Moments with Marlene – a pastor’s wife

By Jennifer Antonsen

Marlene* has been married to Lorne for over 20 years. Throughout their marriage, her husband has served in various ministry capacities as an associate pastor, senior pastor and church planter. They have worked in small- to large-sized churches in western Canada and have served with three different denominations.

Marlene and Lorne have two sons. As a pastor’s wife, Marlene has always worked outside the home in order to help support the family.

Marlene generously offered to share her experience as a working pastor’s wife and a mom.

To begin, Marlene, why don’t you share with us some of the ways that you are involved in the church and share in ministry with your husband?

I currently am the church clerk in the church, so I take the minutes at all the business meetings and prepare the Sunday bulletins. I also help out in junior church and I help with the worship team. I am part of a ladies ministry team in our church. I also help out wherever needed, like helping in the kitchen during fellowship time. My husband and I also lead a mid-week Bible study group. Right now, I am working full-time outside the home.

It sounds as though you are very involved in the church even though you work full-time!

Yes, but our church is a smaller church. It is also an older congregation so there isn’t a big demand for me to be with younger moms who stay at home during the day. Fortunately for me I can work outside the home and not have to worry or feel guilty about not being able to minister to the younger women. Right now I’m not available to do that.

You mentioned guilt. Could you share with us some of the reasons that you have experienced guilt as a pastor’s wife?

As a pastor’s wife I like to be available for people. When I’m working I’m not available for others. During the day my ministry is at my workplace. In the evenings I have family responsibilities, so it’s not like I’m available to be “on call” for women who need help or need counselling or just want to talk. If that happens and I’m not available, I feel guilty because I think “Well, I should be there because I am the pastor’s wife. I should be there for this person and I’m not.”

How do you feel about the church’s expectations of you as a pastor’s wife?

In the beginning, when we first started at the church we are currently at, they wanted me to be involved in everything and have a part in everything. But I’ve had to work because my husband is not paid enough so that we can live off of his salary alone. They’ve gotten used to the idea that I’m not available for them for everything.

Over the years we have brought in different people who can balance Lorne’s giftings, because visitation is not part of his gifting. So we have brought in people who have that gift—people who love to sit and visit with the older ladies. It helps to bring balance to his ministry. I try to help out when I can, but with the responsibilities of the home and of working, I don’t always have time in the evenings to help out with visitation.

This brings us to the subject of time management. It sounds as though you are a very busy lady!

Right. I am a busy lady! (laughs). And most moms who work full-time are busy.

I really have to sit down and plot my time out. I have boys who are active in sports so I have to schedule my time and decide what is a priority. Right now my boys are a priority. It’s really hard to juggle time. I have to make time for my husband, I have to make time for my children, and I have to have time for household stuff—all outside of work time. My work time is scheduled for me, sports time is scheduled for me, and Sundays at church are scheduled for me. So I have a lot of scheduled times—it’s the time in between that I have to use wisely with my family and with my church.

As you mentioned all of your responsibilities, you never mentioned any time for yourself.

I know! (laughs)

Is that one of your struggles?

Yes. My husband often says “Do you do anything for yourself?” But I like to keep busy and time for myself occurs when I am working in the garden—and then I’m being productive too! I like to be productive when I have time for myself. Sometimes I clean the house or bake goodies. I like to be alone and have time to think. I know it sounds odd, but…!

There are times in the evening when I will sit down for an hour and watch some television.

I’m sure that, as a pastor, your husband is very busy also. How has being in ministry affected your marriage?

Well, it has especially affected us in our current church, because he is the solo pastor here. In prior churches he was an associate pastor and the demand wasn’t as heavy on him. Being a senior pastor and a solo pastor is more time-consuming.

We haven’t drifted apart, but I think our roles have changed. We minister together but we have separate lives because we both work at separate places.

In order to spend time together we have to intentionally make time to spend together. We would go on dates without the kids. And they would always want to come along! But we would tell them that mom and dad have to be alone together.

Sometimes it’s a bit awkward because if we haven’t been talking to each other very much all week, and then I sit down and start jabbering—but a lot of it is just frivolous stuff. You know, what happened at work. Stuff that is still interesting, but sometimes the heart-to-heart talks aren’t always there. When we have something to talk about, we do sit down and discuss it. Maybe it’s different with other people, but this is our experience.

