The Hidden Lives of Pastors' Wives

Responding to a survey sponsored by LifeWay, 720 spouses of pastors, representing a variety of denominations, provide insight into how pastoral ministry is seen and felt from within the pastor’s family. Many church members only view the pastor and his family from the outside, and the effects, good and bad, on the family are rarely considered. This new poll gives congregations insight into the inner workings of pastoral ministry and can be a guide for how to better physically and emotionally serve and, more importantly, pray for pastors and their families.

According to LifeWay Research, the respondents to the survey are mainly spouses of pastors who work full-time in pastoral ministry. Furthermore, “Half have children at home (53 percent). Nine percent have seminary degrees. Half have spent at least 20 years as a pastor’s spouse (51 percent). Eighty-six percent have responsibilities at their church, including 19 percent who are on the church’s staff.”

The high points of the survey reveal that:

93 percent believe their spouse is a good fit for the present church.

  • 90 percent think ministry has had a positive effect on their family.
  • 85 percent say, “The church we serve takes good care of us.”
  • 83 percent enjoy their ministry work.
  • 79 percent are satisfied with their role in ministry.

Of course, pastoral ministry has challenges, and the spouses of pastors feel those challenges. They are faced with some that are unique to their role.

Thirty-six percent of the respondents expressed concern about their family’s immediate finances and 42 percent are unsure about their ability to adequately save for retirement. The striking thing about those two numbers is that 60 percent of the spouses believe that the salary the church pays the pastor is inadequate to meet their family’s needs.

Even while believing that the salary isn’t enough, the majority of spouses still believe that they are financially secure. That contradiction speaks to the God-given faith of many pastors’ spouses.

Personal, emotional needs are not being met by their church family, though. According to LifeWay:

Many also feel isolated, with few close friends other than their spouse. Sixty-two percent, for example, say they can count on their spouse ‘a great deal’ when they feel under stress. Fewer say they can depend a great deal on other family members in their household (14 percent), other relatives (12 percent), friends at church (10 percent), friends outside church (12 percent) or other ministers’ spouses (9 percent).

An expected result from the survey is that 79 percent of pastors’ spouses believe that their church family views them as an example of what a Christian family is to look like. This constant scrutiny and expectation may explain why over half of pastors’ spouses do not confess their struggles and fears to other members of their church. The perceived need to model what a Christian family is supposed to look like has the unfortunate effect of causing the spouses of pastors to feel isolated.

LifeWay Research pointed out:

Pastors and the spouses can also thrive by putting their own family—not the church—first, said Mark Dance, director of LifeWay Pastors. It’s a model that other couples in the church can follow.

The survey provides a wealth of information about the lives of pastors’ families. Hopefully, Christians will digest the information and then use that information to better minister to their pastor’s family.