’s wife, and it feels like your entire life is already on display. True is still worth it.
But it can be very tough.
One of my best friends is married to a minister who works at a large church with several staff people. Since ministry life is tough and very isolating at times, she’s made a deliberate effort to befriend the other wives of staff members.
Related Post: 4 Reasons Why Every Pastor’s Wife Needs Church Friends
There is one wife who has children the same age as her kids, volunteers in the same department as her, and is about the same age as my friend.
So obviously they’re going to be natural BFFs!
This lady is shut down to all friendly advances. When my friend tries to talk to her about her own struggles as a minister’s wife, she only replies with, “I’ll pray for you.”
No reciprocity of experience or advice from her own life. Just the promise of future prayers.
And while prayer is awesome, sometimes vulnerability is necessary.
As Christians, we are often placed on a pedestal.
I’ve heard numerous people say that they aren’t good enough to go to church or that they have sinned too much for God to listen when they pray.
If there was a goodness requirement for church attendance, I’d never be allowed to enter the building.
I am far from perfect and still totally loved by the savior of the world.
But as Christians, and women especially, we’re scared to show that we make mistakes. Judgment can be pretty intense, maybe even more so among Christian people. That judgment and the fear of it can be incredibly isolating.
We all meet together for Bible studies and worship, but that’s not the time that we share our struggles. Not really. We say a prayer request in class and that’s that.
We don’t tell the whole class what’s really wrong.
And since no one does, it seems like no one else is struggling.
Sure, we know that everyone has their own struggles and weaknesses, but we don’t see them. So we assume that we’re the only one who struggles with feelings of being unworthy or jealous or depressed or whatever.
Until we open up to a friend.
Then they tell us they have the same exact struggle, and everything opens up.
They can even share a struggle that’s just close to yours, and you feel less alone. If they will then offer advice on how to deal with it AND pray for you that’s even better.
So don’t be the person who only offers prayers.
Here are three practical ways for every pastor’s wife to use vulnerability as a ministry opportunity.
1. Be real
Don’t pretend that everything is okay.
I’m not one to share my problems in a large group setting. I don’t really like to do anything in a large group setting. The introvert tendencies are strong with this one.
Related Post: To the introverted pastor’s wife: How to Rock Your Role
But when someone comes to me, I am quick to empathize and share my own experience. If I have wrestled with something and God in His mercy has brought me through it, I owe it to my sisters in Christ to share the victory and the scars.
God can use the real you, but He has no interest in using the fake you.
You know what I mean.
There’s a pastor’s wife face that you put on for the church. I get it. It is necessary sometimes. I have one too. People know I’m using it if they see me smiling REALLY big. I’ve been told I have a great smile, so I use it a lot to appear approachable. I don’t have a kind resting face (RBF anyone?), so I make a huge effort to smile the entire time I’m at church.
Because I am the pastor’s wife.
I frequently try to live up to this imaginary perfect pastor’s wife that I’ve created in my head.
And if you are so busy trying to be some perfect version of a pastor’s wife that no one sees the real you, you’re probably missing out on some great ministry opportunities.
People don’t like a fake.
So if you are never the real you with anyone, you’ll probably never have the chance to be vulnerable and use your experiences to help others.
2. Pray for Opportunities
Pray that God will give you opportunities to share the lessons of your experiences with others.
God has brought you through some mountains and valleys for a reason. Part of it was to grow you. But part of it is to help others on their journey.
If you aren’t actively looking for opportunities to encourage and minister to others, you probably won’t find them. If no one knows your history, no one will seek you out.
This is definitely not me telling you to put all your business out there for everyone to see.
But I do believe that if you ask God to use you, He will.
My husband and I have had three miscarriages. They were heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and made me feel like the biggest failure. The losses were so palpable that even though they happened several years ago, I still get sad thinking about them.
And we have four beautiful, healthy children now, so for years, I never talked about the miscarriages. They were a painful part of my past. Why would I bring them up? And then a friend had a miscarriage, and I shared my experience with her. And then it came up again with another friend. And every few months, God opens the door for me to talk to someone who is experiencing pain because of a miscarriage.
Because I have walked that road, I have the opportunity to support other women who are going through the same thing.
It’s still painful to talk about, but I can clearly see how God is using my pain to comfort others.
3. Be approachable
Here is the number one thing people say to me after getting to know me.
“You are nothing like I thought you were! I thought you were sort of snobby/snooty/stuck up but you’re actually nice/funny/kind/hilarious.”
This has been a theme for my entire life.
Photos of me as a child show me looking bored and unenthusiastic at Disney World. As a teenager, I was constantly the source of gossip for giving some other girl a “look.”
That is just my face.
I have a pretty severe case of RBF (if you don’t know what that means, I’m so sorry you had to learn about it on a pastor’s wife blog. Seriously.). I don’t mean to look mad. I just do. I don’t know exactly what it is about my face, but if I’m not making a deliberate effort to smile I looked seriously put out.
So for years, I have walked around with a huuuuge smile on my face.
Pro tip: chewing gum makes it easier to smile.
It’s not a great solution because I look a little crazy and my face legitimately gets tired from smiling.
So the best way that I’ve found to be more approachable is to be self-deprecating.
If you’re struggling to be more approachable, try to joke about yourself.
Not in an annoying way, but in a fun way.
If someone says they like the shoes you got for $6 at Goodwill, tell them you got them for $6 at Goodwill!
If you haven’t done all of the reading for that week’s Bible study, tell your small group about the chaos that was in your life that prevented you from reading.
If getting to church that morning felt like an actual battle with the devil (in my case it’s 4 little devils) TELL PEOPLE.
Work on smiling more and sharing information that shows you are a real human. The key here is to make sure to say the human things in an upbeat way. Tone is everything. You don’t want to be the pastor’s wife that’s always complaining.
Use conversation time to show people that you are real, and you are struggling just like they are. Sure you may know a little bit more about the Bible or have been in church longer, but we all have struggles.
While we know that being married to a pastor doesn’t actually make us any holier, people often assume that our lives are all together because of our husband’s vocation.
There have been seasons of my life that this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. My life was a hot mess. It felt like things just kept stacking up and were slowly pressing me down until I couldn’t breathe, and I kept it all inside because I felt like I had to be a perfect pastor’s wife who actually did have her life together.
Here’s a quick test to see if you’re approachable – ask yourself if you would approach you if you were a church member.
Take a minute and really think about it.
Are you the first one out the door when church is over?
Do you make an effort to talk and get to know people?
Do you ever smile?
If you realize that you aren’t approachable, change it.
Talk to the people in the church who know you best and ask them what you need to do differently. Encourage them to be honest with you so that they’ll feel comfortable telling you some hard truths.
In conclusion, being a pastor’s wife is already a very vulnerable position. You are on display and everything you do is out there to be seen and judged. My tendency has long been to push back against being vulnerable.
I put up walls. I kept people at a distance. I displayed a carefully arranged life that seemed perfect, but it was so confining that I couldn’t be free to actually do anything for the kingdom.
Letting that go has been so liberating. What would happen if you owned the vulnerability? What if you just said, “I’m going to be real with people because Jesus knew exactly who I was when He saved me and exactly who He was making me into when He called me to this life.” Yes, it’s scary, but it’s also so good.
So the next time your child says something inappropriate you can clutch your pearls and act scandalized or you can open your heart and say, “Here are my broken pieces. Jesus is loving me through my brokenness and I hope you will too.”
What do you think about the pastor’s wife and vulnerability as a ministry? Tell us in the comments!
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