We have to intentionally make time to be together, whether it’s going to a movie at a theatre or going for a walk or going out for dinner. As for the family, we would have family nights on Fridays; but as the boys are getting older they go out with their friends on Friday nights.

As a pastor’s wife, what are the top challenges that you have experienced?

I really have learned the lesson of not having close friends or best friends within our congregation. It is best to have that outside the church-friendships with women who are not connected to the church.

Why is that?

When you have a best friend, you share what is on your heart. If there are struggles going on in the church, you can’t share them with people in the congregation because it reflects on them. They’re part of the congregation and they are biased. It is better to talk to somebody outside of the church to get a different perspective on things. And it’s not good for the health of your relationships to talk about people in the church to a friend who is in the church.

Have you found that at times it is lonely being a pastor’s wife?

Yes. Yes, sometimes I find it very lonely. Our close friends are not there to hang out with after church. People don’t always invite the pastor and his wife. They probably think “Well, you’ve got plans,” but a lot of times we don’t have plans! A lot of times they don’t include us. They see my husband and I as being “over here” and the congregation is “over there.”

So one challenge has been developing friendships outside of the congregation. Have there been other challenges?

I have learned to set boundaries. I had a church friend who became quite clingy and jealous. I wanted to be friends with everyone in the church and she did not like that. She wanted me to be her only friend. I had to learn to set boundaries with her. I couldn’t be there for her for everything. I couldn’t be her saviour. I learned that I cannot give myself to people who are so needy.

What are some of the joys and blessings that have come through being a pastor’s wife?

I’ve learned a lot through dealing with different people and church government. I stand behind my husband. If he’s hurting and he comes home frustrated, he airs it out to me. And you know I get frustrated too with situations at church. We have definitely had that. It hasn’t always been an easy go. If you’re a big church or a small church, there will be struggles—but we’ve come through them and grown through them.

If you were to mentor or speak to a young woman who is about to step into the role of being a pastor’s wife, what advice would you share with her?

I think the main thing is that you need to be there for your husband through the thick and the thin. Through the struggles and the joys. You need to be a support to your husband and encourage him.

It’s not easy being a pastor. Satan will attack any which way, and then discouragement can set in. There are some weeks where things are going smoothly and then Bam! When God starts working in the church, the last thing Satan wants is God to be working in the midst of his people. And Satan will start attacking from within—from people within.

The pastor’s wife needs to be there to support him and uplift him and encourage him and pray for him. Constantly pray for your husband because he needs it.

Would you say that you are Lorne’s main source of encouragement or does he receive that from other people?

No, I think I’m his main source of encouragement. Right now we’ve come through a bit of a struggle and he’s pleaded with some individuals in the church to pray for him. He has said, “If you want a good, effective, pastor you have to pray for me. If you’re not praying for me, then I will not be effective. I need the Holy Spirit to help me through.”

You know, every pastor who’s committed to preaching the Word needs to be prayed for. And I think the pastor’s wife needs prayer from people in the congregation too.

And yet people don’t always realize that.

No. I know there are two ladies that have told me that they pray for me every day, even while I am at work and as I drive to work. And there have been times when I know they’ve been praying for me. I feel it! And I thank the Lord for them.

If I spoke to a young woman whose husband is entering the pastorate I would tell her to gather a couple of people who will be committed to praying for them.

As a pastor’s wife is there any Scripture that has been particularly helpful or encouraging for you?

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7 NKJ)

Why has that particular verse been meaningful for you?

We need not be afraid. If we trust God for everything, “God will supply all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). We don’t need to be fearful. We need to know that God is in control and depend on him. He is there! He will keep us in his grasp.

We don’t have to let anxiety take over. We do have fears—what if Lorne were to resign from the ministry or if he were to be fired—what would happen to us? But God has proven himself over the years to us that He is there, that He is faithful, and that He will look after us.

Thanks so much for taking time to share with us today, Marlene. May God continue to bless you and Lorne as you serve in ministry.


*Pseudonyms have been used to keep the family and the congregations where they have served confidential.

Marlene was interviewed by Jennifer Antonsen, a professional counsellor on staff at Focus on the Family Canada.