When it comes to living life with a pastor, Marietta Williams has seen more than most. From church planting to district leadership, Williams is a veteran of title-less yet nevertheless full-time ministry.
The leader of Pastor’s Spouse Connection, Williams is passionate about helping replace expectations with support for the husbands and wives who stand beside pastors. To accomplish that goal, Williams says there are a few myths that need to be busted.
Myth #1: The pastor’s spouse should be fully involved in the ministries of the church.
“There’s a sense that the spouse is expected to be a part of everything,” Williams said. While that is the way some pastoral couples thrive, it’s not feasible for everyone, especially for spouses with their own careers and responsibilities.
“It’s unrealistic to think the spouse has endless hours of energy to do everything and be at every event. Involvement on the part of the spouse is important and good, but needs to be realistic,” Williams continued.
Tip for spouse: Learn to say no.
“Sometimes churches don’t take ‘no’ well,” Williams said, recounting the times she’s heard congregations tell their pastor’s spouse: “The ministry will fall apart if you don’t do it!”
But it’s critical for spouses to arrange priorities in their own lives and to realize the unique calling God has placed on them apart from their spouses. This requires discernment, asking God what lessons and opportunities each season holds.
“Our whole lives shouldn’t be filling gaps,” Williams said.
Tip for congregation: Appreciate your pastor’s family’s service and sacrifice to the church.
Williams recently visited a Wesleyan church in Florida, where the pastor was being honored for 10 years of service to the church. The whole family joined him onstage, including adult children who traveled back for that service.
“They recognized the whole support system that’s been there walking beside the pastor,” Williams shared. “That small gesture must have been so affirming.”
Myth #2: The pastor’s family, marriage and spouse should set a perfect example for the rest of the church.
“The pastoral family is human, not perfect,” shared Williams. “We often feel our kids and marriage have to be the example, to be perfect. Sometimes that pressure comes from the congregation, but sometimes we place that on ourselves.”
Tip for spouse: Have grace for yourself and your family to avoid getting hung up on expectations.
Tip for congregation: Befriend your pastor’s spouse.
“It’s hard to be married to the leader of the church,” Williams said. “You’re not like everyone in the congregation, because you may know things others don’t, but you still want relationships and friendships.”
The pastor’s spouse might seem a bit reserved at first, especially if he or she has had negative experiences in the past, Williams said. “But it’s important to just make an effort.”
Myth #3: The spouse is an extension of the pastor, and that’s his or her top calling from God.
Both congregations and the pastor’s spouse can sometime tie the spouse’s identity to that of the pastor’s.
“But they are their own person, with their own hopes, dreams, aspirations and God’s calling on their life,” Williams said. It’s important that both the congregation and the pastor’s spouse realize that unique identity.
Tip for spouse: Remember your true identity by becoming rooted and grounded in Christ.
“It’s very easy to take on the identities that people place on us or we put on ourselves, and to think the things we do are our identity,” Williams shared, recalling feeling lost when her husband transitioned to a district leadership role that was not tied to a specific Wesleyan Church, leaving her feeling useless.
“I felt insignificant and unimportant, like I got sat on the bench. I had started to place my identity in what I did for God, instead of who I was. It was a wake-up call,” she recalled.
“What we do is a contribution to the kingdom, but God sees us apart from that. We need to be continually reminded of our true identity, to be rooted and grounded in Christ, as Ephesians 2:10 says.”
Tip for congregation: See and acknowledge the uniqueness of your pastor’s spouse.
“There are times as a pastor’s spouse when you can be in a room full of people and feel invisible,” Williams said.
“Telling your pastor’s spouse, ‘I’m praying for you, I’m thinking about you today,’ those little things boost your confidence and remind you that God’s providing for you then and there.”
To learn more about the support available for spouses of Wesleyan pastors, visit Pastor’s Spouse Connection. From retreats to counseling, a wealth of resources are available to help pastor’s families thrive in the journey of ministry.