I recently surveyed hundreds of women who, like me, navigate the joys, complexities, and difficulties that come with being married to a pastor. I posed a question: “If you could sit down with a more experienced pastor’s wife and ask her anything, what would you ask?” Despite their varied church contexts, ages, and denominational settings, a large majority said they’d ask how she persevered. What specific things did she do that helped her endure for decades in ministry and enabled her to love and serve both the Lord and people?
If there is anyone who can offer guidance and wisdom on longevity and joy in ministry for pastors’ wives, it’s Jani Ortlund. She’s been married to Ray Ortlund for close to 50 years, and they’ve served together in vocational ministry for decades—most recently at Immanuel Church in Nashville. They’ve raised four children in a ministry home, and now continue their speaking and teaching ministry after Ray’s retirement from Immanuel. And as an invaluable gift to fellow pastors’ wives coming up behind her, Ortlund has recorded her hard-won wisdom in her book, Help! I’m Married to My Pastor: Encouragement for Ministry Wives and Those Who Love Them.
Help for Ministry Wives
Ortlund covers topics that pastors’ wives consistently report as pain points or as areas in which they want to grow: navigating demanding Sunday mornings, overcoming obstacles to intimacy and friendship with their busy pastor-husband, knowing how to encourage a disheartened husband, raising kids in a pastor’s home in full view of others, maintaining spiritual vitality, and navigating difficulties in church life.
Her approach isn’t prescriptive, although she intersperses practical tips throughout. Instead, her writing voice is one of a loving friend who has experienced what you’re experiencing and is able to reflect back to you what you’re likely feeling about those experiences. Having empathized, she then gently points to God’s help and presence, calling her readers to pursue joy and delight in their unique life circumstances.
Her writing voice is one of a loving friend who has experienced what you’re experiencing.
For example, Ortlund addresses the pain pastors’ wives feel when friends leave their church:
This was a couple you invested in so deeply. They shared many meals around your table. You hosted a baby shower for her little one. You met with them when they were suffering. . . . You built bridges for them in your congregation and offered them meaningful ways to serve Christ among your members. . . . Then they slipped away with barely a goodbye. You feel the loss and rejection. You also feel the guilt of somehow failing them, and perhaps even the Lord Jesus. Sadness seeps in when you think about them. . . . You even begin to wonder if you have the courage to keep opening your home and heart to others. (67–68)
Every pastor’s wife who reads those words will nod in understanding, perhaps even wiping away tears. But Ortlund offers wise responses that will enable her fellow pastors’ wives to “keep cheerfully serving the people God brings”:
First, listen to Jesus instead of muttering to yourself. Don’t waste your spiritual and emotional energy, which is limited to begin with, fussing within your own head. Let Jesus speak to your heart. Is he speaking words of conviction? Are there ways he wants you to change? If so, then by his grace do it. Immediately. But if he is not . . . then ask him to help you lift these friends up to him as an offering, a sacrifice of service to your Savior, to do with whatever he deems best. (68)
Help for Ministry Marriages
Many pastors’ wives hear from various voices that they’re no different than the other women in their congregation. In some ways this is true, because she is, like all women in the church, a disciple and servant of Christ. However, there are unique dynamics that affect a ministry marriage, as Ortlund explains: “Ministry marriages bear unique strains that often obscure the joys of building a lifelong romance. A woman marries a man, not his ministry, but somehow her husband’s calling seeps into every aspect of their one-flesh relationship” (15).
A woman marries a man, not his ministry, but somehow her husband’s calling seeps into every aspect of their one-flesh relationship.
Young ministry wives will especially find her guidance invaluable as they, along with their husbands, seek to lay a solid foundation in their marriages that will withstand decades of family and ministry demands. No matter the stage of marriage, though, Ortlund’s emphasis on cultivating fun and intimacy in marriage will certainly spark ideas and connection.
The wisdom Ortlund offers pastors’ wives will likely not be new to her readers, but read in light of her 50 years of ministry and marriage, she reminds ministry wives what is truly important.
Help for Those Who Love Pastors’ Wives
I think pastors’ wives are one of the most overlooked and under-resourced groups in the church. In the foreword, Ray calls them “unsung heroes”:
An unsung hero is defined as “one who does great deeds but receives little or no recognition for them.” It’s an accurate description of a pastor’s wife, isn’t it? She pours out her life not only for her family but also, with her husband, for her church. She is not a life-depleting person but wonderfully life-enriching to all around. The world is more alive because she is alive. She is like Christ. Indeed, she is from Christ. (11)
In every church, there are unsung heroes. Your pastor’s wife is likely not looking for public recognition, but she likely would benefit from a simple word of appreciation.
Help! I’m Married to My Pastor is an excellent resource to give her along with your thanks. An even better gift? Read the book before you pass it to her. Seek to understand what your pastor’s wife juggles and navigates, what she might feel and experience, and what she might need. Tell her you read it. Ask her questions about how she experiences church and what she’s learned specifically through being a pastor’s wife.
Like Ortlund, she has hard-won wisdom to share about endurance and perseverance in the faith. She can tell you just how faithful God has been to her and will be to you.
The Gospel Coalition