On Being the “Vrouw Dominie”

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There are a lot of ideas that come to mind when people think of a “pastor’s spouse.” And, even more traditionally, a “pastor’s wife.” Playing the piano. Leading children’s worship. Keeping those little PK’s (pastor’s kids) in line. Making the coffee. Inviting people over with an ever-cheerful heart.

And, frustratingly, I know there are people who think of all of these things when I tell them about my husband’s job.

“Oh, so do you have to help out in children’s ministry?”

“Oh, you guys must entertain a lot.”

“Well, you know, my mom was a pastor’s wife, and she had to do x, y, and z. I’m sure you do some of that too!”

Nope!

When we moved to a new church almost two years ago, I was very clearly told, “There are no expectations - written or unwritten - of you.”

(huge sigh of relief)

When my husband and I were dating, we most definitely had a serious conversation about his future job and what that would mean for our future. We recognized that his call to ministry would have very real implications for us. But we also had a conversation about what his job would not mean for me.

It would not mean that I needed to fill any traditional expectations. It would not mean that I needed to give up my career to which I felt very called. It would not mean that I had to be any more involved in the life of the church than I would choose to be if I wasn’t married to the pastor.

And we have never had to fight this battle.

In both of the churches we have been a part of, there have been no expectations of me. I love worship and I love leading worship, so, yes, I do sing and play the keyboard. However, that is where I feel called to serve in my church, and I would make that choice regardless of my husband’s job.

And that is it.

We feel no need or expectation to invite people over. There are no side-eyes watching how I handle our child at church. I don’t even fret about running into people around town.

Our church community loves us and takes care of us, but they don’t put us on a pedestal. They understand we are humans. They understand that my husband’s job is not my job. They even understand that my husband’s job is just that: a job. It is a large part of our life, but it is not our whole life. We have made it a priority to not let it become so.

My heart can rest in relief.

But I want to share our experience because I fear that we are not yet the norm. Maybe the bad experiences speak more loudly than the good (oh, I hope that is true!). But I still hear far too many stories in which ministry is expected to consume the pastor and his life. Too many spouses who feel those eyes pierce them on Sunday mornings and around town. Who feel they are not doing enough to meet the expectations of their church community. Who don’t have a community of people they can trust and ask for help. And there are way, way too many pastors who sacrifice time with their families because they have not been given the permission to say “no.” Who have no healthy place to turn when they need to deal with tough stuff in their own lives. Who receive zero grace.

Ministry is a messy but important business. And those who willingly walk into it need to be supported. Pastors and their families need the freedom and encouragement from their church community to set boundaries, to say “no,” to prioritize their own mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Without the support and encouragement from their community, it is far too easy to burn out, or worse - burn out the whole family.

As we just finished Pastor Appreciation Month, I hope others were showered with love and notes. I hope pastors received money to Menards, because someone in the church knows that house projects are a mental and physical release. I hope spouses got gift cards to get their nails done. I hope others received gift cards for date nights, with offers to babysit.

I hope (and pray, pray, pray) that the church becomes the leading example of how we care for, support, and love our leaders and their families.

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Thanks for this terrific article Jill! How wonderful that your church allows you to be you and to choose which gifts you'll share in its ministry. From my work with pastors' spouses over the past ten years, I can say that what you have is quite rare. Too many churches still have a mold into which pastor's wives are expected to fit. The same isn't true for pastor's husbands - which is great for them!

Hopefully more congregations will make a shift in what they expect of a pastor's wife, and will be much more aware of the demands put on the pastor which impacts his/her life in significant ways - not all of which are good nor healthy.

 

Lis Van Harten

Pastor Church Resources

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